Unheard Voices: Older Tongzhi in Hong Kong
Older tongzhi constitute one of the forgotten groups of people in Hong Kong. Their needs and voices are often neglected, and hence go unnoticed, both within the LGBT+ community and by society at large. This video provides an introduction to the problems and challenges that older LGBT people are facing, particularly with respect to access to social and medical services, and suggests ways to fulfil their unmet social needs.
Do you know any older tongzhi, the local parlance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexual minorities, or LGBT+? If so, how do they live their lives? What problems do they face? Older tongzhi constitute one of the forgotten groups of people in Hong Kong. Their needs and voices are often neglected, and hence go unnoticed, both within the LGBT+ community and by society at large.
Dr Travis Kong, Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange (KE) Award 2015 of the Faculty of Social Sciences that led to publication of a Chinese book called Oral History of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong (男男正傳︰香港年長男同志口述史, Stepforward Multimedia, 2014), which was subsequently translated into English and published as Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong: Unspoken but Unforgotten (HKUP, 2019). The book documents the life stories – and the difficulties and challenges therein – of older gay men living in Hong Kong, stories punctuated by laughter, joy and pride, as well as tears, remorse and shame. Publication of the book subsequently led to the establishment, in 2014, of the first and only social support group looking after the interests and well-being of the older tongzhi community in Hong Kong. It is known as Gay & Grey.
Dr Kong’s current KE project extends his valuable work in this area to exploration of the lives of older LBT (lesbian, bisexual and transgender) tongzhi in Hong Kong. This video – Unheard Voices: Older Tongzhi in Hong Kong – provides an introduction to the problems and challenges that older LGBT people are facing, particularly with respect to access to social and medical services, and suggests ways to fulfil their unmet social needs.
Amongst the voices captured in the video are the following:
“When my friends found out that I was tongzhi, they called me ‘faggot’, and we have very little contact now”, said Ng Mui, an 80-year-old gay man.
Pearl, a 65-year-old lesbian, feels that her gynaecologist is heterosexist because after learning that Pearl had no longer had sex with a man, she failed to examine her private parts, leading Pearl to wonder, “Does sex between women not count?”
“When social workers knew that I love both men and women, they looked at me in a strange way”, explained Kwok, a 76-year-old bisexual man. “Maybe they discriminated against me! Why should we be honest with them when they treat us like this?”
The video also captures the views of a social worker, nurse and academic, who reflected upon these issues and provided some suggestions:
Kin, a social worker, pointed out that sexuality is not a part of social work training. Older tongzhi thus constitute uncharted territory in the social work field.
Terry, a nurse, suggested that a lack of sensitivity on the part of medical professionals can lead to a bad relationship between professionals and older tongzhi, thereby affecting the quality of service the latter receive.
Dr Kong, who offers an academic perspective, estimates that there are 50,000 to 110,000 older tongzhi living in Hong Kong. He notes that sex amongst older people has long been seen as a taboo subject by elderly service providers in Hong Kong, regardless of sexual orientation. He offers some tips for service providers meeting a client for the first time. “When talking to a married elderly person, we should ask, ‘How’s your partner?’ rather than ‘How’s your husband or wife?’”, and “when first meeting a transgender person, we should ask, ‘How do you want us to address you?’”, he explained.
This video serves as an educational protocol and a teaching kit for medical and social service providers, the LGBT community, and the general public. Given that the sexuality and identity of older tongzhi were both denied when they were young, the overarching aim of the project of which the video is a part is to empower older tongzhi to both contribute to and become an integral part of a more caring, accepting and tolerant society.
When you are older, what do you think you would tell your younger self if you had a chance to travel back in time? Watch the video to see how your answer compares with the poignant answers given by these vulnerable individuals.
Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong
Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of Hong Kong
Gay & Grey