Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gay Marriage, China Style (II)

Sunday afternoon I came home and found Jim lying over our living room sofa, his head dropping almost to the floor, his eyes blank.

I guessed right immediately that he’d just had another big fallout with his budding celebrity boyfriend. Once again befitting the temper of a prima donna, the boyfriend destroyed his fancy mobile phone. Only this time he hammered it to pieces, and in a continuing fit of frenzy, he hammed the TV stand to pieces as well.

And once again our friend Jim said, “I think I should get married.”

Jim is from a wealthy traditional Chinese family in the south. He has been a model filial and pious son for his entire life, except for his inability to get married and bear kids for his parents. Everyone wondered why, for he was very handsome, very youthful looking and very wealthy in his own right. Lately, the parents increased their crazed efforts to arrange him blind dates.

“How could you not like the girl? She was pretty and docile and healthy.” I imagined him being interrogated after each failed date. Perhaps like in the movie The Wedding Banquet, the parents would soon find him a date with two doctor’s degrees.

“Marriage would get everyone off my back,” Jim sighed. “They would not let me in peace until I get married. And what’s so bad about marrying a woman anyway? My parents would be happy. My siblings would be happy. My aunts and uncles would be happy. My parents’ neighbors would be happy, cause they always took as their own business to remind my mom that I’m in my late 30s already.” He ground his teeth at the mentioning of the neighbors.

I reminded him again that to get his parents off his back was no good reason to cheat an innocent woman into a fraudulent marriage. The truth would come out sooner or later, and he would be hated by the woman for the rest of his life. Why destroy a woman’s life and become the target of hatred?

“Show me one straight Chinese man who doesn’t fool around in massage parlor or karaoke bar,” Tim demanded (and you’ll show me a happy homosexual?). “The women all knew about their husbands’ escapades. But they don’t talk about it. If I could provide material comfort and security for my wife, would she complain about anything else? I doubt it.”

I pondered for a beat and realized the folly of my Westernized logic—I really don’t know any straight Chinese man who doesn’t fool around (except hopefully my brother-in-law); and the wives all seem perfectly happy knowing perfectly well that their husbands would more than likely fool around in the gazillion massage parlors and karaoke bars in China. But how about your happiness? I insisted. You make your parents happy and then a wife you don’t love happy, yet would you be happy?

“I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t be happier. I’ve been alone almost forty years now. I want a family. I want kids.” Jim sat up straight in the sofa. “Don’t you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time as each year passes by? Just to make more money and watch yourself age? Married people don’t worry about aging, for they see with their own eyes the growing up of their own kids. They may go one day but their kids stay. That gave…some meaning in life.”

I said I don’t quite have that mid-life crisis yet, for I don’t have one-tenth (or one-hundredth) of his wealth and I’d love to be in his shoes (and mansions) so I could go travel around the world and make arts. But I do see his point about the glooming emptiness of life and the exuberance of kids’ laughter dispelling this emptiness of life.

“Perhaps you should get married and have kids,” I said hesitantly. “I do see your point about you not being able to lead a happier life. You can’t get out of the closet. You can’t face the pressure of your parents. You don’t want to hurt anyone. Then perhaps marriage is for you.”

We both went silent. I was wondering if this type of conversation had happened gazillion times in the West in the 50s and 60s, before the gay rights movement. He was surely thinking about his ill-tempered celebrity boyfriend.

“But wait,” I gradually saw the light, “it can’t be that way.” The light was shining brighter. “You can’t be happy that way. Gazillion gay men had tried exactly that strategy in the past, fooling themselves into marriages, into having kids, believing that would solve their problems and make them happy. Don’t trust my rhetoric or logic. But trust statistics—I haven’t read or heard of any happily married gay man. So don’t go down that road. You’ll only find yourself a bigger mess. True happiness can only happen from within. You can only be happy when you find peace within, with yourself and with your sexuality.”

I delivered that breathless speech in what I believe a self-assured and convincing way. I paused for effect. He sat motionlessly, either digesting my words or digesting the image of his boyfriend in a frenzy.

Then immediately I remembered a wealthy married gay man in his 50s who had sent his family to England so he could enjoy himself with his money and the money boys around him. He appeared convincingly happy when I interviewed him for my failed gay marriage doc.

I didn’t tell Jim that.

A day later the problem was solved—the boyfriend apologized and they went back together. The marriage discussion was postponed and the blind dates continued, perhaps until the next hammered mobile phone.


Lu said...

Are the wives of cheating husbands really happy, or do they just seem to be happy, keeping up appearances? Do you have any close female friends with cheating husbands who can honestly tell you they're fine with it? None of my Asian female friends is married yet, but I can hardly imagine any of them would be anything other than angry and sad if they had a husband and found he was cheating on them.
If your friend feels the need to get married, perhaps he should marry a lesbian woman so that they both can be happy leaving each other alone. I see a business opportunity for a discreet marriage bureau for gays and lesbians under family pressure...

Beijing Loafer said...

The longer I stay in China, the more I sense a hush-hush don't-ask-don't-tell in many marriages. Oh well, I can't speak for Chinese housewives. Mostly I just hear stories of nouveau riches bragging about their second wives.

Re the biz opportunity, I know people who are profitting from the market demand. But the demand could be elusive--you could refer to my first post on Gay Marriage in China. People are picky!

Lu said...

Every time I read this post I have more thoughts on it. Today's: why is your friend thinking that a wife wouldn't smash his cellphone to pieces (for example when she finds out he's sleeping with men behind her back)? Seems he's idealizing marriage as a way to put his life in order, as opposed to an on-off relationship with a boyfriend prone to fits. Perhaps he should just get himself a new and more reasonable boyfriend, and live happily ever after.

Beijing Loafer said...

That's what I told him too. But good men are hard to come by, n'est pas? ;)

Lu said...

Couldn't agree more :-)