Within the deeply rooted traditions of Chinese family culture, gays and lesbians in China resort to marrying each other to give their families the illusion that they are in a conventional relationship.
It’s a growing trend in a massive country where homosexuality is legal, but same-sex marriage is not. Because of China’s very family-centric traditions and emphasis on social reputation, it’s almost more feasible for fake gay and lesbian couples to make arrangements to live with each other and even produce a child for their parents than suffer the social consequences being involved in a same-sex relationship.
A new documentary, “Inside the Chinese Closet”, by Italian filmmaker Sophia Luvarà centers around one gay man, Andy, and a lesbian woman, Cherry, as they journey to find a gay partner of the opposite sex to uphold the illusion that their fake relationship is of a married man and woman.
Luvarà, who conducted two years of research prior to filming, describes the climate towards homosexuality in China:
“Although you can’t go to prison for homosexuality, on a social level, it is problematic. Firstly, your family most likely wants you to have a child, especially because of the one child policy in China, which means that it’s likely you’re the only child and the only one who can continue the family name. The second problem is the workplace—there is still a lot of discrimination that might mean it is unlikely you get a promotion, for example, if you are openly gay.”
To find a partner for a fake marriage, a gay man would go to a matchmaking event to find a lesbian woman, or vice versa, seeking a similar situation. Luvarà documented how these “speed dating” sessions go — exactly like business deals:
“You have to go and say openly what you’re looking for—money, baby, marriage terms. It’s very pragmatic. It’s funny to listen to that as an outsider. It was like a market where you can sell vegetables or eggs; it’s so unemotional.”
Part of the expectations in a married relationship, however, deal with the issue of grandchildren. For gay men and lesbian women in a sham marriage, they may hope to have a baby via in vitro fertilization and negotiate on how the rest of their lives together will be managed.
If not the traditional route, Luvarà also detailed one instance of a relationship including four people:
“I had one particular case where four people lived together, a male couple and a female couple, and one of the boys was married to one of the girls. They are all having a baby together. It’s like a commune.”