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.
Linda, 33, was raised in Holland and moved to Shanghai straight out of college after a Forbes 500 company headhunted her and brought her over. She is nearing her eleventh year living here.
Linda: I think I was 15 to 16. I was a total bookworm geek, so I went to the library to find out. We didn’t have Internet at that time. I just looked around the social section of the library, the human body, your body’s changing, things like that. And it kinda clicked, like, whoa. Huh. Could be.
Linda: I came out like, when I kind of seriously started to date one girlfriend. I told my mom, and she said that it was just a phase. She said, “No, you’re lying. You don’t know what love is”. And then she started to cry. It was like, to her, “I failed as a mother”. And then she started thinking, “OK, well, we’ll send you to China, arrange a marriage there”. And then it became “you’ll die alone”.
You know, she didn’t bring it up again after that, until like, last year. And she actually turned around a bit, she said “You should actually get married in Holland. You’d have more rights there”. So that was really nice. Really positive.
Linda: Oh, he will totally kill me. He doesn’t know. He’s a very strict, conservative man –- believes very much in strong family values, that you know, my goal is to get married, have a baby, and only then I’m complete.
Linda: Oh. Every day. You know, when my parents came here, they even went to that, you know how at People’s Park, you can put your son’s or daughter’s resume up there to find a match. Yeah. But apparently I wasn’t good for the market because I’m considered a foreigner here.
Linda: The thing is, I have had a really positive experience –- growing up in Holland, living here in Shanghai -– much more positive than someone who comes from a very socially conservative place. So the only thing I don’t like is, when my friends’ guy frinds, they think they can joke with me about girls. That’s like… yeah, I don’t mind to talk, and to make stupid sexist jokes about girls. But sometimes they think, ‘Oh, I can push it more because she’s a lesbian anyway’. That’s just so lame.
Linda: Hey, I like guys in uniforms. You know, I see Tom Cruise in a uniform, or Brad Pitt, and it gets my heart beating. But it’s not like I wanna have sex with them. Or you know, I see a six pack in GQ, and I’ll think ‘Hey. Not bad!’, but it’s not like I have those raging hormones. No, no -- what I really hate are… ugh, you know… those guys who are convinced that they can 'save' lesbians. The ones who say, ‘Hey, one night with me…’ Or they want threesomes. Those guys.
Linda: So, we have an app, called The L app. It’s a free app. It’s based on location services, you know? I noticed that the users are very young though. Young cute girls, 22-24. I sometimes get really inappropriate photos, by the way. They will like…. Whoa. [And I think to myself] 'I don’t even know you!' But yeah… Body parts! Showing!
Linda: Yeah! I mean, you know, like in the news, you hear about kids sending each other naughty photos… And I’m thinking… Oh, I don’t reply to that. They’re thinking they can send those out, and spark a conversation, probably…
Linda: So far, from what I can see so far, it’s mostly local, I mean… Chinese girls. And you know, I used this app when I was on holiday in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and it works there too. It’s a worldwide thing... Yeah, so you know, you’ve got this L App, you can meet them that way –- none successful for me so far... and then, for Pride, we have this forum called Les In Shanghai, it’s for women only and… this is a group where we would like to see you first, and then we add you. I mean, we have no problems, it’s just that sometimes we get these ‘My girlfriend is bi, and we wanna do stuff’, so…yeah. Or sometimes people think it’s just an online group, and they don’t really know what the point is, so we have to check it out first.
Linda: Every second Tuesday of the month at Cotton’s, we get together. Every last Wednesday of the month, we have that ladies’ night at 390 too.
Linda: Yeah, I’m very sad about this too. You know, the group is not that big, um… usually, I know everybody. Especially the expats, or the semi-expats, we all tend to know each other. That monthly meeting at Cotton’s is usually the biggest.
Linda: Oh yeah, total incest over there. I mean [laughs] not total incest, but it will always be like that. A dated B and B dated C and C dated A and you know, it happens. It’s a small group. There are some local groups too, like uh… every Friday and Saturday at Tongle Fang, at those clubs there… there’s a local group, all Chinese.
Linda with some affectionate boob grabbers at last year's Pride picnic. Photo courtesy of interviewee.
Linda: What we do, you know, we scale girls from one to ten -– one being the total girly-girl, ten being the stonebutch. You know, stonebutch is someone who does not want to be touched. For me, I’m more of a tomboy look on the outside, but I’m actually a real girly-girl on the inside. Within Chinese circles, you have the three letters. T is for tomboy, P is for 'laopuo' –- you know, wife –- and H means like, 'bufen', or versatile.
Linda: I think, if you’re talking about Shanghai, it’s a place where people think –- as long as it’s not in my backyard. As long as it’s not my daughter, I’m fine with it. Also, I think what happens is people still think that it’s just a phase, that it’s something you will grow out of. But I think in a smaller city, in the middle of China, it’s much more difficult [to be out]. But I do think that people here in mainland China are a lot more open-minded about this than overseas Chinese -- they're way more traditional about this kind of thing... really religious, you know.
Linda: I think the reason we dress up as tomboys is that we want to show, make it known that we are visible. But you look in the West, and now, there’s less of a need to feel that you need to do that. Same as the feminist movement, you know, like –- I don’t feel the need to burn my bra on the street anymore, alright? So when the time comes, I think in Asia, people will no longer feel like they need to announce that they’re gay. And I won’t need to say “Hi, my name is Linda. I’m gay.” It’s just a part of my identity. It’s not all who I am.
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.