By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“China Queer,” an installment of Fusion TV’s “The Naked Truth” documentary series, takes the viewer inside China, China’s LGBTQ scene, and the rapidly-imploding rights of LGBTQ people to self-expression and their own identities. For the documentary narrator, the job went beyond sitting in front of a microphone.
Omar Sharif Jr., grandson to the famous actor Omar Sharif, is part Egyptian Muslim and part Jewish.
He can claim no Chinese or Asian blood. But he’s out and proud, and he was happy to contribute to the project.
“I had a very public coming out in Egypt,” explained the actor. “During the Arab Spring, that gave me a platform to advocate for those living in oppressive societies and in fear.” Sharif served as a national spokesperson for GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and he currently serves with the Human Rights Foundation (HRF).
“The documentary,” according to Sharif, “speaks to LGBTQ life in China — the big challenges as well as some of the more limited triumphs that local activists face. It speaks to the political and cultural landscape, but also to the personal stories of its subjects — and I think it’s in this intersection that ‘The Naked Truth: China Queer’ finds its uniqueness.”
The 45-minute documentary explores gay men, lesbians, and transsexuals, shows the Chinese organizations that serve these communities, and follows the private and public lives of activists and more “ordinary” citizens. It also details the struggles of LGBTQ individuals against the government, which seems to be turning against them, and the strictures of Chinese cultural expectations, which historically places a high value on marrying and reproducing.
Some of the interviewees aren’t willing to be identified, and given government harassment, surveillance, and iron-handed police tactics, this isn’t surprising. Some segments use hidden-camera footage to examine, for example, Chinese “conversion therapy” clinics, which promise to turn queer people straight — for a fee. This widely-debunked practice continues to be popular in China, mostly through parents who hope against hope that their queer children can be changed.
“I think the scariest part of the process,” mused Sharif on recording his narration, “was hearing some of the stories. While my coming out story wasn’t easy, I received threats of violence and intimidation, I was never imprisoned, I was never forced into conversion therapy, and I had a family that loved me unconditionally. It’s so difficult to hear some of these stories that are, simply put, of people just trying to love the person they love or be the person they are.”
Asked about future plans, Sharif affirmed, “I plan on continuing to travel and speak out for human rights, equality, and freedom of all kinds as an ambassador for the Human Rights Foundation.
“Human history is — overall — one of progress. We just need not be afraid to work for it.”
“The Naked Truth: China Queer” premieres on June 26 at 9 p.m. on Fusion TV. For more information on the “Naked Truth” series, visit fusion.net/show/the-naked-truth.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.