Could you share a bit more about the position of transgender individuals in China?
The 'T' in LGBT is rapidly gaining in visibility in China, as the big organizations start to focus on this group as well. Transgenders face serious discrimination in finding employment. In ' Brothers,Tony shares his experience of having to use fake IDs if he wants to find work. And if someone undergoes a sex change after graduating from college, their educational records basically become useless.
However, in some ways being a transgender is more accepted in Chinese society than being gay. For example, there are Chinese celebrities that are openly transgender, such as Jin Xing (@金星). If they undergo a sex change and then engage in 'regular' heterosexual relationships, it seems like they are less threatening to the system than gays. By contrast, we do not have any openly gay celebrities. But there are always minorities within minorities: Tony first identified as a gay transgender, later he got medical testing that diagnosed him as "intersex," which has him rethinking his identity once again.
The discourse is slowly broadening to include queer, intersex and asexual communities. Bisexuality receives comparatively little attention. Although the issues there different sexual and gender minorities face differ greatly, it is good that we join forces where possible. LGBTQIA ... the acronym can't get long enough.
What is the origin of the most-frequently used terms for gays and lesbians in China: 'comrade' (同志) and 'lala' (拉拉)?
Yes. I like the term "comrade," which also gets used among members of the Communist Party. In early 20th century China, the term had a strong inclusive character emphasizing the common ground between its users, whether male or female. It was first used as a term for gays and lesbians in the Chinese title of a 1989 film festival in Hong Kong. Of course, its use among gays is ironic considering the marginalization of LGBTs within the Party. But it is mostly a very positive term that gays picked themselves, as opposed to earlier abusive terms like "gaylo."
"Lala" is the name of a lesbian protagonist in 1994 Taiwanese novel Notes of a Crocodile (鱷魚手記) by Qiu Miaojin. The term has been widely adopted among lesbians in mainland China as well. In addition, in Chinese we also frequently use the English terms "gays" and "les" (short for lesbians).
What is next for heightening acceptance of LGBTs in China? How do you see your own role in this process?
Sex education is key. Currently, too many mainland Chinese are still completely blank on the topic when they get to university. And the current trend of increased self-acceptance and self-confidence will hopefully continue and result in wider understanding.
Many gays prefer not to initiate a confrontation with their families. Their parents might actually know or suspect they are in a same-sex relationship, but as long as it remains unsaid, no social taboos are violated. So they bring home their partner to celebrate Chinese New Year, as "their best friend." You could call this a sort of tolerance as well. We sometimes joke: in China it is not about "coming out" but about "coming home." This does not mean people who chose to do this are not being true to themselves. It just means that there are many strategies to deal with family relations as a gay in China, and that coming out is only one of them.