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China's Hidden Gay Clubs

China's Hidden Gay Clubs

Photojournalist Rian Dundon reveals an intimate glimpse of gay life in the Middle Kingdom.

 Mao Mao takes a smoke break outside the Night Cat, the gay bar where he works as a dancer. Taken in Changsha, China, 2006

 Transvestite dancer at the gay bar Spring Rain in central Kunming. The bar is a hotspot for homosexual prostitution but also serves as a distribution point for information and programs aimed at HIV education and harm reduction. Taken in Kunming, China, 2007

 Transvestite backstage at Spring Rain gay bar in central Kunming. Taken in Kunming, China, 2007

 Gay teenagers embrace in the countryside during a picnic. Since it was decriminalized in 1997, homosexuality has seen greater acceptance in China?s big cities, however, in the more traditional countryside it is still met mostly with denial or disgust. Taken in Xiangxi, China, 2006

 Gay teenagers eat barbecue at a picnic in the countryside. Taken in Xiangxi, China, 2006

 Hunag Ping (left) and Shuang Ying at the gay bar where they both work. Formerly transgender, Huang Ping began dressing and acting a male role again upon his return to Changsha in order to appease work and family demands. Taken in Changsha, China, 2008

 Xiao Yang, a crossdressing transsexual, peers out the window of his small apartment. Xiao Yang came to Kunming from his home in rural Yunnan province in search of the relatively liberal attitudes toward homosexuality in the city. Taken in Kunming, China, 2007

 Huang Ping, a transgender dancer, attempts to wake up Mao Mao in the dorm room where they both live as employees of the Night Cat, Changsha?s first gay bar. Taken in Changsha, China, 2006

 Photographer Rian Dundon first visited China in 2005, to stay in a remote city in Hunan province. A 10-month stay became five years, while Dundon pursued projects on youth identity, fringe cultures, and urban growth. Among his stunning images are sets that uniquely capture a pivotal period in gay life there, with moving pictures of the secretive bars and cabarets that double as pickup spots and prostitution venues. Most of the young employees had fled rural life and the bigotry there for the slightly less unwelcome big cities.

"A lot of these kids led a fairly transient life and were hard to track down sometimes. Especially after a bar closed, employees would scatter to different jobs in other cities, cell numbers would change, people moved on," Dundon says. "The work isn't about these kids' sexuality, it's about their insistence on personal identity in the face of collectivism."

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To plan a visit to mainland China's most gay-friendly city, check out our Out City Guide: Shanghai.
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