China Correspondent – "James"
By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
The is the beginning of a series detailing an interview I did with a Chinese man about his experience being gay in China and his views on life for gay men in his country. I meet James at a CafÃ© Benne, a Korean coffee shop chain popular in Asia. Itâ€™s inside a mall and takes up three floors; itâ€™s filled with plants and mismatched tables and chairs, but in a deliberate, corporate way. Everyone in the cafÃ© is young, girls take selfies with their coffee, and two American pop songs play for every one Chinese. James is short but solid, I assume from being in the military, and has a simple haircut. I order a tea and we find a quiet-ish corner on the top floor. When drinks come James chats with the server; I find out after he leaves that they are ex-boyfriends. â€œJamesâ€ is obviously not his real name, though it is his â€œEnglish nameâ€; most young people in China have an English name from learning the language in school. Q: In America a lot of the reason that people are against gay people is because of religion. America is a Western culture influenced by Christianity, which has been used to say that gay people are bad. In China there doesnâ€™t seem to be a religious component to this, so where does this similar attitude come from? A: Itâ€™s cultural, but I think the problem comes from the parents. Of course, I know that Western people care about family, but I think family has a much more important role in Chinaâ€™s culture. To some extent parents live for their children so when children grow up they need to live for their parents; every choice children make, they have to think about how their decisions will have an effect on their parentsâ€™ lives. Because gay life just opened in these last few years, the last generation, like my parents, they almost know nothing about gay life. They cannot understand what gay life is in China. So the young people donâ€™t know how to explain these things to their parents. Q: Is it part of â€œliving for your parentsâ€ having to get married and have children? A: Maybe because of the one-child policy in China, parents want to have grandkids, so if you are gay itâ€™s hard to make that happen. I think the last generation considers gay life the same as foreign things. They think itâ€™s just for sex and thereâ€™s no true love, itâ€™s a bad thing that comes from Western culture. But gay life started a long time ago in every culture; in China they donâ€™t care about the history, they didnâ€™t learn about it. In history books there are records about an emperorâ€™s gay lifestyle, but teachers wonâ€™t teach about itâ€”no one will read about it. So in the mainstream culture they just donâ€™t talk much about gay life, so people think that gay things come from the outsideâ€”just like the ravages of capitalism. Family is also important in China because you need connections. Your family will get you a good job through the people they know. You have to stay with your family. In America, people move wherever they want. People donâ€™t care about your family as much. We canâ€™t do that here. Next time, personal questions.