Negotiating marriage and sexual identity: A study of Chinese sexual minorities of different genders and socioeconomic statuses

Project: Research project

Project Details


China’s market reform and opening up have resulted in the increased visibility of sexual minorities and enabled them to connect with each other. Discourses of sexual rights and coming out have begun to serve as the building blocks for the construction of sexual identities. While optimism has been expressed over China’s long march to sexual freedom, one must not overlook the intense family pressure faced by the one-child generation. Without siblings to share the burden of parental expectations, they face unprecedented pressure to marry and have a child. Some sexual minorities enter a conventional marriage and establish a heterosexual identity. Others, on the contrary, may pursue an independent sexual identity and lifestyle. There are still others who opt for a cooperative marriage where gays and lesbians marry each other so that they can carve out space for same-sex relationships. This research examines the various ways that Chinese sexual minorities cope with marriage pressure and its impact on identity construction. The work emphasizes that while the discourse of coming out and stabilization of sexual identity has been globally circulated as a dominant model of homosexual identity formation, the experiences of Chinese sexual minorities cast doubt on the universality of such a model. Chinese individuals are subject to the imperative of heterosexual marriage, and hence their sexual identity entails a more hybrid, contradictory and fluid character.

We must recognize that sexual minorities in China are heterogeneous rather than homogenous. Men and women can experience marriage pressure in rather different ways. Sons bear the responsibility of having children and carrying on the family bloodline. Daughters experience a relatively disadvantaged position in the job market and may find it difficult to gain financial independence outside marriage. Differences can also be found among men and women rather than between them. This research will examine how Chinese LGB from different social locations experience and cope with marriage pressure. What resources, networks, and discourses do people of different genders and socioeconomic statuses utilize in their negotiations of marriage and sexual identity? Informed by the concept of intersectionality, the understanding in this research is that identities such as sexual orientation, gender and class, are interconnected. An exclusive focus on sexual identity may lead to oversight of the relative privileges, power and opportunities that people can enjoy due to other social identities. This research will utilize a mixed methods approach to capture the qualitative differences among different intersectional positions.
Effective start/end date1/11/1530/04/18


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