Commemorating the Stonewall uprising of 1969, June is recognized around the world as Gay Pride month. Cities everywhere celebrate with fairs and pride parades. There may not be any pride parade in Beijing just yet, but there are a whole lot of proud people, regardless of sexual orientation.

Hailing from London, where the gay clubs are numerous and the scene is lively, Jason finds that there’s “not much” to the gay scene in Beijing. Attending Renmin Daxue for almost a year now, Jason makes no effort to keep his sexuality under wraps, but being gay claims very little of his identity in Beijing, “It has come up in a few conversations with my Chinese friends and it doesn’t seem to register with them. The usual response is, ‘But don’t you want to get married and have kids?!’ When I tell them I do want those things, they assume I will get a wife. They don’t realize that it’s not an either-or situation.”

Maybe it’s because he’s foreign, or maybe it’s just because he’s really cute, but he has no personal tales of discrimination or maltreatment, though he has heard his share of horror stories. “A few years ago there was a student at Renmin who was out and students in his classes would post on online message boards telling other kids where he had been sitting that day, warning them not to be tainted by his gay-ness.” So maybe China isn’t quite ready for pride parades, but their treatment of Jason indicates that they’re getting there. When asked what gay venues he frequents in Beijing, he gives a wearied look and answers, “there’s only one club… Destination.” He has yet to find a venue where he feels totally comfortable; but maybe he hasn’t been looking hard enough, because our search unearthed a tight-knit community of places and faces pulsing just below the surface of the city.

Loud and Lala

Sam and Gogo adamantly want us to clarify that they’re not a couple, they are coworkers. Sam is the editor and Gogo the designer of Les+ or LesJia, a lesbian lifestyle magazine.

Since December 2005, Les+ has been an outlet and outreach effort for Chinese lesbians. With over 3,000 readers in 40 cities, Les+ is run entirely by a national network of volunteers, covering topics ranging from lala motherhood to fashion to feminism.

Les+ has worked with Common Language and Lalabar to organize pride events such as Rainbow Kite Flying and they’ve even lobbied for legalization of gay marriage. Last Valentine’s Day, volunteers publicly handed out red roses wrapped in a flier calling for gay marriage. Xian, organizer of the weekly Lala salon said the response was overwhelmingly friendly. “People would usually say, ‘you guys can do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t affect me.’ When asked how they would feel if their own children were gay or lesbian, the reaction was very different.”

Gogo and Sam gush about their magazine and the steps the community is making to come out, but they are mum when it comes to their own stories. Sam says she has been in a relationship for five years while Gogo has been with her girlfriend for over a decade. Both their parents know that their daughters are lesbians, but it has never been discussed openly. When asked for her coming out story, Gogo responds “When I met my girlfriend, I just knew.”

Gay Today

30,000,000 (gay people in China according to a 2002 survey)
5,000 (attendees of the Lala salon)
3,000 (readers of the lala magazine Les+)
500 (members of BGLAD)
30 (cities participated in the Rainbow Kite Flying in June 2005)
10 percent (of college students have had a homosexual experience)
10 (officially published gay works of literature in China, but countless online blogs)

No one has ever done the accurate research on the breakdown of gay and lesbian, but in Beijing common wisdom suggests lalas far outnumber tongzhimen.

Tongxinglian 同性? (homosexual)
Lala 拉拉 (lesbian)
Tongzhi 同志 (gay male)
Xianshen ?身 (to come out)
Yizhuang 异? (drag queen)

1997 Homosexuality decriminalized, but in many ways it’s still not legal. The last “Gay Pride” event, scheduled for December 2005 was shut down.

1998 The first lesbian support group, Beijing Sisters, was started. It lasted until 2001.

2001 Li Yu’s breakthrough lesbian film “Fish and Elephant” is banned. An unofficial ban on representing homosexual acts on TV and in films persists.

2005 Underground film festival screened 37 films at 798 art district. The festival is held every four years.

Gay and Famous
Cui Zien (filmmaker, author, teacher)

“Since 2001 I’ve had innumerable interviews with both foreign and domestic media. Nowadays there are like 10 or so ‘gay spokespeople’ so there are fewer interview requests. Not only do I have much more time for my own art [he shoots 3-4 films a year], it’s better to get more people talking about it. Having one person acting as a symbol goes against the very principles of gay culture. I don’t like always answering questions about my sexual orientation. Basically it’s boring and the questions are stereotypical. I much prefer talking about my art.”

For the Boys

The hottest gay club in Beijing needs little introduction. It’s the gay counterpart to Babyface.
Seven Colors

HuaThai Hotel, Tel: 8772-0166

Visible by the neon sign saying “Happy Together.” Karaoke and drag show nightly.
The Red Club

No. 4 Dongzhimen Nanjie, 2/F, Tel: 6534-0986

A sizeable club behind the Oriental Kenzo Building boasting nightly cabaret shows.
Ten Bar

Xing Fu Hotel, 39 Xingfu Dajie

Tel: 5120-5588/5566

An old gay haunt with sporadic shows, attracting mostly locals.

Strictly Lala

Beijing Lala Salon

Every Saturday, 2-6pm, Le Jazz, Tel: 135-0139-0576 (English)

Foreigners welcome but salons are held mostly in Chinese.

Maple Bar (Feng Bar)

Saturday Nights, Pipe Cafe

Longest running lesbian night in Beijing with a younger, hipper crowd (RMB20).

West Wing

Deshengmen, Tel: 8208-2836

Hottest lesbian bar in town.

Reggio Cafe

Wudaokou, Tel: 8262-1516

Not strictly lesbian, but good crowd.

Annual Mercury (Shan Mu Lan)

No. 3 Shajing Hutong, South Luoguxiang, Tel: 6403-7856

Newly opened lesbian bar.

Confessions of a Fag Hag

Aly Koskela

I wasn’t born a fag hag. I believe I earned that title the night I applied make up to my older, prettier gay friend so he could take home the prize for best drag costume. Is there a difference between maintaining a large circle of girl friends and a large circle of gay friends? Not really. In both cases large amounts of time are spent shopping for clothes, debating hairstyles and analyzing the actions of men. From time to time I have had to stand by as a gay friend received more attention than I could ever hope to generate. Nevertheless, the title of “fag hag,” is a tiara I’m honored to wear.

Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 at 10:24am by cityweekend and filed under: City Feature. Printed in the Beijing Edition of City Weekend, Sizzling Summer Reading on May 24, 2007