People across the LGBTQ spectrum recount their experiences of living, working and partying in Hong Kong
Part of the reason for this QX special, is that many of us actually know very little about queer and LGBT life in Hong Kong. While not explicitly known to be cruel or unjust, the treatment of its LGBT community is veiled in mystery, much like other aspects of its society and politics.
In recent years, as with many East Asian countries, Hong Kong has experienced a shift in attitudes towards LGBT issues. Things have become much more liberal and less traditional than they once were, and dialogue surrounding issues such as gay marriage has come to the fore, when it would once have been swept under the carpet.
However, in many ways there’s still a long way to go. We talked to a range of queer people who have lived, worked and partied in Hong Kong, to find out more.
Vitoria Chan, Nightlife Curator
As a non-binary trans person, I find living in Hong Kong very different to London. We have a lot less trans/non-binary visibility, due to the culture of Hong Kong being more fixed on binary gender roles. Whilst in the last few years we’ve made leaps and bounds in the right direction, we aren’t nearly as forward-thinking as London.
Within the expat polysexual community, I feel a lot of acceptance and yearning for more education and understanding on the subject of gender. There are always people who don’t ‘get it’, regardless of sexuality, gender or culture.
One thing that interests me is the progressive nature of the Canto-pop and 1980s party scene of Hong Kong. Icons such as Roman Tam, Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung oozed outlandish and flamboyant costumes that blended gender and captivated a generation in Hong Kong. It is interesting to see the rise of China counteracting the effect of this bygone age of queer visibility in popular media.
The biggest difference between Hong Kong and the UK is probably the focus on status, hierarchy and family. Wealth is key, and protecting the family and personal status is a big thing amongst lots of local people. Being LGBT can be seen as scandalous to local families.
Some extended family of mine live out in Hong Kong, and have been very vocal in their opposition to me being queer. I couldn’t imagine living with close family who didn’t support me for being me. I guess in my experience this comes from a strongly Roman Catholic upbringing, which is common in Macau and Hong Kong.
My mum is Chinese/Portuguese and grew up raised by nuns between Macau and Hong Kong. She now lives in North London and is super-supportive of my drag. From buying me clothing, critiquing my performances and supporting my social media, she is very different to a typical Chinese mother.
I came to Hong Kong for my career and I love my job. Working with Happy Paradise and creating a uniquely polysexual space for all people to enjoy the things I’m passionate about: performance art, creative mixology, eclectic music and larger than life personalities milling around in a neon speakeasy.
I also love the nature of Hong Kong. The scenery is truly beautiful, from jungles to idyllic beaches. Weirdly, hiking has become one of my favourite pastimes. And the people. From expats to locals, Hong Kong truly is a manic mix of eclectic types from all over the world. An excellent place to find interesting characters, and the only place I can truly call home!
Barry Yeung, Recruitment Consultant
I’m a gay man, and to be honest, I don’t think my life would be different whether my parents were from Hong Kong or any other country. I went through the same episodes in life, had the same fear and the same eventual courage to come out and accept myself. However, I think my mother is more accepting than the average HK parent. She took the time to learn and discover how to handle the reality of having a gay son. As accepting as she is though, I don’t really discuss my love life, and I definitely wouldn’t talk about my nights out in XXL with her!
Hong Kong, largely due to the consequence of British rule, and now with the sheer number of expats and foreigners residing in the country, is comparatively more accepting of LBGT issues than other parts of Asia, certainly more so than China. They have an established, albeit small, gay scene, a yearly Pride event that takes place, and the politically-active younger generations are proving to be very liberal and vocal about their views. I don’t think LGBT rights and issues play a big part in the minds of the Hong Kong people. I feel that as long as it’s not someone in their family who is queer, then it’s all fine and they don’t think twice about it. However, when one of their own is recognised as queer, then an element of shame does come into play, and it’s seen as a perversion of their Asian values.
But the people of Hong Kong are really lovely and mild-mannered. They’re well-behaved and quiet compared to the British. It’s all very innocent and polite! I guess because of this, you always feel safe in Hong Kong – even in the early hours, when you’re going home from the bars and clubs. You never feel like you’re in any danger. This is important in a country that’s so densely populated. It may seem like a much tamer place at first, but it’s actually more enjoyable because things never spiral out of control.
Hong Kong is so unique and cosmopolitan, because of the identity it’s unintentionally managed to carve out for itself. As China and Britain come together, it has created this fabulously western world in a distinctively oriental landscape. I’m blown away by it every time I’m there. As a melting pot of different cultures and influences, the best thing about Hong Kong is choice, including what and where to eat, things to see and do, people to interact with and experiences to share. I love Hong Kong because it offers so much. It’s all about pleasures in life and you’ll never be stuck for variety.
Sailor Winley, Drag Performer
When I was in school in Hong Kong, my classmates bullied me and called me names. It sucked. Now that I’ve grown up, I look back at them and realize they were just ugly people, and I was beautiful. In general, the attitude towards LGBT people in Hong Kong is very good. People are open-minded as long as it’s not their blood-relation.
I think the biggest difference between the UK and Hong Kong is that in the UK, I think it’s ok to be different. You can dress however you want, and people won’t judge you. In Hong Kong, that’s only OK in some places. There are loads of places where it’s not.
My favourite thing about Hong Kong is the seafood! It tastes so good ! Hot pot is the best. Food is generally cheaper and nicer, and taxis are so much cheaper too! And the supermarkets are very international. You can basically buy anything you want. I love the beaches too. There are a few different islands, all with amazing beaches and seafood restaurants, like nothing you’d see here.
Le Fil, Recording Artist
Hong Kong is super modern, but very traditional at the same time, which is a difficult landscape for you to navigate and experiment with your gender and sexuality. With the high living costs, many LGBT people choose to live at home – which is a common trait in HK anyway, where you may often traditionally find three generations living under the same roof – which again makes it more difficult to come out.
The gay scene is tiny! It reminds me of being back in the Yorkshire when you’re trying to find hidden spots. And when you turn up, it’s all the familiar types of heteronormative gays in a t-shirt and a blazer. There are no queers, no gender rebels! So with my long hair, people don’t associate that with gender expression, they just think you’re homeless or unruly. It’s uncommon for men to have long hair and not be in drag. So while I get stared at in England, I literally get stared out in Hong Kong.
There is a defiant and growing youth culture in Hong Kong now. I was there during the protests against mainland China’s government, and young people are definitely making their voices heard politically. A lot of it is in contrast with the opinions of the older generations. I think this is something that can really have an effect on LGBT communities there.
London has its own culture which is slowly reaching around the rest of the UK, an open-mindedness about race, class, sexuality and gender. And I think that hasn’t happened in Hong Kong yet because of tradition, respect for your elders, society and previous generations. And also what it means to be a duty-bound son or daughter – which is something I admire and that I think we lack here on the whole. I think there’s something to be learnt from both sides.
I love that Hong Kong never sleeps. I love the energy, the cinematic landscapes, the food, the way public announcements are in three languages! I love Sheung Wan – Hong Kong’s own version of Shoreditch and Peckham joined up by one road that smells like fish! It’s in the dried seafood district and totally reminds me of Peckham Rye pavements, albeit missing the hairweaves that are caught in the fish juice.
Emrys Rhi, Postgraduate Student
I fully acknowledge that I cannot act as a spokesperson for LGBTQ life in Hong Kong. My experience as a white, disabled lesbian (on the genderfluid spectrum) is different to that of many LGBTQ people. Having lived here twenty-four years though, I do feel that the LGBTQ community is still very much underground. Unlike London, where you might head to Soho for solidarity, we don’t appear to have a space in Hong Kong that’s quintessentially “queer”.
It’s telling that our first Pride event was in 2008. I recall feeling the relief of having a community. I was no longer completely alone and adrift with my experiences. This showed how profoundly easy it is to feel isolated, when there’s nowhere for the community to retreat to and connect with others. Hong Kong can be staunchly heteronormative.
However, I do feel like that it’s starting to witness gradual positive change. The community is experiencing allyship through the millennials of Hong Kong; who tend to hold vastly different – and more accepting – values from the older generations. Subsequently, the political backlash against the encroachment of the Communist Party of China in Hong Kong affairs has seen the protection of Human Rights emerge as a leading current to this city. Hopefully, with the continued rejection of CPoC interference and the generational shift in attitudes, we’ll see a rise in LGBTQ visibility in Hong Kong.
Homophobia and transphobia were rife during my time in secondary education. Not only from fellow students, but from staff. The institution refused to use the correct names and pronouns of transgender students. There were incidents of staff members referring to homosexual topics (i.e. romance between members of the same-gender) as “inappropriate”. When trying to start up an LGBT+ and Alliance group, several meetings were attended that – if they had been properly minuted – demonstrated how much opposition there was against creating such a group. LGBTQ identities simply were not spoken of; and it felt like an unspoken rule to maintain that. It took me twenty-four years to feel safe enough to tell extended family and acquaintances about my sexuality. Thankfully, I’m now able to live my truth. The level of relief ‘coming out’ affords is what I want for others. Safe spaces are is vital to that.
Despite some problems with LGBTQ issues, the celebration of diversity is my favourite thing about living here. Hong Kong is an entirely unique place; filled with a variety of culture, racial and religious backgrounds, and languages. It has a character that I have yet to see replicated in anywhere else that I have lived. The city simply does not stand still. There’s always something to do or some place to go. If you desire natural beauty, there is an abundance of hiking trails and beaches; and if you are in the mood for something more urban, there is a lot of beauty in this too. Not to mention – the food. If you are to come to Hong Kong for anything, it is to eat. There is such a wonderful and positive eating culture here. There is so much hope for development in Hong Kong due to its vibrancy. I know it has the potential to grow, if left to its own devices to do so.