Love­less unions

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By XINHUA

Women known as tongqi, mean­ing they’re mar­ried to gay men, face a long and dif­fi­cult path when seek­ing a di­vorce and re­dress in the courts.

She has no re­grets, but for Qing Feng di­vorc­ing her hus­band— a gay man— and los­ing hers on and money, was no easy process. Qing, from Guizhou prov­ince, ended her sex­less, love­less mar­riage months ago, af­ter an ar­du­ous ne­go­ti­a­tion with the man who had con­stantly be­lit­tled her through­out their 13-year re­la­tion­ship.

“He said I wouldn’t get a penny or the cus­tody of my son be­cause I asked for a di­vorce with­out ev­i­dence to show he was wrong,” said Qing, who is in her 40s.

“He was well pre­pared for the day of the di­vorce. He had trans­ferred all our as­sets to his par­ents.”

Qing is one of many women in China known as “gay wives”, or tongqi, who un­wit­tingly marry clos­eted gay men. For these women, the road to a suc­cess­ful di­vorce is of­ten rocky be­cause of ob­struc­tion from their hus­bands and a lack of clear le­gal sup­port.

The names of the women who are mar­ried to gay men in this ar­ti­cle have been changed to pro­tect their pri­vacy.

In a coun­try where gay mar­riage is il­le­gal, a gay man may choose to marry a woman and have chil­dren be­cause of pres­sure from par­ents and so­ci­ety. Many Chi­nese be­lieve con­tin­u­ing the fam­ily blood­line is an in­escapable male duty and that not hav­ing chil­dren con­sti­tutes a fail­ure.

No easy way out

At a sem­i­nar on pro­tect­ing women mar­ried to gay men that was held in Changsha, Hu­nan prov­ince, in late July, Qing shared her story and en­cour­aged other women in her sit­u­a­tion to pur­sue their hap­pi­ness with courage.

Two years ago, a TV pro­gram fo­cus­ing on the tragedy of “gay-straight” mar­riages helped Qing over­come doubts she had about di­vorc­ing her hus­band, who she said re­coiled from phys­i­cal con­tact af­ter their son was born and sel­dom showed her any care.

“He re­peat­edly told me, ‘Don’t laugh. You look ugly when you do that.’ He liked noth­ing about me, so I kept try­ing to change my­self to please him,” she said.

When she fi­nally ques­tioned her hus­band about his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, he con­fessed, but he re­fused to di­vorce be­cause he feared it would ruin his rep­u­ta­tion.

Be­cause she at­tended last year’s sem­i­nar, Qing said she was in­sulted by her hus­band and his fam­ily. She fi­nally had enough and made up her mind to in­sist on di­vorce, de­spite hes­i­tat­ing for the sake of her son.

Alawyer told Qing that even if she filed a di­vorce law­suit, it might not go in her fa­vor.

Many Chi­nese gay men con­ceal their ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, which makes it dif­fi­cult for women to col­lect ev­i­dence of their hus­band’s sex­ual habits and ori­en­ta­tion, said Yang Shao­gang, a Shang­hai-based lawyer who is ex­pe­ri­enced in gay-straight di­vorce cases. As a re­sult, judges of­ten do not grant the di­vorce, and the women need to file again at a later date, Yang said.

In ad­di­tion, Chi­nese law does not make a gay man cul­pa­ble for the mar­riage break­down, mean­ing it’s pos­si­ble that no com­pen­sa­tion will be awarded to the woman. Fur­ther, the law of­fers no priv­i­lege for such women to ob­tain cus­tody of their chil­dren.

Yang has called for le­gal changes re­gard­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of prop­erty and child cus­tody in such di­vorce cases to en­cour­age tongqi to break free.

Three of the 15 tongqi who at­tended that first sem­i­nar last year are now di­vorced.

“It shows huge progress that these women were able to stand up to pro­tect their rights,” said sex­ol­o­gist Zhang Be­ichuan.

Dis­ease, vi­o­lence

A 2013 sur­vey con­ducted by Zhang and her team sam­pled nearly 150 women who had ei­ther mar­ried or di­vorced gay or bi­sex­ual men or who were cur­rently dat­ing such men. Seventy per­cent of the re­spon­dents said they had suf­fered long-term emo­tional abuse from the men, of­ten char­ac­ter­ized by sex­ual ap­a­thy.

In ad­di­tion, 90 per­cent of the women de­vel­oped symp­toms of de­pres­sion and 20 per­cent of them re­ported beat­ings.

Nearly 40 of those sur­veyed also re­ported symp­toms of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases. Of the30whow­eretested forHIV, twofoundthem­selves in­fected.

Su Yun, 60, re­cently di­vorced her gay hus­band. She be­came deaf in one ear af­ter en­dur­ing beat­ings. A day af­ter the di­vorce, she said her ex-hus­band and his boyfriend barged into her home.

“I didn’t dare call the po­lice. I thought he might stran­gle me. He tried once and I al­most died,” said Su, in Shan­dong prov­ince.

Di­vorced women are of­ten dis­crim­i­nated against in China, and not ev­ery­one trapped in an un­happy mar­riage wants to get out, said Li, the sem­i­nar founder.

In gen­eral, the tongqi are an in­vis­i­ble group. A large num­ber women are even un­aware that their hus­bands are gay, due to con­ser­va­tive at­ti­tudes to­ward sex. Li said: “Many never even won­der why they have no sex life in their mar­riage.”

It shows huge progress that these women were able to stand up to pro­tect their rights.” Zhang Be­ichuan, sex­ol­o­gist, speak­ing of women who di­vorced their gay hus­bands

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