While the desirability of same-sex marriage remains a topic of heated discussion among scholars and activists around the globe, in contemporary China what attracts equal attention is mixed-orientation marriage, or more specifically, the legality and morality of same-sex attracted men marrying an unwitting heterosexual woman. The gay men’s behaviors are often denounced as “marriage fraud”, and their wives, who are dubbed tongqi, are overwhelmingly presented as victims of insincere and unhappy marriages.
Recently, some Chinese gay activists initiated a campaign against “marriage fraud”. Using the slogan “I’m gay, and I won’t marry a straight person”, they encourage gay people to come out and promise not to “harm” heterosexuals by entering into a sexually incompatible marriage. Meanwhile, the call for marriage equality is also emerging in China. One of the most frequently used arguments is that same-sex marriage could significantly reduce the number of mixed-orientation marriages, thereby effectively preventing the pain of tongqis. This argument has achieved widespread endorsement from both gay and straight people.
In this paper, I critically examine how closeted married gay men in China are constructed as frauds and tongqis as victims, and what heteronormative assumptions buttress the commonsense understandings of “fraud” and “harm”. By refusing to simplify the experiences and feelings of those in mixed-orientation marriages, we may raise more thought-provoking questions in terms of the tension between tongqis and gay men. For instance, how does the term “marriage fraud” reveal the performativity of “real” heterosexual marriage? To what extent do the passing strategies married queers employ challenge the moral superiority of “coming out” as a performance of the “true self”?
Just as importantly, scholars and activists should not neglect the costs of pursuing same-sex marriage by condemning closeted married gay men. The establishment of the positive image of a homonormative gay identity is often premised on the purging and rejection of other, more disturbing desires and relationships, in the case, closeted married gay men. The apologetic stance implied in this argument also dilutes the truly queer potentialities we could have had in unhitching sex, love, care and economic benefits from the marriage combo, in challenging the ideal of hetero-reproductive happiness and success in marriage and life, and in questioning the normativity of monogamy.
By presenting the problematic of “marriage fraud” discourse in China in the After Marriage conference, I invite academics and activists in the US to pay more attention to the moral panic against black and Latino men “on the down low”. Especially, after same-sex marriage becomes a legal option, will closeted bisexual or gay men who still choose to marry a woman be even more stigmatized? How can LGBTIQ communities be more inclusive of those who do not follow a homonormative lifestyle?