According to Confucian thought, one of the most important relationships is that of father and child. Despite progress in gender equality, patriarchal structures persist in China today, and fathers still hold a privileged position within the family. A son is expected to step into his father’s role as a family leader, a man who provides for his wife and child. Meanwhile, a daughter should become an obedient, virtuous wife and submit to her husband. These ideas originate from Confucian filial piety. Things are clearly changing now, so what about the relationship between fathers and their queer children?
Fathers are a minority in parental ally organizations: Of the 1,000 parents who volunteer for PFLAG China, only ten percent are dads. As heads of their households, Chinese men raised on Confucian morals feel a responsibility to uphold the traditional family structure glorifying straight male offspring, and they often find it hard to overcome their convictions, even if their relationship with their own child is at stake.
In his 2016 documentary Pink Dads, Chinese filmmaker and activist Fan Popo speaks with fathers of LGBTQ children, some of whom have become queer activists themselves. The men discuss the obstacles to healthy relationships between dads and their queer kids, including the oppressive system of traditional values and a lack of knowledge about LGBTQ issues. One father identified as Papa Jiao’ao in the documentary says he grew up convinced that being queer was a curable abnormality. Another father, Papa Tao, speaks openly about feeling hopeless at the thought that having a queer child meant not having grandchildren to carry on the family line. Papa Weifeng admits to being a demanding father: “I wanted [my son] to be a “real man.” After he came out, I started to examine my beliefs. I’m not gay, but I tried to walk in their shoes and feel their struggle and pain.” Papa Weifeng is now an active LGBTQ ally and travels across China to recruit more volunteers.
It hasn’t been easy, says one father of a queer son, Xiaotao. “A father is a pillar of the family and shoulders heavy responsibilities,” he says. “Fathers of queer children face a lot of confusion.” Some dads, like Lin Xianzhi from Ganzhou, only become volunteers after seeing their wives get involved in the organization. For Papa Chenggong from Hebei, acceptance stems from a belief in equality: “I believe that my son is entitled to equal rights,” he says. “As long as we reach a consensus that our children should be free of social prejudice and discrimination, we are more likely to deliver our voices as one.”
Pink dads have taken to social media platforms like QQ and WeChat to educate other fathers about queer matters. Fathers share stories in dads-only groups with dozens of members, discussing traditional concerns like “losing face” and the issue of grand children. “I noticed that many parents refused to accept their kids’ orientation due to a lack of relevant knowledge,” says Xiaoxin’s dad. “Thus, I decided to stand up for the queer community and educate the public to win respect and understanding. We promote the acceptance of our children’s identity and being a supportive parent despite the different approach to life.”
If the patriarchal structure cannot be dismantled, it can at least be employed to benefit the oppressed. Pink dads use their power and privilege to fight discrimination and appeal to other fathers facing the same struggles in accepting their queer children. They are redefining the father’s role in the family and society, and battling alongside their kids to raise awareness and promote tolerance with help from organizations like PFLAG. These dads are pioneering a new generation of paternal allies in China, and if they’re any indication, the future is pink.
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