Posted by Pete DeMola on 2. Sep 2009
You may have heard of Gayographic, the recently-launched online portal on all things LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) in the Middle Kingdom.
Site founders Ben Zhang, Ryan Dutcher and Niu Niu dish irreverent bilingual commentary on everything from current events to boner-inducing restaurant reviews, with the occasional interview with a public figure and party plug tossed into the mix, making the site not only a much-needed go-to guide for event listings and cultural issues, but a hilarious alternative to some of the English-language expat rags as well.
Here, Zhang and Dutcher fill us in on the origins of the site, the differences between Beijing and Shanghai's gay scenes, and what the future holds for LGBT issues in China.
WLIB: Tell us about yourselves and the origins of the site.
Gayographic: There are three founding members of Gayographic: Ben Zhang from Tianjin, his boyfriend Ryan from Upstate New York and Zhang's best friend Niu Niu from Chongqing. Ben and Niu Niu always had the desire to start a website to chronicle all the changes in Beijing's gay scene, but never followed through until receiving encouragement from Dutcher.
We took the name "Gayographic" from a funny picture of a shirtless dancing Zhang that was turned into a joke cover of a National Geographic magazine called Nasty Gayographic. We began working on the site at the end of 2008 and went live in February. We modeled the website as a city blog, similar to Shanghaiist.
Our goal was to create a site with an up-to-date listing of gay events and news in Beijing and eventually create a directory of gay and gay friendly businesses. Since then, we have created our own Gayographic gay night on Thursday at Lantung and have been throwing other special parties. We have just recently started a Gayographic night at LAN Club on Fridays.
WLIB: What has the reception been like thus far?
Gayographic: The reception has been great. Many people have approached us saying Gayographic is exactly what is needed in Beijing. Just like everything else in this city, the gay scene changes at lightning pace. New places open, old places turn gay, and more and more become gay-friendly.
The three founding members of Gayographic are heavily into the gay scene and have been making sense of it and reporting on what is currently on offer to both residents and visitors alike.
WLIB: What are some of the biggest misconceptions out there among the Chinese population on the LGBT community?
Gayographic: Many people think that the gay scene in Beijing is extremely small and really doesn't exist outside of the perennial Destination. In fact, it is quite big and ever-evolving. It certainly cannot compare to cities like New York or San Francisco -- or even in some ways, Shanghai -- but the community here is large. More and more businesses are beginning to realize this and are starting to cater to the gay community and becoming more and more gay-friendly.
WLIB: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the LGBT community in China?
Gayographic: There are two big issues that face the LGBT community in China: family and government.
While the government has decriminalized homosexuality and has turned a blind eye to the gay community, it also has not moved in any direction to help it, either. They are allowing it to exist, but they are not doing anything profoundly positive, such as providing adequate funding for HIV awareness programs targeted to the gay community. The biggest issue, however, is family.
While the Chinese generally do not take a moral position on homosexuality and think it merely an oddity, they do not want it to happen under their roof. Especially with the one-child policy, parents often fly into fits of despair at finding out that their son or daughter is gay. Many gays, especially men, enter into fake marriages as a result of family pressure, essentially living a double life, which is no good for all involved.
WLIB: You guys traveled to Shanghai in June for the country's first-ever Pride Week. How do the two cities differ in terms of openness and community exposure?
Gayographic: Shanghai definitely seems to be more open in terms of the gay community, but in reality it is just more gay business friendly.
Beijing actually has a very diverse gay scene -- especially with the many students and the international community. For whatever reason, Shanghai has been better able to cater to their gay community with more bars and gay places of business. In fact, Destination, Beijing's biggest gay club, is far bigger than Shanghai's closest version, D2. Beijing is catching up, but it could be that some are still weary about opening a gay bar in the heart of the nation's capital.
WLIB: Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno has, of course, kicked up much controversy over the summer, with many organizations and groups feeling as if the mockumentary unintentionally reinforces negative stereotypes about the LGBT community as opposed to exposing prejudice and skewering bigots. What do you guys think?
Gayographic: We actually haven't seen Brüno yet, but have heard mixed things from people who have. I have always thought that the television show "Queer as Folk," even though it was a groundbreaking series, might have done more harm than good by reinforcing negative stereotypes of the gay community -- especially in regards to promiscuity. I have a feeling Brüno might do the same.
Many have said that Borat put Kazakstan on the map despite the negative stereotypes, but we don't need to tell people we are here: it is an established fact in everyone's eyes.
WLIB: Say I'm a young, gay Beijing resident and want to meet other like-minded dudes (or chicks) this weekend, but I'm not sure where to go. Any suggestions?
Gayographic: I'd start off by reading Gayographic to see what is coming up on our event schedule. We also have a Chinese version of the site with the same content. The guys are at an advantage, however, with more places and parties for the male crowd, but there are a few lesbian places and parties, such as our lesbian night at Lantung on the last Thursday of every month.
The Boat has recently turned completely gay and has big nights on Friday and Saturday. We also have our new event on Friday at LAN. And, of course, there is always Destination.
WLIB: The LGBT scene in Beijing needs more _____ and less _____.
Gayographic: More encouragement and less bullshit.
WLIB: What's in the future for Gayographic?
Gayographic: We are going to continue what we are doing by reporting events and creating our own events to better serve the gay community. In addition to adding more features to the site and expanding our directory, we are even thinking of creating an online shop of gay-related products and creating podcasts and possibly even a printed newsletter.
We are open to all kinds of collaboration from all gay and/or gay friendly businesses. Don't hesitate to contact us if you have a good idea.
WLIB: Anything else you'd like to share or plug?
Gayographic: Readers to send us a note with any news that you may have that might be relevant. Though we try, we can't always keep up with the monumental changes taking place in the gay community. We can be reached at email@example.com.
Image courtesy of Gayographic.org.
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