China: The gay scene in Shanghai has evolved from discreet word-of-mouth to becoming well advertised and technology savvy, from taboo to socially acceptable, from shy parochialism to international, say members of the LGBT community ahead of ShanghaiPRIDE.
“People in Shanghai are a lot more tolerant than we give them credit for,” says Malaysian-Chinese Charlene Liu, one of the city’s Pride organizers. “Malaysia and Singapore feel more closeted, even though they are more developed.”
ShanghaiPRIDE expects 4,000 people to turn up for 10 days of activities in June, double the number that supported its launch in 2009, organizers say.
Shanghai now boasts the largest gay club in Asia — the 1,500-capacity Icon, opened around Valentine’s Day.
The city has many more gay social groups including Open Doors Shanghai (mostly for gay men, in English) and tontou.com (more for lesbians, Chinese-language), which are more local specific than Grinder, Scruff, Tinder, Gayromeo and Gaydar, says Shanghai’s Shane Q.
However, the moving beyond the cloak of secrecy has also bought with it some adverse effects. Unsafe sex and a dominant bar-scene mentality pose a health risk, says Dwayne Wang.
There’s definitely a correlation between the gay scene and the HIV rate here, he says. “Another problem is that gay saunas in Shanghai don’t provide free condoms.”
US-born Andrew Jordan Shainker who launched the Shanghai branch of Open Doors, says it now has about 100 members, one-fifth of the broader group’s total membership.
While the city’s LGBT community is enjoying a higher level of social acceptance than in previous years, some prejudice still exists.
“I don’t want to be judged,” says Wang. “It’s a stigma in China that is used to define you.”
“I finally told my sister that I was gay last year. She was surprised at first but now she’s OK. She said I shouldn’t tell our parents because it would really hurt them,” says Wang.
This has given rise to pretend girlfriends and fake marriages mostly involving a gay man and straight woman, with the woman ignorant of her spouse’s conflicted feelings. Other relationships are more like a gentleman’s agreement between a gay man and a lesbian partner.
“There are at least four or five bath houses in this city crawling with married men at night looking for casual encounters,” says Jamie Shale, an expat from Sydney.
Conversely, some gay couples hold mock weddings as a serious proclamation of love, even though same-sex marriages are outlawed and China decriminalized same-sex relations only in 1997.
Due to its international mindset, massive wealth, vibrant nightlife and annual Pride festival, Shanghai has become synonymous with China’s LGBT movement.
A decade ago Shanghai had two or three gay-friendly bars and clubs. The number is now closer to 10. Authorities too have shown more support in recent years, say ShanghaiPRIDE organizers.
Language too has evolved to incorporate the gay scene. There is a “rice queen” (a Caucasian man who likes Asian men) and the reverse being a “potato queen.” Other terms include “sticky rice” (an Asian man who likes other Asians), “otters” (skinny, hairless men) and “panda bears” (older, hairier men).