Speech communication professor researches homosexuality in Chinese society

Speech communication professor Min Liu recently published an article focusing on formality marriage, or Xing Hun, between a gay man and a lesbian woman in China — – a subject very few, if any, have taken on.

Liu’s research, published in the quarterly journal Sexuality and Culture, argues while people in almost every heteronormative society face pressure to “act straight or behave in a more socially acceptable manner,” there is “more pertinent pressure” on Chinese gays and lesbians.

Liu said this research is “a phenomenon that nobody has looked into” from a scholarly point of view. A lot of understanding about relationships and relationship norms comes from “our understanding of mating ads” or personal ads, according to Liu.

“I was thinking if you want to understand the relationship, one way to do it might just be looking at what kind of ads they’re putting out there to actually pursue these relationships so then we can understand what do they consider to be the ideal mates for such an arrangement,” said Liu, who looked at more than 100 ads for her research.

There is more pressure for gay men to marry than lesbian women, according to Liu, because gay men “carry the burden” of continuing the family line. Some gay men marry women who are not aware of their significant other’s sexual preference, Liu said.

“So basically [they] enter a deceptive marriage and those kinds of relationships have been known to lead to a lot of tragedies…,” Liu said.

Some people have committed suicide as a result of such relationships, but Liu said there is an alternative option where people can be true to their sexual identity while maintaining social relations “that they need to exist and function in the society.” This option is entering a formality marriage, an asexual and mutually benefiting relationship with the sole purpose of meeting societal and familial pressure to marry.

Liu argues that such a situation is “not ideal,” but it “seems to provide a viable alternative than not marrying and face social scrutiny.”

“The major premise I was going with [in the article] was the idea that I want to consider this as sort of a gateway to understanding how Chinese gays and lesbians are negotiating a way for their private sexual identities and their public social identities to sort of co-exist,” Liu said.

Liu said her research relates to filial piety, the concept of respecting parents and ancestors.

“It’s core to one’s social identity, the idea that you need to honor and respect your parents,” Liu said, “And the idea is that [once] you get to a certain age, you’re supposed to enter those social relationships and they all kind of center around the marriage, the traditional marriage, and if you don’t have that social relationship, then you’re missing a significant part of your individual identity.”

However, while researching, Liu read articles indicating Chinese culture may be more accepting of the idea of playing gay.

“You can engage in sexual activities as long as it does not challenge your social identity,” Liu said. “You’ve got to act straight. You can have homosexual sex, but you can’t be a homosexual…”

The idea, according to Liu, is people have to “make a choice between playing gay and actually being gay.”

““I thought it’’s interesting. The individuals posting the formality marriage ads want to avoid public embarrassment that their families may otherwise experience, but they also want to be true to their sexuality,”” Liu said. “”They’’re sort of creating this –– They’re not just hoping to play gay they want to actually be gay.””

Liu said she hopes her article “sheds some light on a pretty unique relationship phenomenon” and leads to more scholarly interest.

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