UCL Department of Geography


Exploring hybrid queer spaces in China: A study by Hao Wu

19 June 2024

UCL Geography PhD Student Hao Wu presents his research looking at LGBTQ+ Lives in Chengdu.

Hao News Article

As part of our Pride Month celebrations, Research Student Hao Wu discusses his work looking into the lives of queer males in Chengdu, China, and the societal and political challenges they face. Hao's work highlights how these individuals navigate their identities and create interconnected physical and digital spaces, offering a nuanced perspective on LGBTQ+ progress in a complex cultural context.

“How do we understand LGBTQ+ progress? Is it the hosting of a Pride event or the implementation of LGBTQ+ rights policies?

“In the context of China, where traditional heterosexual norms dominate society and politics, the approach towards LGBTQ+ individuals is ambiguously “Don't encourage, Don't discourage, Don't promote”. 

“This makes it extremely difficult for the LGBTQ+ community to obtain legal protections. They are prohibited from holding Pride events, even openly expressing their LGBTQ+ identities can lead to stigmatisation and discrimination.

“In this context, my research focuses on the everyday practices of queer males in Chengdu, China, exploring how they navigate and perform their queer identities and produce spaces that allow them to openly express these identities. 

“With the rapid advancement of digital technology, queer spaces have extended into the digital realm. However, scholars of digital geography have critiqued the binary division between physical spaces and digital spaces. 

“Consequently, my study delves into 'hybrid queer spaces' to uncover those fluid, interconnected forms of space.

“Through interviews with 45 Chinese queer males aged between 18 and 56, my research highlights two key findings: 

  1. LGBTQ+ individuals show agency, actively producing hybrid queer spaces even within a relatively conservative environment.
  2. The form of 'hybridity' is diverse, including the use of digital platforms to facilitate engagement in invisible physical queer spaces; the functionalities of different digital platforms co-construction that meet the everyday needs of the queer community; and the mutual support and cooperation between different queer spaces that foster each other's development.

“Overall, hybrid queer spaces reveal the dynamic relationship between societal surveillance and queer agency.

“Returning to our initial question: How do we understand LGBTQ+ progress? Achieving a global LGBTQ+ vision in China is currently challenging. 

“However, Chinese queer individuals are actively exploring and practising their queer identities through their everyday practices, creating fluid, hybrid queer spaces. These practices highlight that LGBTQ+ progress is context-specific and should not be subject to comparison.

“Even seemingly small daily actions by queer individuals in China are crucial steps in advancing LGBTQ+ progress.”

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