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“I said whatever was needed to get out,” he told me.
Over a decade later, it’s still not uncommon for families to admit their relatives for conversion therapy including electro-shock and injections.
Most of them chose not to use their real names while on board, instead introducing themselves with social-media aliases or by their relationship to the person who had asked them to come aboard: Li Li’s mom, Ah Guo’s dad, and Wood Leaf Mom. Little Lin, a 35-year-old communications technician who wanted to be identified only by his nickname, did the same.
A graduate from a top Chinese university, Lin lives with his parents in Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai, where he has a stable job with a state-owned company, and owns an apartment in the city’s expensive downtown.
Like in a three-star Chinese hotel, there are golden handrails and door frames, a piano, and a goofy robot to welcome the passengers. Chinese parents often dictate every step of their children’s lives, from marrying young to having a secure career.
On the top deck, a wooden stage had been installed over the ship’s lone swimming pool, putting it out of commission for the trip. Any kind of behavior that challenges mainstream conventions is something of an embarrassment for the family.
In his last few days in the hospital, he was forced to watch gay pornography while a doctor snapped at his wrist with a rubber band for 20 minutes at a time.
Lin eventually told the doctor what he wanted to hear: that he couldn’t feel anything when watching the movies.
Zhang Jian, a tall, skinny 35-year-old, and his straight friend, Lu Nao, my roommates on the trip, are often mistaken for a couple.
When Zhou Chenguang invited his mother to take a trip with him, he didn’t tell her that the Glory Sea wasn’t just another cruise.
It wasn’t until she was boarding and saw a guy unrolling a rainbow flag that she realized her son had brought her onto a ship packed with “comrades,” as gay people in China often call themselves. In mid-June, China’s largest gay support group rented it to take LGBT people and their parents, 800 individuals in all, on a four-day journey to help them figure out how to understand and support one another.
But in July, a court ruling awarded a gay man compensation from a public hospital that forced him to undergo such treatment—the first victory of its kind in China. The family converted to Christianity six years ago, after Lin’s father, who now lives on dialysis, was diagnosed with kidney failure due to diabetes.
Since then, Lin’s mother has started to pray every day for his husband’s health, as well as for her son’s conversion.