Being married to someone who isn’t truly in love with you can be a miserable thing, but what can you do when it’s not in your best interests to leave? You’re miserable yes, but without your other half you’d lose your livelihood and would be criticised for getting a divorce.
This is the reality that many women in China are facing. Referred to as ‘homowives’ (which is the Chinese language equivalent of the phrase ‘beard’) these women get married – unknowingly to gay men – and find themselves stuck in loveless, sexless partnerships. The men are forced to do this to hide their sexualities and to stick to the social belief that people should get married and have children and the women are innocent bystanders in it all.
Yet despite the fact that the wives have to suffer, they don’t hold it against their husbands. Speaking to Quartz, one such ‘homowife’ named Qiu Xuan explained that being “homosexual isn’t wrong” but “what’s wrong is to marry a heterosexual to make a tragedy” and it’s one of the reasons why she’s campaigning for gay rights.
Maybe if there wasn’t such a stigma surrounding homosexuality, less people would be forced into a similar situation as her. Xuan explained to the publication that it’s incredibly difficult for ‘homowives’ to get a divorce and when she was granted one (though court mediation) she was forced to accept just $114 in alimony a month as her husband’s family threatened to stop her from seeing her 9 month old daughter if she didn’t agree. Later, when she tried to appeal for more money, she was denied as she couldn’t prove that her husband was having an extramarital affair; China’s judicial system only deems it adultery when it’s being committed with a member of the opposite sex.
Part of the homowive’s campaigning involves running a support group for other women in their situation. They run groups on QQ (a popular Chinese instant messaging service) and hold regular meetups. Other forms of campaigning are more vocal and involve protests (such as the one at Hong Kong’s annual gay rights parade, which attracted thousands) and one member of a QQ chat group is even translating two books (My Husband Is Gay and When Your Spouse Comes Out) into Chinese in order to raise awareness.
Sadly, although their work is gaining traction, China’s legislator are unwilling to address the topic of gay rights. Efforts to get marriage equality legalised have failed on several occasions as the government feels that the topic of LGBT equality is ahead of its time.
It’s estimated that millions of people across China have these sorts of marriages though, so hopefully the law will change sooner rather than later so that they can be freed.