Alex Blaze

Smile for the gays

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 14, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Chinese gays and lesbians, smile

Here's a way to start the day:

smile.pngOn a sweltering day in June, a bunch of young people was handing out leaflets to passers-by. They wore badges with the Chinese characters "Tongzhi Nihao" and a smiling face printed against a rainbow background, symbolizing gay pride.

Tongzhi Nihao, which literally means, "Hello, gay people," is a nationwide call to straight people to greet homosexuals. Tongzhi, the buzzword that used to mean "comrade", now has taken on a new connotation, referring to homosexuals.

A 30-year-old working as a bike park guard was at a loss till the volunteers carefully explained the activity to him. Straight people like him were urged to write a line of greeting for homosexuals on the whiteboard and take a photo with the big smile motif.

"I am willing to do it but I am illiterate," the man said.

In the end, he traced over the four Chinese characters on the board and smiled happily for the camera.[...]

Several old people did offer their best wishes. An old man finally accepted the idea that homosexuality is just as common as being left-handed, after a young volunteer reasoned with him for over 20 minutes. In a park, a retired elderly gentleman wrote, "Tongzhi, go for it," on the ground using a huge brush after learning the word's new meaning.


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This is one of the things that leads me to think mainland China has a lot more potential in terms of GLBT rights than it may seem to on the surface. It simply doesn't have the long history of Christian religion and resulting oppression of GLBT people and culture of moral condemnation that we have in the West.

It's still a pretty conservative country, and the notion of GLBT rights beyond the absence of sodomy laws doesn't really exist -- you still wouldn't want to come out to your boss, in most cases. Also, the "downlow" phenomenon is still very common -- parents pressure their kids to marry with no thought of what it does to the mental and physical health of those involved -- and a lot of gays remain in the closet (at least from their parents) indefinitely.

But from my experience, young people there are a lot more receptive to gays on average than their counterparts in the United States are. I'm out to all my friends in China, and in many cases was the first gay person they ever met, but it was always greeted with something between indifference or curiosity (not "that" kind of curiosity, mind you, but they had a lot of questions). I also know an increasing number of younger gay guys who are out to their friends and sometimes their parents. In cases when I met a young person who was homophobic, all it took was a brief explanation of what being gay actually means, and he or she would immediately get it. In other words, there was less of a tendency to cling to homophobia as a cherished article of faith, like there is here.

By contrast, here in the U.S., there's so much baggage as a result of Christian religious thinking, so I got a lot more of the "Well, you're a nice guy, but you're immoral and going to hell" types of responses.

I just hope China keeps its official atheism, and the religious right doesn't make more inroads there...

?????

I hope there's a video made of it.