Learning to be a lesbian : identity and sexuality formation among young Hong Kong lesbians

  • Yuk Ying, Sonia WONG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


While the LGBT equal rights movements in Hong Kong have become increasingly visible and popular in recent years, and lesbians, when compared to homosexual male, seem to enjoy high visibility in the city’s public space and relevant safety from violent discrimination, their presence in the public sphere continue to be low. Writings by local queer activists and scholars such as Mary Kam Pui Wai (2001) and Denise Tang (2011) point out that instead of violent attacks, since the beginning of local LGBT activism, female have been facing systematic silencing and marginalizing within the community, their presence invisible, and their problems often ignored or trivialized. However, lesbians are not imagined to be, and do not perceive themselves as, the most oppressed and disadvantageous members within the larger LGBT community.

This study proposes that this seeming apolitical attitude and lack of acknowledgement of their marginalized position are the results of the unique “lesbian learning” taken place in the Hong Kong context that render their positions invisible and their problems unspeakable. I want not only to explore what these young women conceptualize as lesbian identity and sexuality, but through proposing the notion “lesbian learning”, offer a new framework to articulate and examine the formation and construction of the “field of sensible” that conditions their learning about lesbian(ism) in terms of perceptual equipment, information flow, as well as strategies of management and application, to see the meanings attributed to this identity, and the nuanced struggle for and negotiation of their lesbian identity formation, as both gender and sexual identity.

The findings of this study shows that their conceptualization of lesbian identity as gender and sexual identity is largely conditioned by how they have learned to be female, with normative gender social expectations having a huge influence on how they perceive their sexual identity and sexuality, and their priority. Through documenting and examining the process of their learning the lesbian identity and ways of managing it, I hope to shed light on the mechanisms behind the social construction of female subjectivity that conditioned the specific configuration of lesbian identity and sexuality in the Hong Kong context, and the close ties between the two.

To this end, 26 women between the ages of 20 - 30 were interviewed, additionally I spent 2 years conducting in-depth follow-up interviews and participant observation. With the help of social constructionist accounts of contextualization, interactionist accounts of meaning-making, the theory of sexual scripts, and Foucauldian notions of discourse and discipline, I seek to analyze how the Hong Kong lesbian subject is created, maintained, and regulated, both within different institutions operating at specific sites, namely family, school, and pornography, and by the lesbians themselves. By proposing the notion of “lesbian learning”, this study seeks to offer a new methodological tool of intervention, to examine the network of conditions of intersectional positions, and the negotiated agency of their understanding and imagination of identity, gender, and sexuality in the context of Hong Kong.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Cultural Studies
SupervisorYuk Ming Lisa LEUNG (Supervisor) & Wing Sang LAW (Supervisor)

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