Queering Marriage: The Practice of Xinghun in Contemporary Mainland China

Marriage is a crucial site of biopolitics, a vehicle of producing heteronormative citizens. This research investigates a queer marriage practice — xinghun (形婚) — that some queer subjects employ to navigate this tension between kinship and sexuality in Mainland China.

Xinghun is a marriage arrangement between a lesbian woman and a gay man; it is an increasingly popular practice that many Chinese queer subjects partake in as a means of being gay or lesbian without exiting the kinship system. However, xinghun is often condemned as betraying homosexual identity by being complicit in heterosexual marriage. In contrast, my study shows that xinghun opens up opportunities for Chinese queer subjects to misidentify with hegemonic queerness and heteronormative marriage arrangements. In my study, I argue that xinghun is a culturally specific resistance and a survival strategy used by Chinese queer subjects to maximize their life chances in a heteronormative environment.

To investigate the complex dynamic between Chinese queer subjects and their biogenetic families, I conducted interviews with thirteen Chinese queer subjects to understand their experiences of coming out and xinghun from their perspectives. Interview transcripts were analyzed through the lens of rhetorical analysis. In addition, I used rhetorical criticism to analyze online discourses about coming out and about xinghun on two websites: Chinagayles.com and the micro blog, A-Qiang Tongzhi (http://bit.ly/1KgLc8v).

Based on analysis of the above texts, my study shows how xinghun challenges, if not subverts, the heteronormative marriage institution by transforming its arrangements and structure. First, xinghun allows same-sex romance in a hetero-marital relationship through actively engaging the marriage institution. Second, and more importantly, xinghun gives birth to a conjugal husband-wife relationship, a new agent of private life that includes and shields queer desires from the control of the patriarchal family. Therefore, in contrast to how xinghun is often condemned as betraying homosexual identity, my study argues that engaging in xinghun does not mean that queer subjects turn away from queer desires toward heteronormativity. Rather, xinghun is often a conscious effort to maintain a same-sex relationship in a hostile environment.

My study concludes with a discussion of how xinghun thus brings to fore the complications about “coming out” for Chinese queer subjects, challenging the teleological discourse of “coming out” that is circulated both in transnational LGBT movements and within academia. Specifically, I discuss how the empowering potential of xinghun lies in the fact that it deconstructs the dichotomy between same-sex desires and the hetero-marital relationship, allowing queer desires to thrive in an otherwise exclusionary institution. I argue that the queer practice of xinghun among some Chinese queer subjects questions the limiting desire-marriage-reproduction matrix in the intimate domain. Further, it challenges the “same-sex marriage” model in popular discourse, a narrow homonormative politics that is based on the experience of metropolitan, white, and middle-class queer subjects. On this rendering, my study of xinghun can serve as a useful queer tool that expands on and stretches our imaginations of being queer in a heteronormative and increasingly homonormative society.


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