Officially out

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-11 5:03:01

Gay civil servant wins recognition after decade-long struggle

Tao Tao, who enjoys bodybuilding, likes to post revealing pictures on his social media accounts. Photo: Courtesy of Tao Tao

Tao Tao, a demobilized PLA soldier and civil servant, has never regretted the decision he made 12 years ago to publicly announce that he was gay. But it would take a decade before he won acceptance from his wife and fellow workers.

Probably the first civil servant to have come out as gay in China, the 44-year-old used to be extremely vocal in challenging traditional Chinese ideas about marriage, love and sex, but has now become much less outspoken.

But Tao has never been shy in expressing his views. From confronting his superiors over corruption to sharing details of his private life, including nude photos and his one-night stand experiences, he has always been candid on social media and in front of the cameras.

"It's me. It's my personality. I love this way of living in the sun. But I also understand the decision of other gay men to live in the dark," Tao told the Global Times in a recent interview. "They fear they will lose something, as discrimination still exists."


Blessed with good looks and a strapping 1.78-meter frame, Tao performed well in gymnastics and volleyball in his youth, and was recruited to the logistics department of the Nanjing Military Area Command in 1995 after graduating from the Nanjing Sport Institute.

In 1997, he got married, and in 2003, he was transferred to the Nanjing government in Jiangsu Province and worked in a department for retirees and then the justice bureau. That same year, his wife gave birth to twin girls. It was then that he announced his sexuality to an online gay community.

He discovered he was interested in men in 2002 when he went online and viewed nude photos of men on foreign websites. He then left messages on gay websites. In March that year he met and fell in love with Xiao Hai (pseudonym), who became his boyfriend.

His family discovered his secret, and tried to force him to cut relations with Xiao. But he rejected their demands and asked his wife for a divorce, which she refused.

"It was a miserable period. The domestic pressure and self-denial almost caused me to break down," Tao recalled. "But hiding cannot solve the problem. I needed to conquer it. I chose to accept myself and come out."

He then became a gay rights activist, posting his photos and opinions on blogs and attracting many fans. In 2006, a post accusing him of advocating gay orgies circulated on the Internet, and police approached him and his employer. The police made him shut down his blogs.

The next day, local officials held a symposium at the department where Tao worked. At the symposium, Tao openly announced his gay identity. The director remarked that "Tao is a good comrade" and left.

Despite this, he was still frightened that his neighbors would hurt his family, and even thought of moving them out of the city. But instead, his neighbors and colleagues treated him like before, apart from one veteran cadre who told him that he would no longer pose for photos with him.

However, he did miss several opportunities to get promoted. "In official circles, officials are not allowed to have 'moral stains,'" Tao explained.

Ending the struggle

In 2009, he launched a column on a gay website. In 2011, when social media began to thrive, he decided to take his views to Sina Weibo, but his accounts never lasted long. "My accounts were closed at least three times. I believe I have been put on the blacklist of the public security organs," Tao said.

He has been outspoken about his support of sexual liberation. In August last year, he answered people's questions on his blog, including queries about the size of his private parts and his sex life with his boyfriend.

When the country launched a major pornography and prostitution crackdown in Dongguan, Guangdong Province in early 2014, he received a notice from Weibo warning him that he had an illicit photo on his account. "I then searched my account and deleted all the photos that exposed flesh. But the account was still closed."

On July 5, he reopened a Weibo account and has now gathered over 1,300 followers. "I use the channel to learn about current affairs and the views of opinion leaders," he said.

In previous years, he spent a great deal of time playing the role of a gay mentor, helping people solve their problems online.

"I have retired from being a fighter for gay rights. I have already won the acceptance of my family and colleagues. I think it's unnecessary for me to keep struggling," Tao explained. "Furthermore, society's tolerance for gay people has greatly increased."

Now a grass-roots worker who deals with petitions at a community justice department, he takes his job seriously despite being passed over for promotion.

As a member of the Communist Party of China, he once thought of quitting the Party due to his disappointment with official corruption and fraud. "On several occasions when the superiors came to inspect us, I bluntly criticized them," Tao said, noting that they were always asked to exaggerate details about their job performance.

Normal life

Tao lives with his wife and children on weekdays and only visits his boyfriend on weekends. Since coming out, he says he has never had sex with his wife, nor does he intervene in her freedom to have relations with other men.

According to him, he only had a serious talk with his two daughters about his sexual orientation last year when they came across the word "homosexuality" online. "I just told them homosexuality is normal and is just like being left-handed," he said.

In late July, a five-episode documentary featuring several Chinese gay people including Tao was shown on Phoenix TV. Worried that the wider exposure would bring problems to the family, his wife decided to go through with divorce proceedings. But they continue to live as a family.

"I try my best to be a responsible father, but I can't make things completely satisfactory for both sides," he noted.

Tao revealed that his boyfriend still keeps his orientation a secret and has entered into a sham marriage with a lesbian due to pressure from his parents.

While talking about his biggest wish, Tao says it is "to earn back money lost in stocks."  "With money, I can travel around with my boyfriend and live a better quality of life," he said.

Ah Qiang, a well-known gay rights activist who has known Tao for more than 10 years, considers Tao to be a "freak." "It's rare to find a civil servant who dares to reveal himself like Tao. Being gay makes you an easy target for threats. Once exposed, you can suffer blackmail or even attacks from competitors," said Ah Qiang.

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