It's not just gay people struggling to find inner peace, says author
Jay Sun, a Stanford-trained engineering consultant, has written two gay-themed novels. The 36-year-old, who is known by his pen name Xiao Jie, talks about his goals as an author and the reality of being openly gay on the mainland.
What prompted you to write about gay issues?
I read a lot of gay writings before I started working on my first novel, Piaoyang Riji (Diary Across the Ocean), which for me was about self-expression and the process of coming to terms with my homosexuality. What is more, when I was working for a small firm in Silicon Valley in 2001 and 2002, I had plenty of time to kill. There has been a shift in the way I see literature since then, and when I started to write my second work, Courage, I wanted to tell a good story to get the message across.
And you believe that courage is primarily about a person's self-reflection, right?
Yes. The central message is that people tend to have the courage to pursue what is defined as happiness in the public eye, but they don't have the courage to chase happiness in their private lives. So the book is more about lost courage, particularly for people like me who were born in the 1970s. Our formative years coincided with the most profound social transformation the country has seen, and people tend to get carried away by how much money they make, what job they have, what car they drive. They hardly spare a moment to think about whom they are and what they really want. These people would go to extremes to avoid facing up to who they really are.
What do you want to tell other Chinese gay people who may be struggling to come to terms with their homosexuality?
I don't think social acceptance has much to do with the way gay people look at their sexuality. In China, people had no knowledge of homosexuality in the past and wouldn't raise an eyebrow if two boys showed intimacy. Now there is a growing awareness of homosexuality, and people might show dislike towards this group, but gay people can still get on with their lives, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The most important thing is how you look at your own sexuality. I also think it is a very private matter and it is totally up to you to keep it private or go public.
In the West, people talk about the pink dollar. Do you think there is an emerging gay market in China?
I believe so. For one thing some of the Web portals for the gay community have started to make a profit. As for the market for gay literature, I think there is great potential to explore as a lot of gay people, particularly young people, need such writings to learn about their sexuality and their possible future. But the problem is that there are few ways to sell these books, as few have been published so far.
There are few gay writers on the mainland - are there any restrictions on gay publications?
There are no written provisions to prevent gay literature, but publishers might have a 'what if' question. Generally, the head of a publishing house doesn't have time to examine each book in detail, but assumes there would be explicit content because of the gay theme and might not want to take the risk. In 2005 and 2006, I was contacted by several publishers about Courage, but it was not until 2008 that I reached a deal.
Do you exercise any self-censorship by refraining from writing explicit gay sex scenes, or is it a deliberate tactic to reach a wider audience?
I don't have a specific readership in mind when I write, and if references to homosexual love are subtle, that's the way I deal with sex in general. I'm no good at writing explicit content, so you could interpret it as personal taste rather than self-censorship. I admit, I'm not market-driven enough, which may prove a headache for my agent and publisher.