NAVIGATING WHITENESS IN QUEER SPACES PART I: HONG KONG
WORDS BY HUNG YUEN LAM
Once a British colony for more than a century, many local Chinese still strive to pursue whiteness or at least its proximity. Being a queer child of Indonesian and Bhutanese Chinese immigrants in British Colonial Hong Kong, I was spoon-fed Eurocentrism, through an education system built in accordance with what our past colonial masters perceived as the only standards of academic excellence (i.e. a mastery of the English language and subjects that were of little relevance to Asians).
Those who failed to meet these standards were left with a sense of guilt and feelings of “not being good enough” despite having other strengths that were more in-line with our upbringing. I was told to polish my English and be as adjacent to whiteness as possible. I tried my utmost to camouflage my heavy “Chinglish” accent, not only while I was in school, but for many years to come. On top of that, during my puberty years, through Western media and culture that was and continues to be prevalent in Hong Kong, I was conditioned to worship mainstream images of white, hard-bodied, cis males with blond hair and blue eyes.
“I was spoon-fed Eurocentrism, through an education system built in accordance with what our past colonial masters perceived as the only standards of academic excellence…”
Most of my cousins grew up with Southeast Asian domestic helpers, resembling a white middle-class family. Being able to associate myself with the image of wealthy Asian families with domestic workers allowed me to practice dominance (i.e. whiteness). Thanks to my “exotic” Bhutanese heritage and the ability to speak fluent English, I was able to inhibit my Han Chinese image, conveniently disguising myself with mixedness, or an undefined white racial ambiguity, as long as it distanced me far away from my roots. It became a survival mechanism to play into white assimilation narratives in order to benefit from white desires and stay atop of white cisheteropatriarchy.
My physicality and my white adjacent privilege greatly impacted my experience in neocolonial white capitalist society, particularly within the LGBTQIA+ community. As non-white bodies feed into the Asian hierarchy and colonial masculinity, those who are capable to “pass” are deemed more desirable. The White-Man-Asian-Boy and the Fit-Top-Effeminate-Bottom pairings were institutionalized in Queer communities and had become the most generic and harmful stereotypes of gay relationships, exposing the social acceptance of a rigid dichotomy between default masculine whiteness and the submissive, exotic, feminized Asianness.
“The White-Man-Asian-Boy and the Fit-Top-Effeminate-Bottom pairings were institutionalized in Queer communities and had become the most generic and harmful stereotypes of gay relationships…”
My Grandmother survived a life of abuse in her fight to establish our family in Hong Kong. Her courage and positivity were passed onto me through proverbs that give me the courage to persevere. “A bird does not change its feathers because the weather is bad” she would say.
I remind myself who I am: a vortex of birthplaces, trans-oceanic travels, and cultural preservation, all leading to my sense of “otherness.” My genderqueerness is not hegemonic and will most likely never be. Decolonizing is still a work in progress. In unlearning the hegemony of patriarchy, we must learn how to be independent of the white cisheteropatriarchy and constantly learn, unlearn and relearn to ensure that Non-White, Non-Adonic bodies matter.
To provide context to Hung’s piece they wish to premise that they are light-skinned and East Asian and that this is their experience as an able-bodied, Han Chinese person with cis male passing features.