Chinese marriage service helps people hide their sexuality from judgemental families
A gay woman in China has set up a marriage of convenience service called iHomo to help gay people trick their families into thinking they are married.
The service, which is currently based on social media, has arranged over 100 marriages of convenience between gay people looking to make their families happy.
Ou Xiaobai came up with the idea after she felt increasing pressure from her family to marry a man and settle down.
She had been with her girlfriend for years and was happy, but the mounting pressure from her family (who were unaware of her sexuality) led to Ou arranging a marriage of convenience.
Her groom was a man who had been with his boyfriend for a number of years, but similarly to Ou, his sexuality was unknown to his family.
Ou told the BBC: “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.
“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,” she added.
The arrangement was easy for all four involved, and satisfied the fake bride and groom’s families.
At first, they attended family gatherings together but now they have “settled down” they rarely act or appear as a real couple in public.
“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.
“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,” Ou explained.
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Since getting married, friends began to ask Ou and her girlfriend for advice which inspired her to set up the service.
She acknowledges that her family will probably discover the truth at some point, but for the time being the marriage provides temporary relief.
“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.”
Ou’s girlfriend is now on the lookout for a “husband” to satisfy her extended families desperation to see her married.
She said: “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.”