The debate over homosexuality seems to be never-ending, despite the huge success of the romantic cowboy film Brokeback Mountain, and country after country removing same-sex orientation from their lists of mental disorders.
Although there have been some efforts to encourage public tolerance of sexual minorities, people persist in wondering whether homosexuals are “born that way” or can be “cured” by psychotherapy.
A recent documentary by Queer Comrades, an independent LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) advocacy group, presents an insightful view of China’s gay scene. The movie, released two days after the International Day against Homophobia on May 17, explores the fears and struggles, stigma and courage of gay people in China. It also addressed a fundamental question: is homosexuality a lifestyle choice or a natural condition?
The question – embarrassing to people with homophobic feelings – seems simple enough for the many psychologists and sex therapists interviewed in the film. They unanimously said homosexuals are as normal as heterosexuals and there is no reason to try to modify their sexual inclinations.
"To ‘cure’ a homosexual is as ridiculous as trying to change a heterosexual into a homosexual,” a female psychologist said. According to the psychologists, who included Fang Gang, Zhang Beichuan, Qian Kun and Li Chunqun, homosexuals are as normal as the rest of the population and are entitled to exactly the same respect and care.
China abandoned the stigmatization of homosexuality as a mental disease 10 years ago. Although lagging eight years behind the World Health Organization (WHO), and 28 years behind the American Psychiatric Association, the decision was seen as a sign of growing tolerance for gays and lesbians, whose bars, clubs and websites have since flourished in the country.
But government announcements aren’t enough to eliminate the ingrained discrimination, sneers and isolation that lead to repressed feelings and unhappiness. Gay people are not allowed to legitimize their stable relationships by marriage and they are often “persuaded” by family and friends to seek treatment for their “disorder”.
According to Zhang, a psychologist from Qingdao, the “treatments” on offer are no less cruel than castration. Although there are many variations, the basic approach is aversion therapy, which means patients are given treatment that makes them experience nausea when they have sexual fantasies.
The psychologists questioned why homosexuals should be deprived of sexual pleasure when their only offense is to have chosen a partner from the same gender.
"Although it has been almost 11 years since homosexuality was officially removed from the list of mental disorders, public attitudes have not changed dramatically, “said Fang, a sexologist from Beijing Forestry University. “Actually, it is society, not homosexuals, that needs to change.”