‘Dating is complicated’
in the closet
It was years ago, but Lock can still see him in his mind’s eye. Dark eyes, fancy haircut, very pretty. Lock was hurrying to class at his high school when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the young guy on the sidewalk. His whole world changed from that moment. ‘I liked him so much, so it came naturally to me that I am gay.’
In his hometown – ‘the size of Groningen, which makes it a small place in China’ – the topic of LGBTQ was off the table, so it didn’t occur to Lock to try to approach the guy. ‘Even though I kept those feelings deep in my heart, I think my crush on him is something beautiful, not something shameful.’
My father will probably be ashamed about it
Yet, he knew it would be safer if he kept his identity a secret. The only person he felt comfortable sharing his feelings with was one of his female friends, who supported him without hesitation. But he wouldn’t open his heart to his best male friends or his parents, he says.
They still don’t know.
His parents’ opinion matters to Lock a lot. ‘Will they be ever able to accept me the way I am?’ he often asks himself. ‘I am very close to my mother, so I imagine that she would feel sad about it because…’, he breaks off, his voice trembling. ‘She may think it’s not an easy way to live for me.’
He has no illusions about his father: ‘He will probably be ashamed about it.’ As a typical Chinese middle-aged man, says Lock, his father could be influenced by other people’s opinions ‘who think that being gay is shameful’.
Because families in China are more close-knit than in the Netherlands, many children don’t dare to come out to their parents and often succumb to social pressure to have a ‘traditional family.’
When Lock moved to Beijing to study, he met other gays who got divorced after entering into sham marriages. It was their way to be left in peace, he says, but those traumatic experiences made Lock wonder what his life would have looked like if he stayed in China.
‘I wouldn’t have got married to a girl like that’, he says, shaking his head. ‘I would have probably come out instead, though it would take some time to find the safest option to do so.’
If I go back to China, it will be more difficult
So far he has avoided his parents’ hints that he should find a girlfriend – ‘You’re living alone. You’re cooking alone. It will be so nice to have someone around.’ – saying that he is very busy studying. ‘But if I go back to China, it will be more difficult.’
All his friends in Groningen suggest that he should stay in the Netherlands if he wants to have ‘a normal relationship in my life.’ But that has proved to be easier said than done.
Long before Lock came to Groningen, he read in the newspaper that the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriages. ‘I always had the impression that the Netherlands is a LGBTQ-friendly country, so I imagined it would be easy to find a partner here. But dating as a Chinese gay turned out to be complicated.’
In Beijing, Lock would usually go to one of the many gay clubs to meet like-minded people. Hoping for the same in Groningen, he headed to a local gay pub. To his surprise, he seemed to be the only student among ‘more mature’ visitors. Speaking no Dutch didn’t help him to connect with the locals either, so ‘I felt a little bit like an outsider.’
Even though he continued coming back to the bar with a friend – ‘so I can at least talk to my friend and feel less awkward’ – Lock decided to try his luck on gay dating apps.
What he soon found out after using the most popular apps like Grindr and Romeo is that local and Chinese gays often have different expectations when it comes to dating.
Half of the Chinese people prefer to take it slow and look for something more serious
‘Most of the people here start off with hook-ups and casual sex, while at least half of the Chinese people prefer to take it slow and usually look for something more serious.’
Lock is one of them, but if he states that in his profile, that would look out of local fashion, he says. ‘Back in China, I would often chat with the guys on the apps for days or weeks before we meet each other, not to mention having sex.’
That doesn’t work in Groningen, he says. ‘The same day they go ahead and ask: your place or mine? That’s also why Chinese people don’t really like that app.’
Similarly, Lock ended up deleting Grindr and installing a Chinese gay social networking app – Blued – instead.
There, Lock feels in his element. There is no rush to have sex. Most of the dates are interested in committed relationships. And there is no language barrier, so they can have meaningful conversations before meeting face-to-face.
You can’t get married and there is social pressure to stay in the closet
The only problem, however, is that the Chinese gay community is spread over the EU, ‘the people you like are probably far away.’ Some of them manage to have long-distance relationships, though, which almost happened to Lock and his date in Germany, but then coronavirus restrictions took their toll on them and they parted.
‘Overall, it’s hard to find a partner as a Chinese gay. And it’s also very hard to maintain the relationship’, he concludes. ‘Even though I have had some dates, I have been single during the two years of my stay in Groningen.’
Sometimes he wonders where his personal life would be more fulfilling, in Beijing or in Groningen.
In Beijing, he says, there are a lot of gay clubs where people can easily meet: ‘Big cities are similar to the western countries, but then you can’t get married and, what’s harder, there is social pressure to stay in the closet.’
If only he could come out to his mother, he dreams. ‘She loves me, so I think she would be able to understand me and slowly accept my feelings at some point.’
But before that happens, perhaps he should give more time to Groningen? He nods: ‘I could try again to date non-Chinese gays in the future. There’s still a lot of nice people out there.’