Archive for the 'queer' Category

The Silent Death of Shanghai’s First Gay Hotline

The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide November-December 2007This article is the result of many years of research with HIV prevention and anti-discrimination groups in my then-home of Shanghai. I had much help from people who choose to remain anonymous. Their stories and many more I hope to one day flush out in a book on the topic of modern gay rights in China.

My goal in writing this article was not to be provocative or overly political, but simply to bring to light one of the more mysterious episodes in modern Chinese gay history: simply, how and why a successful gay counseling and health hotline would suddenly cease operations. Copy is available electronically on many academic journal sites or directly upon request. (joshua *dot* wickerham *at* gmail *dot com).

In addition to my indebtedness to the people quoted in the article, special thanks goes to several friends at UCSD, Johns Hopkins, and the Princeton in Asia program who read drafts and made useful suggestions. These friends continue to play crucial roles with the Beijing CDC and the Clinton Foundation, and as a Fulbright Scholar. These friends are real heroes and inspire me as they continue working with this pandemic’s most stigmatized groups. I am also indebted to Bill Valentino, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility for Bayer China, who continues to lead the business case for HIV prevention, and Chung To of the Chi Heng Foundation, who remains a voice for Chinese gays and children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Both provided last-mile support. Lastly, I owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, who encouraged me to submit this work to The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review (Now The G&L Review Worldwide) and to editor Richard Schneider, who improved the copy. Apologies to my advisor Susan Shirk who suggested I’d have to choose between doing sustainable environmental development work and HIV research. Seeing as both are critical, I just more often decline cocktail parties invitations and reject television’s numbing warmth.


my contributions to the Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender

encyclopediaofsex&genderI got a letter in late July from the editor of the new four-volume Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender announcing its publication. I wrote three contributions in Fall of 2006 on Chinese sexual history. I’m excited because these are my first published encyclopedia entries.

I have yet to see a copy of the set, as I am based in China while the books are hitting North American library shelves. If anyone runs across the set, could you take photos of my entries and mail them to me?

I wrote the first entry, on modern Chinese sexuality and gender, with the head librarian at the Kinsey Institute, Liana Zhou. This opportunity presented itself during a visit to the Kinsey Institute and a meeting with Dr. Zhou. She suggested I contribute to the modern Chinese section because of my longstanding interest with HIV/AIDS prevention and gay life in China. I also wrote the pre-modern Chinese sex and gender entry (pre-1911), which I describe as “5,000 years in 4,000 words”. Finally, I wrote an entry on the famous republic-era sexologist Zhang Jingsheng.

The encyclopedia set is cited as: Malti-Douglas, Fedwa, ed. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

Here’s the blurb from the Thomson Gale website:

Gender studies have become a major academic field in the past 25 years, providing a lens through which to reexamine and reevaluate knowledge in every area of human interaction and activity. The Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender encompasses the various concepts of sex and gender that have arisen from the critical study of those subjects worldwide, as well as the emerging reimagination of the more traditional humanities and social sciences. Broad theoretical essays address issues of sex and gender at the personal and the social level; others examine issues of identity, status, class, ethnicity, race, and nation; of sexuality and the body; of social institutions and the structures of representation – all through the lens of gender. With a truly global perspective, topics of individual entries include changing conceptions of “the feminine,” the family and masculinity, religion, morality, cultural images, medical practice, public health, economy and society and many more. In addition, the work discusses the influences of gender studies on various academic disciplines, examining how it has transformed and utilized methods and theories that have evolved.


coming out: Shanghai’s gay population struggles for acceptance

by Joshua Wickerham

[note: this is an article published in the February 2006 issue of that’s Shanghai]

Coming out: Shanghai's gay population struggles for acceptance p 01Not long ago, I accompanied some of the volunteers who pay weekly visits to the city’s gay venues to distribute safe sex material. Our party included a gay policeman from Harbin and our guide, Wang Yutian, an outreach coordinator with the Hong Kong-based Chi Heng Foundation. On the way to the city’s only traditional gay dance hall, Wang spoke with the cab driver about homosexuals, or tongzhimen (comrades), as they are commonly referred to on the Chinese mainland.

“Do you know any gay men?”


“We’re gay. Does that bother you?”

“I don’t really care.”

“Are you disgusted by the thought of two men having sex?”

“If I were disgusted by gay sex, I’d have to be disgusted by straight sex too.”

“Do you think it’s right for a gay man to marry a woman just to make his parents happy?”

“Probably not.”

For Wang, this sort of exchange is common. He often conducts informal surveys in an effort to gauge the public’s attitude toward gays. And, he hopes, teach them something in the process.

Wang’s organization is just one of many such groups in China that liaise with the international community, the Chinese government, various health organizations, and, of course, China’s gay population. Given that many people still harbor stereotypes and prejudice towards the gay community, Wang’s work, and that of others like him, is key to reaching a new understanding of and tolerance for gay issues. That said, his efforts are not always welcome.

As our cab pulls up to the club, our fellow passenger, the policeman, looks decidedly uneasy. Terrified, in fact. Nevertheless, he pulls himself together and turns to Wang as we approach the door.

“Could you please not do that again?”


“You know what you did.”

Once inside, he takes a seat, still looking very uncomfortable. He refuses to talk to anyone and stares at the floor. Though he’s thousands of kilometers from home and virtually anonymous, he still appears frightened that someone will discover him at a club catering to homosexuals. Indeed, the very sight of several hundred gay men seems to petrify him.

His fear is not unfounded. Before leaving Chi Heng’s office, he spoke of the pressure he faces because of his sexual preference.

“I’m 25 right now. If I don’t get married by the time I’m thirty, I’m out of a job. Everyone on the force is married. It’s an unwritten rule, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Either I get married or I find a new job.”

The policeman’s concerns are far from unique. Dr. Tong Chuanliang, outgoing director of Shanghai Sexual Minorities Homoheart, a hotline operated by the China Welfare Institute, says that about ten per cent of callers ask about marriage. However, a further twelve per cent ask how they can “cure” their homosexuality. “We tell people it can’t be done,” says Tong. “Studies prove this. When considering marriage, we tell callers to be very careful.”

Which is not to imply that most callers are marriage obsessed. Indeed, a large number, 25 per cent, are simply seeking a sympathetic voice. “Callers often assumed until they came across our number that there was no one like them,” says Crystal Chin, former secretary-general at Homoheart, who recently left the organization after a management reshuffle.

Most gays in China are still reluctant to reveal their sexual preference to anyone but their closest friends. Fewer still tell their family or colleagues, and almost none has the courage to speak out against discrimination. After all, it was only in 2001 that the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. And until 1997, the Nationalist-era Anti-Hooliganism statute–stating that homosexuality was a crime subject to arrest–was still in force.

Hence the need for groups like Chi Heng, which has set up a program to educate the police about gay-specific crimes, such as discrimination and blackmail. Steven Gu, director of outreach for MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) at Chi Heng, hopes that once the program is completed later this year, gays will be able to access a group of gay-friendly police officers with whom they can consult about law enforcement issues.

Zhou Dan, a Shanghainese lawyer and self-described “activist scholar,” says there are still many legal challenges for gays in China. What’s more, he says most people overstate the significance of revoking the hooliganism law. Unlike the US Supreme Court case in 2003 that struck down Texas sodomy laws as unconstitutional, Zhou says Chinese lawmakers “never intentionally decriminalized homosexuality.”

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