While China is modernizing fast, the societal pressure to get married continues to cling to tradition.
For one, the Confucian view of marriage places the very foundation of society on nuclear family structures. And then there’s the traditional pressure to continue the family’s bloodline.
Perhaps above all, parents get anxious when their children stay unmarried beyond their “shelf lives,” believing that their children are less likely to find a partner beyond their 20s, in many parts of China.
So what do LGBT people do in conservative China, when many of them aren’t out? They find a partner of the opposite sex to set up a fake marriage with.
“The idea of getting married is engraved in our culture. In the past, gay men would marry a straight woman for fear of coming out,” Lin Hai, founder of marriage matchmaking website Chinagayles.com, said in a phone call with Goldthread.
Lin’s website, founded back in 2005, now serves nearly 430,000 registered members, which makes up only a small portion of the estimated 70 million LGBT people in China.
In some cases, gay men marry heterosexual women, who aren’t aware their husbands are gay. This is common enough that the term “tongqi (同妻)” exists, which literally means “wives of homosexuals.”
In 2012, a 31-year-old university professor in Sichuan jumped off a 13-story building after she learned that her husband was a closeted gay man. The controversial incident triggered discussion on the phenomenon of LGBT people being forced into heterosexual marriages by family and societal pressure.
“A marriage of convenience is a good way to solve that problem. We don’t want to harm and deceive straight women,” said Lin, who’s gay and has been in a fake relationship before, for show.
Ironically, that relationship pushed him to come out, he said. In 2005, right around the time he set up the matchmaking website, Lin brought a lesbian friend home to his family. But several months later, he felt it wasn’t right to deceive his family, he said.
“I realized that I couldn’t hide my real self anymore, and I came out to my family,” he said.
However, coming out isn’t really an option for many LGBT people in China. The majority of them face discrimination, sometimes even from their own family members. Only five percent of Chinese LGBT people are completely open about their sexual and gender identity, according to a survey conducted in 2016 by the United Nations Development Programme.
This means that most of the LGBT people in the country still live in the shadows. And a sham marriage may not even solve all your problems—there’s the new complication of sorting out finances and living arrangements, as a straight couple would.
And what about raising children with your fake partner, because parents on both sides want grandkids? Where do you draw the line on the lie?
ChinaGayLes.com even has an online guide on some of these pitfalls. “In a secretive cooperative marriage, there’s little chance to put down everything in black and white,” the website suggests. “One’s moral quality does matter when issues come up, so make sure you’re first friends with each other.”
There’s no one way to approach the issue. We found a huge variety of closeted LGBT folks on the site, too. Here are some profiles we found and illustrated.
She says: I’m under pressure from my parents to get married. I’m not a fan of marriage, but I can’t ignore my parents’ desire especially when my family lives in rural areas where getting married is part of the norm. Therefore, I’m looking for someone who shares the same sentiments as I do.
Expectations: I’m looking for a gay man. I don’t want kids, and we don’t need to live together. We only need to pretend we’re a married couple when it’s necessary.
She says: All my info here is true. I’ve been busy with my career, and haven’t been dating for years. Now I’ve established a stable and promising career abroad. I’m not interested in relationships. I just want kids. I hope to cooperate with a good man and raise kids together.
Expectations: I hope you’re an outstanding man who’s healthy and has a strong will to raise kids together. I hope you don’t have kids yet.
He says: I live in Sydney, Australia, and have a boyfriend. It’s hard to find a partner for marriage of convenience abroad, but I’m facing strong pressure from my family. I hope I can meet someone who I can get along with like family and face the societal and family pressure together.
Expectations: I hope you’re in Sydney. It’s a path with unknown obstacles, but I hope we can lead a bright future together!
He says: I’m 180/73. I’m a top in a gay relationship. I like music and I’m a piano teacher. I don’t act girly, and I don’t smoke. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 8 years. I’m a music producer signed under a record label registered in Shanghai.
Expectations: I want to find a lesbian. I hope to become your partner in a marriage of convenience.
He says: I’m looking for a lesbian. I was born in 1988. I’m masculine, and I love to work out. I’m a soldier based in Tibet. I usually come home to Guangzhou for two months every year. I want to find someone to build a sibling-like relationship, so we can support each other in life. We’ll be financially independent. I hope we can get married and raise kids together.
Expectations: I hope you’re a kind person, well-bred, and look feminine. I hope you can have a stable job, and show respect to the elders. You want kids after getting married.
He says: I hope we can be friends first and then get married.
Expectations: I hope to find a partner in marriage of convenience, and support each other family-wise.