Lesbian couples and their need for acceptance
In the last of our three-part series for International Women's Day, Ravina Shamdasani looks at ...
Lucetta Kam Yip-lo confesses she was a homophobe before she realised in her last year of university that she was in love with a girl.
The doctorate student, 32, said she was rather 'girlie' growing up, playing with dolls and excelling at school. She even dated a boy, but the relationship ended after a month. She was 'very straight'.
'My first relationship with a girl was a very lonely relationship, very sad, because we did not have the support of family and friends. It was just the two of us and we cried a lot because we had no way to come out,' Ms Kam says. 'I could also feel that my mum knew and was very unhappy, but she never said anything.'
It took Ms Kam 10 years to finally come out to her mother, who lives with her, in a letter just a few months ago. They have not talked face-to-face about it, but she knows her mother is trying to accept it.
Ms Kam says that over time she has grown comfortable as a lesbian and her sexuality has shaped her personality, making her stronger and more independent. Her partner of one year, Denise Tang Tse-shang, 34, agrees.
Ms Tang, unlike her girlfriend, was always 'tomboyish' and 'an absolute nightmare' growing up. She attended Marymount Secondary School in Hong Kong, as well as schools in Vancouver.
'At Marymount, it was very common to see girl couples and it became almost natural,' she says. 'The sisters [nuns] condemned relationships with boys. They would rather two girls be seen holding hands than a girl in school uniform holding hands with a boy.'
Ms Tang recalls being confronted by her mother 'in the middle of the night' in 1995 about whether she had 'that kind of tendency'. Her mother lost her temper and asked Ms Tang to leave the home, but over time came to accept her daughter's sexuality.
'When I broke up with my last girlfriend of five years, my family treated it as if it were a divorce. They were very supportive - that was when I realised that they accepted my committed, monogamous relationship as normal,' she said. 'I even joked to my brother and sister that I may turn straight, but they begged me not to, saying they would not be able to deal with the change.'
While they are comfortable with their sexuality, both women admit to 'self-censorship' in public to avoid discrimination. When filling out job applications for teaching work, Ms Tang said she did not mention the work she had done for the lesbian community.
Both women also say they are ready for long-term stable relationships, even marriage and children. But they insist that being a woman is more than fitting into the roles of wife and mother.
'Over time I have outgrown the gender expectations society has thrown on me as a woman - I have become stronger and gone beyond those limits,' Ms Tang said.