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My child is … gay

Updated: 2013-01-06 09:00
By Shi Yingying ( China Daily)

In Chinese society, where carrying on the ancestral line is a duty, it can be hard for parents to accept their homosexual child may never marry - at least in the conventional sense. But as Shi Yingying finds in Guangzhou, there is help at hand.

Seven years ago, Wu Youjian became the first Chinese mother to openly support her gay son on television. Seven years later, she is still a lone voice among the parents of gays and lesbians who struggle to accept their children's sexual preferences.

Xiao Qiang (not his real name), 44, is one of them.

My child is … gay

The most difficult part of being in a gay relationship in China is often when the couple goes home and breaks the news to parents. Tang Guangfeng / for China Daily

"I watched her speech on TV, but I just couldn't do it her way - hug my son and accept the fact that this boy, who I watched grow up with such pride, favors men over women."

Xiao says he went home drunk every night for a whole month after his high school aged son revealed his sexual orientation because he fears he will never have a grandson. It is illegal for same-sex couples to adopt children in China.

"It was the biggest wish of my life, why I worked so hard and brought my whole family to Guangzhou from my hometown in Hunan's Shaoyang, so my heirs can have better lives."

Xiao runs a hair salon in Guangzhou's bustling Tianhe commercial district, and makes about 7,000 ($1,123) to 8,000 yuan a month.

Twenty years ago, he arrived in Guangzhou as a migrant worker and worked as a security guard, pinning all his hopes on his son and saved to buy him an apartment.

"Now I have to work even harder to make sure I have a grandson, as the black market prices for surrogate mothers in China is extremely high," Xiao says.

He has done his homework and says a grandchild from a surrogate mother will cost him anything from 120,000 to 0.5 million yuan.

"You've got the high-end option in California, where surrogacy is legal and your baby is born with an American passport And then you have the lower end option of doing it on the black market in China."

While Xiao worries about the economic implications, 66-year-old Xu Meifeng claims her son coming out caused her medical problems.

"I felt like I was pushed over the edge when my son came home two years ago and brought his foreign boyfriend. I couldn't even stand hearing the word 'homosexual'," Xu says, adding she has had insomnia since that day.

She admits worrying about her 32-year-old's lack of a prospective daughter-in-law, but it never even occurred to her that he was gay.

There was no one in her family or among her friends she could confide in.

"I would simply turn away every time my friends talked about their grandkids."

For both Xiao and Xu, help is at hand with the support network Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The NGO comprises 150 parents of lesbians and gays in China.

Hu Zhijun, executive director of PFLAG China, says the group not only supports the families and friends of gay people, but also helps the individual during the difficult "coming out" process.

Research at San Francisco State University shows that gay and transgender youths rejected by their families are a very high-risk group for health and mental health problems. As 21 to 25 years old, they are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, and six times as likely to succumb to severe depression.

"Such rates are even higher in China given the fact there is a greater emphasis on family in this country and that Chinese parents are rather controlling," Hu says.

PFLAG has set up a helpline to promote better understanding between parents and children (400-820-211, Monday to Friday), manned by parents of lesbians and gays, who share their stories and experiences.

Fan Xiyun, 56, from Fujian's Nanping is one of them. Her 24-year-old son Zhang Lingxuan revealed his sexual orientation in 2012.

"I had no idea how much he suffered over the years, especially at high school. Some older boys beat him up but the school didn't punish them and expelled my son instead," Fan says.

"By the time we realize who our children are, we may have hurt them in so many ways. No one teaches us how to help and protect our gay children. We may think we can help by trying to change them, but we need to love them for who they are."

Fan says people of her generation are relatively traditional and conservative toward homosexuality, but "we need to update our outlook.

Apart from running a helpline, PFLAG also holds activities and counsels parents. The community also plays a vital role in speaking out for gay rights.

Eighteen mothers from PFLAG China publicly criticized a sex education booklet that described homosexuality as a kind of "sexual deviance" and was distributed to parents of middle school students in Hangzhou, in August last year.

When 50,000 copies of the book, Parents, Please Walk Your Children Through Puberty, were handed out to parents, 18 PFLAG mothers sent an open letter on Aug 27 to the Hangzhou Education Bureau, demanding that it recalled the books and revised the relevant sections for the second edition.

For Xiao, Xu and PFLAG, it is an uphill battle to educate the public about homosexuality, when most are reluctant to accept it and fear that their line will come to a premature end. In the meantime, there are hearts to heal, and the healing process has to begin at home.

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