Learning about sexual identity: Chinese gay men and their early engagement with the Internet


Harper et al. (2009) claim that the Internet has become an important means for American gay and bisexual male adolescents to learn about sexual identity and gay culture. It seems easy to draw a similar conclusion in China, as digital media have already become a significant part of Chinese gay men’s everyday lives. With increasing scholarly attention paid to Chinese gay men’s use of dating apps (e.g. Wu and Ward, 2019, Wang, 2019), we know more about the communicative practices and social relations fostered by digital media. However, this initial “online learning” process has still been under-investigated. Drawing on 80 life-history interviews with urban Chinese gay men, this paper explores how Chinese gay men make sense of their sexual identity through their early engagement with the Internet and its digital applications. In particular, this paper demonstrates how individuals identify with different narratives around gay identity in the Chinese context. It argues that although the transnational influences on the discursive construction of gay identity is observed, the Internet also provides Chinese gay youth with a reflective tool to assist them to make up their own decision about how to live a gay life in China.