Michael Tsai, the 23-year-old restaurant manager from Beijing, was going to be the host of Mr. Gay China, the nation’s first gay pageant that would crown a winner China could send to the Worldwide Mr. Gay event in Oslo. Then Chinese officials shut down the event — not because they are anti-gay, mind you, but because of a procedural error. Mr. Gay China organizers forgot to file the right paperwork. Uh huh. So how much weight should we give Tsai’s comments that China is not a place that discriminates against gays?
Actually, quite a bit. For one, Tsai is speaking quite openly — albeit to the BBC, a foreign news organization — about the pageant being shut down. And he’s not being coy with his (translated?) words: “I was going to be the host for the gay pageant Mr Gay China, but unfortunately the government has once again oppressed its people silently. It would have been a wonderful step but there is much more fear than understanding.”
That’s a pretty bold statement to make for a mere citizen, in the face of China’s notorious efforts to clamp down on any criticism of the state. (Indeed, others whom spoke to the BBC piece chose to remain anonymous, or give their first name only, and they weren’t even criticizing the state.) And yet, Tsai says, this isn’t necessarily about authorities and Chinese culture being anti-gay: “Although I wouldn’t call it discrimination, there’s definitely a pressure to conformity in Chinese society. The goal is to to marry and produce male offspring. Since the Chinese are allowed to have only one child there is even more pressure to conform. … I don’t feel that there are any problems in China that I’ve come across. If we aren’t too loud and proud about it then the subject doesn’t even cross anyone’s mind. Although I do feel that the country as a whole has become a lot more tolerant, it isn’t necessarily more understanding.”
And we’d have to agree. From our comfortable perch in the United States, we’ve written previously about China’s “silent” gay revolution, where opposition to gay rights and full acceptance is more about the cultural pressure to marry and raise kids than it is a religious-based fear.
Then again, Tsai might have it easier than most:
Thankfully I come from a family of two boys and the need to carry on the family name has already been fulfilled. I am out to all my family, my friends and colleagues.
Although I do feel that the country as a whole has become a lot more tolerant, it isn’t necessarily more understanding
My family feels that if something is not spoken about then it either doesn’t exist or it will be forgotten. Even though they know I’m gay they still say things like “When you find your wife…”
I’m sure my parents are not thrilled by my sexual orientation but they seem to be dealing with it through denial and that’s perfectly fine with me.
Like father, like mother China.