Growing up Gay in China: As Chinese Come Out of the Closet, Companies Cash In


A group of girls sit cross-legged in front of a wall-to-ceiling mirror concentrating intensely as they apply make-up. They talk quietly, exchanging tips on which brush to use and what shade of mascara works best. But these young Shanghai women are not trying to make themselves look more feminine. They are getting lessons on how to look like men. We are at a Sunday afternoon “Drag King” workshop on the top floor of an upmarket sex shop in Shanghai’s former French Concession. Women come here to slick back their hair, apply make-up to resemble stubble and don baggy shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Some are straight, some are gay, others are not sure.“This is a fun social activity but it is also an important way for LGBT people to express their gender identity,” says Hu Jiamin, a 23-year-old documentary maker, who looks surprisingly masculine as she poses for photos despite her petite frame. “Acceptance fluctuates in China: sometimes it is good, other times it hits low points.”

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