Men who have sex with men (MSM) are a diverse population yet are often treated as a monolithic risk group. In China, MSM have long been characterized as a "bridge population" of closeted men who are married to (or will marry) women due to sociocultural expectations. Latent class models can inform a more nuanced yet empirical characterization of this population. In total, 1424 eligible respondents recruited online provided self-reported behavioral data. Nine items related to constructs including sexual behaviors, sexual orientation, and gender identity informed the latent class model. Logistic regression was used to measure associations between latent class membership and HIV-related sexual and health-seeking behaviors. Model fit indicated a population structure made up of four classes that we characterized as "Gender nonconforming" (4.3%), "Closeted-unmarried" (29.9%), "Closeted-married" (24.6%), and "Out" (41.2%). Members of the "gender nonconforming" class were more likely to report HIV-related risk behaviors, and "Closeted-unmarried" class members were less likely to report health-seeking behaviors, both relative to "Out" members. The largest latent class was made up of members of the "Out" class, an enlightening revision of a population traditionally viewed as largely closeted men. Two types of "closeted" classes emerged, distinguished by divergent tendencies regarding marriage and health seeking. Findings suggest that current understandings of Chinese MSM are simplistic (regarding closeted behaviors) and too narrow (in its definition of MSM as cisgender men). A more nuanced understanding of MSM subgroups and their heterogeneous risk behaviors will be critical for provision of more meaningful prevention services.
Keywords: Gender identity; HIV risk behaviors; Latent class analysis; Men who have sex with men; Sexual orientation.