China Correspondent – “James,” Part 4


By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly

This is the fourth installment of a series detailing an interview I did with a Chinese man about his experience being gay in China and his views on life for gay men in his country. You can find the first installment here, as well as the second and third installments.

Q: Do you have a lot of gay friends?

A: Yes, I do, more than 20.

Q: How do you all meet each other?

A: Most of them started by trying to be my boyfriend, but we ended up just friends. More than half of them were made with online apps. Just one or two were friends of friends.

Q: Are there gay bars in Xi’an?

A: There are some gay bars here, but I’ve never been to one in China. I’ve been to a gay bar in Chicago actually. Gay bars there are the same as here; I mean Beijing or Shanghai. In gay bars in Western China the atmosphere is very different, cold. People go to there for sex, so they don’t want to chat with you.

Q: Is there a big social scene? In Xi’an I look online at Grindr or something—there are like 20 guys online and I know there are about 9 million people in this city. There must be a lot more guys.

A: It’s small. After the second time I slept with my ex-boyfriend he saw a picture of a friend of mine. When I asked how he knew him he said, “We’re just friends.” Then after we broke up I found out they had slept together.

Q: I feel like that’s a pretty universal gay experience. Is it very difficult to date here?

A: At a young age we don’t have a strong will to date. We don’t have money or time; how would we do it? Now we have a lot of ways to date. In my experience I don’t feel it’s hard to date.

Q: Do gay men and lesbians socialize much in China?

A: I don’t think so. I know some bars are friendly to gay people here but there aren’t any bars for lesbians. I know a few lesbians, but to be honest I just don’t know what lesbians look like in China—you can’t tell the difference. Here it’s very hidden. I can tell if some guy is gay, but I can’t tell if a woman is a lesbian.

Q: Are there characteristics of a gay man in China?

A: More feminine, but it’s hard to say. When I met you I thought you were gay; it’s stuff like their gestures, their eyes, their expressions. I think I’m just very sensitive to that.

Q: In America we call that “gaydar,” like gay radar.

A: Oh, new vocabulary!

Q: What do Chinese guys think about Western guys when they come through?

A: They mostly just want to make conversation, but most of them don’t speak very well; they just think it’s cool to talk to them. They think, “If I can talk with a foreigner my friends will think I’m cool.” So the first thought they have about foreign guys is curiosity. I have friends who speak better English than me. But I don’t think they would be open to talk about being gay, like this. To me, it’s just about learning about foreign culture. I want to know more about life outside, I want to meet foreign guys to learn more about how to engage with foreigners. It will be good for me in the future if I go abroad to study in America.

Next time, life in the military.