100 Women 2016: My sham marriage

Ou (right) and girlfriend Yi

In China, the pressure for young women to get married is huge. So what do you do if you are a gay woman? Ou Xiaobai, a 32-year-old living in Beijing, describes how a marriage of convenience helps her please her family and preserve her freedom.

I want to protect and be with my girlfriend for my entire life. And that's why I married a man in 2012.

At that time I was living a happy life with my girlfriend in Beijing. But I was under constant pressure from my family - who lived in Dalian - to get married.

Ironically my situation would have been easier a decade ago. Then there was less awareness of homosexuality and therefore less suspicion.

My parents kept asking me if I was seeing anyone. And the situation got worse after my father passed away, because my mother - concerned that I didn't seem to have settled down with anyone - started coming to live with me for a few months every year.

Realising there was no way that I could avoid the issue, I went to my friends for help - and that's how I got to know about "marriages of convenience".

I met my husband through a friend. He is a very nice man. Just like me and my girlfriend, he has been with his boyfriend for many years and has not come out.

'I knew I had made the right decision'

At our wedding my girlfriend was my bridesmaid, make-up artist and wedding dress consultant.

She was very happy and supportive of my decision, as was my husband's boyfriend. Despite being brought together by necessity, the four of us got on well and decided the details of the weddings together.

After seeing how happy my family were at my wedding, I knew I had made the right decision. Only in this way can we satisfy everyone's needs - my family is happy to know that there will be someone looking after me when they die, and my husband no longer gets encouraged by his colleagues to go on dates with women.

At first my husband and I visited our families together during traditional holidays such as the Spring Festival and I would be at his side at work gatherings.

But in the last couple of years, now that our families and colleagues believe we have settled down, we rarely have to act as a real couple.

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I live with my girlfriend and he lives with his boyfriend. The four of us go for dinner sometimes as we have become good friends.

After I got married, friends who knew my sexuality started asking me for advice. That's when my girlfriend and I realised that there are many people who are in desperate need of help.

Not only the 70 million homosexual people in China, but also the millions of heterosexual women who risk ending up married to homosexual men.

So we set up a service on social media called iHomo. Over the course of a year, we organised more than 80 events, helping to form 100 marriages of convenience. And now we are working on an iHomo app.

However I do understand that for many, a marriage of convenience could be the beginning of a nightmare. It gets very tricky if other family members live in the same city - a surprise visit could easily reveal the truth of their marriages. In these cases, setting up another home with shared amenities is crucial, but obviously keeping that up can get very tiring.

Added to the pressure is the constant question: "When will you two have a child?" If the male and female "couple" go ahead with methods such as IVF, then there comes the question - should the biological parents raise the child? If so, then the "couple" would have to live together. It just gets too complicated!

Image caption Despite being married to a man in China, Ou (right) got married to Yi in Las Vegas in September

We have managed to skirt the children question so far. Right now we are focusing on finding a husband for my girlfriend.

Although she came out to her parents when she was in high school and we visit them every weekend, we understand their fear that other family members and friends might find out her sexual orientation, especially her grandmother who is desperate for her to get married.

Sooner or later, because I don't do everything I could to keep it a secret, my family will find out the truth. But I believe Chinese society will eventually become more tolerant towards the LGBT community and it will be easier for my mother to accept my sexuality in the future. I do want my family to accept the real me.

My girlfriend and I want to help society understand us better, but being loud and aggressive might not be the best strategy. We want to use marriages of convenience as a pragmatic way to ease the conflict so that homosexuals can live the life they want. We know how extremely difficult it will be, but we will fight for what we believe in and keep going forward.

Research by Natalia Zuo and Oana Marocico

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