Saturday, December 17, 2005
Friday, December 16, 2005
Received a text message from my friend Bill that the first gay & lesbian cultural festival has changed venue. It was supposed to start this evening in 798, the hip art warehouse district. Not really surprised because back in the summer, the 2nd Beijing Gay Film Festival had to change venue at the last minute from Peking University to 798. Police and politics can and seem always to intervene at the last minute. Bill, who’s doing his Ph.D. thesis on gay life in China, was very frustrated as the organizers still hadn’t responded to his email volunteering to help.
Bill had called a hotline and found out that new venue is On/Off, once THE weekend gay partying destination but now a distant runner up after the new gay bar Destination. Told him I will be there at 7pm for the opening speech by Li Yinhe, the famous scholar and writer on contemporary gay and AIDS issue in China. The festival has done a good job promoting the event. I’ve received quite a few emails and text messages from my expat friends about this event. Beijing Weekend, an English weekly under the China Daily, had a listing for it. But That’s Beijing, the most popular expat magazines, didn’t. Although officially ok to cover gay-themed stories now, the press is still exploring with tentative steps. Wonder if there’s any coverage of this event in the Chinese press, and how many gay Chinese will show up at such a public event.
Bill just called. He went to On/Off at 5pm for the opening cocktail party. But the police closed down On/Off. He said the entire group of people there, about 50 to 60, were going to have a hotpot dinner. I asked why the police closed it down. He wasn’t sure.
Found the hotpot restaurant but wasn’t sure if it’s the right place. The patrons didn’t look particularly queer to me. Found several reporter-looking people, one carrying a Sony PD150 camcorder. Found Bill finally. He’s chatting with a small and sweet girl in glasses.
Surprised by the look of the crowd. Hadn’t expected the Beijing gay crowd to be this diverse and at ease. Half of them were lesbians, and pretty ones.
Decided to approach the lesbians to seek out married ones for my new documentary. Turned out most of the girls there were not lesbians but dancers that were scheduled to perform that night. The sweet one sitting next to Bill was a straight law student. She proclaimed what the police did to be illegal (the police closed down the festival citing lack of a permit). China’s Constitution gave Chinese citizens the right to assemble publicly, she said.
Ah, the beauty of idealism of the young.
Walking with Bill to a different restaurant to meet friends for dinner. Just passed On/Off. On the door a poster had been put up to announce “Temporarily Closed to Fix Plumbing”.
I laughed at the veil-thin cover up. Why bother?
Bill said that half of people that were kicked out by the police weren’t even gay, but reporters and supporters. I wonder if this event was more a political statement than a cultural event, because Chinese gay/lesbian population didn’t seem to have come out to support it openly.
However, everything in China that’s out of the “norm” seems to be a political statement.
Still having dinner. Bill got a text message from our gay American friend John that Reuters just ran a story about the cop closing down the event. (In the next 15 hours, the Guardian, Times UK and The Advocate would have covered the story as well.) Wow, the speed of globalized information flow.
Dancing with Bill and a couple of friends at Destination. Had planned to interview a gay man in his 50s who’s married and had a 17-yr old daughter but the place was too noisy and the music too good.
After a few drinks my eyes started to blur. The gay man I had planned to interview was chatting with his very cute and very young “friend”. A couple of gay punks with their hair dyed blond danced cheek-to-cheek in front of me. A business-type in a very nice dress jacket was squeezing his way into the dance floor with his two handsome assistants. A group of young and trendy guys occupied a corner, barely moved their hips and looked at the dancing crowd with a slight disdain. Student types were hopping up and down like crazy. Fag-hags were smiling their big smiles. And standing in the corners in 2s and 3s, dressed in the latest street fashion, were the money boys who were straight but making a living with the gay renminbi.
Bill yelled to me over the music, “It’s been an interesting evening.”
“Yeah,” I yelled back, “the day the police stopped harassing people, China will stop being complex and interesting.”
The DJ started playing Madonna’s new song, Hung Up. The crowd got denser on the dance floor. I shook my hips and scanned the crowd and a sense of joy overwhelmed me – the cage has been broken; no matter how much the authority wants to control public discussion, no matter how much cultural pressure there still exists, and no matter how many problems there are with the evolution of gay life in Beijing – commercialism, AIDS, prostitution, etc., the freedom expands and like many other trends in China, can no longer be reversed.