The Costs And Benefits Of Coming Out Of The Closet In China

Zhang Xiaobai learned the hard way just how difficult it can be to live openly as a homosexual in China. Being honest about his sexual orientation allowed Zhang to embrace his true identity, but cost him custody of his son and sparked a cold war with his

Chinese gay rights demonstrators in Los Angeles, California
Chinese gay rights demonstrators in Los Angeles, California
A Kuai

After he left Tianjin last year, Zhang Xiaobai realized that homosexuals are not "rare birds."

When he was still in primary school, Zhang (not his real name) found that he was attracted to boys. Particularly after each Physical Education class, when he looked at the sweat-soaked back of a boy he liked, he felt dazed. The feeling got stronger when he entered high school and fell secretly amorous of a tall and strong classmate. He was always eager to approach him and became very fascinated with the occasional moment of physical contact.

That was in the mid-1990s, when the term homosexuality was far from ordinary in Chinese people's life. Zhang couldn't find anyone similar to him, and he thought he was strange. He couldn't tell his parents, sure that they wouldn't be able to understand. "I was trying to hide it from everybody. Nobody told me this is normal," Zhang recalls. "I felt like I was sick."

After graduating from university, family and friends were enthusiastic to fix him up with a girl. He didn't know how to refuse and finally yielded to the pressure, and married a girl that his parents liked. He was hounded by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. "But if I can't possibly love her, I can at least try my best to be a good husband." So as not to disappoint his parents, they also had a son right after being married.

Each Valentine's Day and on their wedding anniversary, he would buy her flowers and gifts, trying to compensate materially for his missing heart.

Life went by. Nothing changed for more than 10 years. And then he started logging into the online world where gay Chinese interact. When he joined some chat forums, sometimes people wanted to meet him: but he never accepted the invitation.

In 2009, Zhang took a work trip to Beijing. One night, after coming out of a bar, he saw another bar at the other side of the road. He had seen the name mentioned so many times in a forum, a "shrine" for homosexuals, like Dongdan Park, said to be the biggest gathering place in the world for gays.

He knew there were similar places back in Tianjin, but the risk was too high that he might bump into acquaintances.

The next day, he went to the bar without letting his colleague know. The atmosphere was very relaxed. Like other bars , there were people trying to strike up conversations, flirting. For the first time in his 30 years of life he was not denying his own identity. He talked to all kinds of people, from from different professions. There were company employees, lawyers, and a lot of media people.

In comparison with the digital world, the live encounter with other gays was a shock to him. When he finished his mission and went back to Tianjin, he was determined to leave his job. He told his family he wanted to look for advancement in Beijing. Nobody understood why. He just told them "I'm already 30-something. It will be too late if I don't think for myself."

First Love

His wife stayed in Tianjin. They had grown apart gradually. She no longer demanded that he always come home. He made a lot of acquaintances, and then he found his lover, a designer in his 30s.

This is the first love of his life. Like other couples, they go to films, choose together which restaurants to go to after work. Though they kept two separate places, Zhang is very stable in his relationships. He feels that he has found a new direction for his life. For the first time he doesn't feel so bad being gay. His friends and colleagues accept who he is. He is finally completely relaxed.

It went on for about a year like this until 2010. He was going home to Tianjin less and less frequently. He felt he was no longer able to leave his boyfriend. He decided it was time to tell his family.

"I knew I had to be courageous. But it was too difficult for me to continue with two emotions at the same time. I was prepared to break up with my family."

After New Year's day this year, Zhang invited his wife, his parents and parents-in-law to a meal. He announced the truth near the end of the meal. The fathers didn't quite believe him, everybody at the dinner table was startled. Then his mother, who suffers from hypertension, fainted on the spot. His wife smacked his face and left. He cried and knelt in front of his father beside the hospital bed of his mother, asking for forgiveness.

"It was really like a second-rate TV drama. The whole family was crying. I had never imagined that it would ever happen to me."

Zhang's wife divorced him without any hesitation, and won full custody of their son. Relatives scolded him, calling him irresponsible. He tries to appease everybody with money. He gave his house to his ex-wife, and pays to support his parents. This is the cost of coming out. Zhang's parents are still in a cold war with him. His mother won't even speak to him. The only thing he worries about is whether or not his son will suffer from being laughed at when his friends find out that his father is gay.

Nevertheless, Zhang does not think his life is a tragedy. At least, now he's living according to his true identity. Every time he hears that some "comrade" plans to get married, he always tells them of his own experience. "Don't try to solve the problem by getting married. It will only hurt more people."

Read the original story in Chinese

Photo - skinnylawyer

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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