Injustice within and Beyond Families: The Conception and Formation of Families Among Queer Women in China

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Iris P. Y. LO, The University of Oxford, United Kingdom
The present study examined the experiences of injustice faced by Chinese queer women in the processes of forming queer families in Beijing, the capital of China. It revealed the ways in which different institutions, including the heteronormative power structure of Chinese families, the government, and the market, shaped Chinese queer women’s conception and formation of families. While a substantial number of Western research on family patterns and relations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals has emerged since the first decade of the 21st century, less attention has been paid to LGBTQ family formation in Asian contexts. In China, since non-heterosexuality remains heavily stigmatized and discussions about homosexuality have been censored by the government, families formed by LGBTQ individuals are largely invisible and suppressed. Through semi-structured interviews with 30 Chinese queer women, who identified themselves as “lalas” (queer women in Chinese term) and lived in Beijing, this study illuminated their different patterns of making sense of and forming families, ranging from staying single, cohabiting with a same-sex partner, performing “contract marriage” with a gay man, to having a child through assisted reproductive technology. Informants’ diverse meanings attached to the idea of “family” were attributable to their experiences of empowerment and/or disempowerment in relation to their social locations, including gender, sexuality, class, and age, as well as within different life spheres, including within families of origin and the workplace. Meanwhile, by creating different forms of families, informants resisted and/or surrendered to the violence of heteronormative beliefs and rules in China to varying extent. This research has provided new empirical knowledge about the needs, wants, and challenges of families formed by queer women as well as the power dynamics behind queer family formation in China. It also has important implications for transnational theoretical dialogues concerning families, sexuality, and social justice.