Coming Out in China: The True Cost of Being Gay in Beijing

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AFP / Getty Images

Two gay couples hold a ceremonial wedding at a shopping plaza to raise awareness of gay marriage in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on March 8, 2011

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First Love
His wife stayed in Tianjin. They had gradually grown apart. She no longer demanded that he always come home. He made new acquaintances, and then found his lover, a designer in his 30s.

This was the first love of his life. Like other couples, they went to films and chose which restaurants to go to after work. Though they kept separate places, Zhang was stable in his relations. He felt that he had found a new direction for his life. For the first time, he didn't feel so bad being gay. His friends and colleagues accepted him. He was finally completely relaxed.

It went on in this way for about a year, until 2010. He felt he was no longer able to leave his boyfriend and went home to Tianjin less frequently. He decided it was time to tell his family.

"I knew I had to be courageous," he says. "It was too difficult for me to continue with two emotions at the same time. I was prepared to break up with my family."

After New Year's Day this year, Zhang invited his wife, his parents and his parents-in-law to dinner. He announced the truth near the end of the meal. The fathers didn't quite believe him, and everybody at the table was startled. Then his mother, who has a hypertension problem, fainted. His wife smacked his face and left. He later cried and knelt in front of his father beside the hospital bed of his mother, asking for forgiveness.

"It was really like a second-rate TV drama," he says. "The whole family was crying. I had never imagined that it would ever happen to me."

Zhang's wife divorced him without hesitation and won full custody of their son. Relatives scolded him, saying he was irresponsible. He tries to compensate everybody with money. He gave his house to his ex-wife and pays to support his parents, the cost of coming out. Zhang's parents are still in a cold war with him: his mother won't speak to him. He worries that his son will suffer from being laughed at when his friends find out that his father is gay.

Nevertheless, Zhang does not think his life is a tragedy and is relieved that at least now he is living according to his true identity. Every time he hears that some "comrade" plans to get married, he always tells them of his own experience: "Don't try to solve the problem by getting married. It will only hurt more people."

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