In the Weeds: Finding Community in Times of Crisis

When I first arrived in Beijing, one of my main objectives, other than learning Chinese, was to get in touch with the local chapter of whatever national LGBTQIA+ organization that helped those in China’s LGBTQIA+. As someone from a fairly conservative country, one where homosexual acts are still criminalized under the law, I understood the importance of such organizations and was involved in the activities of one such organization in my city of Nairobi – the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK).

However, my research, both before and after arriving in China, led me to countless dead ends. I was lucky that I was a foreigner because I was quickly inducted into numerous Queer-friendly WeChat groups which gave me much-needed support and a sense of community. From more international, Gender-inclusive groups that were wonderful wells of information, to Black- and African-focused groups where we could discuss issues around our sexualities and race which specifically affected us as a minority within a minority. But one question remained, did our Chinese counterparts have these groups? Groups where they could reach out for help, or even get information as innocuous to some as where to find ARVs or a list of Queer-friendly doctors?

Beyond Community

In my experience, those who did had some experience living outside of China, spoke English or other Western languages, and navigated the more “accessible world of foreign members of the Queer community living in China, using such contacts to get the information they needed. What of those who didn’t have foreign friends, who didn’t speak English or French, who were new to a mammoth city like Beijing, and thanks to a culture of modesty around sexuality, were too afraid to seek out information or assistance in times of crisis?

“Grief is an impossible meal, so we cut it up into little pieces, dress it in ritual, and take it like a pill.”
― S.J. Sindu, Marriage of a Thousand Lies

For Queen*, a Genderqueer individual and active member of the Beijing LGBTQIA+ activism scene, the realities of lacking reliable, stable, and accessible Queer organizations hit too close to home. She reminds me that, in China, there are no Trans-related policies to protect Trans individuals from discrimination as she shares the experience of a friend. “A 17-year-old sister decided to let her parents know her identity because she loved her parents,” intimates Queen.  “However, after telling them the truth, her parents decided to send her to a mental health institution. They said she could only leave the hospital if she signed an agreement promising not to be trans anymore.”

The impossibility of such a proposition sits stands starkly against the choicelessness of Queen’s friend, and that many of us who, in the past, have lacked advocacy tools or access to information about our rights, however limited they may be. Along with this traumatic parental “intervention.” Queen shares with me shocking statistics. “According to the 2017 Chinese Transgender Population Survey Report, of 1640 respondents, only 6 reported they have never experienced some kind of domestic violence. It may make you wonder, how do people in China generally think about Trans individuals? I’m afraid most Chinese people have never heard of the term ‘Transgender’.” 

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Fountains of Hope

Through organizations like an LGBT+ collective in Beijing, individuals such as Queen, their friends, and more can find a source of hope. Once Queer individuals can make their way to cities like Beijing, they are assured to find organizations such as this, though increasingly disappearing, that can offer a wide range of services, and extend various forms of assistance.

“Even if the gods are real, I don’t think they can liberate us.”
― S.J. Sindu, Marriage of a Thousand Lies

The Beijing collective, for instance, offers youth-oriented training opportunities through Trans Youth Camps, Diversity and Change camps, and other such initiatives to empower Trans and Queer communities. They also help link Trans individuals in need of medical assistance with affirming doctors, along with offering psychological consultant training, while providing those in the Queer community access to an extensive catalog of psychologists, doctors, and consultants wishing to support the community.

There is more to be done, but the primary task of such spaces is to remain open and accessible. Due to certain legal limitations in-country, fundraising efforts are a challenge, and such organizations and spaces run a real risk of shutting their doors indefinitely, leaving vulnerable Queer individuals in need of assistance and care without much-needed services. But you can help.

Please scan the QR code and help keep this and such LGBT+ collectives open. Due to concerns of censorship, the actual names and contact information of these organizations will not be included to protect them and the identities of those who work in them. The collective is currently hoping to raise 200,000 yuan ($28,739) to benefit a projected 12,000 individuals accessing their services currently and in the future.

Photos: Courtesy of Queen, Unsplash

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