In China, up until 2001, homosexuality was officially classified as a mental disorder. Since then, China’s ascendance as a global economic power has caused radical changes in Chinese society. This recent more globalist outlook has brought about a profound shift in general opinion on a host of social issues, such as climate change, entrepreneurship, romantic relationships, sex and sexual identity.
Daniel and Jason, both of Asian descent, are a gay couple. They live and work in Shanghai with their two children, who were born with the help of surrogates. They remark that there is no bias or persecution that they must contend with, yet there is also no overt acknowledgment of the gay community or of organizations promoting gay rights within China. When asked how gay-friendly Shanghai is, Jason said that encountering any hostility here would be very unlikely, but so would seeing a rainbow flag.
The fact of the matter is that for these two gay men, and for the gay community at large, Chinese culture, while conservative in its recognition of homosexuality, seems quite open and susceptible to change. Daniel feels that things are rapidly changing, and he sees conflicting or mixed thoughts in many Chinese. “The concept of gay is completely foreign to the older generation, while it is almost a non-issue for the younger generation,” explains Daniel.
Daniel and Jason with their son, Hunter, and daughter, Aria
These conflicting attitudes explain Daniel’s initial reluctance to go public with his sexual orientation and relationship with Jason. “I came out to my parents at almost 38. [...] Jason had already been with me for almost six years. [...] I believe that if I had come out in 2008, people may have reacted very differently, since there was much less public awareness back then. Eight years is a long time for China due to the country’s rapid development.”
Born in the capital of XinJiang Province, Urumqi, Daniel went to school in Canada, but after graduating his job assignments were across the Asian continent. His upbringing in Northern China did not mirror his husband Jason’s. Born and raised in Vancouver, Jason came out to his parents when he was 22, and has been living as an out gay man since then.
Starting a relationship in 2006, the couple separated for two years while Daniel was relocated to Shanghai for the first time. When he moved again in 2010, to Tokyo this time, Jason joined his husband on a journey that would soon take them back to Shanghai in May of 2012.
After settling in, they began researching possible paths towards parenthood. They eventually settled on the idea of surrogacy with surrogates in Thailand. “Everything had gone pretty smoothly,” said Jason, “until a couple of weeks after both of our surrogates became pregnant, when the Thai coup d’état happened, and then shortly after, international surrogacy was banned.” After a few weeks of limited communication things fortunately returned to normal. Their children Aria and Hunter were born shortly thereafter. Had they begun the process only weeks later, Jason and Daniel would likely not be fathers today.
“If I never believed in fate, I do now,” says Jason. Today, their family is very much like any other. “Daily life is quite normal for us,” Jason remarked. Healthy breakfasts, loads of playtime, assorted snacks, music, and reading are all hallmarks of their daily routines. Daniel’s parents even stop by every day to see their beloved and adorable grandchildren.
Daniel and Jason at Vancouver Pride, 2016
Shanghai will soon be in Daniel and Jason’s rearview mirror. They plan to return to Vancouver permanently and are already looking for schools for their children. The move to Canada is at the same time a move away from their Chinese roots, away from a country that tolerates them (and the rest of the LGBT community), but still does not accept them fully. When asked about having to find any specific schools that are LGBT-friendly in Vancouver, Jason responded bluntly: “Vancouver is a largely gay-friendly city, so when I asked my friends for some recommendations, I never even thought to ask whether they were LGBT-friendly.” While life in China for out-and-proud gays and lesbians is no longer dangerous, it is definitely not gay-friendly just yet.
But with newer and younger generations likely to be more accepting than the older ones, the future for social progress looks brighter than ever before.