Homosexuals in China are increasingly opting for what they call "contract marriage" with a member of the opposite sex - but where no sex or love is involved - to alleviate the pressure on their parents to see them marry, said lesbian Chinese documentary film-maker He Xiaope.
He, who in Bangkok this week screened a documentary she directed in 2011 titled "Marriage for Convenience", said many such "couples" kept the knowledge that their "marriage" was bogus from their parents for fear that they might not be able to live with the truth.
The 80-minute film, which was screened at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on Thursday, was made on condition that the images and real identities of the four female participants would be kept private.
The film introduces viewers to the challenge faces by the four mid-20s women, who lived together as two couples in a rented apartment in a big city in northeastern China, and how they all eventually and individually opted for contract marriages with gay men.
Chinese police have cracked down on the film in the past, preventing it from being screened in public during some film festivals, said He.
But people captured in the documentary said that through the Internet, they had learned that there were actually a significant number of Chinese who were homosexual. "I never expected our [gay] community to be enormous," one was quoted as saying in the film.
In most cases, Internet chat rooms provide the opportunity to seek prospects for contract marriage. Couples who end up in such a marriage promise not to interfere with one another's lives, to have financial independence - and many live apart in different cities.
One lesbian featured in the film, whose screening in Bangkok was hosted by Anjaree, a Thai group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists, said that even if one day China legalised gay marriage, she would still likely have opted for contract marriage because of the persistent social expectation that only a marriage between a man and a woman is considered as normal.
In one instance in the documentary, a fake diamond ring - temporarily obtained for the purpose - was used during a contract wedding ceremony.
In China, pictures of homosexuality are still not permitted, but the four women featured in the film, who called themselves the "Revolutionary Queer Alliance", were determined to share their lives together, they said after the screening.
Some also said that even though the marriages were bogus, and it was agreed that the non-legally binding contract could be terminated if either party fell seriously ill, the ability to connect as friends was still a prerequisite for such a marriage.