“Where the Boys Are”
From what we learned in Part 1, Connie Francis’ 1960 pop hit could now in part refer to China. In the earlier article we outlined the activities of gay KTV clubs featuring naked guys that have sprung up in some of China’s major cities. Now we look at the views and feelings of those who attend and those who perform.
There used to be a commonly held feeling outside China that being gay in China is totally unacceptable and often punishable by the authorities. This was only partially true. Despite many examples of homosexuality throughout Chinese history, even reaching up as high as some of the Emperors, age-old culture in China has dictated that sons marry, have children and in the absence of any form of social security look after their parents in their old age. As we all know, there must be millions of men who have married despite being aware they were either gay or bisexual.
I recently had an extended correspondence with one 33-year old countryside shopkeeper who was married with two young sons. He had never had sex with another man but had become aware since his teens that his feelings for men were greater than for women. He had recently divorced. Now he is totally conflicted because of his various obligations: to provide some financial payment to his ex-wife, to look after and bring up his sons, to manage the family’s small business, help care for his grandmother and eventually his parents – and yet meeting up with gay men in his neighbourhood is almost impossible. Life can certainly be unfair!
The Chinese values of Confucianist moderation come into play in any discussion of being gay in China. As Zhang points out, this basically means
‘I’ understand ‘you’ and give ‘you’ respect, but ‘I’ do not like to get involved in ‘your’ business or be influenced by ‘you’. Different from most countries, being homosexual is not an inherent sin of human nature against religion or society; it is more of a moral problem in China. This leads to an understanding attitude towards homosexuality on the surface of Chinese society but an avoiding and abandoning attitude deep inside. Nevertheless, these moderate but inconsistent attitudes crack some social space for homosexuals in China to survive and produce their own leisure spaces.
As noted in Part 1, these spaces inevitably keep a low profile. Zhang then asks how widespread the gay KTV business is in China? Are they confined to the main cities? How about the incomes of the Xiaodis? Is it a good business for them, even if they are not “offed” by a customer?
Foreman NF: “There are gay KTVs in cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Hefei, etc. . . . Shenzhen is fine, but it attracts more customers from Hong Kong, who are difficult to deal with. Chengdu is quite a gay city, but due to the less developed economy, the business there is not so good. Hefei gets this kind of place because most Xiaodis in Shanghai are from Anhui, so it is easier for recruitment. But the level of consumption there is lower than here [Shanghai].
MZ: “How about customers here? Why did you say that here earns more than those for female customers?
Foreman NF: “Those who are able to consume here are not poor for sure, They are usually in their 30s at least with stable incomes. You know it is not cheap to consume here, with hundreds of yuan one night at least. But they know the price here, and know they have the capacity to consume . . . Also most of them have a higher education, so they are better behaved in KTV. Not like female customers in their KTVs, they are really horny customers and can play hard. Here, if Xiaodis finished their basic routines and had fun with customers, they were willing to pay more tips. Also male customers consume more wine than female ones; with commissions from wine, Ziaodis would earn at least three to four hundred per night. So, as you can see, they earn a lot and here is easier than where there are female customers.”
So with commissions on drinks, the Xiaodis can earn between US$45 and $60 per night. That is before customers’ tips. Although no estimate is given in the thesis, my gut feel is that these will be at least the same amount. So, most Xiaodis can probably clear over $100 per night even without an “off”. For Shanghai that is not a big amount. For money boys mostly from the countryside and with little education, it is very nice indeed, thank you!
In the thesis, Zhang interviews seven customers who had visited gay KTVs over between 1 and 10 years. Their ages range from 32 to 60 with five in their 30s, one aged 50 and another aged 60. It is hard to know if the views expressed by these customers are true or not for some are clearly more reluctant than others. Here is one view.
Customer BS (33 year old PhD student): “I do not go to KTV for sex. If I want, I can find it online or go to a massage parlour. I go to KTV to have fun with friends and find company for myself. Just imagine, there is a group of naked boy standing in front of you and your friends, and people have games and performances together, that is exciting enough. I do not think it is necessary to have it further.”
Another is prepared to go further and admits he may want to have sex with one of the guys.
Customer ZZ (40 year old company employee): “If I want further activity, I can do it in a toilet cabin. You know it is kind of like a rule that when the customer goes to toilet, the guy accompanying him has to go with him as well. It does not only to make you feel well served or to help you if you are drunk, but also implies that further activities, such as oral sex or masturbation, can be taken there.”
This appears to suggest that oral sex does not take place in the open group rooms. On the basis of the internet videos and the comments from other Xiaodis, that is not true.
Especially interesting are the comments from the Xiaodis themselves. Those interviewed were aged between 19 and 24 and had been working in gay KTVs for between six months and three years. Most are not gay. Yet there seems to be an open acceptance that dancing naked in front of other men, oral sex and becoming involved in sex games is just a job and nothing to be ashamed of. Anal sex is not permitted on the premises. If both customer and guy are happy with an arrangement, they can leave together. But there is no obligation. Some will probably want to return to girlfriends when work is over, and still plan to get married once they finish as Xiaodis.
Xiaodi GG (22 years old): “I do not think being naked is a huge thing. We are all men. It is like when you go to a bathhouse, where there are all the naked men . . . It might be difficult for the first time, and then you just get used to it.”
HL: “So what if I ask you if you are gay, what would be your answer?”
Xiaodi GG: “I do not think to define myself as homosexual or heterosexual matters now. Sex is now just some movements, and makes no difference for me with whom I have it. But I still will find a girl to get married and have children in the future.”
Even their attitude to the terms ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ seem ambivalent as shown in this conversation.
HL: “Do you think you are gay?”
Xiaodi FZ (23 years old): “You can define me as whatever you like; it does not matter for me. I can make both male and female customers happy here. I am really good at this.”
HL: “So do you have any bottom line of working here?”
Xiaodi FZ: “I can do anything.”
HL: “So don’t you find kissing and masturbation matter for you?”
Xiaodi FZ: “It is just a kiss, no big deal. You do not lose anything. Don’t you masturbate yourself? So what if someone is doing that for you or you do it for someone else, like you help with your buddies. Everyone does this here.”
So are any of the Xiaodis gay? Zhang found one and learned of his reluctance to be openly gay in front of his friends and KTV colleagues.
HL: “Do you think being gay makes you easier to adapt to the work here?”
Xiaodi JR (20 years old): “I have my self-esteem, so I could not accept everything at first. It was not easy for me to get naked, give an oral sex to the customer, and further services. I have to tell myself repeatedly that this is my job and only if I do it well that I can make more money, live the life I want to live, and support my family . . . I can also tell myself that I get my demand satisfied. Then I feel better about it, and indeed work better here.”
So there you have it! I expect you will be as surprised as I was. I would love to find one of these gay KTVs, but as I do not speak Mandarin and have no friends who would know of their location, I would be a non-starter. I also doubt if non-Chinese will be permitted entry. Maybe I could start checking out gay KTV clubs in other countries to see what they offer.
Or perhaps best just to keep a gay KTV experience as a fantasy. Something tells me the authorities may not be so pliable in the future as greater international publicity alerts those higher up the political chain to their spread. But then, who knows what night happen in China? Certainly not me!
Permission to quote from Zhang’s work was not sought, although we happily credit his extensive input.