Not everyone makes it
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
It’s sad but true, in certain fields of endeavour and in certain places, including Hong Kong, not everyone makes it. Keep applying for that elusive job opportunity that will take you to the next level, try as hard as you can to become a YouTube celebrity, train like crazy to make it onto the Olympics team, or do your utmost to earn the popularity of citizens – sometimes success is elusive.
Although many foreigners consider coming to live and work in Hong Kong, not every one of them actually makes it.
As I write this, I just passed my 60th birthday and perhaps a psychologist will tell you that this blog reflects my current state of mind – but I don’t think so, as I was asked to write this piece and the motivation for it was not my own! Anyway, my oldest brother B. succumbed to cancer at age 48 after supposedly “beating” it at age 38. And my other brother D. had a congenital heart defect that also saw his life shortened to under 50. I won’t go into my sister’s ailments here, but I just note my brothers never made it as far as I have.
In the current pandemic I must state how sorry I am for the 500,000 souls who also never made it to the middle of 2020.
Is it luck or is it fate that has gotten me this far? I already made it through the worst of another global health crisis caused by a virus – AIDS or HIV, and as a Gay male coming to terms with my sexual orientation around 1980, the ensuing years have been about challenge, change, and hard work. AIDS-related illnesses have killed more than 32 million people since 1981.
On my list are adapting to things like “Safer Sex” and the use of condoms, and numerous political campaigns for decriminalising homosexuality, human rights protection, and Gay marriage. I suppose there may have been some happen-chance in events that lead me to meeting my partner when I came to work in Hong Kong, and so far our partnership has essentially been a positive thing.
Reaching age 60 has meant that I can no longer work as a teacher in the service of the Hong Kong government which imposes a retirement age on most of its civil servants of 65. No matter that in my country of origin most teachers work at least until 65years of age, that I still consider myself a healthy and productive worker, or that I need the money to supplement my modest retirement savings and satisfy my partner’s desire for the finer things in life! Even some privately run schools in Hong Kong opt to retire teachers at 60. It didn't make any difference to the Education Bureau that I had worked in the same school for quite a few years and they considered me tantamount to indispensable given my work experience, and a memory still hardly-fading of the awful teacher who I had replaced.
I found myself on that job-seekers treadmill, searching the employment notices in the newspaper and online, putting in applications, and hoping that something might come up for me so I could continue my working life in Hong Kong. I even considered doing something slightly different - the 'maybe', or 'possibly' options were worth considering, if only briefly, realising that the Covid-19 crisis had changed employment prospects both here in Hong Kong as well as back in the country of my birth.
I should have expected the question at my first job interview, but amongst all the other questions I had prepared myself mentally for, this one completely slipped under my radar: “Are you married, single or what?” I guess it was because I hadn’t had a job interview for eight years, and amongst my current circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances who all know me well, no one asks such a direct question. Yes, my Hong Kong ‘friend’ and companion R. who lives with me is known to some of them, but they don’t ask questions about my marital status!
What to say in response during a job interview? I just naturally found myself jumping back into the closet – call it what you will. I retreated into that safety zone, that state of self-denial. “I am not married,” I told the manager honestly, “But neither am I single! Perhaps you could say ‘coupled’?” I suggested with a smile, hoping that the answer would suffice.
This is 2020! Truth is, my partner and I have been in a civil union for seven years. My marital status makes no difference to my work, as far as I know. My students have yet to ask me for any marriage counsel or guidance in choosing their boyfriends and girlfriends. But it’s Hong Kong and there is no legislation banning employment discrimination against an aging queer, and for all I know the manager is a homophobic boss who still labours under those ancient myths about crossdressing and pedophiles.
My acquaintance at WTPOHK says that in 2020 Hong Kong people are much more accepting than I think. He feels sad for me. I feel sad for myself! Sad that my past fear and anxieties still haunt me, come back to challenge my pride, regardless of social change. It’s never too late to call that psychologist if you’re having second thoughts about my state of mind! Just remember that being Gay is NOT a health problem, mental illness or a disability!
I think and feel that I HAVE made it.
I already spent hours in a counsellor’s chair and in therapy with other men learning to assert who I am. I successfully evaded sickening "ex-gay" conversion therapy! I haven’t committed suicide like one of those poor confused and tormented youths, haven’t fallen into a trap like an unhappy marriage, or resorted to leading a double life as a man who has sex with other men but who otherwise considers himself ‘straight’! I think I am comfortable with my identity. I am generally well-adapted.
In reality perhaps I am just fooling myself that I have made it, because I have once again taken that route of least resistance? To be honest there is no doubt that the manager, from the tenor of our conversation, realises that “coupled” is a codeword that covers all manner of ‘sins’. Let’s not go into a discussion of religion here. Once again I had not been up front and proud about myself as a gay male, just because the employment stakes were on the table. This is not right, but the whole damn pandemic is not right!
For what it’s worth, both you and I should note that after last year’s court success in Hong Kong granting immigration recognition to same sex couples legally married overseas, that my Civil Union is legally recognised by the SAR government.
Please also note what you are doing every time you self-consor in your employment because your boss tells you that you must support National Security legislation, or you stop posting protest selfies on Instagram and in your Facebook account for fear of dismissal. You don’t have to be LGBT or even LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, intersex) to experience self-denial, self-hatred, repression, threats, exclusion from mainstream society, and other nasty things. I admit that as a gay white male I can generally pass myself off as heterosexual and be an honorary member of privileged society, unlike gay black men (see the blog on BLM and HK's new social contract ).
So do gay males in Hong Kong really have anything to worry about? Yes, we have freedom of association in Hong Kong under the Basic Law, the Joint Declaration and a range of UN conventions. The Hong Kong government generally respects the human rights of the citizens, although many core issues remain. There are concerns over the freedom of assembly which is restricted by the Public Order Ordinance. The police has been recently accused of using heavy-handed tactics towards protestors and questions are asked regarding the extensive powers of the police and the abuse of those powers. As to the right of privacy, covert surveillance remains a major concern. There is a lack of protection for homosexuals due to the absence of a sexual orientation discrimination law. There are also concerns regarding a lack of protection for labour rights.
The average citizen of Hong Kong can easily pass themselves off as a supporter of the CCP or being ‘pro-Beijing’ if they choose to, by being mindful of what they say, where they go, who they hang out with and what they wear. They could throw out their ‘Independence’ and ‘Revolution’ tee-shirts, join the DAB and stop shopping yellow! You could choose to be silent in the face of injustice. If you were ever asked about your political past you could just say it was ‘a mistake’, you were ‘influenced’ by a foreigner, or that it was just ‘a moment of weakness’ or ‘a phase’ you were going through. Perhaps then I could feel ‘sorry’ for you, for your intellectual imprisonment, for all you suffer?
I don’t think I can say that my homosexuality is a phase.
Avoiding the truth, whatever it is, and living a lie is plain awful. Its limitations are the death of freedom, individuality, spontaneity and creativity. Even though I have some resilience and battle strength in me yet, I’d much prefer to live in a place where I am welcomed, accepted and loved than a place where I am distrusted, disrespected and oppressed by my very own government. People who define themselves as LGBTQI and identify themselves in that way are deserving of love as well as the acceptance and validation you give them. The shame in Hong Kong is that the government now embodies and perpetuates all the behaviour and attitudes which the hearts and minds of ordinary people have rejected.
Tell me that my fear of discrimination in employment against LGBTQI is irrational. Do you have actual data? Are the personal and secondhand anecdotes and experiences I have gathered too distant, too cloaked in the potential and imaginary for you to treat them as actual and real? Haven’t you seen and read the antigay slurs made by some political and religious groups printed in Hong Kong newspapers or broadcast on television?
All of us are judgemental, it’s a part of human nature that helps us to stay safe, helps us to assess new people and situations we enter. However, in my experience, some people have an irrational fear of the unknown, or of people who are different from themselves. They may be wary of foreigners, scared of people with disabilities, hold stereotypical beliefs about people of colour, or distrust people whose religion is different from their own. Just a few people even cling to 'hate' as their modus operandi. We ought to therefore recognise that the standard we measure others against is so often an unfair measuring stick.
The Sahara Desert might be viewed negatively for its lack of water, but then precipitous rainfall that causes a flood in your district would not make you happy either. While the natural afro hairstyle of black american men might block your view of a cinema screen, and having long hair is a lot of work to clean and maintain, you might not be content with baldness either - especially if you are a woman suffering from hair loss! Let’s not even start on wearing make-up, body image, facial hair, tattoos or body piercing.
How controlling and judgmental are you? Where did you learn that from? Not everyone can make the high standard you impose on them. Your expectations, values and beliefs might need an adjustment so ordinary people can make the grade.
But then, you or your government may fall far below what the rest of the world expects in terms of human civility! We have standards too! The Hong Kong government is supposedly secular, yet the Chief Executive selectively allows her self-proclaimed Catholic religious outlook to impact SOME of her reasoning. Strangely, there still remains an array of areas in which her behaviour lacks any christian moral compass, spiritual underpinning or ethos whatsoever! (see the blog on Hong Kong's stubborn leader and its broken system)
The point is we are all different and the world ought to be an inclusive and fair place. Do you ascribe to this social contract? Can Hong Kong society be more accepting of its LGBTQI people?
It’s about seeing and respecting people for who they are, with their flaws, mistakes, talents and imperfections, ideosyncracies, and life experience that may be different from your own.
After all, life is to be lived and no one makes it out of here alive!
P.S. I got that job!
Further Reading: News stories of interest
Q&A: Vinci Wong on LGBT Equality and Chairing Hong Kong's Foremost Charity, HK Files, 12 October 2017
Lesbian couple wins visa rights case in Hong Kong, 25 September 2017, Agencia EFE
LGBT students face so much prejudice in Hong Kong they’re afraid to reveal their sexuality, 29 November 2018, SCMP
Gay marriage a matter for society, not courts, SCMP editorial, 6 June 2019
Hong Kong Court Favors Gay Couple In Landmark Victory For LGBTQ Rights, 6 July 2019, Huffington Post
Same-sex marriage, one year later, (Taiwan) 17 May 2020, Taipei Times
Support for laws against LGBT discrimination in Hong Kong rising, Chinese University survey finds, 8 Jan 2020, SCMP
Chinese ad featuring LGBT couple wins widespread praise, YouTube, 10 January 2020.
Hong Kong’s homophobic public housing policy ruled unconstitutional and unlawful by High Court, 4 March 2020, HKFP
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Equality in Hong Kong: Rights, Resistance, and Possibilities for Reform, 23 March 2020, Cambridge University Press
Gay adoption is allowed in Hong Kong but it rarely happens... 26 July 2020, SCMP
Why the struggle for same-sex marriage in China will continue, despite civil code setback, 26 July 2020, SCMP
LINKS OF NOTE:
Networking, how to support LGBTQ-owned small businesses & resources - FINIMPACT