A film about coming out as gay to one’s parents encourages more people to do the same

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-2 19:38:01

When Chinese parents learn their children are gay, they have all sorts of reactions. Some cry, some drink, some pretend to be calm and some even beat their children. Over Spring Festival, many homosexual people coming out to their parents faced these reactions and dealt with their parents in different ways. A film, Coming Home, released by PFLAG China, suggests parents and children should focus on the love and trust between family members. 

The son, who is gay, sits with his father in a film about coming out to one's parents. Photo: Courtesy of Hu Zhijun

The night before Valentine's Day, Liu Longjiang was nervous. He went over his plan repeatedly. He prepared the movies he wanted to show his mother. He thought about what tone he should use when talking to her, gentle, firm, or perhaps he should beg.

He had quit his job in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province and flown home to Guizhou Province just before this year's Chinese New Year holidays to come out as gay to his mother. Working so far from his hometown, Spring Festival was the only opportunity he had to speak to his mother face to face.

That night, Liu showed her two films, one about the wives of gay men and another about coming out to one's parents. After watching the films, his mother asked him, "Are you trying to tell me you're like that?" Liu nodded. Then he saw his mother's eyes start to fill up with tears.

The film about coming out was created by the NGO PFLAG China (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The film is about how a gay man took a year to gain the acceptance of his parents after coming out to them. It emphasized that the love between family members should be the most important thing, rather than sexuality.

Liu is one of many people who chose to come out to their parents during the recent Chinese New Year celebrations. According to conversations on an online forum dedicated to the problems faced by gay Chinese people, some of those people were inspired to come out after seeing the PFLAG film. But while they were able to come out during the holidays, the struggle for acceptance will last beyond the festival.

In China, many parents still don't have any knowledge of homosexuality. The traditional emphasis on filial piety and the expectation most have that their children will marry and have offspring sometimes turns family members against each other. 

The push of the holidays

Liu had planned for months to come out to his parents during the Chinese New Year holidays, taking the opportunity offered by the once-a-year gathering.

For the same reasons, in the run up to Spring Festival, Hu Zhijun, the director of PFLAG China thought of shooting a film about coming out to one's parents.

The film tells the story of a gay man who comes out to his parents during the holidays and faces rejection from his parents. His father yells that he "has no such son" and the mother wishes that  her son could somehow change back to being "normal."

But when the man cuts off contact with his parents after the fight, they start to realize that what matters most is not their child's sexual orientation but their relationship with him and call the son during the next Chinese New Year, asking him to come home.

The film was released on various websites, including video-streaming sites Youku and YouTube, and it instantly went viral.

Hu received many messages from young homosexuals over Chinese New Year seeking advice on how to deal with their parents. After the movie came out, he created a chat group on the Wechat instant messaging app for people to discuss their experiences. 

No gentle way

Many parents react with denial when their children tell them about their homosexuality.

After crying silently for a while, Liu's mother asked him "How could I have had a son like you?" She asked Liu why he didn't tell her this when he was little, so that she could have had another son.

Hu said many who came to him for help during the holidays had violent reactions from their family members.

One of the men who came out to his parents was kicked and punched by his father. After he ran out of the house and sought refuge with a friend, his father sent him a text message threatening to kill him.

For Quan Qin, 28-year-old biology student at a university in Beijing from Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, even though his father didn't hurt him physically, he said hurtful things that Quan cannot forget.

"He said, 'Even if you were a criminal, a rapist, after you came out of jail we would still accept you and live with you as a family. But now how are we supposed to accept you?' and these words stuck with me," Quan said. "I just couldn't understand, for the life of me, what could I possibly have done?"

When Quan came out to his parents during the Chinese New Year in 2014, he felt the weight of his duty to his parents weighing heavily on his shoulders.

"My father is the oldest child, so that means I have to 'set an example,'" Quan said. "Every year during the holidays, my grandfather would gather up my cousins and say, 'You should look up to your brother.'"

For these reasons, accepting the fact that their only child is gay has been extremely difficult for Quan's parents. Upon finding out he has a gay son, Quan's father cried, shouted, and drank heavily late into the night.

In the following months Quan constantly received long lectures from his father about family and duty. His father believed that Quan "chose to like boys" because he's young and doesn't understand the duties he is expected to fulfill as a good Chinese son.

Over the last year, his parents have tried to "turn back" their son, including having relatives and friends bombard him with phone calls, consulting with hospitals and researching ways to "cure" homosexuality online.

In October, Quan was forced to go to see a fortune teller. His father heard through the grapevine that there was a woman in Xuzhou who could "work magic" and dragged Quan home.

The woman was in her 60s and rented out an apartment to be her work studio. There was an altar in the corner, on it stood statues of all the gods from the extended Chinese pantheon. Quan was made to kneel in front of the altar and kowtow nine times.

Then the woman moved her fingers around, drew a few pictures on a piece of paper, and told Quan's parents she had gotten rid of his "evil spirits" and that he should be able to marry a woman by March 2015.

"Well, it's March now, but I'm still single, and still gay," Quan said. 

Finding the trust

Li Hong didn't understand her son either at first and wanted her son to just be "normal." When her son came out to her, she didn't talk to him for an entire week. She said she felt scared.

But now she's a member of PFLAG's  Harbin division. She gives training to other parents who want to get involved with the group, gives advice to the parents of gay adults, and even starred in the film as the mother of the gay son.

"When I said 'Son, come home for the holidays' in the film, I burst out crying," she said. "Many people said to me, 'you are a natural actress,' but I told them that's how I actually felt at that time. It was all real."

What changed her perspective on her son's sexuality was the realization of how painful being rejected by his family would be for her son.

"At first I kept thinking about myself, how am I going to face the relatives, how can I have a son like this," she said. "But then I realized, what about him? He must be in pain as well."

She started looking up information on homosexuality and got in touch with PFLAG China. She grew to not only accept her son, but has now given over her free time to helping mend the relationships between gay adults and their parents.

Most of the parents who call the hotline are worried about their children's future and how they can live in this world, Li said. There are very few who worry about "face." Most parents worry about the difficulties their children will  face, such as how they will face old age without children of their own to look after them.

Chen Chen (pseudonym), a 26-year-old living in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, said that if the child has a good relationship with their parents, it increases their chances of getting accepted. The best relationship between parents and children is one of mutual trust, he said.

"My parents always saw me as capable and independent," he said. "When I came out to them, we discussed my plans for the future, about marriage, children and old age."

Over the holidays, Liu says he shed more tears than he did in the first 26 years of his life. When he told his mother about his sexuality, she didn't mention the topic again for five days. 

  Devastated, he thought his mother didn't love him anymore. He locked himself in his room and started starving himself. "My mother called my name several times outside the door, but I didn't want to get up," Liu said. "In the end, she finally said, 'You talked about going to a PFLAG meeting, I'll go with you.'"

On February 22, a week after Liu came out, he took his mother to a gathering of gay people and their parents in Guiyang, Guizhou Province. When his mother walked into the room, she was confused and nervous.

But the other parents came up to greet her, some patted her on the shoulder. One mother pointed to her own son, who is gay, and said "Look, isn't he handsome?" During the meeting, the other parents told Liu's mother that being gay doesn't make her son all that different, that it's not a sickness and that gay people can certainly have a good life.

"By the end of the meeting, I think she relaxed a lot," Liu said. Liu said he knows he'll face difficulties in getting acceptance from many of his relatives. But most people who chose to come out aren't thinking of going back into the closet. "Coming out isn't admitting a mistake, it's telling your parents your different way of living," he said.

The father and mother cry when they learn their son is gay. Photo: Courtesy of Hu Zhijun


The fictional family in the film sits together for a meal on Spring Festival. Photo: Courtesy of Hu Zhijun

Newspaper headline: Coming home, coming out

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