A Date With Lu Yu《鲁豫有约》is one of the most influential talkshows in China which has been known to constantly push the envelope and to broach topics previously considered too hot to touch. One such episode is the one below which features two homosexual men from the Sichuan Province — who, long before the word “gay” had entered the Chinese lexicon — married each other, adopted a son and have been together for 21 years.
VIDEO 1: Host Lu Yu (鲁豫) opens the show by introducing the couple, Li Lunzuo (李伦佐) and Ju Jiazhong (鞠佳仲) as “partners” (the gender-neutral “伴侣“ instead of the oft-used “夫妻” which refers to “husband and wife”). She tells of how touched she was when she first heard of their story and all the trials and tribulations the couple have endured over the last 20 years, and invites her viewers to watch this episode with an open mind.
On stage, Lu Yu notes how they seem to wear similar clothes and behave very alike and asks the couple if it was true they were becoming more and more alike outwardly after having spent such a long time together. Li says yes, this was true, and revealed that they were same-sized shirts and share lots of things in the wardrobe. At home, Li decides on most issues, while Ju makes grand decisions at work (the two run a small business together, so most people actually think of them as business partners). According to the couple, this “distribution of labour” has to do with their own personality.
Li was born into a farming family in Chengdu, while Ju was born in Chongqing. Both of them were born in the same year and in the same month, just days apart in March 1956. The couple notes how growing up in the seventies was not easy for them. Nobody knew anything about homosexuality in those dark days and their parents would always press them to get married, and even attempt to matchmake them.
VIDEO 2: Li was eventually emotionally tormented enough to go seek help with a psychologist who tells him to the only way for him to “turn straight” was by trying out manual labour and focussing on his work – which he did try but it failed miserably. Back then in Sichuan, there was no word for “homosexual” in the local dialect and the only words people had in referring to homosexuals were a few very rude and vulgar words.
The two first met each other in Chengdu on 12 Mar 1985, at a lake near the Wenhua Laodong Gong (Cultural Labour Centre). The lake was a popular local gay hangout then. Ju made the first move by asking to borrow a lighter from Li, even though he had a lighter in his pocket. The two struck up a friendship and soon became lovers.
Subsequently, Li invited Ju to stay with his family. At first, the family had no clue what was going on, but later on, Li felt compelled to tell his sister that he was going to marry Ju and they would spend the rest of their lives together, at which point Li’s sister almost flipped. After Li explained to his sister what sort of torment he was going through and would like her to convey to their parents that they should never try to matchmake him again, she finally gave them her blessing. Their parents, who were devout Buddhists and strict vegetarians, had a hard time accepting the fact.
VIDEO 3: Staying and living together was a difficult decision to make, not only because both Li and Ju found it impossible to accept, but this was also unheard of in China’s (then invisible) gay community. When Li and Ju decided they would marry and spend the rest of their lives together, they decided to go have a “wedding picture” taken, and they even had to tell the photographer they were “buddies”. To mark the occasion of their union, Li and Ju took a taxi with a bouquet of flowers in hand (braving the awkward stare of their drier) out to a remote location, where they would exchange their own marraige vows, and write their own marriage certificate (not legally recognised of course). There were no rings exchanged, and no witnesses at this ceremony, just “the blue sky, white clouds, green hills and emerald waters” in Li’s own words.
Subsequently, the two decided to enter into business together. At that time, entrepreneurs were not well-regarded in society, but the two were unable to take the repressive culture in the workplace anymore.
Seven year itch: In 1990, Li had an affair with someone else. He would go out at night to meet someone else at a certain bridge, only to return home late at night. When Ju found out, he wrote Li a letter and left it on the table saying that he was going to leave him. After reading the letter, Li was heartbroken and went in search of Ju high and low. Eventually, Li found Ju and successfully persuaded him in coming back to him.
Today, Li and Ju are practically out to all their family and friends and ex-classmates and colleagues.
VIDEO 4: At the end of 1990, at the suggestion of his father, Li decided to adopt the twelve-year-old son of one of his cousins. Now 28, Li Lei calls Li “father” and Ju “uncle”. Li Lei calls Li ‘father’ (ba ba) and Ju ‘uncle’ (shu shu). He says he adopted those terms on his own, and was not taught how he should address his parents.
As he was growing up, Li Lei did think that it was somewhat strange that he didn’t have a mother but instead had two male parents, but didn’t think too much of it. When he became a freshman at college, there were rumours of his good friend and his teacher in a gay relationship, and it was only through that episode did he realise his own parents were “gay”.
Li Lei was originally named Li Liangjun but decided to change his name because the Chinese character of ‘lei’ (磊) consists of three ‘shi’ (石) or rock. He feels that his adopted parents are the two large rocks below, supporting him as the third rock on top/in the middle.
Li Lei is heterosexual and has been dating girls since his school days. He said that when choosing a wife, the first criteria was that she must accept both his parents.
VIDEO 5: Li Lei found that special someone, Xiao Ju, and married her in October 2006. For the tea ceremony, Li Lei insisted that both Li and Ju be on stage with his in-laws, instead of his biological parents.
Ju was hesitant at first as he was worried that it may cause discomfort to the guests and problems for Li Lei and his wife in future. In the end, Li convinced him to just do it to give the new couple their blessings. The reaction of the guests at the dinner was surprisingly positive.
Presently, Li Lei and his wife live with the two of them. She follows Li Lei’s form of addressing them, and is very understanding and all four of them live very happily under one roof. When he has his own children in the future, they will call both Li and Ju ‘paternal grand-father’ (ye ye).
The host Lu Yu wishes Li and Ju good health, great marriage and the chance to get to their Diamond wedding anniversary (having been married 21 years, they have another 39 to go). Lu Yu ends the episode by saying as long as two people love each other, they should be together, and that love can overcome all obstacles – skin colour, status, wealth, age and even gender.