Sunday, July 25, 2010

Queer China "Comrade" China

A few of weeks ago, there was an international queer film festival held at the Schwarzerkanal (a squatted queer caravan park) in Berlin and I just happened to catch some films from Asia, one short clip filmed in Korea called "Lesbian fighter" which was so sweet but I can't find it on youtube to share :-(

The film that followed was called Queer China "Comrade" China which included many interviews and perspectives of queers in China, mostly from university-educated backgrounds. It was so amazing for me to be in Berlin and see a film in mandarin with English subtitles about queers in China. The film felt really validating because it is so rare for issues surrounding sexuality to be spoken about in public and I feel like this new emerging queer movement can really challenge some of the Confucian undertones of Chinese cultures in China and abroad. The film was really informative and contained really interesting historical and social analysis and paints a promising picture of queer activism in China.

I should explain, the title of the film includes "comrade" because in Chinese it is contemporary slang for 'homosexual' or 'fellow homosexual/queer' -“同志”. There was a discussion about terminology on this, the transliteration of "queer" is also used as well was "lala" for lesbians and 同性恋(tongxinglian) is the less slangy more western version of 'homosexual'.

Here is some clips from the movie:

It seemed that the problems with homophobia in China stems not from any religious discourses as it so often does in western countries, but it seems to be based on science (biomedical discourses pathologising homosexuality with heterosexuality as 'natural') as well as social reasoning that is related to maintain normative kinship/family structures of 'traditional' Chinese society where marriage is a major expectation. For a long time, homosexuality was linked to 'hooliganism', which was the translation given for the label 'liumang' which is often an insult used against homosexuals. But I think a better translation for it would be "pervert". It was considered sexually perverted and deviant.

I'm gonna put the rest of the summary into bullet points from the notes I took:

  • Queers would be scared of Chinese New Year because of the prospect of forced marriages
  • Suicide rates are high
  • Crime of sodomy abolished in 1952
  • Male homosexuality threatened hetero family structure
  • Punishment of homosexuals was supposed to be to protect minors (children) from rape.
  • There are currently no laws protecting queer rights
  • Recent research into history of homosexuality shows evidence of same sex activity in ancient texts where Emperors would have sex with other men. But 'homosexuality' did not exist as an identity but activity. In agrarian, feudal society, identity was ambiguous.
  • Confucianism and Daoism were influential in structuring and conceptualising gender relations and difference. Yin/yang representing female and male, but it is a transformative symbol rather than a static one.
  • The character with 田 at the top and 女 (womyn) at the bottom which represents men who are taken to be woman. The character for man is 男, which is 'tian' at the top, meaning "field" and 'li' at the bottom, meaning "strength" because men used to be work in the fields?
  • HIV/AIDS awareness has been a big part or avenue that queer activism gets channeled through
  • There were books starting to be written about homosexuality in the 1900s that medicalised and pathologised it.
  • It wasn't until the 1990s that queers started 'coming out' and collectively started to develop subcultures, literature, media and activism.
  • 1997 was the beginning of queer fiction, publishing and broadcasting
  • 2000, a popular TV station among youth audiences Hunan weishi had a show about homosexuality with interviews with outspoken queers.
  • 2005, LGBT interviews on Beijing University radio
  • One person estimates 3 -4% of China's population is queer (out of 1.2 billion people!)
  • Late 1990s, gay and lesbian bars and clubs started setting up. Websites online fostered queer communities. Queer student camps were happening.
  • Queers at university focus on academic research
  • LGBT movement magazine focused on experiences of single lesbians, couples and in community.
  • Transvestitism, transsexuality and drag culture: easier to come out as a drag queen than a gay man. Transgendered people can change name and identity.
  • 1995, a famous dancer, Jin Xing changed their sex/gender. "I'm not homosexual anymore. I am a woman now."
  • Gay bars became popular as social space.
  • Rainbow kite flying as common expressions of queer pride/visibility as opposed to pride parades and festivals since they are much harder to organise in China (at the time the film was made).
  • 2001, first LGBT film festival in Beijing. In 2005, the 2nd film fest was forced to close after 3 days at Beijing University because of pressure from the University, government and community to leave, they had to find an alternative venue.
  • Coming out stories through blogs, grassroots organisations shows diverse experiences with some parents and friends being really understanding.
  • Police harassment is a issue many queers face
  • Recent debates about gay marriage and whether that's assimilation into hetero culture or if it is better to create a new culture and re-think marriage while establishing another system. A negative aspect of legalising gay marriage would be submission to the state. A petition for legalising gay marriage has been going around for legal recognition.
I missed getting a lot of the key dates and law changes down, but I think you can get the gist of the content. I was just really excited that this movie exists and hearing it spoken about in mandarin was slightly surreal. I found the focus on academic research and the concentration of voices on this topic coming from intellectuals an interesting strategy for queers to gain acceptance, but I think there are crucial experiences of queers that can be easily excluded and silenced such as queers in peasant communities, non-Han Chinese and non-urban middle class and university educated. It's definitely important to have an ideological battle with prevailing homophobic attitudes that is well researched and has intellectual standing, but I think maybe developing queer theory in academia as a main form of activism can make it elitist and inaccessible to those who don't have access to the academic journals or texts. But it does look like there is also a lot going on socially to develop subcultures of queers in China which I found really inspiring. I really love the appropriation of the word 'comrade' as it kind of promotes a sense of revolutionary solidarity among queers in China.

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