In China, similar to other conservative societies, the gay and lesbian community is usually left with very little choice when it comes to acceptable relationships. Aside from the fact that heterosexual marriage is still widely considered as a natural way of life, there is an immense pressure for young women specifically to get married before they reach a certain age. Most gay women end up being pressured into marriage anyway just to satisfy their families.
The challenging situation led Ou Xiaobai, a 32-year-old gay woman from Beijing, to launch a service called iHomo to help facilitate “marriages of convenience” for gay people. The service allows the LGBT community to enjoy their freedom while doing what their families wished by tricking them into thinking they are already married. Currently based on social media, the service has arranged over 100 fake marriages for gays or lesbians who just want to make their families happy.
Ou came up with the idea after going through the same experience. As a gay woman herself, she had been enjoying a happy relationship with her girlfriend for many years. However, pressure from her family (who were unaware of her sexual orientation) led to Ou arranging her own marriage of convenience.
“I want to protect and be with my girlfriend for my entire life,” Ou told BBC. “And that’s why I married a man in 2012.”
Her groom, similar to Ou, had been in love with his boyfriend for a years but was also hiding the gay relationship from his family.
“My parents kept asking me if I was seeing anyone. And the situation got worse after my father passed away, because my mother – concerned that I didn’t seem to have settled down with anyone – started coming to live with me for a few months every year.”
“Realizing there was no way that I could avoid the issue, I went to my friends for help – and that’s how I got to know about marriages of convenience,” she added.
They then went on to arrange their fake wedding and satisfied their families. They would initially attended family gatherings together, however now that they have “settled down,” they are able to tone down their “act.”
“In the last couple of years, now that our families and colleagues believe we have settled down, we rarely have to act as a real couple.”
“I live with my girlfriend and he lives with his boyfriend. The four of us go for dinner sometimes as we have become good friends,” Ou explained.
Ou understands that her family may eventually discover the truth at some point, but appeasing their families for the meantime is good enough for her.
“I do understand that for many, a marriage of convenience could be the beginning of a nightmare. It gets very tricky if other family members live in the same city – a surprise visit could easily reveal the truth of their marriages. In these cases, setting up another home with shared amenities is crucial, but obviously keeping that up can get very tiring.”
It’s now her girlfriend’s turn to look for her fake “husband” to satisfy her own family’s urging to see her married.
“My girlfriend and I want to help society understand us better, but being loud and aggressive might not be the best strategy,” Ou said.
“We want to use marriages of convenience as a pragmatic way to ease the conflict so that homosexuals can live the life they want. We know how extremely difficult it will be, but we will fight for what we believe in and keep going forward.”
Ou said that they are currently working on an app to help more gay and lesbian Chinese couples.