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For Gays in China, 'Fake Marriage' Eases Pressure

Xiao Dong, left, an investor-owner of the BF bar and a former TV news producer, with his partner, Mo Yinhua, a webmaster.
Xiao Dong, left, an investor-owner of the BF bar and a former TV news producer, with his partner, Mo Yinhua, a webmaster. (Maureen Fan - The Washington Post)

Sun, a gay 37-year-old software engineer from the coastal city of Tianjin, said he might be able someday to tell his parents about his secret life. "But the key point is the people around them. They live in the countryside," he said in an interview. "If you're a man who is single for a long time, they think you have problems. They will think I'm not doing what a man does. It's just the way it is, from the time of our ancestors."

Many tradition-minded parents are so concerned about avoiding the shame of friends and neighbors that they threaten suicide.

Lucy Ma, who spoke on condition that her full Chinese name not be used, said she has known since middle school that she was attracted to women. But she has also been wary of upsetting her ailing mother, who does not know she is gay.

Like many lesbians in China, Ma said, she tried to date men over the years. One treated her well, bought her gifts and talked about their future. "But to me, he spoke too much, and I would disappear at the weekends, secretly traveling with my girlfriend," she said.

After their breakup, her parents introduced her to a parade of men. It was then that she began considering a marriage of convenience. "You can appear to have a relationship to your friends and colleagues," she said. "And it's the most important thing for your parents."

First, she searched online. She received three or four responses within two months. Eventually, she said, she connected with a gay man who was also looking for a marriage of convenience. "We e-mailed each other, then met, just like a normal meeting of a boy or a girl," she said.

They registered as a married couple in January 2006 and had a ceremony in the groom's home town. More than 500 guests ate duck, fish and noodles to symbolize longevity. Ma wore a red silk Chinese-style dress; her fiance wore a dark-blue suit.

"His parents and relatives prepared everything for us. We were just like two puppets on strings manipulated by others," Ma said.

She was grateful her husband didn't expect her to cook or clean while she was visiting his family and home town. And when he met her mother, he put her at ease.

"We had a big dinner, and my mother asked her brother and his wife to come. She didn't know much about my husband, and she was nervous. But she smiled a lot that night, she was telling jokes. I can tell she and my dad are very satisfied with him," Ma said.

What her parents don't know is that Ma still has a girlfriend -- and that they've been together for six years. The girlfriend lives in another city, is married and has an 11-year-old daughter.

"I've completed everything according to plan: I have a fake marriage, and my parents are happy and I'm still independent," Ma added.

There's just one small problem.

"My mother didn't used to talk about grandchildren, but now she sometimes mentions that she would like one."

Researcher Li Jie contributed to this report.

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