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Loveless, sexless marriages
Global Times | November 07, 2011 21:19
By Yang Jinghao
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Although all the signs were there from the very start, Yu He lived in complete denial for almost 40 years.

Despite being abandoned physically and emotionally for decades, Yu didn't put the pieces together until she discussed her plight with a gay rights group in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

"I almost collapsed after my worries were proved correct," said Yu. "I committed my happiness to a man that I should have never met."

Yu is one of an estimated 20 million people in China living in sham marriages involving straight spouses who have unwittingly married gay men.

Now 67 years old, Yu still can't find a way out of her sham marriage. Her husband who is eight years older is seriously ill. 

"I have been tortured for so many years in this marriage, and now I have to take care of him," she told the Global Times, her voice dripping in anger.

"This is my destiny," sighed Yu, describing her life as a failure, and void of love, tenderness and compassion.

Yu met her husband eight years before they married in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when deviance from the norm on many issues could bring disastrous repercussions.

She was a 20-year-old news editor and he must have been desperate for a safe haven. Yu's nightmare began on their wedding night.

"I went to bed first and he took off his clothes after the light was turned off," Yu recalled. "He started a conversation about how his male roommate Xiao Zhang was jealous and then fell asleep."

A wasted love life

Yu says there was no physical intimacy with her husband in the days that followed, which she took as a sign that he didn't want to use her for  sexual gratification. "I felt proud that my husband seemed to care about me. I didn't think it was abnormal."

A few days after they were married young men began showing at their apartment under various pretexts and Yu was asked to return to her parents' home.

Despite her husband's apparent lusty love life, it was also a time of innocence in China in which people never discussed sex and certainly not homosexuality, which was viewed as something that was exclusive to decadent Western cultures.

"I was so na?ve then," said Yu. "I told myself that he had some sort of physical defect and avoided touching me because he didn't want to disappoint me."

Homosexuality in China was listed as a psychological illness until 2001 and homosexuals could be prosecuted or sent to mental institutions if they were discovered. 

Yu remained innocent of the truth even as her husband continued to bring male colleagues home. She says he was entertaining them the day she gave birth to their daughter.

"Married gay men are intentionally distant from their wives, because they worry that intimacy may result in more demands which they are unwilling or unable to satisfy," said Aqiang, executive director of PFLAG, a grass-roots organization that represents parents and friends of lesbians and gays which has recently reached out to women who are married to gay men. Aqiang is his often used pseudonym.

Aqiang says many women who have unwittingly married gay men face serious emotional abuse that can flare into violence if the man insists his wife become his accomplice and continue to live the lie.

Zhang Beichuan, a professor at Qingdao University in Shandong Province, says sham marriages between gay men and straight women are far more common than many people realize.

"There are about 10 million wives of gay husbands in China, including the wives of bisexual men," said Zhang who has been refused funding from his university to study the issue of gay men who marry heterosexual women.

Zhang has also studied the spread of HIV among the gay population and says some promiscuous gay men are putting their unsuspecting straight wives at risk.

"Married gay men have become a bridge for HIV to be transmitted to women," Zhang told the Global Times. Recent statistics show heterosexual sex is the leading cause HIV infection, with homosexual sex and intravenous drug use the second and third most common way of spreading the virus.

Zhang says straight women who are trapped in gay marriages are as disadvantaged and vulnerable as homosexuals. He says the phenomena reflexes widespread gender discrimination that puts the interests of women below those of men.

Complying with societal norms

Today's more enlightened attitude toward homosexuality in China is giving gay men more options than living a lie. Many are coming out to their parents, staying single or living openly with their same-sex partners.

Yet experts say too many gay men and women are still being pushed into marrying the opposite sex for fear of the stigma of breaking traditional conventions.

Marriages of convenience between consenting gay men and gay women are now seen as a less hurtful way of dealing with societal and parental expectations.

"I am thinking of dating a few women in preparation for marriage," said a 25-year-old gay man in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, who asked to be identified as Huzi.

Huzi told the Global Times that he has dated a number of gay, married men and he's considering following suit even though he knows he would be cheating his spouse and living a fraud.


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