Individually, the character 契 means "to agree" or "to get along well". It is roughly used like the English prefix "god-" and is applied to mutually consenting adoptive relations such as "godmother" (契妈), "godson" (契子), etc., which have been forged after some kind of Chinese ceremony. These relationships are not legally recognised.
The character 弟 means "younger brother".
When combined, the word compound 契弟 may mean:
- godbrother as in sworn/blood/adopted brother.
- younger male homosexual lover (俗: sú, vulgar) or by extension is used to refer to someone pejoratively as a homosexual.
- a male prostitute, gigolo.
- a male-to-female cross-dresser or transwoman.
- bastard (俗: sú, vulgar) (as a pejorative, not in its literal sense).
Bret Hinsch, in chapter 6 of his book 'Passions of the Cut Sleeve: the Male Homosexual Tradition in China', provided a historical reference to qìdì (契弟).
He detailed evidence, derived from the works of literati Li Yu (李漁) and Shen Defu (沈德符), of institutionalised gay marriage practices amongst Hokkien men in Ming dynasty China. The older man in the union would play the masculine role as a qìxīong (契兄) or "adoptive older brother", paying a "bride price" to the family of the younger man (apparently, virgins fetched higher prices) who became the qìdì (契弟), or "adoptive younger brother". Li Yu described the ceremony, "They do not skip the three cups of tea or the six wedding rituals - it is just like a proper marriage with a formal wedding." The qìdì then moved into the household of the qìxīong, where he would be completely dependent on him, be treated as a son-in-law by the qìxīong's parents, and possibly even help raise children adopted by the qìxīong. These marriages could last as long as 20 years before both men were expected to marry women in order to procreate.
In Singapore, Anglophone Europeans who visited Bugis Street when the area was well known for its nightly gathering of transwomen would refer to the latter as kai tais, amongst other slang words such as beanie boys, presumably because they had heard the term while visiting Hong Kong.
- Adam Sheik, CantoDict.
This article was written by Roy Tan.