Like many gay Chinese growing up at the turn of the millennium, Duan Shuai began his long, deliberate process of coming out online. After school, he would visit the newly opened internet cafe in his hometown, Xinzhou, a small city in Shanxi Province bounded by a veil of mountains. He would pick a desktop facing away from the wall so that nobody could look over his shoulder. Then he’d go to QQ, the new instant-messaging service and online forum, and type in the Chinese word for “homosexual” — tongzhi, or comrade. Offline, Duan had known for a long time that he was different — and he knew no one else like him. Even in grade school, while his male classmates talked about girls, he nursed a secret crush on a boy, a gregarious, basketball-playing class monitor.