While there are many taboos here, the most prevalent or contemporary one would certainly be homosexuality.
Firstly, here there is no such thing as gaydar, or for those less in touch with the jargon of the young, gay radar. This is because of the tendency of friends of the same gender to be affectionate with each other. For instance, it is not uncommon to see young men with their arms around each other, or I have even experienced my male students draping an arm on another male students’ leg. This is completely platonic. Girls often walk hand in hand or with their arms linked. This behavior exhibited by women is not entirely foreign to us foreigners (haha no pun intended!), but certainly most American men are too homophobic or afraid of being labeled as such a person, that males with their arms around each other, in extremely close proximity would be strange behavior.
This close physical contact makes it nearly impossible to decipher who is heterosexual. Being gay in China may be more widely expected by the younger generation, and more prevalent due to the fact that most language universities aide in this behavior, whether for its trendiness or because individuals truly have this orientation, due to the fact that the vast majority of language universities have predominantly female populations. And in similar fashion to Goucher, a vast majority of the minority male population have homosexual tendencies. of course, I have no problems with this, I am just merely stating a reality.
At XISU, it is common knowledge amongst foreign teachers and our students that there are large numbers of gay students. The students state this in very indirect ways, as is common in Chinese culture (speaking indirectly allows you to spare other’s feelings).
“Oh, XISU has no acceptable boys…they are too girly. Because the boys of XISU are always around girls, they become girls. They do not make good boyfriends.”
I have heard those phrases uttered, perhaps not verbatim, by many of my female students. Some have even directly told me they know which boys or girls are gay. Others have told me they themselves are gay. This has occurred on two occasions. One of my boys, last term, spoke about “feelings” he was having towards men. He thought he might be bi or bi-curious. Firstly, I was surprised he was even aware of such terms. Second, I was not at all surprised that he confided in me, because there is an unspoken awareness amongst Chinese that it is both easy and acceptable to confide in foreigners for two very specific reasons: we are very open about homosexuality in addition to not sharing such secrets with others (we may share with those whom do not know the person, but Chinese will gossip and communities here are more close-knit). In Chinese culture, personal concerns are to be kept quiet. They are to be dealt with internally and not voiced to friends or even family.
The second occasion is some of my girls voicing their feelings about how eager they are to become boys. At first, I attributed this to the fact that there is a deep-seated sentiment in Chinese culture where most parents strongly prefer to give birth to a boy. But, upon further examination, it is in fact that their sexual preference is girls. It’s the same feeling some gays or lesbians in the States attribute to their tendencies; feeling as though they were born in the wrong body. This is what the few female students mean: they don’t feel like themselves in the body they were born into. They just can’t fully express that in English or Chinese, because to admit that would possibly shame them or their family and friends.
Finally, the most outlandish example of the homophobia that exists here is directly attributed to a tragic event that occurred in the final week of May. During my Wednesday class, one of my students didn’t come to class. I didn’t think too much of it as he was often absent. Then, a student exclaimed there was an emergency, quickly jumping out of his seat, Apparently, the absent boy was in the dormitory, hanging from a plumbing pipe. He had committed suicide. Unfortunately, the other boys in his dormitory found him too late (all of the male students in my class had asked my permission to leave). It is still unclear as to whether or not the students found him. Some of the rumors as to why he did such a tragic thing was because his boyfriend was leaving him for a girl. This was one of the many absurd comments made about the tragedy.
Overall, taboos in China will stay taboos unless Chinese society decides to open up. Just because China has opened up economically, culturally it is still far from a complete role reversal.