The wives in the closet

By Wang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-22 18:28:01

The tragedies and troubles of the women who unknowingly marry gay men

Most women know nothing aboutof their husbands' sexual orientations before getting married. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

More than 16 million women in the Chinese mainland are currently, or have been, married to men who are gay or bisexual, according to a leading expert on AIDS and HIV, Professor Zhang Beichuan, of the Qingdao University. He has been researching and collating information as well as the often sad stories of these women who find themselves in relationships that involve secrecy and often abuse and violence.

Despite the numbers involved, most Chinese wives married to gay men stay silent about their situation fearing that they would become discriminated against or gossiped about if they go public.

To gain an insight into this rarely discussed problem, the Global Times talked to three women who found themselves married to gay husbands. They each have different stories and different relationships but all have suffered.

Wives are unaware

Zhang told the Global Times that about 80 percent of homosexual men in China get married because of traditional family values. But, in most cases, the wives of gay men are unaware of their husbands' sexuality before the marriage.

He said some of the gay men were very clever at maintaining the deception. "During the dating stage, they pretend to be passionate about their girlfriends, and have close physical contact and regular sex with the women. But once they have been married and look conventional they can change their attitudes and become cold and indifferent to their wives," Zhang said.

Liu Yang (pseudonym) is a 30-year-old Fujian Province woman who married a gay man. They had been introduced by a mutual friend of their parents. Over their year-long courtship, they usually met once a week, but, being a Christian, she didn't have any real physical contact with the man and certainly no sex.

"I would even thank him for respecting my religious beliefs," Liu said. She had no suspicions of her fiancé's sexuality - she believed that homosexuality only existed in the West and not in China.

Another woman, 40-something Chen Chen, from Harbin began sobbing when she talked about meeting her husband.

 "A friend of my parents arranged a blind date for me, and said the guy was well educated, handsome and rich," Chen said. "I thought there was nothing to lose by just meeting him so I went out on a date."

To her surprise she found herself very attracted to the man, his personality, looks and manners. "He was happy with me so we began dating seriously," she said.

But their relationship wasn't as close as she hoped for. Over their two-year courtship the man never held her hands, or hugged her - though they did have sex. But the man's coolness seemed to fan her personal feelings and drove her to try to win him over even more.

"I had complained to close friends about his indifference to me and they all said I should leave him - one friend actually suggested he might be gay. But I ignored them believing that my love would change him one day," Chen said.

Matchmaker introduction

Guo Fang (pseudonym) from Qingdao is in her 50s. She was married to a gay man for more than 20 years. In 1988 she was introduced to him by a matchmaker.

"My husband was very shy and quiet when we dated. We didn't talk much, and he wasn't passionate about me," she said. "But my family thought he was a reliable young man, because he had a skill that could make good money and he had a property for our marriage. So we got married after a year."

A recent report from the Harbin Institute of Technology revealed that of 173 straight wives of gay men interviewed, around 30 percent had had no sex at all in their marriages, and almost 90 percent had suffered emotional or physical abuse from their husbands. Only about 30 percent had been divorced.

Zhang said that the most common complaint from these wives was of the long-term emotional abuse they suffered. "They told me their marriages were unbearably lonely. There were hardly any kisses or cuddles, no affection and no sex with their husbands."

Chen said her husband had always been cold to her, emotionally and physically - "It was like being two strangers living in the same house."

During their 15-year-marriage, she and her husband only had sex once or twice a year. "Though there was nothing wrong with him he just found excuses to avoid having sex with me," Chen said.

Guo had similar experiences. "I knew my husband was not a chatty person, but it was weird that he never showed any affection for me at all," Guo said.

Then, when she was just about to give birth to their child, an incident nearly broke her heart. "We were having lunch that day with his family. When I had some pains and felt like I was about to give birth, everyone there was concerned and his parents asked him to get a midwife from the village. However he ignored this and just sat there continuing to eat his lunch while I was having contractions and couldn't move. A real husband wouldn't behave like this," Guo said.

In China around 16 million women married to gay husbands suffer physically or emotionally. Photo: IC

More domestic violence

Professor Zhang said that as well as the emotional abuse in these gay-straight marriages there was a 50 percent or more risk of domestic violence. These gay men were living such secretive lives and were experiencing a huge amount of stress. Often, to relieve their anger or depression they would physically attack their wives,

Li Xianhong is an associate professor with the Central South University and found that 90 percent of the wives of gay men she had researched had suffered serious depression - 10 percent had tried to commit suicide.

Another serious issue in gay-straight marriages is that the women are at risk of contracting AIDs. Figure from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 showed that 30 percent of new HIV cases occurred within the gay community. Other research showed that fewer than 50 percent of gay husbands affected with HIV would tell their wives or take precautionary measures.

Obviously these women do not choose to marry gay men but when they realize their situation they have to choose how to handle the problem. Some immediately elect to divorce their husbands. Liu, for example, officially and amicably split from her husband four months after they were married.

She told the Global Times, that two months after they were married her husband had confessed to her that he was gay. "He told me his parents had pressured him into marriage. We got divorced quietly without telling our friends or families beforehand."

She moved out without any financial settlement. "I didn't care about money. The only thing I wanted to do was to end my meaningless marriage as quickly as possible," Liu said.

But for some wives married to gay men divorce can be a major challenge. When Chen discovered her husband was gay she gave him a second chance to save their marriage.

"It was extremely difficult to decide on a divorce - I didn't want our child growing up in a broken home," she explained. "And the lawyers I consulted told me that I was at a disadvantage, because all of our property was in the names of my husband's parents. So I was much less likely to get a settlement for the divorce and my husband could be given custody of my child."

Her husband refused to divorce - he thought this would look bad for him in public. Their families and friends also pushed for them to stay together.

Chen gave him a second chance, but he continued to act as before. He behaved coldly toward her, there was no affection and he even refused to give her money for the household.

"Honestly, he's not a bad man. But, no matter how hard I try, he just can't treat me as a wife or even as a close friend," Chen told the Global Times. In February she divorced him and moved out from his apartment.

Divorce still shameful

However, there are many wives who choose to stay in marriages even though they know their husbands are gay. According to Zhang, breaking free from these marriages is not easy in China where divorce can still be considered shameful, especially for women.

Guo still lives with her gay husband, though she no longer has sex with him after discovering his orientation. She once considered a divorce but, she decided not to end the marriage, to protect her son and her own reputation.

"I don't want my son growing up in a broken home," she said. And in our village my husband is regarded as a nice, honest person. No one would believe he was gay. If I wanted a divorce, most people would blame me, and might even suspect I was having an affair."

She did tell her brothers the truth but they also opposed the idea of a divorce, saying that would shame the family. She has no job, no money of her own and has to rely on her husband for everything.

"It wasn't my fault or my husband's fault. The blame for our disastrous marriage has to be on the traditional Chinese values of heterosexual marriage and procreation," Liu said. "Only when gay relationships are properly recognized will the tragedies of wives like this disappear."

Since October 2010, Liu has been promoting programs to help the wives of gay men and speaking for this group at seminars and forums.

"I felt it was necessary to let the public hear the voices of these wives of gay men. Otherwise no one would realize the existence of this problem and there would be no help for us," Liu said. She sees this as a first step toward raising public awareness of the plight of these women.

Some lawyers in China have also recognized the problem and work to defend the rights of these marginalized women.

No legal definition

Yang Shaogang, a former counsellor with the Shanghai Municipal Government, and a senior lawyer specializing in cases involving homosexuality and HIV carriers, told the Global Times that current Chinese laws have no legal terminology for homosexuals, let alone a legal definition for wives of homosexuals. This meant that lawyers and judges had no legal references when discussing cases involving wives of gay men. As a result, although most gay husbands deprive their wives of the rights to knowledge, affection and sex, in divorce courts the wives are disadvantaged and unlikely to be awarded fair compensation.

Zhang has also called for the gay community to improve its ethical education. "The issue of gay-straight marriages ultimately is a problem of ethics and morality. It is important to educate gays not to marry women for their own self-centered interests," he said. He would like to see more media coverage of the issue so that single women would be aware of the problems and might be able to avoid relationships with gay men.

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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