China’s gay gap

Posted: December 11, 2011 in Chinese Culture
Tags: , ,

Today I stumbled across two statistics I thought were worth putting next to each other. The first is that by 2020, it’s estimated there will be 24 million more marrying age Chinese men than women, due largely to the one-child policy. No big surprise there.

The second stat was what intrigued me. The number of gay men in China is estimated at 25 million; and as many as 90% of them get married to unwitting heterosexual women – so sayeth a University of Shanghai sexologist.

Granted, it’s something very hard to get an accurate stat on. Another professor from Qingdao University put the number at 80%. But either way, it’s a long stretch from the 15-20% of American gay men in sham marriages with straight women.

Family and societal pressures usually force men in China to get married and have a kid, regardless if that’s what they want. But that’s only scratching the surface of the problem. In a country where homosexuality is so taboo, many gay people fail to even admit to themselves that they’re gay or that their feelings are normal. Sex education is dismal even for heterosexual topics. Homosexuality wouldn’t be touched with a ten foot pole.

But let’s review:

  • 24 million excess bachelors
  • 25 million gay men (20-22 million of whom appear to be nabbing up straight women they have no interest in being with except to satisfy perceived social obligations)

Given these two numbers, you would think the government would encourage gay men to be as gay as possible so they can free up some of the precious few women. Then they could maybe avoid some of the huge social problems predicted to come with the gender imbalance – like a 5% increase in crime for every 1% increase in sex ratio.

So what is the government doing? Breaking up gay festivals, banning men from participating in foreign gay pageants, shutting down gay nightclubs and banning movies with homosexual themes.

China isn’t a religious country and throughout history it was relatively tolerant to homosexuality. It could easily alleviate the number of gay men snatching up straight women by legalizing gay marriage, teaching in schools that homosexuality is normal, or at least, you know, stop treating it as criminal activity (which it actually was until 1997). But the government is choosing to placate traditionally-minded Chinese who, at worst, would be a little shocked by these measures. And they’re doing so at the expense of mitigating a worsening social crisis that could pose a challenge to their authority.

Presumably if they did take measures to erase the stigma of homosexuality, lesbians would offset a lot of the gains made by taking homosexual men out of the competition for wives. I wasn’t able to find as many stats on lesbians in China, but the same Qingdao professor mentioned earlier estimates there are half as many lesbians in China as gay men. And international studies tend to agree that lesbians make up a significantly lower proportion of the population than gay men in general. So this suggests de-stigmatizing homosexuality in China would be a net positive for the gender imbalance.

All these statistics are admittedly questionable. It’s hard to get reliable stats on anything in China, let alone on something like homosexuality – which has notoriously sporadic findings around the world. But if helping mitigate the side effects of the gender imbalance isn’t a convincing enough reason for the government to take measures at de-stigmatizing homosexuality, they could at least do it for the millions of innocent heterosexuals who stumble into loveless, sexless marriages.

  1. tom h says:

    Hi Eric, enjoy your blog but those international studies you link to mostly show a 0.x% difference between the percentage of gay men and lesbians in other countries, so I think its hard to sustain your argument. If the Chinese government should be more tolerant of gay people, its because it would reduce a lot of personal suffering for those involved and/or because the government is not entitled to promote a single form of sexuality, not because it would solve China’s gender gap problem.

  2. sinostand says:

    I think you may be looking at those stats the wrong way. For instance in Canada “About 1.3% of men considered themselves homosexual, almost twice the proportion of 0.7% among women.” A 0.6 point difference there actually means almost double the number of gay men to lesbians.

    And I agree with your point on the suffering, but you have to think like the party. They view any issue through the prism of how it will affect their power. Trying to argue morality to them will get you nowhere, which is why you’ll rarely see me make arguments like that here. And saying they’re “not entitled” to do something is a quick way to get accused of interfering with China’s sovereignty.

    • xl says:

      I did read an article a couple years ago about a match-making service in Shanghai that specifically catered to creating sham marriages between gay men and lesbians. They saw this option as being kinder than dragging an innocent straight person into their lie while simultaneously relieving themselves of their family’s nagging. But these people are small in number because this plan would require at minimum self-awareness and acceptance of their homosexuality. FAR too often in China, the actual case is that gays themselves think that maybe by marrying and having children, they’ll “get over” their same-sex attractions and “get used” to a heterosexual relationship. (this never works, by the way) What inevitably ends up happening in those marriages is depression/resentment/anger for both the husband and wife and perhaps also the creation of a “down-low” culture with unsafe sexual practices/spread of STDs. I also read about some gay clubs that had “senior night” at around 4pm, where gay men in their 50s and 60s would mingle and dance, before going home for dinner with their wives like nothing happened.

  3. tom h says:

    Looking again, that Canada survey quoted in Wikipedia does support your view, but note also the Australia survey shows a much smaller difference. would be good to see rigorous data on China…

  4. xl says:

    I don’t know if there actually ARE more gay men than lesbians, but studies have shown that women’s sexuality tends to be more fluid, meaning there are higher rates of bisexuals among women. But a survey that treats sexuality as an either/or won’t reflect that fluidity; it’ll just count a bisexual woman who’s married to a man as “heterosexual” and her queerness will be rendered invisible. In general, women receive more pressure than men regarding marriage, both in China and the West, probably because of their limited biological clock, so it’s quite common that bisexual women may lead exclusively hetero-lifestyles. Lesbians/Bisexuals, especially those who have traditional feminine appearances, are often told that they just haven’t found the right guy. A gay man might face derision or accusations of perversion, but no one will say or think that he’s interested in other men only because he hasn’t met the right woman. Hence, numbers that reflect the gay male population are always going to be higher and more accurate than lesbians, (although 25million gay Chinese men seems a bit low for a country with 1.2 billion people – it probably only reflects people who are at least out to themselves since someone who’s 100% closeted can never be counted.)

  5. Lorin Yochim says:

    I’m going to agree full stop with the normative orientation of all the commenters here. But I think we’re smuggling in a bit of a curious assumption about homosexual men, i.e., that they have no interest in the kinds of security (financial, economic support) and family life (children) that they gain within the traditional marriage structure. Preferably these would available to them in same sex relationships as well, but let’s not forget that such ideal circumstances (essentially conservative in nature) barely exist in even the most progressive nations of the world. These may be loveless marriages of a particularly unsatisfying kind, but such arrangements are hardly rare.

    • xl says:

      First of all, why do you assume I have “normative orientation”? It’s the internet, I can be anything.

      And I never said that gay men don’t want children and economic stability – most do, which is why they’re often willing to follow through on sham marriages, because they think they’ll only be able to have that through traditional marriage. But it’s up to the individual person to decide if those things are worth the complications of living with a lie, such as having their spouse and children be fed up with their emotional distance. Based on my conversations with friends, several of whom came out after being in a traditional marriage, those years of maintaining a certain distance with their own spouse out of fear of exposure were the loneliest of their lives.

  6. kingtubby1 says:

    Stats, stats and Australian stats. We are the most surveyed country in the world in respect to STDs and sexuality issues. The Oz snapshot – – is a general representation, and you can definitely give or take a few points of a percent or even a whole percent.

    Big deal. For the most part, the incidence of gay/bi men and women is pretty similar the world over. Try reading Rea Tannahil’s Sex in History and you will forget about a missing .001% of a statistic.

    And by the way sexologists, worked with two individuals involved in the above study in the 90s.

    Gay women have always lived and quietly prospered in China, and here I refer you to one of Jan Wongs books.

  7. Lorin Yochim says:

    Sorry, xl. Everyone has a normative orientation. In the case of the internet, we have only the things people write as an indication. If your post didn’t betray a normative orientation, then I guess “all the commenters” does not refer to you. On all other matters here, we seem to agree. On those things that neither of us mentioned, our normative orientation remains unclear.

  8. Potomacker says:

    I think you miss two important elements in your analysis that precludes any possibility for acceptance of marriage between homosexuals. Han Chinese don’t care as much about happiness as they do about the appearance of being just like other Han Chinese. Han Chinese get married and then they make babies in order to give their retired parents something to do.
    Chinese parents of gay men don’t care so much as to whether their sons are in a happy marriage as much as that they pass along the family name through a legitimate heir. However that gets done becomes yet another unspoken secret that all parties agree to never mention openly. The 25 million, or so, gay men in the PRC represent 25 million families who do not want their government granting their sons an opportunity for a stable, happy semblance of couplehhod and thereby denying the parents the same appearance of what heterosexual offspring are expected to give them.

  9. istevelee says:

    The lesbian’s number should be considered!

  10. mo says:

    these gays are disgusting if i was them i would move country

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