Lesbian and gay couples in China face a dilemma made very clear in the documentary China’s LGBTQAI+ Surrogacy Families.
Even though China is reported to have one of the largest LGBTQAI+ populations in the world and homosexuality was decriminalised there in 1997, some people still believe it to be a disease. This opinion is voiced in the documentary by a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and is an example of how lesbian and gay couples in China are still stigmatised, and unable to marry. But these couples still exist in a society and culture that places significant emphasis on traditional family values, where filial piety is of the utmost importance, and where the pressure to marry and have children is high.
Their options are limited – lesbian and gay couples can’t adopt – but not necessarily non-existent. Pin Wu and Hanson Qin, a gay couple who open the documentary, started exploring these possibilities about six years ago. Wu desperately wanted a child of his own, and also thought having a child, and thereby producing an heir for his family, would help his parents accept his relationship with Hanson, and found a lesbian couple who were willing to have a child with them. Interestingly, Hanson was opposed to this idea, his reasoning being that raising one child between four people would be bad for the child, which meant surrogacy was their only option.
Providing surrogacy services in China is illegal, and there is a local underground market for this – but if couples want to do everything legally, they can approach businesses like US-Sino Infertility Bridge (USIB) Shanghai, which is heavily featured in the documentary. USIB specialises in surrogacy consultation, helping couples with fertility issues and gay couples alike in their bids to become parents.
Finding a way to have children, in ‘China’s LGBTQAI+ Surrogacy Families’.
According to Dr Mark Leondires, medical director for Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut and founder of Gay Parents To Be, a family-building resource for LGBTQ single people and couples, surrogacy in the United States can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 (between $150,000–$200,000 in Australian dollars) – and possibly even more if the IVF treatment is unsuccessful.
Frank Zeng, the manager at USIB Shanghai, estimates this price to be upwards of $170,000, especially for gay couples, as they will also be required to pay for an egg donor on top of IVF and the surrogacy fee. Interestingly, some of the employees, including Frank, and Eddie, a marketing specialist, are themselves satisfied customers of the business.
Eddie runs outreach and question and answer sessions with other gay couples, and it’s something of a relief to see, in the documenatry, these men relax in an environment where they aren’t afraid to be themselves. Eddie himself talks about how alone he felt when he first realised he was gay, and this building of community is not just beneficial for Chinese people who identify as LGBTQAI+, but it also allows the children of those who decide to go through with surrogacy to bond and play with others who are in similar situations. And though he lists legal, residential and social recognition as some of the major concerns for couples considering surrogacy, their main concern is usually the prohibitively high cost – most of USIB Shanghai’s clients are relatively wealthy.
The most recent report released by the World Inequality Lab notes that the gap between rich and poor in China is widening, with the top 10% of Chinese adults earning about 14 times more than the bottom 50%. For reference, this gap is 17 times in the United States, 10 times in Australia, and 63 times in South Africa. The Chinese government has been trying to enact changes to correct this inequality, but its effectiveness remains to be seen. and for now, many Chinese LGBTQAI+ couples are unable to fulfil their dreams of being parents – whether that be to fulfil a personal need or to appease their parents’ insistence on a grandchild.
After two long years of pursuing surrogacy, Wu’s biological son, Sky, was born in 2016. But his birth brought more issues to the fore, with Wu spending much of his energy bridging the gap between his parents – who hold more conservative values – and Hanson, who Wu describes as having a more Western perspective. The resulting compromise, with Sky spending most of his time at Wu’s parents’ house, means Wu and Hanson only get to see their child once every fortnight.
Wu and Hanson are matter-of-fact about their situation, even though it clearly pains them to be away from their son, to not be involved in raising him through his formative years. They are pragmatic about the fact that a change in attitude towards LGBTQAI+ people and their families may take generations, and have floated the idea of moving overseas with Sky, where they feel they will be more accepted and be afforded more freedoms. But family, especially in China, can be tricky to navigate, and Wu and Hanson may find themselves having to choose between the families they have been born into and the one they have built for themselves.
As someone who identifies as queer and has a Chinese background, I am aware, watching the documentary, of how lucky I am to be born in, and to live in, a country where I have greater freedom over my life choices.
China’s LGBTQAI+ Surrogacy Families premieres at 9.35pm, Tuesday 1 February on SBS VICELAND.
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