Yogi’s Verdict: Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong

This is a landmark publication that provides an original contribution to queer research in two ways. Unlike most literature that looks at the experiences and issues facing youths, this book gathers that of older gay men who spent most of their lives in the closet. Secondly, it adds a non-Western perspective to a field dominated by the Stonewall narrative and other liberation movements in the West.

The author, Travis Kong, presents the stories of thirteen men who have been living in Hong Kong for at least 30 years of their lives. Before we read their stories, we are first introduced to the concept of the tongzhi (a queer appropriation of a term originally meaning “comrade”). It has been widely adopted by LGBT communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China from the late 1980s onwards.

Through the use of oral history interview techniques, we get to hear the unfiltered voices of these men, many who had heterosexual marriages while having relationships or flings with other men. In some cases, they had raised children and were seniors themselves before deciding to act upon their same sex desires. Vivid recollections of Hong Kong’s heady days of industrialisation in the 1960s, cruising spots, courting methods and sex combine to provide readers with a treasure trove of primary sources. Two heartwarming love letters are also included, showing what considerations and feelings were prioritised when seeking relationships.

These memories also highlight two key research areas that oral history methods excel at uncovering: (1) a narrative of the men’s pasts growing up, exploring their sexuality, forming relationships with other men, managing family expectations, careers and heterosexual marriages; (2) how they negotiate ageing and sexuality, isolation and ageism from both the straight and tongzhi spheres, and relations with family members and partners.

This book is a good starting point to greatly expand research into ageing and sexuality, with more openly LGBT people easing into their senior years. At the same time, it is a homage to the pioneers who grappled with these issues during a time when silence was best. As its subtitle states, these stories were “unspoken but unforgotten”.

Yogi’s Verdict: ★★★★✩

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