The Hong Kong intersex campaigner who’s tearing down barriers
She lived for years a boy and is now classified as female, but Small Luk says she’s neither and hopes one day a third gender will be accepted
Small Luk was born with both male and female genitalia, but early on doctors classified her as male because she had what appeared to be a boy’s reproductive parts.
Being unable to urinate like other boys at school, Luk underwent more than 20 operations in five years. All of them failed.
The unsuccessful surgery, bullying from her peers and pressure to act as her family’s first-born male caused her to twice attempt suicide. Confused about why she was forced to continuously endure hospital treatment, Luk decided not to accept it any more.
As a teenager, she developed breasts and started to bleed when using the bathroom several days every month. She had lived for 16 years as a boy, hiding her true self.
“I learned from other men how to sit, how to speak. I think at the time, I was a good performer,” Luk said.
It was only at the age of 36 during a routine body exam that doctors discovered she had underdeveloped female reproductive parts inside her body.
They later recommended that she undergo surgery to remove her male genitalia because she suffered from androgen insensitivity syndrome, a condition that may cause cancer if the cells continue to be overstimulated by male hormones. Once again, she had no choice but to go through with it.
After finding out she was not the only intersex person to suffer so many operations, Luk decided she had to do something about it.
That’s when she founded Beyond Boundaries – Knowing and Concerns Intersex, a group dedicated to championing the rights of people like her. She wants the medical industry to stop seeing intersex issues as diseases that can be “cured”, much like how the world used to look at homosexuals.
The group advocates the right for intersex people to choose not to undergo invasive genital normalising surgery that causes lasting physical and psychological problems. Luk believes everyone should be allowed to decide what happens to their bodies instead of having it forced on them.
At 52, Luk has earned herself a nomination for the South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards in the Overcoming Personal Challenge category for her campaign work.
As a result of her experience, Luk is now a certified Chinese medical practitioner. These days, she sees herself as an intersex person, despite holding an ID card that says she is female – something she has had since her male genitalia were removed.
Although she keeps an open mind when seen as either male or female, Luk hopes one day that intersex people can form their own gender.
“Under my own concept, if you see me as a lady, it is in your mind, not my mind,” she said.
“Originally, I was eager for the government to lead public education, to teach Hong Kong people that we are the intersex, but the government does not want to do it. So I need to do this myself, to let society know that we are human. The intersex have more similarities to normal people than differences.”