“Thinking Hong Kong’s Freedom in Multiplicity” by Alvin K. Wong

Thinking Hong Kong’s Freedom in Multiplicity
by Alvin K. Wong

Since the debate on the extradition law began in early 2019, I started sensing anxiety within myself. I am an academic, and writing in an environment that fosters free expression of ideas, including ones that might be critical of the PRC, is what makes possible the kind of freedom that I value. But, of course, freedom extends beyond the classroom, what good is freedom if it only allows a few of us to say whatever we want about China and Hong Kong but denies that rights to those outside the privileged space of the university? I am also a feminist and someone who teaches and writes about queer theory. Feminism taught me that women’s issues are never singularly about gender and sexuality because gender and sexuality are always intersectional with race, class, nationalism and disability. As Audre Lorde says in a speech, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives. Malcolm knew this. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this. Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.” As a black lesbian feminist, Lorde knows that black women won’t be free if freedom only means empowerment for some black middle-class women but further marginalisation of working-class and queer women of colour.

If feminism teaches me to think in multiplicity and intersectionally, queer theory also teaches me that identity politics is something that we should be suspicious of and that legal and institutional structures might make certain lives like the married middle-class family liveable while other lives will be further marginalised. As the anti-extradition movement grows in momentum, and as the HKSAR government answered one of the five demands, I keep thinking about what it would take to diversify the movement. Can the movement for universal suffrage include the rights to live a dignified life? This would be a movement that believes in the spirit of not “I want this for me” but “I want this for us,” as the political theorist Wendy Brown would have it. And who is this “us” anyway? Does this us include the many ethnic minorities in our city, some have a more temporary residence in Hong Kong due to their exclusion from the right to abode, but some are actually born in Hong Kong but whom for whatever racist reason we choose to refuse to see them as the “local” Hongkongers. How do we account for the fact that sexual minorities such as LGBTQ individuals might feel hesitant to join the frontline protest because the tactics of the protestors might be overtly masculine? This hardcore and heteronormative masculinity often times excludes women, intellectuals and the so-called “leftards” (me included) who might “slow down” the frontline protest tactic. 

Moving beyond these existing conditions and restrains, I want to think about freedom in the more expansive way and include alongside the five demands some of the following ones, no matter how utopian and impossible these might sound like:

  • I want LGBTQ people, ethnic and racial minorities, and all women to feel welcome to contribute to the political struggle.
  • I like to see more representations of queer desire and politics in the movement, so that protest signs do not make visible only cartoons and photographs of a young man kissing his girlfriend in masks. How about a bunch of queer protestors staging a kiss-in at protest sites? It has definitely been done in response to the MTR’s decision to remove the Cathay Pacific ad featuring gay male tourists. Why not at protest rallies?
  • I want the freedom of universal suffrage to include a more expansive notion of belonging that makes everyone feels like a true citizen and resident in Hong Kong.
  • I want the movement to move beyond political tokenism and begin a conversation about what kind of city we truly want. Can we move from an opposition against the government to truly transformative politics and vision about what we want our city to become?
  • I want more open discussion of intellectual, physical and spiritual freedom and justice, like the one we are having here tonight, where we are bound together not by sameness, but difference of many kinds.

Author’s Note: This is a short piece written originally for the event “Keeping Our Voices Free” (21 September 2019), moderated by PEN Hong Kong’s President and Cha‘s co-editor, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho. Photograph: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Alvin K. Wong is Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong. His research covers Hong Kong culture, Chinese cultural studies, Sinophone studies, queer theory, and transnational feminism. Alvin is writing a book titled Queer Hong Kong as Method. He has published in journals such as Journal of Lesbian Studies, Concentric, Cultural Dynamics, and Interventions, among other places, and in edited volumes such as Transgender China (Palgrave, 2012) and Queer Sinophone Cultures (Routledge, 2014). Alvin also co-edited the volume, Keywords in Queer Sinophone Studies (Routledge, 2020).

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