One Girl's Story: Coming Out in Hong Kong Still Painful

One Girl's Story: Coming Out in Hong Kong Still Painful
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

From attempted suicide to acceptance: One girl’s coming out in Hong Kong reveals the many challenges the LGBT community there continues to face.

Shane Ng walked through the streets of Hong Kong crying. Walking from one part of the city to another, Ng – then 14 – didn’t know where to go. It was May of 2011. She had just separated with the girl she was dating.

Later that night, Ng’s mother scolded her for coming home late and not explaining why she was crying. Ng rushed to her room, slammed and locked the door and within seconds, slit her left wrist.

“I don’t talk about [being lesbian] and can’t show [my homosexuality],” she says in Mandarin.

While there are are no official statistics, there are about 40 million homosexual males and females like Ng in China, according to a Zhang Beichuan (張北川), a professor at Qingdao University Medical School who noted this statistic in 2012. Hong Kong, Taiwan and China don’t officially recognize same-sex marriage, unlike the United States where it was legalized last year. Many LGBT individuals hide their true sexual orientation in fear of not being accepted; many enter into “cooperative marriages” or fake marriages to appease their families. Non-supporters of gay marriage in China restrict LGBT rights in the workplace. A 2013 Pew survey found China’s population divided on homosexuality with 21% accepting and 57% rejecting it.

According to China’s LGBT advocates, the absence of anti-discrimination laws in Hong Kong and China result in many LGBT individuals losing their job because of their sexual orientation. This explains why hiding one’s sexuality from colleagues and family is the smartest option, according to senior instructor of Chinese language, Denise Huang Gigliotti, of the Department of East Asian Languages & Literatures at the University of Oregon.

“It’s the idea of being afraid of disappointing your parents,” she says. “Especially the father, not chasing him away and having the 'you’re no longer my son reaction.'”

She adds despite trying to hide their sexuality, these responses are quite common today. Most Chinese professionals and top government officials associate homosexual behavior with perversion in the workplace and home, according to Huang.

“You can see the argument from the opposing side as them equating homosexuality with perversion,” Huang says. “They think that ‘if we allow this to happen, then we also have to allow people having sex with animals, kids and everything else.’”

Participants hold giant rainbow flags during the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade in Taipei
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
Participants hold giant rainbow flags during the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade in Taipei

Huang notes that this attitude mostly stems from arguments with older generations of Chinese people who distort homosexuality. “They want to equate and blow it all up, while also arguing that if you support them, you also support all of these other perverted actions.”

She states that these individuals grew up when the Chinese communist government, and its leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), disowned LGBT ideas, so there’s an educational rift between the younger generations of Chinese who are more open to gay rights.

“[The older generation] was not taught what to think on this subject,” Huang says. “A lot of it starts with education, so they think ‘why is my kid not normal and sick?’”

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Huang and many other experts believe LGBT issues will not be problematic in the future. The older generation of Chinese people will pass away, and the younger generation will change the culture surrounding homosexuality

Taiwan, for instance, is shifting its thinking and becoming more open on LGBT rights. In January 2016, the country elected its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who has publicly stated her support for LGBT rights. The gay movement stretches across the Taiwan Strait to China and Hong Kong where LGBT activists are hopeful the younger generation will support their rights.

One year later after slitting her wrist, Ng overdosed on painkillers and her parents placed her in a mental hospital. After a week, she was released. On returning back to her parent’s house, Ng says everything “exploded.”

Her parents found out through their friends about her relationship with a girl. For the next year and a half, Ng lived at her friend’s house – a relationship that she says caused her parents to become jealous. She seldom saw her parents, and stayed mostly at her friend’s place.

Ng’s parents forced her to make a decision: move to Hawaii to live with her aunt and uncle or stay in Hong Kong and never see the school friend again.

She moved to Hawaii.

“I had to leave, I couldn’t do it anymore,” she says. “My friend told me that if I stay, I always will be under their control because their mindsets are not going to change overnight.”

Ng, now 18, studies psychology at the University of Oregon. She speaks about how the local community accepts her for who she is as a person, not based on her sexual orientation. Now as a college student and in a long-distance relationship with a new girl, she views neither Hawaii nor Hong Kong as her home. “There will be times in Hawaii when I wake up and ask myself why wasn’t I at home, but then I home is where my girlfriend is.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole