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Reality Dykes

The prejudice towards girls who like girls is diminishing. Is Hong Kong finally getting a lesbian scene? By Emily Ashman, illustrations by Jacklyn Tam

By Emily Ashman | Sep 14, 2006

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  • Reality Dykes
  • Reality Dykes

Ah, that “L” word; a term that conjures images of overweight feminists in stonewashed dungarees or porn stars cavorting in an ugly hotel room… but nothing could be farther from the truth. With an explosion of girl-on-girl events happening across the city, it seems Hong Kong’s lesbians are finally grabbing those old preconceptions by the balls and pulling the city out of dyke-denial obscurity. Even Cantopop stars have been allegedly at it, with friendly rumors constantly swirling around several high-profile Cantopop stars.

“There is no doubt that lesbianism is now a lot more visible in Hong Kong,” says Vicci Ho, 25, a lesbian event manager who is on the organizing committee for the Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. “I came back to Hong Kong two years ago after living in Sydney and I remember being stunned to see two young girls kissing on the MTR. People around them weren’t bothered at all and just behaved like it was the most normal thing in the world,” Ho says. She was so encouraged by the positive reception lesbians experienced in Hong Kong that she decided to set up her own monthly girls night, KiteKat, at Bliss in SoHo. “There are loads of events around for girls who are up for crazy partying, but I wanted to do an event that had a more chilled-out vibe, so new people wouldn’t feel intimidated to come along, “ she explains. “I think there is now room for different types of nights within the lesbian scene, catering to all different types of women. I know lesbians that are my parents age – they don’t want to go clubbing on the weekend, but they do want to socialize with like-minded people.”

Indeed, for event managers, the lesbian scene is exploding in Hong Kong. Eunice Fu is helping shipping a bevy of eager Hong Kong lesbians to the first three-day lesbian DJ event in Asia. Organized by popular gay website Fridae.com, W@Nation will take place in Phuket in October and Fu is working with local lesbian event company HK Queenz. “It’s going to be absolutely huge,” she says.

Dyke Divisions

As the lesbian scene broadens in Hong Kong so does the minefield of nicknames and lingo, and the roles that sometimes come with them. “The Hong Kong lesbian scene seems to combine a lot of notions from all over the world,” explains Ho. “The tomboy and tomboy-girl thing is certainly not a new concept, but I do feel it’s more common in Asia. In Sydney, there was the attitude that anything goes. Here, some girls feel they need to stick to their chosen role and the rules that come with it. For example, TBs (tomboys) don’t generally date other TBs.” (See below for explanations of the terminology.)

So why do people feel the need to pigeonhole themselves like this? “Hong Kong may appear to be liberal, but it’s not an easy place to come out,” explains Ho. “Women find themselves locked into their family’s expectations and many traditional Chinese families certainly don’t take the idea of lesbianism very seriously. So I think by developing a certain role, these girls can cling to a greater sense of community which helps them wear their lesbianism like a badge and separate themselves from the straight girls.”

Lesbian labels can both help and hinder the girl-on-girl dating process. Alice Li, a 21-year-old single lesbian at HKU says the labels often speed up the process when dating online. “I’d describe myself as ‘femme’ and I don’t really go for butch girls or TB’s, so when I’m dating online it’s sometimes useful to know exactly what everyone’s into. It just saves a lot of wasted time and energy,” she explains. “I don’t bother going on any dates with someone who describes themselves as ‘butch,’ I know what I like so I don’t need to try anything new.”

But while some lesbians are happily identifying themselves with these labels, others find the whole process confusing. “I was on a lesbian forum last week and came across a posting from this girl who really worried because she defined herself as a TB but found herself attracted to other TBs [who don’t generally date, according to these labels],” says Ho. “At that point, you think these labels are getting out of control. Lesbians already face narrow-minded views in society – the last thing they need is to start creating more angst within their own community.”

Indeed, some lesbians find the idea of subscribing to these roles ridiculous to the point it’s offensive. “I really don’t get it,” declares gay rights activist Anita Patel. “All this role-play seems to cloud what it really is to be a lesbian, that, purely and simply, you’re a woman who desires other women, “ she says. “I feel somewhat uncomfortable that some women feel the need to adopt roles that originated in heterosexual dating. I think part of the problem is the Chinese media have gone scandal crazy on lesbians in the limelight and morphed the idea of lesbian dating into this exaggerated puppet show where you always have a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’. I’m sure some lesbians feel pressure as a result of these articles to adopt one of these roles in order to be accepted in the scene.”

The Lesbian-Crazy Media Frenzy

“In Hong Kong, I don’t think lesbians are accepted nor not accepted,” says Betty Grisoni, as she surveys the legions of women cramming into the club D’Apartment for her monthly lesbian night, “Les Peches.” “Many people in Hong Kong don’t take lesbianism too seriously or they see it as a phase or something. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I think because gay men tend to go out more, they have almost demanded acceptance. It’s taken longer for women to claim their own piece of the city,” she explains. “I find gay men now seem to be more accepted in the media but gay women are still seen as this slightly odd group.”

“The Chinese media is constantly pointing lesbians out and commenting about them," agrees Collette Koo, the straight managing director at gay-friendly club Drop. “I’m not sure if this makes attitudes toward gay women better or worse. In a sense, lesbians have just become someone else to point fingers at or make waves about for the sake of newspaper sales.” So rather than improve the situation for lesbians, are Hong Kong’s tabloids just turning them into a weird object to point and laugh at?

Eunice Fu also has mixed feelings about the role the media are playing in the acceptance of lesbians in Hong Kong. “It can go either way, positive or negative. An out-and-proud gay icon could do a lot for the lesbian image in Hong Kong,” she explains. “Hong Kong has some fantastic lesbian icons. Take [Director of Commercial Radio] Winnie Yu, for example. Women like that really stand up for the gay community here and, in recent years, have helped build acceptance.”

However, every gay woman I spoke to agreed that tabloids, by surrounding alleged lesbians with hype and speculation, are turning lesbianism into a sordid story lumped together with tales of drug abuse and polygamy – and this only seems to foster segregation and prejudice. “The tabloids have openly called some Hong Kong celebrities really horrible names while suggesting they have had affairs with other women. They seem to be able to get away with using really abusive language and just being totally offensive about their attitude toward lesbians. And no one says anything,” says Fu. “This kind of story only adds to the opinion that lesbians belong to this weird sub-group of society that should be seen as freakish and not generally accepted.”

The Future for Hong Kong’s lesbians

“It almost feels like Hong Kong’s lesbians are in a transition period at the moment,” says HKU student Alice Li. “With my generation, I often feel like there’s no issue at all, but then with my parent’s generation, it’s a totally different story. When I tried to come out to my mom and dad, at first they shouted as though I’d done something wrong and now they just deny it. If I ever try and bring it up, they immediately change the subject. It’s like they think if they ignore it, it will go away.”

“I’m sure there will come a time when people won’t be afraid to tell their parents or their work colleagues,” agrees Vicci Ho. “The situation has gotten much better, but at the moment I still have lot of friends who are leading a double life. By night and at weekends in their social circle they are openly lesbian, but during the day, at work, or with their family, they just don’t talk about it. It’s not like they’re denying they’re lesbians - they just feel pressure to keep that aspect of their life private.”

However, in the past three years alone, Hong Kong has moved from having absolutely no lesbian-specific events to having a different event almost every week. There may be a long way to go until our older generation accepts that being a lesbian isn’t depraved or wrong, or until the government enforces anti-discrimination acts for gays in the work place, but in the words of one reveler I spoke to at monthly lesbian night Les Peches: “We’ve come an incredibly long way. It’s surely only a matter of time until sexuality really isn’t an issue any more and lesbians can finally have their way running wild all over city.”

Lesbian Lingo

There is much dispute about the exact definition of lesbian terminology and they vary from country to country, but after several arguments and several more vodkas at Les Peches in D’Apartement, we managed to nail down these definitions from our harem of lesbian contributors.

TB: A tomboy. They generally sports a boyish look with short hair and men’s clothes. TBs usually only date TBGs (see below). TBs are known to bind their breasts or wear sports bras to adopt a more manly silhouette. In the bedroom, they’re expected to be a more dominating partner, in other words, by taking the traditional male role and work their magic on top.
TBG or Lao-po (wife): A tomboy’s girl. She is a girly girl that only dates TBs and tends to have a penchant for frilly miniskirts, glitter and Hello Kitty. In the bedroom, she is expected to be more passive and stay on the bottom.
Femme or Lipstick Lesbian: A highly feminine woman who likes women, no matter what shade of TB or TBG. Many are more attracted to bi-curious girls professing to be straight.
Butch, Bulldykes or Bulldaggers: These girls are highly butch and dress, walk, talk and behave in a manly way. They go for women of all sorts.
Andro: These girls don’t necessarily bind themselves but have a very androgynous look. They haven’t totally dismissed their femininity, but then they’re not quite lipstick lesbians either.
Pure or Bufen: A lesbian who doesn’t want to label herself, who refuses to stick to any one role or any set of hidden regulations and as a result has been given a label all of her own.

The Girls Have Their Say

We hit the fantastically fun Les Peches in D’Apartment (B/F, California Entertainment Building, 34-36 D’Aguilar St., Central, 2523-2002) to find out what the ladies had to say for themselves

Emma Li, 23 (right) and Margery Perry, 21 (left).

Emma: “I don’t think it’s a case that lesbians are necessarily becoming more accepted, I just don’t think people register us.”
Margery: “I’ve literally just arrived in Hong Kong. I found the websites great and really welcoming and was pretty much immediately invited out tonight, so on first impressions it certainly seems like a very lesbian friendly city.”

Tate, 28 (left) and Winnie, 30 (Right)

Tate: “I guess you could say we’re a TB and TBG couple. I do tend to go for more feminine girls, but I wouldn’t restrict myself to that type. If you are attracted to someone, you’re attracted to someone – there’s no point limiting yourself.”
Winnie: “I think lesbians are becoming more accepted now, we can walk down the street holding hands and people don’t really notice anymore. It’s definitely better than it was.”

Stephanie (left), Ruby (Middle), Suki (Right)

Stephanie: “I would definitely say that the Hong Kong lesbian scene has grown over the last few years. But I don’t think it’s because there are more lesbians, I think it’s because people feel happier to disclose that they’re lesbians and celebrate it now”

Jane Fair (left) and Amy Somerville (right)

Jane: “I’ve been here just under a year now and before I arrived, I was looking on the online and as an expat, the scene seemed very daunting. But once I got here it was actually very welcoming. It’s a very multicultural scene and everyone is friendly and open to meeting new people. It’s almost like sexuality can bridge cultural gaps.”
Amy: “I think the way other people react to your sexuality all depends on how you accept yourself as a person. If you’re happy with yourself and you accept what you are, other people are inclined to feel the same way. However, it’s easy for me to say that, having grown up in the UK where you come out and it’s a big song and dance and everyone celebrates for you. Here, I think people are much more reserved and find it difficult to come out. In the future, I’d love to see a lesbian bar open in Hong Kong – it sucks that we have to wait for the first Tuesday of every night for Les Peches!”

Hong Kong Lesbian Forums

GLB Hong Kong: www.sqzm14.ust.hk/hkgay
Hong Kong Lesbians: www.communityzero.com/hkles
Queer Sisters: Support forum for lesbians: www.qs.org.hk
Tongzhi Travel Agents, a gay and lesbian-friendly travel agency: www.tongzhi.holidays.com, 2982-8281
www.asia.thepinksofa.com
www.blur-F.com

www.gaystation.com.hk

Lesbian Events and Bars

KiteKat: Lesbian speed dating event that happens on the first Sunday of every month in Bliss, 1 Elgin St., Central, 2147-2122

Les Peches: A strictly ladies night held on the first Tue of every month in D’Apartment, 34-36 D’Aguilar St., Lan Kwai Fong, 2523-2002.

The Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival: From Oct 26 to Nov 5 in IFC Palace Cinema. For more information on the program, check out www.hklff.hk

Club 64: A lesbian-friendly bar but all are welcome. G/F 12-14 Wing Wah Lane, Central, 2523-2801.

Home Entertainment Club: A lesbian pub and karaoke bar.18/F, Circle Plaza, 499 Hennessy Rd., Causeway Bay, 2891-3266

Virus: A hip and happening lesbian hangout. 6/F, Allways Centre, 468 Jaffe Rd., Causeway Bay, 2904-7207, 2904-7213.

Loft Bar: A cool lesbian spot for a nice Sunday afternoon. 2/F, 126-128 Lockhart Rd., Wan Chai (above Hin Ho restaurant), 2866-3268.

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