Will someone love this activist?
It’s not easy being an activist in China, just ask Ray Mahoney.
Born in Kentucky to a Southern Baptist family, Mahoney, 52, got his first taste of China while touring as an undergrad in the 80s and then subsequently moved to Shanghai in 2000 where he has become a regular face within Shanghai‘s LGBT community, and is known by many as the city’s “number one gay volunteer”.
Describing himself as an underemployed English teacher, Mahoney spends his weekends handing out Chinese literature on AIDS to parents at marriage corner in People’s Square and going to bathhouses to hand out condoms with other volunteers. One such bathhouse is Yin Xin, which typically attracts older men in their 50s and 60s. It is a place that is close to Mahoney’s heart.
Mahoney says he visits Yin Xin most of the time because he feels that these are the people that require the most outreach because they belong to a generation that is usually overlooked and has very little information about STDs and HIV prevention as compared to the younger generation who have had more exposure.
“You don’t expect people in their 50s and 60s to still be having sex.” He said.
In addition to handing out condoms and chatting with the patrons, many of whom lead double lives, Mahoney also distributes DVDs on a variety of gay issues in China such as coming out to your parents and the pressure of getting married. Most of the money for these DVDs comes out of his own pocket but he doesn’t mind because he knows they are going to good use.
“I know they are watching the DVDs and I appreciate that.”
When he is not doing outreach, Mahoney is usually at Rainbow league’s English salon, a social gathering of gay locals and foreigners who pick topics to discuss to improve their language skills together.
When asked whether he has any hopes for gay China, he says that is a moving target but there is always something that needs to be done. He hopes that people will duplicate the model of gay English salons around China because there are so many more people that are living in the rural areas of China. Getting people to improve their English is one motive of these salons but the other is getting people to start thinking about what it means to be gay in China and the informal and causal atmosphere of these gatherings may be a non-confrontational way of doing it.
Having done outreach for more than 2 years now, Mahoney hopes to be an activist on a full-time basis either working for a foundation or a non-governmental organization but because of the current recession and the Chinese government’s wariness of NGOs, he has not been able to find a job in that sector yet. So spending his weekends in the park or the bathhouses is a step in that direction and gives him a chance to build up his resume.
Characterized by his frank sense of humor, Mahoney said that he hopes to settle down but dating as an activist and a white guy also has its complications.
“As a white guy in China, I am expected to be rich and have a big penis but I don’t have those two things.” he says with a slight smile on his face.
With Shanghai Pride coming up in the next couple of months, organizers are hoping for a larger turnout than last year. There is a lot of potential in the LGBT community in Shanghai but unless we have more people like Ray who continue to push and encourage the community out of the closet, they hopes that we have will continue to remain just hopes.