I Want a World that Accepts All Sexualities…

I hope people will not suffer stereotype or stigma, no matter who they love.

Series: Love on My Own Terms

“I would like to take my time to explore my own sexuality. This might take a few years, or a whole life, but so what? I’m in no rush to define myself.” — — Jiexuan

Meet Jiexuan:

Jiexuan comes from Shandong Province, China. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University with a master’s degree in Psychological Consulting. She’s a volunteer coordinator at a Chinese nonprofit organization serving the LGBTQ+ community. She collects and shares overseas LGBTQ+ stories with their Chinese audience on social media.

Jiexuan identifies herself as a woman while questioning her sexual orientation.

I currently identify myself as a woman, not because of my secondary sexual characteristics of a female, but because these characteristics have been enduring systematic suppression and inequality for a long time. I think identifying myself as a woman fits my life goal — fighting for social justice.

As for my sexual orientation, I am questioning, or to say I’m still exploring. In Chinese it’s commonly called “yí xìng liàn”, but I personally don’t like this expression because it to some extent conveys a message of “doubt”, which doesn’t feel right to me. Comparatively, I’m more comfortable with “liú xìng liàn”, which stresses more on “flowing”. But anyway, I don’t like any labels. To like someone is a natural thing that just happens the way it is. What matters most is to acknowledge my feelings for the person, why bother putting a label on it?

The journey started in high school…

In high school, I began to know and fell in love with Leslie Cheung. He publicly introduced his partner in his concert, and he intentionally held his partner’s hand when he realized they were followed by paparazzi — a moment captured as the famous “holding hands” photo. I think he as a public figure had a great impact on the perception of LGBTQ+ in Hong Kong (where gay relationship was criminalized until 1990). His courage and honesty motivated me to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and I was deeply shocked and felt sorry for the injustice and suppression they suffered. This kindled my passion to fight for social justice. I hope the generations after us will not have to suffer stereotype or stigma, no matter who they love.

The first time connected to gay people in real life…

In my junior year of college, I hang out with some friends in a famous gay bar in Beijing called Destination. Then I visited Beijing Dong Dan Park — a famous gay people meetup location. I made some new friends, we shared our stories, and talked about how their sexual identities had influenced their lives. I really miss those times. It was the connection with real stories of real people that kept me motivated to serve the community continuously later.

Looking for the even less-told stories.

As part of my volunteer work, I research and share overseas LGBTQ+ stories with our Chinese audience on social media. Since western male gay people have been in a relatively dominant position inside the community, I tend to pay more attention to the even less-told stories when selecting topics, such as lives in Asian LGBT+ communities, stories of people who are bisexual, asexual, or in multilateral relationships.

Though I have been intentionally looking for these “minority in minority” stories, most what I found (in English) is about the western gay community. You can clearly see that even inside the LGBTQ+ community, which itself is a minority group, there are also hierarchies and gaps between those who are relatively advantaged and those who are not.

Studying in the U.S., Jiexuan realized America is not the “heaven”.

I took a class in my graduate school that has deeply influenced me — LGBT Issues. This course incorporated discussions on a variety of issues including religion, asexuality, transgender, LGBT policies in the military sphere, international progress on LGBT issues, which significantly broadened my horizon and deepened my understanding of these issues. As part of the course assignments, I attended an LGBT community career consulting held by Columbia University, where alumni came back to campus and shared how their gender and sexual identity had influenced their career in different aspects including job interviews, networking, promotion.

There are countless struggles in every little detail, like whether to list one’s experience of being an LGBT group leader on a resume, how to answer illegal interview questions like “are you a gay?”, how to know whether a colleague is pro-LGBT or not. I still remember my complicated feelings when sitting there and listening to those stories: angry, disappointed, heartbroken, and resigned. Turned out America is not the “heaven” for LGBTQ+.

On the other hand, I feel really lucky to have the chance to enter a different culture and to see things from different perspectives. I came to realize that every culture has its own pros and cons in addressing such issues. Instead of idolizing western culture as a perfect world, it might be better if I could dig deeper into the root of my own culture and to find the potential and opportunity for the development of LGBTQ+ rights in our society.

With all the new experiences and new information flowing in Jiexuan’s mind, her ideas change every day.

To be honest, my ideas about LGBT+ change every single day, especially after I came to the U.S. and participated in more public discussions on these issues. Me changing from straight to questioning is one of the results. In the past 20 years or so, the environment I lived in and the education I had didn’t leave me enough space to freely explore who I am and who I like. I believed I am straight and I took it for granted. But as I’ve gotten to know more about LGBT+ culture and been in a more diverse environment, I would like to take my time to explore my own sexuality. This might take a few years, or whole life, but so what? I’m in no rush to define myself.

About the development of LGBTQ+ rights in China…

I’m constantly vacillating between optimistic and pessimistic. I feel pessimistic because it’s really hard to make actual changes without top-down support. However, I still see hope because I’m not alone; among the people I know, I can always find someone just like me, trying to make a difference, one step at a time.

Earlier this year a Chinese TV show for students aroused controversy — Some parents criticized that some men celebrities were being “too feminine” on the show, which they thought was setting a bad example for the young, later some media also commented that this kind of style is compromising our culture.

At first, I was angry and disappointed by these comments, but then I was glad to discover there were a lot of different voices too. From my perspective, there are several underlying issues: firstly, discrimination on female characteristics; secondly, solidification or standardization of the qualities of gender, meaning everyone has to comply with certain qualities that a society conventionally expects, or you are just considered wrong; thirdly, a lack of inclusiveness for gender identities other than the very narrow binary “men” and “women”, and the common derogatory Chinese idiom “bu nan bu nv (not men nor women)” is an example of dismissing other identities such as gender-neutral, unspecified and fluid.

I want a world that accepts all sexualities, that everyone can choose to have long hair or be bold, to wear makeup or not, to wear pants or skirts…everyone has the freedom to make personal choices and not be punished for being different.

Though Jiexuan’s family disapproves of her involvement in the LGBTQ+ community, Jiexuan is determined to continue.

My family doesn’t really support me and sometimes they would ask me to delete some relevant social contents I posted. Good thing is, my friends are very supportive. They sometimes directly talk with me about their personal experience and some of them would share perspectives on social media.

I will definitely continue fighting for LGBT+ rights, in my own way. The long-term goal is to equip myself with more knowledge and experience so that I can be more capable of making an impact. My recent goal is to keep making little efforts in daily life, such as emphasizing my gender pronouns every time I introduce myself(because everyone has a right to define their own gender); to use “ta” to refer to people instead of Chinese pronouns (there is no gender-free pronouns in Chinese); not to assume everyone I meet is straight; not afraid to say “it’s not funny” when I hear some bad jokes.

I know these are just small things, but I believe small steps can make a big difference.

Others’ stories that inspired Jietian along the way.

I met a middle-aged man in Beijing Dong Dan Park. He was hugging tightly with a young man while talking about his wife and children at home. He is gay yet he married a woman, and he’s still looking for intimacy with men. I’ve heard a lot of opinions on gay people marrying straight people, accusing them of deceit and ruining others’ lives. But I don’t think it’s a simple question of “right or wrong”. In China where gay marriage is not yet commonly accepted and even “living a single life” is somehow “wrong”, it’s not an easy situation for gay people in regards to marriage choices.

Another person I remembered well is a guy I met in New York at Stonewall bar. He just came here for work from Texas. He told me he couldn’t stand the conservative attitude toward LGBT+ in his hometown so he came to New York, only to find out he still couldn’t come out for real without shame, especially at work. His roommate is a devoted Christian, so he has to keep it secret for fear of being alienated because of his sexuality.

It’s been years since I started engaging with this community but I still got deeply touched by real stories like these, and it is them that keep reminding me of why I started.

Editor: Yinong | Translator: Yinong
Originally published on Feb. 11th, 2019
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