Why You Need To Watch The Documentary About China's Gay Shock Therapy
The Debrief: This shocking documentary explores the world of conversion therapy - which is being offered by some Chinese hospitals in a bid to change an individual’s sexual preferences
When it comes to thinking about gay rights round the world, you might think of countries like Russia, Uganda or Jamaica; places that regularly make the news for the ill-treatment of their gay citizens.
A country that might not spring to mind is China. Although actually being gay isn’t illegal over there, and hasn’t been since 1997, it was only 14 years ago that homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the government.
‘The pressures are very different to what you’d experience over here,’ says Shaunagh Connaire, a journalist whose documentary China’s Gay Shock Therapy airs on Friday as part of Channel 4’s Unreported World series. ‘They don’t have the right wing religious groups being homophobic.’
Instead, she explains, the pressures against being gay tends to come from the family. ‘Because of Confucius (once a card carrying member of the longest family tree line in history), there’s this huge pressure to continue the family bloodline and to produce the family offspring. I don’t want to blame everything on the One Child Policy, but there is that extra pressure if you’re the only kid and then you come out as gay to your parents.’
Shaunagh went to China to explore the world of conversion therapy which is being offered by some Chinese hospitals in a bid to change individuals’ sexual preferences. Doctors and nurses either use drugs or electric shocks (yes, in 2015) in order to dissuade the subject from harbouring homosexual thoughts.
‘They’re trying to condition you,’ says Shaunagh. ‘Some will get them to watch gay pornography and then shock them when they’re aroused. It’s so barbaric.’
They also use a vomit-inducing drug in the same manner. ‘They try to condition them to feel awful about themselves when they have these sexual urges. That’s the “science” of it.’
Is there any evidence at all that treatment like this might ‘work’ (for lack of a better word)? ‘There is NO scientific evidence. None,’ says Shaunagh firmly. ‘It’s because they [The Chinese] associate being gay with mental illness. It’s ironic that they’re tring to improve mental health but really it’s having completely the opposite effect.’
So severe have the aftershocks of some of these ‘therapies’ been, that Shaunagh and her team struggled to find someone to talk to them about it. ‘They just couldn’t face talking about it on camera. It sounds so traumatic. You lose all your self identity. It has the complete opposite effect of what it’s supposed to do.’
So, if being gay isn’t illegal in China, why are some men and women opting to go through with the therapies? As Shaunagh mentioned earlier, it’s heavily tied up with the individual’s parents. ‘They have these really archaic and medieval attitudes towards homosexuality.’
According to John, an LGBT activist who features in the film, when parents Googled ‘homosexuality’, the first thing that used to come up was ‘conversion therapy’. ‘It’s not well understood,’ says Shaunagh. ‘That’s the reason for parents sending their kids. They love them I’m sure, but I don’t think they understand homosexuality themselves.’
Watching the documentary it’s easy to get a very bleak view of gay life in China, but Shaunagh says it’s actually getting better. ‘Beijing actually has a thriving gay scene. I went out with John and we had a great time! Things are changing among our generation’ she says.
‘But it’ll take time, like everything. Look at Ireland,’ she says, referring to her homeland. ‘The generation before me wouldn’t have come out to their parents because of the Catholic Church. It took one generation and now the majority of people in Ireland have changed their minds. So yes. I think it’ll probably take a generation or two, but it’s definitely happening.’
Unreported World: China's Gay Shock Therapy is on Channel 4 , Friday 9 October at 7:30pm.
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