MANY people have the impression homosexuality doesn't exist in China; that being gay is somehow Western. This is not true. In Chinese history many national heroes, both real and mythical, were said to be gay. There are many stories of brotherhoods in which the men love one another more than they love their wives. Many say they would die for their particular brotherhood. There are also stories of gays among the intellectual and scholarly elite. A four-character Chinese phrase refers to 'cutting the sleeves and breaking the peaches'. It is from a story about two scholars who were lovers. They were sleeping, one lying on hisfriend's sleeve. When the friend got up to leave he chose to cut off the sleeve rather than wake his partner. The term 'breaking the peaches' refers to sodomy, a peach bearing a resemblance to the human bottom. Then there's the famous novel Dream of the Red Mansion, in which the main character, Precious Stone, is gay and has sex games with a messenger boy and an actor. So, although the Chinese think two men loving one another and touching one another is ugly and embarrassing, they still have subtle descriptions of such things in their vast history and literature. In the late '70s I made some studies in San Francisco, where in the inner city one person in seven was gay. The fact is - and this is a view that is beginning to gain some degree of acceptance - that being gay is something you are born with. It is genetic. I interviewed 120 people in San Francisco and found that many realised early on that they were gay. Some got married and dropped out of the closet, but most felt they had always been gay and that there was little they could have done to change it. If homosexuality is genetic, it could probably not be prevented any more than the colour of a person's eyes or hair. What's more, homosexuality is a human trait, not a cultural one, and affects all human beings, although many might not be aware of it. So what happens to those men who are born gay in China? They are unhappy - I can say that for sure. They can never find a good partner because it is impossible to be open about homosexuality in China. Their misery is compounded by what they see as the hopelessness of their situation - they believe they are trapped firmly in the closet for life. Many gays are highly creative and often show an almost female sensitivity to the world around them. Many are artistic, but in China there are times when being an artist might be dangerous; the government rarely encourages this kind of creativity. Chinese society teaches these men that being gay is some kind of weird and hopeless sickness. In conditions like this, how many gays are going to stand up and be counted? There is a lack of support groups and counselling. If a person has no one to talk to about homosexuality it can lead to pent-up frustration, which can explode into violence. In China I never receive telephone calls from gays on my show. But I do get letters. In Hong Kong, I do get gay callers. On the radio I can say nothing beyond this: 'If you love, love. It's always better than hate.' If I reply to letters in writing I have a bit more freedom - I tell gays that if homosexuality is not illegal and if they are not hurting anyone, they should feel free. I hope that one of these days I will be able to tell my people, the Chinese people, that there is nothing wrong with loving someone of the same sex. It is always good to love somebody. Things cannot be denied and China will open up a little, day by day. Sadly, the situation in China is going to get worse because of the population boom and an imbalance between men and women. There are too many men chasing too few women. What happens if a man who is gay, but doesn't know it, marries because of pressure fromhis family? You end up with two unhappy people. Marrying a closet gay is like taking someone's seat at the theatre, even if you don't want to see the show. There are many people who do want to see the show, and they should be able to do so without shame, guilt or remorse. Sex counsellor Pamela Pak shot to fame in 1986 when she started a live midnight phone-in advice show on Hong Kong radio. She recently started a live weekly phone-in show in Beijing, which the authorities soon insisted be taped in advance.