Sign In

LGBT Interview: Ben, The 'G'
Ben, the 'G' in our LGBT series, tells us his coming out story and describes the gay scene in Shanghai (apparently there's a plethora of bottoms).
By Jun 11, 2013 Community


Shanghai Pride is a week-long LGBT festival. It's meant to bring awareness to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folks among us through arts, nightlife and community events, and has been warming the hearts of Shanghai's stubborn traditionalists since 2009.

We met and spoke with one of each of the city's L, G, B and T members to get in on some of this awareness action. Here's what we found out.

Ben, 25, is a born and raised Shanghai citizen. He currently works at a university as a teacher and advisor to students who are working on college applications.

SmSh: When did you first realize that you're gay?

Ben: When I was a sophomore at university. At that time, I even had a girlfriend. Generally, I think I gradually realized that I am… oh, a real gay, because I could not feel any real physical impulse for her. I did seem more attracted to the male body. Also, around that time, I watched a news documentary and there was a slogan in that said “it’s ok to be gay”. That was when I was maybe… 20? A lot of people I talked to about this issue, they knew when they were really young. So maybe I was… too late [laughs].

SmSh: Did you deal with any feelings of denial?

Ben: Yeah, that’s for sure. You know, maybe only five years that I truly believe that I’m gay. I used 2-3 years of that to assure myself that I wasn’t gay. During this time, I talked to my friends, and I did struggle a lot.

SmSh: Did you come out to your parents?

Ben: Yes, I came out last November. Because, I thought last year that I had to come out to the people I cherish. I told my father the whole story, and at the beginning, he didn’t accept the concept. Many Chinese parents, they don’t know what the word 'gay' means. But then he said, 'You know, I want you to be happy. You need to be who you are.' When I told my friends, they all said I was so lucky. I stressed to him that he cannot tell my mother, because she is a typical Shanghai mother who pays much attention to her face, and who doesn’t want to disclose this kind of thing to the public. So I told my father, you can’t tell her.

Then a second time, when I touched on this story with my father again, he said I should have told him earlier. I was really touched at that time. I was ready to talk to my father and tell my mother together with him, and he told me: 'Oh. I have told her on the second day after [you first told me].' He said, she was quite calm and showed not that much attention on this topic.

Frankly speaking, they should have probably known something about me. But that, they didn’t know what the current situation is. They might even think that 10, 20 years from now, I will become a straight man and have a wife. But you know, compared to typical Shanghai family, I’m very lucky. Most people, as soon as they hear the word 'gay' –- they fight, they yell. My parents, they just want me to get married, be myself, at my own wish.

SmSh: Currently seeing anyone?

Ben: I have a boyfriend. He is a typical Chinese gay. Hidden in the closet and unwilling to show himself in the public. He’s even unwilling to meet my personal friends. No public. We see each other privately.

SmSh: How do most Chinese people react to seeing two men together?

Ben: I have previously seen some surveys, and Chinese people maybe are more willing to accept the concept of gay. Especially Shanghai people, they are more easy to be open about accepting new ideas.

SmSh: Have you ever received negative reactions?

Ben: About 2 months before, I posted some personal things on my Weibo, and I got a lot of comments, very positive and supportive. Even people who I didn’t know commented to tell me, saying 'You should be yourself. Be happy.' There were one or two people I know who said that maybe I shouldn’t, that I should just be normal. But I think that when they say this, they think that they are being the true friend.

SmSh: What are some major misconceptions people here might have about gay men?

Ben: In China, when we talk about gays in conversation, most people will think 'Oh, it’s HIV-related.' They think, oh, what do these people do? It’s orgies and group sex, and blah blah blah -– and you are thus quite likely to get HIV. But of course, this is not true. This year, our Pride theme is mainly three topics. One of them is HIV awareness. We’ve planned some events, like panel discussions, to talk about the truth of these things.

SmSh: Are there lots of gay guys here in Shanghai?

Ben: In Shanghai, there are more gay people above the average level in other places in China. Most gays, I think, know how to be fashionable. And sometimes you really can’t distinguish between the fashion guys and the gays, I know [laughs].

It’s very hard to say, because… because maybe in New York or London, it’s easy for you to see gays. They’ll have a gay act, dress in pink, be very obvious. But in Shanghai, people tend to be very low key. They want to be inconspicuous. You know the radar? Every gay has a radar. In Chinese, there is a word about a woman who is fancying gays, funiu [Editor’s Note: basically, faghag]. They have the radar too. And you know, like for me, when I talk, I like to use a lot, a lot of gestures [gestures a lot to illustrate this point]. Straight people do this when they talk [hangs hand limply].

SmSh: And where to meet them, the gays of Shanghai?

Ben: In Shanghai, a lot of the international guys like to go to Shanghai Studio or 390. A lot of people, they want the international gays. They don’t want the local guys. It’s funny. Some people, maybe they just want to practice their English or have a fashionable international look to them.

Anyway, many local Chinese people will like to go to places like Obama. A lot of my local friends, they like to go there… it’s um... I guess, more sexy. A lot of half-naked people.

SmSh: Outside of these bars and clubs, how do you meet other gay men?

Ben: Most people in Shanghai, they use Jack'd. A lot of people use this. Also, a lot of local companies have created local apps for people here. Jack'd is the most popular one. It’s a popular way, because 20 years ago, without these apps, maybe it was hard to see who is gay.

SmSh: Are there any kind of, say, trends that are distinctive among the Shanghai gay crowd?

Ben: Just two or three days before, I talked to my friend, who is from Dongbei -- Northeast China. In the north area, there should be more top people. In Shanghai, there should be more bottom people. You know, it’s a cultural thing. In northern parts, people are more mannish, more masculine. In southern part, maybe, people are more feminine. You can see on these apps… there are many bottoms, so many bottoms, and versatiles here.


Pride5 starts this Saturday the 15th with a Pride5 run, picnic and opening party later in the night. For the full schedule of week-long events, click here.

Portraits by Marc Ressang at the Jade on 36 bar in Pudong Shangri-La.



Please register to reserve a user name.

No comments yet

Want to leave one?

  • Recent Articles
  • Popular