My Planet Is Simpler, but Not Better
I first moved to another planet in 2003. It was called Taiwan. And then several years after leaving, I returned to that part of the solar system and moved to a planet called China.
I guess I should explain, since I’m coming off as a space cadet of sorts. There are places you go that feel so completely different and seem to operate so differently that it’s as if they are a separate world from your own. There are a number of things that factor into other-worldliness. Operating language, political and economic system, values, social structure, racial composition, general standard of living, environmental conditions, educational system, taboos – really, it’s hard to list everything that goes into how out of your element you might feel. I think it’s different for everyone – both the factors and the level of differentness you experience.
I don’t really want to get into the particulars of China or Chinese culture except where they involve feminism and atheism – the purpose of this blog. I have a completely separate blog on China that I have maintained for several years.
I will say that while Chinese culture is very complex and convoluted in some ways, there is something missing that the West hasn’t managed to export (yet) and that makes it very simple in some important ways.
Sexual and identity politics.
When I read what Western feminists are talking about – things that are going on in their home countries, particularly around trannies and issues surrounding the silencing of feminists – it is a little hard for me to believe. It has been a while since I lived in – or I should say was immersed in – Western culture. Even in the last 10 years when I have lived in the West, I’ve not lived in cities or around young people or within academic circles. So it astounds me the level of craziness that is going on with this need to ‘identify as’ something. To be honest, it sounds very ‘high school’ to me. It smacks of this needy, dysfunctional immaturity that one typically sees with teenagers as they strive so hard to be different, unique and rebellious, and that ends up making them all kind of the same. Pathetic, sometimes laughable, but mostly harmless. Most of us go through it – when we are kids – it’s a phase. But unlike with teenagers and their identity quests, what is going on is having serious legal and social consequences. For women, feminists in particular. Nothing laughable about that.
We just don’t have this in China. We are still barely dealing with the idea of homosexuality here. And for me, since I’ve become used to the insanity that for a long time marked China as a different planet, the sexual/identity repression has become a major factor in my seeing/feeling China as another world.
It is very hard for me to describe China to people who have never been here in a way that they can understand. For example, the best, but still mostly inadequate, way for me to describe it is that it is a mix of the 1950’s and almost-now. The almost-now part refers to technology. For example, their high speed rail system is top notch and puts public transportation in North America to shame. And they skipped email and went straight to smart phones and texting as the primary mode of communication. But sexually and socially, China is living in the past. A traditional culture coupled with a dictatorial government is responsible, I believe. Gender roles are strict and people generally comply. Even the rebellious weirdo type isn’t commonly seen – and I live in a major city where you are more likely to see this stuff.
To this day, I’ve only met one person who has told me they are gay, even though my gaydar has gone off for both males and females tons of times over the years. These folks will go on to marry and breed and perhaps never wonder why there is little joy in their arrangement, unfortunately. I’ve met many people who adamantly profess that they are not gay, however. The gay-jokey accusations are constant among students. All in all, being gay really isn’t on the table as an option and there is nothing resembling a social movement here.
But on a smaller scale, I’ve noticed that students are paying more lip-service to both valuing female babies as well as acknowledging that gay people both exist and should be treated better, however. One of my Masters students asked if he could choose the topic of gay rights for his speech in my class – not that HE was gay – because he was feeling some shame and sympathy that gays and lesbians were treated so badly in China. He also told me that he wouldn’t dare talk about this anywhere other than in our English class – it wouldn’t be accepted. I’ve also noticed a few student groups tackle a gay topic when our department has held film-making contests.
All in all, this is where things are in China’s sexual landscape with regard to identity. It feels not sufficiently open but safe from identity pirates at the same time. It is a naive society, although becoming less naive due to the intrusion of Western sitcoms coming through via the internet. I’m not aware of any Western television programs that both encapsulate the transgender or queer identity madness and have made their way into Chinese consciousness. I’m trying to imagine attempting to explain it to my students. Someone would inevitably ask me what it all means. I do get students ask me why, for example, Americans are obsessed with sex. That is what they see in television and films. Sex, sex, and more sex. And I try to give an explanation.
I don’t really feel I’ve done this topic justice, but I’ll conclude. While I feel like I’m living on a completely different planet, I will say that similar to the planets I’m familiar with, all are run on patriarchy and misogyny. China is simpler, but not better, and at its core, perhaps not all that different.
Addendum: I just read the following post by Phonaesthetica on the show ‘Transparent’, and the second-to-last episode of season 2 which paints lesbians in a bad light because they don’t accept MtTs in their space. The description of the episode sounds like the usual activist drivel – the man-in-dress character is painted as a Nazi-victim. I’m glad this nonsense hasn’t hit China. I’m having this weird sense of dread that like with their technology experience (skipping email and going directly to text messaging), they are going to skip the gay rights movement and move directly into pushing every gender-confused person into forced sex changes. Sounds crazy, but yanno, this is a crazy world.
Posted on December 18, 2015, in Feminism, Human Rights and tagged China, homosexuality, identity, politics, trans, transgender. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on My Planet Is Simpler, but Not Better.