Shi Tou, a 43-year-old Beijing-based artist born in the southwestern Chinese city of Guiyang, talks to RFA's Mandarin Service about how she came out as a lesbian on a television show, fake marriages and attitudes to her sexuality in today's China:
I met a lot of lesbians during the 1990s, and we hung out together all the time, and shared a great deal, but I still felt that we had no way to be open about it...But I thought that was an unhealthy attitude, so when the producers of this program approached me [in 2000], I wanted to speak out on everyone's behalf, so people would know about us.
I was very direct about it [on the Hunan Satellite TV show, Getting Into Homosexuality]. I thought it was best to be honest about who I am, and that I shouldn't try to hide anything. Actually, it's less stressful that way.
I don't think [lesbians] are visible enough, because they're not present in our education, nor in the media. And when they are, it's always in a negative light, with no deep feeling portrayed. Most people don't really have an understanding of homosexuality because of the sort of discussions that take place [in those places].
Some people really haven't accepted what homosexuality actually is, and some heterosexual men think it's something that can be changed, so they don't respect us, because they think it's just something we like to do.
I think a person's sexual orientation should be respected and taken seriously. They think you can just change your ways, and that they can help you to do that, and maybe you could try [having sex] with them to see how you like it.
I got to know this artist recently...I told him I was gay and introduced my partner [of 10 years] to him. A few days later I got a text from him asking if he could have sex with me and my partner together.
I don't want to get married. I think it's fine that we are partners. Probably because I'm queer, I think it would be better to go for a civil partnership law.
There are different kinds of fake marriage around. The basic concept is that you do it to deal with pressure from your family [to get married and start a family]. The simplest one is that a gay man and a lesbian get married. Usually this means they haven't really got a marriage certificate, but it's just to put on a show, and they go through a marriage ceremony and tell their friends and family they are married. This is normal, but there are many different ways of going about it.
[I knew a woman back in the 1990s] whose girlfriend looked a lot like a guy, so she just pretended she was her boyfriend.
A lot of my [gay] friends want to get married. You can't wait for the system to perfect itself. If you have this need, you are going to talk about it...
Even if you will never attain it, you still have to talk about it. Talking about it makes ripples that eventually become a big wave.
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.