All around the world, queer people are fighting for visibility, representation, and equality. Adding to the conversation is Chinese photographer Bowei Young, whose series ‘Soft Thorn’ features poetic, self-reflective images depicting the struggles, joys, and complexities of queer love in his native home town.
In China, despite recent gains for equality, the opposition to homosexuality remains steadfast and unyielding; it was only officially removed from a documented list of mental illnesses in China in 2001. In a survey by the organization WorkForLGBT, up to a third of those who answered had not yet come out to those around them; with 80% being reluctant to do so due to family pressure. For Young, family stigma was compounded by religious stigma: growing up in a Christian family added an extra barrier to his path to accepting his own sexuality. “Thus, I was compelled to accept psychological treatment since fifteen, when I first told my parents about my ‘sin’,” he tells IGNANT. “It put me in a new kind of dilemma, where I was conscious of my different sexual orientation.”
After departing his home for where he presently lives—London—the photographer set out to record the journey of his road to acceptance. In ‘Soft Thorn’, Young explores the spectrum of sexuality through his own experience, documenting both the contemporary Chinese LGBTQI community that he surrounds himself with, as well as the Christian relatives he grew up around. “As a photo-based queer artist, pondering young queers’ predicaments combined with a sense of nostalgia and the Oedipus complex became the main collision in my practice,” he says. The Oedipus complex is a psychological term coined by Sigmund Freud to describe a child’s unconscious sexual desire for their opposite-sex parent, whilst displaying negativity towards their same-sex parent; a complex which plays a role in the phallic stage of psychosexual development. Controversially, Freud believed that homosexuality in men is rooted firmly in the Oedipus complex—the result of an abnormal pattern of attachment.
Young’s work pushes back against this archaic theory. ‘Soft Thorn’ metaphorically expresses the complex emotions that come with being queer in a world that isn’t ready to accept you: a lone butterfly flutters against a tumultuous grey sky, a gushing, relentless waterfall is contrasted against a moment of contemplation, and soft, candid portraits reveal an intimacy and truth too powerful to deny. “As those models are mainly my close queer friends and Christian relatives, I am prone to performing my sentiments and sorrows, so as to capture myself in them,” he says. “ I’m attempting to penetrate into a deeper layer of people’s psychic world, from another perspective: mine”.