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Glad to be gay?
(Beijing Weekend)
Updated: 2004-04-02 09:14

Wang Zheng knew he was different from the age of five but for long tried to suppress his natural inclinations.

Even after openly coming out as gay, friends would advise him to get married as a "cover."

The Canadian-Chinese, who is based in Beijing, is also known as Tavio.

In conversation, the stylish designer speaks with a deep voice and looks much younger than his 47 years. While admitting that he sometimes carries himself more like a woman, at first glance Wang comes across like a handsome, fashionable young man.

It's little surprise that he also turns the heads of women. Yet he says he always insists on being totally open about his orientation: "I will sometimes invite women to tea or dinner, and tell them I am gay. 'What a pity' is the most frequent response," he said.

"I was very open about it at first, but then I found there are many disadvantages to that," he revealed. "It is a nuisance about the Chinese. Foreigners do not gossip so much."

He added: "I'm an open character. I don't want to live a reclusive life. To do that is against my will."

His friends even suggested that he get married, as a cover: "I don't want to do that. That's not fair for the woman. If I don't feel happy, how can I bring happiness to her?"

Born in 1957 to parents who were both Western-style opera singers with the China National Opera Theatre, Wang studied dancing, singing and piano in his teenage years.

On graduation from high school, he became a dancer with the China National Song and Dance Ensemble. Later he joined the artistic performance unit of the People's Liberation Army in Datong, Shanxi, before being demobilized and becoming a warehouse keeper at Dongfeng Market, the origin of Sun Dong An.

"My father predicted that I would marry and have children earlier than my elder brother," Wang recalled. "I was a romantic young guy, singing, dancing, dressing up and making friends."

Yet despite his open character, Wang admits that if he had a choice, he would choose not to be gay because it would make life so much easier for him.

"We are 'unnaturally natural,'" he said.

"Unnatural" because they are different from the majority of other people. "Natural" because the tendency is innate.

He knew he had the tendency as early as kindergarten.

He described himself as a sheepish boy who was easily bullied and could not fight for himself.

Yet he also chased girls who had a strong personality.

As he grew up, he found himself sexually attracted to men, but not to women.

"I forced myself to think of women, but it didn't work," he said. "I felt that I didn't belong to society. I needed either to run away or to die."

He contemplated suicide but being a happy personality didn't take any action.

'Gay' was not in the vocabulary of Chinese people in the 1970s and 1980s.

Wang first learned of the term via a Chinese magazine that criticized a Western movie with gay content.

But it was not until he went to Canada in 1984 to study fashion design that he finally came to terms with his sexuality.

"I learned that I was not alone in this world," he said. "It was like a fish going back to water."

For him, loving another man is no different from the love between a man and a woman: "We have genuine feelings and warmth, just like ordinary people."

He describes himself as attaching more importance to feelings than to sex.

His father died too early to know he was wrong about his son.

He dropped hints about his sexual orientation to his mother who didn't respond, probably because she didn't have any concept of 'gay.'

His elder brother knew for a long time but let him be: "As I was already 'weird,' he just asked me to be careful not to get any disease," said Wang. His mother has passed away.

Yet prejudice runs deep. When he returned to Beijing from Canada 10 years ago, his sister-in-law refused to let him hug her 8-year-old daughter.

Wang wrote to his friends from Canada in 1986, making it clear that he was gay. He said his friends then either became very cold or totally ignored him.

For the first time in April,2001, the revised classification and diagnosis criteria of Mental Problems in China, compiled by the China Society of Psychiatry, as a book for teaching, clinical and research used by psychiatrists, states that "sexual activity between the same sex is not necessarily a psychological abnormality."

Before that, homosexuality was classified as a sexual abnormality. The new definition for the first time in China ruled sexual orientation out of the category of psychological problems.

That was some 28 years after the same official recognition in the United States, though there's no doubt confusion and prejudice remains.

In the Middle Ages, homosexuality was considered a crime punishable by death. In contemporary times, it is still considered a disease in some countries and by many individuals.

Yet Wang sees hope for the future: "The times we live in are more and more beautiful," he said.

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