Emperor Ai was also famous for being the most effusive of ten homosexual emperors of the Han Dynasty. Traditional historians characterized the relationship between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian as one between homosexual lovers and referred to their relationship as "the passion of the cut sleeve" after a story that one afternoon after falling asleep for a nap on the same bed, Emperor Ai cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the sleeping Dong Xian when he had to get out of bed. Dong was noted for his relative simplicity contrasted with the highly ornamented court, and was given progressively higher and higher posts as part of the relationship, eventually becoming the supreme commander of the armed forces by the time of Emperor Ai's death. Dong was afterward forced to commit suicide.
Gay love was refered to as tuan hsiu, or the passion of the "cut sleeve".