Speaking out against society’s age-old injustice

Transgender Hongkonger wants to tell more people about the sometimes neglected difficulties facing women pushed into society’s margins

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 February, 2016, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 February, 2016, 10:09pm

Terry Hui considers herself lucky. Because her parents did not cut her out of the family, and her boss did not fire her, when she came out as transgender.

This, she said, isn’t what it was like for many of her friends.

The 36-year-old interior designer surprised her colleagues when she walked into her office one Saturday early last year, fully dressed in women’s clothes. All the male colleagues went silent, she said, but one female colleague came up and voiced her support.

Later that day her boss called her into his office. He said he held no prejudice against her, but asked her to wear men’s clothes when in the office because some male colleagues felt it “difficult to communicate” with her dressed like a woman.

“I pocketed it first,” said Hui, using an expression made famous by government officials when introducing the failed political reform package, which allowed Hongkongers to vote for the city’s leader from a handful of candidates pre-screened by a Beijing-loyal elite.

In fact, it was activists’ fight in 2014 against this package and for open nominations that made Hui decide to come out. In the afternoon of September 28, 2014, on her way to a wedding, she wandered into the midst of tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators occupying Harcourt Road in Admiralty and demanding universal suffrage. She became one of the victims when police started hurling tear gas to disperse the crowds.

“I was crying physically and psychologically,” said Hui. “I suddenly realised that under such a regime, if you kept silent, one day when you decided to come out to fight for humble things such as equal rights, the so-called elites would never accept either.”

Hui, who is now waiting for her doctor to arrange sex change surgery for her, said her mother “unwillingly accepted” her gender and her father voiced his support too. She could also use the women’s public toilets without attracting any side-eye due to her feminine appearance.

But things did not always go smoothly. One of Hui’s male colleagues once threw obscene abuse at her and told her he could not stand the sight of her.

With legislation against LGBT discrimination still under debate, Hui felt she and other people of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities could not enjoy their equal rights.

Another obstacle awaits her if she receives the sex change and becomes a legal woman: marriage. Hui said she likes women, but Hong Kong laws do not allow same-sex marriage.

“I’m not angry at the male colleague,” said Hui. “No one is born to discriminate. It’s the environment they’re brought up in that plants the seed. That’s why I feel I need to stand up and speak out.”

Hui was one of the speakers at a “human library” event on Sunday co-organised by non-governmental group HER Fund and Polytechnic University’s Centre for Social Policy Studies. During the events, women from different areas facing different difficulties were invited to serve as “books” for participants to learn about their stories and gain more understanding of their situations.

Other speakers included a working mother who was banned from using her former company’s empty office to pump breast milk, as well as a Filipino domestic helper who is now fighting a legal case to get back about HK$10,000 salary owed her by an abusive former employer.