khrushcheva142_ PHILIPPE LOPEZAFP via Getty Images_china gay law PHILIPPE LOPEZAFP via Getty Images

Homophobes and Autocrats

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently became the latest in a long line of autocrats to treat anyone who does not conform to conventional gender norms – particularly gay and effeminate men – as menaces to society. But what is it about “non-manly” men that so terrifies dictators?

MOSCOW – China’s government has banned “sissy” and “effeminate” males from television, part of a vicious propaganda campaign that brands them as “abnormal” and somehow in violation of the country’s morals. President Xi Jinping’s targeting of gay men – and of anyone who doesn’t conform to conventional standards of masculinity – should not be surprising. Homophobia is an authoritarian trademark.

When I was a student at Moscow State University in the early 1980s, one of my classmates – a soft-spoken lover of literature – was expelled, supposedly for plagiarism. But I’ll never forget when another classmate leaned in and whispered that, in fact, our expelled peer’s crime was that “he was gay.”

Whatever his sexuality, our classmate was clearly deemed too gentle for our “heroic” Soviet milieu. Indeed, even women had to be virile: images of worker-maids in orange vests plowing snow and hammering nails were all too common in the Soviet era. But for men, being anything less than a quintessential “man’s man” – chest puffed out and rifle at the ready – was, for all intents and purposes, criminal.

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