The space between us all
Louise Choi finds out how Hong Kong’s cramped living quarters affect the city’s lesbian community
Chances are that you’re reading this article while sitting in your shoebox-sized apartment in Hong Kong. A small number of you might even be among the city’s lesbian community. If so, you’ll understand why this combination of traits has attracted the attention of Dr Denise Tang, assistant professor of sociology at HKU.
With her latest research, Tang published the academic book entitled Conditional Spaces – it investigates and discusses the way Hong Kong’s living density affects how lesbians, bisexual women and transgender individuals see the world. “That’s why I called the book Conditional Spaces – because I feel it conditions the opportunities you can have in one’s life.” The term ‘spaces’ in Tang’s book is quite abstract – it can represent much more than just physical, tangible living space but also social, cultural and political spaces that either limit or encourage lesbian activities.
Having set off on a research project about lesbian desires and their everyday lives, Tang found she could not escape the issue of space. After speaking with 30 lesbian women, she found that the thread that linked them all was the notion of space, or lack of it.
Tang gives an example about how political and regulatory spaces like churches and schools have confined lesbian desires in their everyday existence. “When I talked to young people, they spoke about how they felt they were discriminated in the school space.” She further explains that young girls would try to choose schools in neighbourhoods that would treat them better. Tang also says that the church is an important space for lesbian women. “It’s difficult for them because it is almost impossible to come out in church, publically.”
Thankfully, Tang does mention spaces which are a ‘safe haven’ for the city’s lesbian population. “Causeway Bay keeps coming up – I couldn’t avoid it!” Her research candidates often quoted the district as a favourite meeting place. Tellingly, Causeway Bay was the district where Hong Kong’s first lesbian bars and clubs opened. And nowadays, the cafés hidden in upper floors of CWB buildings are popular among the lesbian community. “Even on street level,” says Tang, “you see all these young people holding hands and very obviously – a tomboy with her girlfriend. It’s kind of hard to miss that.”
Conditional Spaces is the newest publication in the Queer Asia series, which started in 2008 from HKU Press. The series is a first of its kind and provides a platform for university academics to publish their findings on queer culture in Asia. While queer theory originated in, and has typically been dominated by North America and Europe, Tang and her fellow authors prove that the queer cultures and practices in Asia are equally of interest. The Queer Asia series has opened a serious door into investigation of not only a particular sexuality but also a particular ethnographic group. Denise Tang is hopeful the series will promote Asia as a valuable place for queer study. “It’s so hard to find a series so dedicated not only to queer study, but to Asia. I think academically… the trend is like in business – you can see a lot more interest now in Asia than before.”
Conditional Spaces is published by HKU Press, priced at $195