Homosexual space in Shenzhen




Homosexual space in Shenzhen



According to Kinsey (1989:211-233, 304), among all white males in 1980s, 37% had had sex with other males for at least once; 4% had sex only with males; 60% among juveniles and 48% among adults had been parts of homosexual activities. These figures show that there are actually more homosexuals than people normally think. In China nowadays, the number of homosexuals is no fewer than that Kinsey mentioned. Homosexuals have many differences from straight people. They act in their own way, especially when they’re in homosexual space.

Homosexual space is the space that is occupied by homosexuals (including gay, lesbian, bisexual, drag queen and transsexual, as Samuels (1999:91) suggests.). It includes both material and immaterial space, that is, not only the geographic space people normally talk about, but also psychological space, space of conception and cyberspace, which are not normally considered as “space”. Homosexuals act in their own way and share things in common in such space. Because homosexuals form a community as a sub-culture, homosexual space is different from the space occupied by mainstream people. It tends to hide itself so as to be protected.

Recent research shows that “There’s a social and geographical border between homosexual and straight people.”(Hubbard 2000:167) As Hubbard states, gay and lesbian activities can only be limited to a certain space, so that they don’t threaten the “straight society” too much. Homosexuals need to create and maintain a space for themselves in the straight city, and they “forge or remark their sexual identities” in such space (2000:173-176). Now the issue of homosexuality is becoming more and more important in China, people are beginning to pay more attention to the issue and some homosexuals are beginning to fight for their rights. Hence, more and more scientists are starting to research activities of homosexuals, including where they act, how they act and why.

As an economic special zone of China and a city of immigration, Shenzhen is more open than other parts of China, and its ability to accept others’ culture is much better. Thus, homosexuality is more acceptable. Shenzhen is also a city that tourists like to visit, and this also helps to form a more open air for homosexuals. Huston (1998:240-245) argues that when on a journey or tour, gay people like to seek sex partners or have sex with local people or other tourists. This shows that homosexuals are bolder to act homosexually when they’re apart from their own place. Therefore, as a city that is only 25 years old which has almost no “local people”[1], almost everyone in Shenzhen is an immigrant who is away from home. This also explains why Shenzhen is a “city of homosexuals”[2].

In most parts of China, people don’t tend to accept homosexuality and show discrimination to it, so homosexual people in these parts act in a very invisible way. They hide themselves deep in the dark and hardly dare show their real sexual orientation. However, people can see homosexual couples walking around hand in hand in certain parts of Shenzhen. Homosexual bars exist almost everywhere[3]. Certain parks have certain parts that homosexuals hang around. What’s more, people don’t seem to care much about all these homosexual things. Some people tell others their sexual orientation; even in public, there’re men wearing pink ties or little tight shirts with their bright-red or purple hair which all show their gay orientation.

All the above show that Shenzhen is in many ways different from other parts of China on the issue of homosexuality. Homosexuals in Shenzhen have more freedom and acceptance to be homosexual.

Due to the situation described, homosexual space in Shenzhen is formed in neither the traditional covert Chinese way nor the more open Western way. It has its own characteristic that is different from anywhere else. Therefore, it can be interesting to research homosexual space in Shenzhen to see how it’s formed and how it functions. It also helps to understand homosexual people in Shenzhen better.

The forming of homosexual spaces has at least two important reasons. One is the psychology of homosexuals, that is how they feel, what they think and why they want such space to act in, and the other is objective factors that help to form and maintain the space.

The psychology of homosexual people is complex. First, they doubt themselves and feel fear. Homosexuals are different from the majority of society. When they find that they’re different and are one of the minorities, they’re puzzled, and they wonder why they’re different and hence begin to have the feeling of fear of the difference. They’re afraid that once their sexual orientations are found, they’d be discriminated against. What’s more, in a traditional country like China, most people still can’t accept homosexuality. Therefore, homosexuals are strongly afraid of losing their jobs, friends or families. This makes them feel more fear.

Second, since homosexuals have the fear and doubt, they strongly need to be identified by other homosexuals and stay together with each other so that they can feel safer and share what they think and feel with people the same as they are.

Third, homosexuals are still eager to be identified by the straight world and stay at “peace” with them. As Samuels argues, (1999:92) homosexuals think heterosexuals take the problem of sexual orientation too seriously and they tend to “fight” for it. Therefore, they need to be identified and regarded as normal people, so that they don’t feel the difference, stop doubting themselves and can live in a normal way as everyone else in society does.

In this situation, homosexual people tend to gather and form a colony that helps to reduce the fear and doubt. It also enables them to identify each other, and the colony they form together is showing the straight world their identities. Therefore, they need a space to act in and share, and that’s why homosexual spaces exist[4].

There are also objective factors that help to form homosexual space. Homosexual people need to have the chance to find specific space to act in and the space itself must be easy to be maintained for newcomers. Bars and parks provide them such space, because people don’t seem to care too much about what’s happening in a specific bar or park. Homosexual people can hide themselves by not telling straight people where the space is so that they are protected and have the freedom to act in their very own way.

Homosexuals gather in such space and form a colony that makes the space not only a material space, but also a psychological space and space of conception.

Homosexual space, in either Chinese or Western way, has some general characteristics. First, it is recognized by homosexuals but not heterosexuals[5]. That is, the space itself is known among homosexuals, but heterosexual people can seldom know anything about it. This shows it is a “defensive space”, as Lin (1997:282) suggests, which protects people in this space with its power gathered from a colony.

Second, there’s not a strict opposition between gay and straight people. Although homosexual space is supposed to be open for just homosexual people, when there’re accidentally straight people, homosexuals still seem kind but not aggressive[6].

Third, homosexual space is turned into “homosexual” from non-gay space, and homosexuals act in a special way in it. Lin (1997:255) thinks that when different people stay in the same space, they use it in different ways, and they all want to control the space. Thus, if homosexual people want to maintain their territory, they’ll have to do some “spatial performance”. (Lin 1997:267) That means homosexual space was once normal public space; when homosexual people start to act in another way, they put a label that says “homosexual” on the space, and then if they want to maintain their space, they have to act in a stronger homosexual way so that they are identified and show more power of control than people who act in normal ways.

Homosexual space can be divided into 3 sorts. They are open, semi-open and closed homosexual spaces.

Open space is totally open to the public. It includes alliances that serve homosexual people, psychological consultation centre, rights-advocacy groups, and sub-websites that belong to leading websites which are open to all people, etc. Some of these are even set up by straight people. This kind of space has nothing to do with the self-protecting or hiding aspect, it’s a path between the straight and homosexual worlds, or in other words, it’s even a part of the straight world. Open homosexual space is usually where homosexual people and straight people communicate with each other and share similar conceptions[7]. It’s an important part that links the homosexual and straight worlds.

Semi-open space is the crossing that belongs to neither the homosexual nor straight world, or in other words, it belongs to both worlds. This means semi-open homosexual space belongs geographically to the straight world but mentally to the homosexual world. It includes websites opened to homosexual people free of charge[8], parks or other similar spaces where they gather and gay & lesbian centres. This kind of homosexual space is usually not hidden, people can easily find them (if they want to). Homosexual people in semi-open space seldom refuse communication offered by straight people or researchers, but they still act in a self-protecting way.

Semi-open space is the most important sort of homosexual space, because it can always show the public what’s happening in homosexual world. For example, people can see the way homosexuals act in parks, and they can talk to homosexuals or look for information they want to know about them on websites or even speak for straight people on those websites[9]. Furthermore, the activities that gay & lesbian centres take (speeches, Q&A offerings, fundraisings and free condom offerings, etc.) usually attract attention from straight people. This shows homosexual people actually don’t want to be separated from the main-stream society; once they get chance, they will make efforts to be part of it.

Closed homosexual space is the “real space” for homosexuals. It includes bars, websites that charge and cyber-societies, etc. It strongly hides itself and is very defensive. It’s almost impossible for straight people to find such space, let alone getting into it. Websites charge[10], bars have the straight-people resistance, cyber-societies have strict qualifications to pass. This kind of homosexual space is supposed to be very private, and people act in the most homosexual way in such space.

As has been stated before, homosexual space in Shenzhen follows neither the open Western way nor the conservative Chinese way; it has its own characteristic. Bars, parks and cyberspace are the most important representations of it.

Bars are the most important parts of material homosexual space. Wang (2003:91) argues that special space for amusement, such as bars, discos, etc. is the most typical space for sub-cultural colonies, including homosexual people. People from sub-cultural colonies use different spatial patterns of the space to show the differences between main-stream people and themselves, and the difference of appearance is based on the difference between cultures. Therefore, people see a unique cultural landscape in such space.

Homosexual bars in Shenzhen are clearly divided into two sorts, gay bars and lesbian bars; gays seldom go to lesbian bars and the reverse[11]. These bars are located in almost every district of the city; however, they’re all likely to be located in places far from crowds and most of them are really hard to find. For example, Sanyuanse bar is located in mid Songyuan Rd. which is an old part of the city that has few people and little commerce; Yinhe bar is just beside a highway that links two districts; Why not bar is on the back of a big building that people seldom would consider going to; other small bars are even actually apartments in living zones. This shows that homosexuals strongly want to hide themselves; they don’t want others to disturb their space, and if they need, they’ll fight for it. Hao (2000: 142) thinks that when people are selecting a place for certain purposes, they look for a place that can serve their needs for activities. What happens to homosexual people is that they’re looking for a place that not only serves their needs for activities, but also protects them from the outside world.

The inner patterns of homosexual bars are special. These bars are usually small[12], and are decorated in special spatial ways. Take Why not bar as an example, it’s only about 150 square meters large. In the middle there’s a small dancing floor. Interestingly, seats and bar tables are all at corners or beside the wall, this may have something to do with homosexuals’ psychologies. On the wall there’re pictures of handsome or muscular men, homosexual parade and other homosexual stuff. All waiters are handsome young men. Even if a straight man enters the bar, he will find things different in a very short time and leave. Compared to straight bars, every homosexual bar has a dancing floor[13], and the decorations are strongly and clearly different.

Homosexuals go to bars to “give themselves a license to try on new identities” (Samuel 1999:186). They go there to show the identities of homosexuals which they might not show in normal life and to feel that “so many people are like me, so I don’t have to fear or doubt.” They share with others, meet more people and release the pressure received from straight people. People act in various ways in homosexual bars. They dance in soft music with their bodies sticking to others’; they talk to each other, exchange numbers and addresses. What they do is normally seek sex in different ways, successful or not. Sex workers stand in line near the entrance waiting to be picked up, which actually is against the law of China[14]. People’s acts in homosexual bars are more natural and free compared to that in parks or other spaces, because bars are part of closed homosexual space, which means they provide stronger protection for homosexuals.

Parks are important parts, too, but actually parks are where homosexuals look for sex, and that’s almost the only function of them. Parks become homosexual space only at night. Homosexuals hang around in parks after a park’s spatial function as a part of the straight world has finished. However, even though they try to avoid being disturbed by straight people with this method, they still have the feeling that they’re acting homosexually in a seeming straight world. Take Lizhi Park as an example; it’s a famous park in Shenzhen, and many people go there in the daytime. Nevertheless, after sunset, it becomes a whole other world. Homosexuals hang around staring at each other and deciding if he is gay or if he wants sex too during eye contacts[15]. They almost don’t speak at all, because parks are semi-open space, and they don’t feel safe in them.

Cyberspace “has created a whole new space for people to act in”. (Zhang & Gu, 2002:10) The internet provides people with an immaterial space and less restriction for them to form alliances based on their same will and interests. Homosexuals see this as a good chance for them to create new on-line space instead of taking and changing it from the straight world. Also because cyberspace is the most covert one and provides the most safety, it attracts many homosexuals who dare not go to bars or parks. Actually, most homosexuals in China dare not show their sexual orientation in public, so the only homosexual space for them is cyberspace. Thus, it has become more and more important.

People do all things in cyberspace. Some chat, share, and meet other people; others watch porn or look for sex[16]. Take a website (http://www.szjy.net)[17] in Shenzhen as an example; it provides people with all kinds of information, including date messages, pictures, porn, chat room, and introduction of bars and other space. People act freely in cyberspace because they feel safe, because others won’t even have the chance to know who they are. Actually, most people in homosexual cyberspace act only in the identity of a homosexual without their real identity in society.

There’s another form of homosexual space, which is homosexual community. Regretfully, there’s none of it in China, and this shows that there’s still a distance between China and some other countries on the issue of accepting and protecting homosexuals.

Homosexual space in Shenzhen is different from that in Western countries, homosexual space in most parts of China, and normal public space in Shenzhen. It has its own characteristics, and the state of it in Shenzhen is more likely to be between the Chinese and Western way of forming homosexual space.

Homosexual space serves the needs of getting identification, releasing pressure, meeting others, sharing, etc. of homosexual people. It may be somehow against the law, especially when it comes to the things related to sex, but it still functions to serve the needs of homosexuals in Shenzhen or even from other place, while at the same time protects itself from the outside world.









Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Chinese version), 1989


Jacinth Samuels, Dangerous liaisons: Queer subjectivity, liberalism and race, Culture Studies 1311999


Juping Xiang & Shulin Zhang, Spatial performance & public order management, Cultural Geography, 13, 3, 1998


Morley Burrows, Robins K., Cyberspace and the world we live in, Cyberspace/ Cy2berbodies/ Cyberpunk, Sage, 1995


Nannan Zhang & Chaolin Gu, From geographic space to multiple space - city space influenced by internet, Cultural Geography,17, 4, 2002


Philip Hubbard, Desire/disgust: mapping the moral contours of heterosexuality, Progress in Human Geography 24, 2, 2000


Weiren Hao, Selecting positions – the basic spatial performance of humanCultural Geography, 15, 3, 2000


Xianyong Bai, Nie Zi, 1987


Xingzhong WangA research on city-society living space, Cultural Geography18, 3, 2003

[1] Shenzhen has been a city for only 25 years. Before it became a city, it was only a small village that had less than 10,000 people. Compared to the population of 6,000,000 now, the number of local people is almost negligible.

[2] As most Chinese people think, there’re 5 cities in China (Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Xi’an) that accept homosexuality better, and actually have more homosexuals in the city, like LA in the United States.

[3] This is compared to most parts of China, actually they’re still hard to find by normal people.

[4] Not only the geographic space we normally talk about, but also psychological space, space of conception and cyberspace, etc.

[5] Not including open homosexual space. It’s explained later.

[6] Nevertheless, if the straight person himself is aggressive, homosexuals will still be bold to protect their territory.

[7] In daily life, most homosexuals don’t appear to be homosexual, so only in open homosexual space can they communicate with heterosexuals in the identity of homosexual.

[8] This means straight people will still have the chance to visit it.

[9] If the words have no discrimination or show care, they’re usually welcomed by homosexuals.

[10] Although there still are very few straight people who pay to visit the site, the charging method can keep most straight people away from it.

[11] I don’t know why they act like this. Researches do show that gay and lesbian people seldom get along well together, but no clear reasons are given till now.

[12] Maybe it’s because of smaller space provides more feeling of safety.

[13] Normally, a straight bar doesn’t have dancing pools, because if people want to dance, they’d go to discos.

[14] But government seems to turn a blind eye to this problem.

[15] I don’t know how they do this, but they seem to have special but common ways expressing themselves.

[16] This is again against the law, but again been turned a blind eye to.

[17] Regretfully, this website has been closed by the government recently.