Stories of the Gay and Grey

Stories of the Gay and Grey

Exhibition photo (by Gyorgy Ali Palos) 

Book launch on 28 June 2014

Homosexuality was a crime in Hong Kong until 1991. For gay men living in such an environment, it meant finding ingenious ways to act on their true feelings or, as often, suppressing those feelings.

Their stories have been hidden for years, but now they are getting an airing through the work of Dr Travis Kong of the Faculty of Social Sciences whose  research on Hong Kong's older gay men has led to, among other things, the formation of a support group, publication of a book that tells their stories, and talks and photo exhibitions about this previously neglected group.

"Older gay men are really marginal in the studies of both sexuality and ageing; there has not been much written about them," he said. "I wanted to know more about their lives."

Dr Kong began his research in 2009 and did 20 formal interviews with older gay men in Hong Kong, who shared a common sense of loneliness. He then decided to set up monthly yum cha gatherings so the men could talk with others like themselves about their health, their lives in the past, how they handled family pressures, and other shared concerns.

The men told him about such things as how they found like-minded men through classified ads in newspapers and public toilets. Notably, about half of them were married.

"These men suppressed same sex desire to conform to the idea of a good son, father, husband, grandfather. They were fulfilling that obligation and overriding their own sexual desires," Dr Kong said.

The stories were featured in his Chinese-language book, Gay and Grey: Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong, that had three print runs since publication in June last year, with nearly 3,000 copies sold.

Photo exhibitions to support the book were organised in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou and London, and there was extensive coverage in the media.

A group of older gay men have also now formed a self-help group, Gay and Grey, that offers peer counselling and a hotline. An organisation in Guangzhou is conducting a similar project for older gay men there.

Dr Kong hopes to extend his research to the oral histories of older Chinese gay men in London and Guangzhou. His dream, he said, would be to see Hong Kong have a gay-friendly centre for the elderly.

"The transition from pure, curiosity-driven research to more participatory action research has been a most rewarding experience for me," he added.

Dr Travis S.K. KONG of the Department of Sociology received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2015 of the Faculty of Social Sciences for 'The Unforgettable and the Unspoken: Oral History of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong'.