On waking from an afternoon nap, first century Chinese Emperor Ai of the Han Dynasty (27 to 1 BC) cut off his sleeve rather than wake his male lover, Dong Xiang, who was sleeping across it. For two thousand years same-sex love has been referred to in China as “the passion of the cut sleeve.”
Sharing this passion, but under pressure from his parents to get married and produce a grandchild, last February 30-year-old Yang Teng, who comes from a small Chinese village, voluntarily signed up for conversion therapy when he saw an online advertisement. The “treatment” included hypnosis and electric shock that left him physically hurt and mentally scarred.
Yang went on to sue both the company that advertised and the clinic that provided the treatment and won. In a decision that should be celebrated, and should prompt the Ministry of Health to outlaw such “treatments,” a Beijing court ruled on December 19 that such therapy is ‘false’ and noted that homosexuality is not an illness under Chinese law. In fact, the Ministry of Health removed homosexuality from a list of mental disorders in 2001 and homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997. Still, same sex partnerships are not recognized in China and there are no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
The case became a rallying point for China’s LGBT community. The Beijing LGBT Center staged a mock electroshock session outside the court-house when the case was heard in July. “Homosexuality is not a disease, we don't need to be cured,” read a banner outside the courthouse. The executive director of the LGBT Center, Xin Ying, said that some professional hospitals and smaller private clinics offered conversion therapies.
This case should set an important precedent in China and also internationally where clinics – either for religious motivations, financial gain, or both - offer damaging therapies on the false promise of converting individuals to heterosexuality. ‘The passion of the cut sleeve’ need never become ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’