Hong Kong may be a well-developed metropolis which touts itself as “Asia’s World City,” but it’s quite backward in one major way. Some members of the territory’s society consider homosexuality an aberration. One such person is tycoon Cecil Chao who, on finding that his daughter Gigi had married her longtime female partner in France (where same-sex marriages are allowed), publicly offered to pay a “talented” man $64 million to woo and “cure” his offspring of her lesbianism.
All this has recently been entertaining the Hong Kong public. Chao, who is 76, often appears in society pages squiring around various glamorous women and has produced a son with a Vietnamese-American model who later found that her marriage to him was a sham. Gigi Chao, 33, who has already received many marriage proposals from men around the world as a result of her father’s offer, views his antics with amused tolerance. But she obviously takes her marriage vows with her Chinese mate seriously.
Lately the Hong Kong government has been trying to change the local homophobic mindset by running public address announcements over radio and TV urging employers to hire job-seekers regardless of their sexual orientation. The Equal Opportunities Commission has called all discrimination unacceptable. But the older generation in this wealthy city seems stuck in 1950s mode.
Very much inhabiting 2012, Myrna and Connie are not a fictional Pinay couple (though their names are). They are flesh-and-blood young women who don’t advertise the fact of their lesbianism even though the community they live in knows them as a loving couple. Connie wears her hair in a severe crew-cut and dresses mannishly while Myrna sports long hair and feminine outfits. Working as domestics for a European couple, they are accepted and tolerated by their compatriots—as are a young Davaoeño and his middle-aged Belgian partner Pierre. Pablo stays home, gardens and travels around the world with Pierre who runs a trading firm. They enjoy throwing parties, and give a touch of class to the New Territories community they live in.
Though being bakla (or bayot in Visayan) in the Philippines is accepted and tolerated, the idea of same-sex marriage now gaining ground in the West is not and may never be, thanks to the Church and our own hidebound society. Nevertheless Pinay domestics with same-sex partners in Hong Kong are known and accepted as “asawa” to each other.
Homosexuality among Hongkongers has been quietly acknowledged for some years now, with sex between men decriminalized in 1994. Organizations dealing with the issue of lesbians, bisexuals, gays, and transgenders (LBGT) exist here, as in the West. Though conservative elements believe they are an unacceptable influence on young impressionable people, they are quietly tolerated. The practice of subjecting homosexuals to shock therapy in an attempt to “cure” them has been used in this former British colony, but one doesn’t hear of it often being done. Instead one hears of crackpot moves like Cecil Chao’s whose bizarre reaction to his daughter’s lesbianism involves throwing money at a problem to try and solve it, which is the typical Hong Kong way.
Hong Kong’s tourist draw at Statue Square is where one can find LBGTs among the territory’s Pinoy domestics relaxing on weekends.
With females being the majority of the migrant workers in the territory, it’s natural for lesbians to thrive among them, with only bigoted religious types praying for their repentance and “redemption.”
There are 10 Pinay lesbian associations. Some of the members may be needled by their “straight” colleagues and are sometimes gossiped about, but by and large most are accepted as free to do as they wish. Some are singers, dress designers, hairdressers, make-up artists, etc., who do not have hidden lives in “closets”—though they may, on visits back to the Philippines, cover up their unconventional relationships so as not to upset their relatives.
Pinay same-sex couples are no doubt astonished that anyone would offer a bounty to a male so as to “cure” a lesbian, as Mr Chao has done. Already labeled a moral hypocrite, that millionaire obviously believes homosexuality violates traditional Chinese values, while he himself has had no compunction in publicizing his sexual exploits with the opposite sex (obviously indulging in the old Chinese custom of concubinage). Many like him can claim that homosexuality is a Western import, and deny the fact that it has existed throughout the annals of Chinese history. But in a town where money rules, to ignore the universal human need for companionship, affection and love, as Cecil Chao has done, reveals a closed backward mind.