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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Pink China comes out of shadows
By Louisa Lim
BBC News, China

A bartender and a patron on a quiet night at a Beijing gay bar, 10/02/2004
China's gay scene is still evolving
It is only four years since China dropped homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders.

Now, gay activists in China are using the internet and other high-tech methods to try to create gay communities.

But even as China's gays come tiptoeing out of the closet, they admit they are fighting an uphill battle.

At a recent meeting in Beijing, a group of woman were discussing gender identity.

This kind of open salon for lesbians is relatively new in China, a product of the internet generation.

"If we didn't have the internet to unite people together, the salons, the bars, the discos could not be there. So the internet is a very, very important thing to lesbian culture," said 23-year-old Sylvia, attending the meeting with her girlfriend.

"You have a brand new way for you to find friends, find girlfriends, and start your new life, because before the internet appeared, everybody thought they were the only person in the world and they couldn't find any other people like themselves," she said.

But gay websites exist in a grey area, with some official interference.

"Some gay websites are closed by the service provider, and sometimes they'll give you other reasons, like not really gay-related, but actually the real reason is the sensitive gay content," said Xiao Xian, a lesbian activist.

"We're still testing the water, like what we can do, what is being allowed. So the government didn't have a clear rule put down on paper. Rather, it's unwritten rules, so you have to test it, you have to see what you can do," she said.

Internet in China (file photo)
Many gays in China rely on the internet
A gay and lesbian film festival attended by more than 100 people was recently held in a small room in a disused factory - a second attempt, after the authorities refused to allow them to hold the event on a university campus.

The films shown were mostly shot on the mainland, but most had never been seen in China before.

One of the films - a bittersweet gay love story between a man and a Martian - was directed by Cui Ze'en, a professor at Beijing Film Academy, who has been forbidden from teaching for 15 years since he came out of the closet.

He believes that the authorities feel as threatened by sexual dissidents as political dissidents.

"They're the same taboo," he said. "Homosexuality represents a different cultural politics. Being gay is a kind of body politics, which is entirely rejected in our system, because in our country, politics is all about being the same. But gay people are different."

Drag queens

At a smoky bar in southern China I caught up with the country's underground gay scene.

As disco lights flashed red, green and blue and music blared, a transvestite on stage strutted his stuff in a red bikini with gold tassels.

One of the performers was 28-year-old Yuan Bing, a slender boy from the country in a white diaphanous dress. He discovered as a child that he liked dressing up in girls' clothes.

He said the audience reaction to his drag act was generally positive, but it could get nasty.

"When we are performing, sometimes customers really react against us. They simply can't bear us and they verbally attack us. We love what we do and we sometimes get angry with this response," he said.

Every person here has their own story of heartbreak and discrimination.

"I don't think I can tell my parents. If other people found out, my parents would lose face," said Yuan Bing.

It is a familiar, sad story for China's sexual dissidents

In his stage persona, Yuan Bing braves public discrimination and official disapproval every day.

Yet in his private life he still hides behind a wall of silence.

Out of the closet in China
13 Jan 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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26 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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12 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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