Beijing's 'Lala' scene -- A Chinese Lesbian speaks out
Editor's Note: A little-known but vibrant underground queer women's community exists in China, especially in Beijing and Shanghai, where bars and online chat rooms keep "lalas" connected.
From a very young age I knew I liked women. I always hung out with boys, but I had no feelings for them. They could sense it. At school, boys would say to me, "There's a really pretty girl over there, go check her out!" Then I'd go over and come back to my friends to confirm whether she was pretty. So they knew I liked women, although we never spoke about it directly.
I didn't know there was such thing as a lesbian until I got older. I first heard about them by watching television and reading. Then when I was 18, I started using the Internet. I suddenly found out, damn, there are chat rooms full of people like me!
It's very comfortable to chat with people online, but when you meet them in person a lot of times you just want to leave and go home. The things they say to me are different from the things they'd say over the Net. Maybe it's because they're nervous or something. But I have met two girlfriends though the Internet.
I have not come out to my parents, but my mother knows about me. But not at first. When my ex-girlfriend Xiniu and I started living together, I told my mother that we were friends. Because we were so much alike, my mother assumed that nothing was happening between us. From that point on, she stopped worrying about me. In the winter she would say, "It's so cold, it's better if you two sleep together in the same bed." And then I'd smile and say, "Yeah ma, I know." [laughing]
Later, when I broke up with Xiniu, I went a little crazy. For a period of time I didn't speak. I would just stare into space. My mother suggested to me that I should be more careful about the friends I make. But then later I met this girl in the picture [points to the photo of a long-haired girl next to her bed]. This time, my mother knew about our relationship, because this girl was clearly a P (femme). We met during summer vacation and got along really well. When I went back to Qingdao with my mother, after a while this girl quit her job and followed me there. My mother didn't like this at all. She said, "How could she just follow you here? You two have problems!" I told her that there was nothing between us. "Nothing? I see the way you look into each others' eyes! It's not right."
But there was nothing my mother could do. So she told me not to ignore my studies and left me alone about all other things.
My girlfriend's family knew everything. They didn't care. Her mother and father were very kind to me. I'd go stay over at their home, and her mother would bring me an extra blanket to sleep with.
I used to get really depressed when I'd think about my family and my future. But since I've entered the lala (lesbian) community in Beijing, I've gotten to know a lot of people, both online and in the bars.
I used to go the first lesbian bar in Beijing there all the time. There was also a lala bar in Xidan -- even the owner was a lala. That place wasn't open for long, only six months, before it was closed down.
Later, there was 2 bars in the Sanlitun area where we would hang out. But later on we moved to another bar.
The bar was opened by a gay man, but back in the day, Thursdays and Saturdays were open to lesbians. We all went there. Actually, one straight friend used to come with me there. Well, she used to be straight. She had always said to me, "Bring me to one of those lala parties! I want to see what it's like. Wouldn't I be a gorgeous P if I made myself up?" She was very curious about it. I think that this thing called lala is very contagious. If you are a lala and you bring a non-lala friend to a party, it's likely that she'll be assimilated. She doesn't have to think about all the things she has to think about when she is with a guy. She can say anything to girls. Her dormant desire to love women is in this way brought out.
Now there is only one lala bar in Beijing. How sad! It's a lonely little place, but there's nowhere else to go anymore. I think this generation is already lost. It's up to the next generation of lalas. There have been lots of great ideas, but none of them have worked out.
One example, there was a lala conference that was organized two years ago in Beijing, open to the public. It was amazing! A lot of lalas from Hong Kong and Taiwan were there. They held classes inside a school and had a big party. There was a kind of lala film festival, but the plans were finally all aborted.
So now, I'm trying to focus on my studies. I want my final design project for school to be about lalas. But I'm scared that if I put in lesbian content, it might screw up my chances of getting into a masters program at the university. I want to write something about lalas, or if I can't talk about this directly, at least I can express it through images. I just have to muster up my courage, and take a chance.
Mei Bin, 22, is studying graphic design and architecture at a fine arts college in Beijing.