Chinese PFLAG Narratives: Family Relations, Moral Values, and Identity Politics in Popo Fan’s Mama Rainbow and Pink Dads

Lgbtq politics is about #morethanmarriage. The marriage equality campaign has been criticized for limiting lgbtq political mobilization within a narrow “homonormative” framework, making invisible all of the many pressing issues that impact diverse lgbtq-identified individuals.

Lgbtq politics if viewed through the lens of critical transnational queer studies, is indeed about far more than marriage equality. And yet, the institution of marriage presents a powerful tool toward liberation as well as restriction in diverse ways that continue to shape lgbtq lives around the world. In China, respectable adult gender roles and social life for individuals and their families are crucially defined through heteronormative and reproductive marriage in ways that usually make coming out as lgbtq a traumatic event for families and kin.

Inspired – and aided – by lgbtq politics in the US and its powerful global reach, the PFLAG movement emerged in China in 2008. A major focus in PFLAG-China’s advocacy is outreach to parents and families struggling with coming to terms with a son or daughter’s homosexuality, but also basic education as regards a topic that remains a considerable taboo. Referencing moral values, norms of respectability, and happiness, an increasing number of Chinese parents believe that pressuring a gay son or lesbian daughter into heterosexual marriage is unfortunate and even morally wrong. This departs markedly from China’s universal marriage predicament.

This paper investigates these tensions and transformations from the perspective of parents of lgbtq (adult) children, through analyzing film-maker and activist Popo Fan’s two path-breaking, recent documentary films on this issue, Mama Rainbow and Pink Dads. Through a contextualized reading of these films, and the parental narratives of support and love in particular, I identify some of the major changes to but also continuities in intergenerational, gendered kinship relations in China today.

This presentation contributes to critically rethinking the agenda for lgbtq politics in a globalizing cultural-political context where marriage equality has not set the standard for what constitutes acceptance and recognition. This approach challenges the narrowly defined marriage politics and rights discourse that now dominates much hegemonic lgbtq identity politics and scholarship in ‘the West’. In turn, the focus on inter-generational relationships in Chinese families involved with PFLAG-China, allows for a broader theoretical and empirical concern in queer scholarship and activist-research, as it questions the global circuits of moral life projects, justice movements beyond marriage equality, and public identity politics.


Part of panel Queer(ing) Marriage and Family in China and Taiwan
October 1, 2016, 16:45–18:30