Mondo, 25, from Hebei province, is one of the owners of Adam’s club, which he says is his special place. He decided to open the club in Sanlitun, the most popular nightlife area in Beijing, because he thinks that it’s time for LGBT people in China to stop hiding and to live their lives in the open. (Teo Butturini) Timberlake, 22, from Shanxi province, is a student at Beijing International Studies University. He identifies as asexual and loves to dance in high heels. His special place is this large corridor inside one of the buildings on campus. He likes to practice dancing here. (Teo Butturini)
Despite being decriminalized in 1997, homosexuality is still heavily stigmatized in China. It was even considered a mental illness there until 2001, when it was finally dropped from a list of mental illnesses. Even with some of the strides made to get society to accept homosexuality, it is still difficult for many people to find acceptance. This is especially true in China’s smaller cities and rural areas. Because of this, many gay people move to bigger cities, such as Beijing, where they can live freer lives.
Photographer Teo Butturini traveled to Beijing to meet some of these people and tell their stories. With the help of the Beijing LGBT Center, Butturini found people and asked them to take him to a place that was important for each of them living as LGBT in the city. Here are some of those portraits and stories.
Wade and his boyfriend come, respectively, from Guangxi province and Beijing. Their special place is their house, the only place where they can share sweet moments together, forgetting about the world outside. (Teo Butturini) Jiayue, 22, from Shaanxi province, decided to salute Principal Zhou, the founder of her university, because in the school’s LGBT community, there is an urban legend about him being gay. (Teo Butturini) Elvans, 21 from Beijing, is still discovering his sexuality. He doesn’t know if he’s gay, transgender or both, but he likes dressing as a woman. His special place is the storage room of his university’s acting company. Acting gives him the chance to dress as a woman with no one criticizing him, but applauding him instead. (Teo Butturini) Island, 26, from Beijing, is very attached to the ancient traditions of China, especially Confucianism. His story is one of the few happy ones, with his family and friends totally accepting his sexuality. (Teo Butturini) Alex, 22, is from a village in the province of Anhui. He was still in the closet at the time of the portrait but has since told his mother he is gay. His special place is this sofa inside the offices of the Beijing LGBT Center, the first place where he found people who understood him and cared about his feelings. (Teo Butturini) Yixin, 21, from Sichuan province, is still in the closet and decided to cover her face because she doesn’t want her parents to know. Since she arrived at Renmin University, she has found a free and supportive environment and plans to come out after she finishes her studies. (Teo Butturini) Xiao (33, from Hebei) and her girlfriend, Chen (28, from Heilongjiang), chose Xiao’s parents’ house as “their” place. They have been living together here for a while, even though Xiao’s parents don’t accept her being a lesbian and act as if she and Chen are just friends. They were to have been included in the portrait but at the last minute decided not to take part in it. (Teo Butturini) For Gus, 20, from Taiwan, it’s challenging to be in China, because in Taiwan the LGBT community has more rights. He said his special moment happens when he’s in the middle of a huge crowd, such as in the subway during rush hour, because he can’t stop thinking about how his life would have been different had he been born here. (Teo Butturini) Yichi, 23, from Henan province, has been very lucky. Both his family, friends and boss accept that he is gay. He chose the brewery where he works as his special place because it’s not easy to find a job in a gay-friendly company, and everyone here is incredibly supportive. (Teo Butturini) Rainy, 30, comes from a small village in Shanxi province. Her parents knows she’s transgender but don’t accept it. Her special place in Beijing is the hutong, or alley, where her vintage shop is located. (Teo Butturini) Jay, 30, from Beijing, lived and studied chemistry in Canada before coming back to China. The emergency room is his special place, because a few years ago he had a brain aneurysm and his boyfriend took him here right away. Since waking up from a coma, he decided he would tell everybody he is gay; he wanted to live the rest of his life free to be who he is. (Teo Butturini) Jason, 25, from Guangdong province, came to Beijing to escape his parents, who wouldn’t accept his sexuality, and to try to make a career as a musician. He wanted his portrait to be shot on the rooftop of the office building where he’s living. (Teo Butturini) XiaoYao, 22, from Anhui province, is a volunteer for the Beijing LGBT Center. Her office is her special place, where she can help others, even if at times it’s hard to cope with everyone’s needs. (Teo Butturini)