Neil Patrick Harris, an American actor, director and producer, and his partner David Burtka enjoy a holiday with their twins from a surrogate mother in St. Tropez, France, on August 4, 2011. Photo: IC
Since becoming a father in August last year at the age of 35, Qin Feng (pseudonym), a gay man in Beijing, says he has never been happier.
"Every morning when I am washing myself, my son holds on to my legs while calling me Dad. And I feel that a beautiful day has just begun…," Qin wrote on his microblog.
Qin did not get married, nor did he adopt his son, but became a father through surrogacy. Although this method is actually forbidden in China, it is becoming increasingly popular among heterosexual couples frustrated by infertility, as well as gay couples.
"I really love children, whom I think are the third leg of a family and vital to maintaining a relationship," Qin said.
His opinion is shared by a majority of gay men who have a strong desire to raise children in a society that is becoming more tolerant to homosexuals. Though some have managed to realize their wish through a variety of means, tough policy restrictions mean the chances of this happening remain slim.
Qin met his boyfriend in 2000 and initially came up with the idea of having a baby in 2004.
"I made some consultations about surrogacy back then, but I realized I was not ready to be a father at that time," Qin told the Global Times. He broke up with his lover and then got back together with him in 2010, when they decided to raise a child.
They then started to collect information on surrogacy agencies and finally picked one based in Beijing. The agency was responsible for the whole process, including arranging for an egg provider and surrogate mother.
Surrogacy was prohibited in China following a circular issued in 2001 by the Ministry of Health, but not proscribed by law. "You know, many things can be settled with money here," Qin said, adding that the technology remains in a "grey area" in China. Qin spent around 500,000 yuan ($80,075) on the procedure up until the child was born.
But that was by no means the end of the matter. In China, a person does not become a real citizen until he obtains a household registration, or hukou, which requires a series of documents including a marriage and birth certificate. To overcome these obstacles, Qin spent some 60,000 yuan on the services of another agency.
Though prohibited and costly, surrogacy is emerging as the main channel for gay men eager to have a "complete" family. Qin said many couples came to seek advice from him after learning of their success, and some have already made it.
"It's not surprising that a growing number of well-to-do gay guys are more determined to pursue their ideal life as society becomes more tolerant, especially after they come out to their parents, who inevitably worry about their future," said A Qiang, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in China, a grass-roots organization committed to promoting communication and understanding between homosexuals and their families.
In an environment dominated by heterosexual-oriented policies, homosexuals are trying every possible means to realize their reproductive rights, dispelling such "nonsense" that says homosexuality will lead to mankind's extinction, said Guo Xiaofei, a teacher at the China University of Political Science and Law, who specializes in the study of gay rights.
"Such an adventure is risky, but the system is not unchangeable. The efforts by these forerunners can contribute to the improvement of policies," Guo told the Global Times. "Even if it's illegal, it's a kind of 'benign violation'."
Some couples are also turning to other countries to avoid any potential risks. During an earlier investigation by the Global Times, some US agencies confirmed that there have been Chinese gay couples or single gay men approaching them for help.
For the parents of gay men in China, the issue of sexual orientation brings a more pragmatic concern.
A man in Fujian surnamed Wu, who became aware of his 25-year-old son's sexual orientation last October and decided to support him, told the Global Times that he and his wife have been thinking about who will take care of their son in his old age.
"We do hope he can have a child at some time," said Wu, "We don't care too much about the tradition of having offspring to carry on the family line, but we are worried that nobody will look after him in the future."
Wu said he learned about surrogacy from the Internet, which he discovered was illegal and beyond the reach of an average-income family. "I thought adoption would be the ideal way, but it also lacks policy support."
Wu's sentiment is shared by a lot of parents who found that their children are placed in a dilemma on the matter of raising children, as homosexuals' adoption needs usually lack support.
A statement issued in 2005 by the China Center of Adoption Affairs, the Chinese government-authorized organ responsible for both international and domestic adoption, clearly stated that the center "doesn't seek homosexuals as adoption candidates."
It said that homosexual families are not recognized or protected by laws in China, and that homosexuality is classified as a form of "mental disease," which, in fact, ceased to be the case in 2001. It also added that homosexuality violates "social morals."
Regarding such regulations as discriminatory, A Qiang recently wrote to the center demanding a correction.
Since the door for homosexual couples is shut, one possible way out is to make an application as a single male. However, similar obstacles exist. For example, the Adoption Law of China stipulates that if a male without a spouse wants to adopt a girl, their age gap has to be at least 40 years.
Perhaps the adoption experience of Zhou Dong from Hebei Province can be seen as a sign of encouragement. The 46-year-old gay man adopted a 13-year-old boy from a local orphanage early last year, but did not disclose that he was a homosexual, which is not required.
Zhou told the Global Times that the procedure was indeed complicated, but not as difficult as he had expected. However, he admitted that raising a child of this age is a headache.
"Considering the deep-rooted Chinese tradition that favors boys over girls, it's really difficult to adopt a healthy baby boy," said A Qiang.
Statistics from the Office of Children's Issues in the US show that among the 66,630 children adopted by American families between 1999 and 2011, 90.7 percent were girls.
"If our adoption policy were clear, I would have considered this method, which would also benefit those children," said Qin, expressing his concern over the chaotic adoption system, which has occasionally become embroiled in dealing scandals.
Overcoming layers of barriers is just the first step to having a child. Bringing that child up is another equally formidable challenge against the backdrop of Chinese society's negative impression of homosexuals.
Qin now enjoys a satisfying life in a typical three-member family. Just like heterosexual couples, he and his boyfriend spend time learning about parenting at home or bringing their 14-month-old son to parks. "I don't mind if people gossip about us," he said.
Nevertheless, the influence of a deep-rooted stigma cannot be completely ignored. Most of the couples the Global Times contacted refused to talk, citing the children's privacy, and specifically, fear of negative comments from the public.
Qin has his own experience about this. When he took his baby back to his hometown, his parents seemed to be very fond of their grandson, but his mother objected to his father showing the kid around, for fear of the gossip it might lead to.
"She cares too much about other people's opinions," Qin said, "But I understood her concerns and want to make compromises in some aspects."
What he had not expected was that his mother was firmly opposed to him incorporating his boyfriend's surname into his son's name.
Currently, there is a prevailing notion that children raised by same-sex parents will naturally take on personality flaws, compared with those who have grown up in traditional families. Some even believe these children will be more likely to become homosexuals themselves in the future.
"I think every parent is a combination of both paternal and maternal love, and people should realize that sexual orientation is nature instead of nurture," Qin said.
"Such an assumption is ridiculous," said Fang Gang, a sexologist and sociologist at Beijing Forestry University. "It's known that a family full of love is good for a kid's growth, and love has nothing to do with the couple's sex."
Fang stressed that if there are certain flaws that emerge in same-sex families, it should be attributed to the discrimination and hostility people hold toward them. "Factors such as violence in ordinary families would more seriously harm a child's personality."
Bowing to social prejudice, there is possibly nothing more tragic than a marriage between a gay man and a straight woman, which is the most common approach Chinese gay men choose to satisfy their parents' wishes of having grandchildren, but one that has been widely criticized for being immoral.
"Under the current system, marriage serves as the premise of childbearing, forcing a large number of gay men to enter into traditional marriages. The mainstream of society should have a rethink about the system, which is the root for the boom in marriage scams," said Guo.
Qin said he firmly stands against such a method, though his parents have also pressured him to marry a woman before.
He said he is still not sure what he would say if his son asked him some day why he has two dads but no mum. "It depends on when he raises such a question. I think it will not be tough though," said Qin.
Qin had planned to instruct the child to call him "daddy" and his lover "papa," which his mother objected to. "Maybe 'godfather' [gandie] will be a good option," he said.