Class Differences among Gay Men in Hong Kong: Local History, Queer Modernity


Ting-Fai Yu

PhD defended at: 

The Chinese University of Hong Kong


This ethnographic study examines the influence of class in structuring the lives of queer male subjects in Hong Kong. It combines analysis of in-depth interview accounts from 25 middle- and working-class Hong Kong gay men between the ages of 20 to 55, with extensive participant observations conducted in a local non-government organization, social movement events, and other informal community networks. By investigating the differential access to social, economic and cultural resources that have shaped local gay men’s struggles and aspirations as queer subjects, this study develops an analytic perspective that interrogates the processes through which class inequality is configured and reproduced in the queer culture of Hong Kong.

The understanding of class is anchored in the specific set of economic transformations affecting postwar Hong Kong, and conceptualized as a historical condition of social mobility that is linked to the formation of Hong Kong identity since the 1970s. Class in the present context of Hong Kong is a relatively recent and rapidly changing formation of social differentiation. Even though it was not commonly spoken about by the gay men in this study, it was nevertheless central to the ways in which they conducted their everyday lives. Reading the concurrent invisibility and material embodiment of class in queer lives as cultural and discursive constructions, this thesis demonstrates how the silenced discourses of class were displaced by my informants onto other historically and geopolitically produced hierarchies – including age, generation, race, and culture – and unpacks the processes through which these configurations of power relation have come to dominate their understandings of being gay and influence their practices of same-sex intimacy in Hong Kong.

Engaging in dialogue with the field of queer studies in Asia, this study aims to deploy class as a site of theoretical intervention and articulates the queer culture of Hong Kong as a non-teleological process of modernity located outside of the historical trajectories of Western societies. To further formulate a localized critique of global homonormative movements and the spread of capitalism in Asian cities, it examines how revisiting the local history of class fundamentally transforms our understanding of Hong Kong gay men’s uneven relationships with global queer culture.