From countryside to cyberspace: the cruel optimism of live streaming for China’s rural gay men

Thomas William Whyke, FRSA, FHEA, Zeyang Wang, Levi Dean, Altman Yuzhu Peng

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review


In this article, we explore the experiences of male rural Chinese gay live streamers who find themselves at the mercy of “cruel optimism”. This notion, first introduced by Lauren Berlant, explains how people’s attachment to certain objects or ideas which they believe will bring them happiness or a better life can, in fact, be counter intuitive. Berlant argues that this attachment becomes cruel when it results in the individual compromising their own well-being and remaining attached to objects or ideas that are ultimately unattainable and, in some instances, even harmful. To better understand this phenomenon, we employ a critical ethnographic approach to observe the everyday cultural production of rural gay men through live streaming on Blued, China’s most popular gay dating app. Our research findings reveal how the optimistic virtual entertainment streaming world is reinforcing cruel offline hegemonic and heteronormative rural social realities. Live streaming serves as an object of desire for rural gay streamers, as it provides them with the optimism to explore their gay identities and intimacies and create alternative forms of community and belonging. However, despite this optimism, audience members engage in discussions with them about the cruel realities they face. Our analysis contributes to the existing scholarship concerning live streaming within the Chinese LGBTQI + community, particularly by fixing a spotlight on the cruel optimism embedded within rural gay men’s online practices.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalSexuality and Culture
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2023


  • Live streaming
  • China
  • Rural
  • Gay men
  • Cyberspace
  • Cruel Optimism
  • Homosexuality


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