Performing Androgyny: Cross-dressing Actresses, Fandom, and Queer Sensibility in Hong Kong Cantonese Opera
While cross-dressing performance in Chinese opera has been extensively studied in various disciplines, the existing scholarship has a stronger emphasis on male actors playing female roles in Peking opera. This ethnography sheds light on women’s cross-dressing in Cantonese opera (yueju) in contemporary Hong Kong. Women playing the leading male role (the wenwusheng) is a century-old performance practice. Female wenwusheng being pursued by female fans is a noteworthy and yet understudied phenomenon. Based on my 2012–2016 ethnographic fieldwork, this paper focuses on the performative aspect of female wenwusheng’s androgynous embodiments onstage and off. I examine fandom within this mostly homosocial space by studying the interplay between female wenwusheng’s public, onstage performances and their informal, offstage engagement with fans. I suggest that, by manipulating the gender ambiguity and ambivalence that extends from their onstage to offstage personas, female wenwusheng provoke homoerotic emotional intimacy that ties them and their fans together. Neither passing as men onstage nor appropriating male actors’ masculinity is the female wenwusheng’s goal. Their performance and offstage mingling provide an affective emerging space that accommodates the fluidities of gendered identities and sexualities. Female wenwusheng’s embodied androgyny also enriches Cantonese opera, as a seemingly heterosexist traditional art form, with queer sensibility.
1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021
Journal title, volume/issue number, page range
Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 22(2), pp.139–157
Art and Culture
Gender and Identity