Queer Legacies in Chinese Medicine

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.28.00 AM.png

I once asked my grandmother if she knew queer people in the old society, meaning before the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949. My grandmother's stories were generally divided between the old society and post-revolution. 

Oh yes, she said, your grandfather's uncle. The story goes this uncle was married to a woman, but he was not interested in her. He had a long affair with his apprentice in the family herb shop. When the uncle died, his apprentice in turn had an affair with his wife! 

I love this story on so many levels. The fact that my grandfather's uncle continued working in the family herb shop, meaning he was accepted by both his community and his family, and people continued seeking him as an herbalist. The fluidity of the apprentice, who was not bound to a gay/straight dichotomy. Moreover, his wife was not a passive figure in the story - she ended up getting a piece of the action too! This story also shatters my stereotype of the "old society" as more conservative or less liberated than the new.

This little family story is but a tiny part of I'm sure a long legacy of queer healers in Chinese medicine, a legacy that often gets left out of history books. I'm comforted to know these ancestors did not suppress their sexuality, and that their healing work was integral to their community. These days finding myself in the family trade in a different place, different time, I'm grateful to know of this lineage of queer Chinese medicine practitioners, and hope we can uncover more of their stories.