New guidelines published last week by the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA) have effectively banned portrayals of homosexuality from all film, TV and web series online, deeming it 'abnormal sexual behavior,' alongside incest and rape. If enforced, what will these new regulations mean for China's LGBTQ population?
Without any doubt, the new CNSA guidelines' ambition to wipe queer characters off the internet will damage the lives of the Chinese LGBTQ community. The internet has long been a legal grey area where queer-themed content was able to reach and unite a community which otherwise lacked visibility in society. Many young LGBTQ people come to terms with their identities with the help of representations in film, television and web productions. It was when I first watched Saving Face (Alice Wu, 2004) that I realized I was not alone in my struggle between Chinese culture and queer identity. Between the absurd lines and dramatic plots, I could find traces of my own life.
Have you ever been called a freak?
When I was still unsure of my sexuality, I’d often hear people describe homosexuality as “freaky," “moral decay” or “abnormal.” They weren’t bullies; they were my close relatives, friends and teachers. Casually labeling someone else as a “freak,” they highlighted their approval of normativity. It did not occur to them that their comments would burrow into a deep corner of this little girl’s heart, or that many years later, their words would still be tormenting her, keeping her up in the middle of a long nights, asking, “Why am I a freak?”
‘Homosexual’ was an identity much too foreign to me – an illusion no more concrete than a shadow clouding the moon. As someone who grew up watching High School Musical, I had never questioned Troy falling in love with Gabriella instead of Chad. “Where is that one boy for me?” I asked myself, fixed to the screen. He certainly wasn’t on my early morning strolls at school, when I hoped to bump into that one girl from another class.
High school web series Addicted (Heroin) was pulled offline by censors in 2015
When I first confronted my same-sex attraction, I was repulsed by this identity both familiar and strange. My models for life, the characters I'd watched on television with my parents, had never been like me. If I had watched Blue Is the Warmest Color earlier, I probably wouldn’t have seen it as such a big problem. If my parents had seen Prayers for Bobby earlier, they probably wouldn’t have seen me as a freak. They imagined their elderly life like the soap operas they saw on TV: dealing with trivial family matters and counseling for in-law issues. Running around all day arranging blind dates for their daughter was probably as bad as it could get. I hated myself for having brought such misfortune to them.
Many outside of the queer community first learn about LGBTQ people through queer-themed shows, anime or literature online. Though not at all reflective of the realities of queer lives, these cultural derivatives expose the public to a community that is for the most part invisible. The new CNSA regulations have no legally binding power. However, to avoid any potential risks, distributors will still censor their content according to their guidelines. As media shifts further away from non-normativity, it is only a matter of time before heterosexual, family oriented baby making becomes the only acceptable way of life. It will become even harder for the queer community to fight labels such as “freak."
This is hardly the first time that the Chinese LGBTQ community has been labeled sexually perverted. From hospitals that offer electric shock conversion therapies to psychology textbooks that categorize homosexuality as a disease, we are reminded of our "perverse" identity every second of our lives. It doesn’t seem to concern textbook editors or the officials who authored the CNSA regulations whether or not people would suffer from their decisions.
We are facing an unpredictable future, marginalized in the blueprint of a ‘harmonious society.’ I am grateful to see some friends making their voices heard without hesitation, but I also see some are questioning whether their voices really matter. In the face of discrimination, those who are outraged are the brave and fortunate ones. But for many others who have repeatedly been stigmatized and can’t quite defend themselves, their grief and helplessness can be authentic reactions as well.
Filmmaker Fan Popo successfully sued the Ministry over online censorship in 2015
Social progress never occurs automatically, but takes time. It happens when people help to carry the burden, and begin weeding out the thistles and thorns on the road, bit by bit in corners you cannot see. Instead of watching in silence, genuinely do something for this world. A letter of complaint to relevant authorities can help put pressure on the implementation of the new General Regulations.
You might ask, what’s in it for me?
Imagine what it’s like to be called a freak. Imagine looking into the mirror of society, and not seeing your own reflection. Will it stop with the queers? Will any character on the screen who doesn’t quite fit the ideal eventually face the same fate as queer characters are right now? Nobody can be assured that they are always ‘officially acceptable.’
Translation: Jack Yan
Article originally written in Chinese. Photos are from the internet.
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.