Singer Zelos Wong on why he used to ‘play straight’ before coming out as gay, how Hong Kong LGBT+ representation is changing
- The 28-year-old musician came out in 2020 through a video on YouTube, as a way of grieving the death of his partner, Barnaby
- Wong shares about hiding his sexuality during secondary school and reflects on how far the city has come as shows like Ossan’s Love expose more Hongkongers to queer stories
For musician Zelos Wong Hoi-yat, coming out as gay on YouTube was not about making a statement – it was his way of grieving.
His partner, Barnaby, had died in an accident only months earlier. Wong was overwhelmed – not just by Barnaby’s death, but by everything that went along with the loss of his partner, such as moving out of the flat they shared and sending his belongings to his family in the United Kingdom. This all coincided with the early days of the coronavirus pandemic as well, “and I had too much free time”, Wong recalled.
Devastated, the singer wanted to show the world how much he loved Barnaby, so in May 2020, he posted a video to his YouTube channel called “Coming Out!”, which has now garnered more than 66,000 views.
“I had already come out on Instagram, but that was in more of a sad way ... posting pictures of us together. I wanted to do a proper coming out and share the story of us and my journey,” he said. “I wanted to keep spreading the love and to memorialise him.”
Soon after coming out, Wong released Barnaby in June 2020, a touching ballad in tribute to his late partner. The music video features him painting and standing by the seaside, reflecting on the life and love the two shared.
“Deep down, I’m a positive guy,” he said. “I don’t want that tragedy to be a thing I cannot let go.”
Accepting his sexuality came with a lot of work; in fact, he only came out to his family after Barnaby died. Now 28 years old, the singer explained that as a kid growing up in Hong Kong, he could not acknowledge he was gay – even to himself – and felt like he had to hide who he was and “play straight”, especially when he got to secondary school.
“I felt like I had to be more masculine ... I always loved sports, and I played things like volleyball, handball, and ran cross country. People who recognise you as a sports person view you as more masculine,” Wong shared. “I even had girlfriends to prove I was straight, and I tried to bad name some of the more outspoken gays I knew to separate myself from them – that was not good.”
This shop is closing, but its dream for LGBTQ+ Hongkongers has only begun
It wasn’t until he went on exchange to the US city of Miami, while attending the Chinese University of Hong Kong, that he became more open to who he was.
“I got to explore and make a lot of friends, and I tried to put myself out there and meet people from different backgrounds,” he said. “They were super chill with sexuality. The spectrum there is a lot wider ... you can have friends who are flamboyant but straight, and masculine and gay. In Hong Kong, people still think in stereotypes.”
It was also in Miami that he started performing his music, which he had always loved, but never had the opportunity to share publicly.
“I took a class called Songwriting. Every two weeks, you had to share a new demo. It was a liberating experience,” he explained.
When he returned to Hong Kong, Wong started busking and playing gigs in live music venues and street markets. Now, he is releasing tracks as an independent artist.
“I would describe my music as R&B influenced, non-binary, personal, liberal and self-loving,” he said, adding he would love to work with Hong Kong independent singer Serrini, whom he described as “funny and sophisticated”.
“She’s good at saying something in a way people can understand. I love her attitude and her point of view.”
As Wong’s music career has grown in the last few years since coming out, so has his understanding of himself.
“Life has gotten better every day since I came out,” he said. “After two years, I’ve grown a lot from learning how to be true to myself. I have more vision and opinion ... and I’ve met a lot of good friends after coming out.”
What does it mean to be transgender, and how can you support your trans friends?
Wong said that on a personal level, he had not experienced much discrimination in Hong Kong, adding people here were overall “indifferent” towards the LGBT+ community.
“I’m also privileged to be more masculine and handsome. I have respect because of what society recognises as a ‘good gay’,” he noted, explaining that Hongkongers tended to be more accepting of queer people if they had good jobs and were conventionally attractive.
While Hong Kong has a long way to go in giving equal rights to LGBT+ people, Wong said queer representation in media could help people become more accepting and educated about the community, even if some of these films and shows – like the ViuTV hit Ossan’s Love, starring Mirror members Anson Lo and Edan Lui – targeted those who already had more open-minded views.
“It’s still a step forward, even if people don’t think it is,” Wong said. “When I came out to my family, my mum asked, ‘How are you going to have a family?’”
“They didn’t know that lots of gay people have families because they never see it on TV, so they can’t imagine it. They will have less to worry about if they can see me represented.”
He was also optimistic about the future for queer youth in the city.
“I received a message from a secondary school talking about their gender society,” he shared. “They host talks and workshops about gender and sexuality ... I was so shocked. I didn’t have this when I was younger.”
Hong Kong teens show acceptance of gender identity, but lack sexual health knowledge
“When you have a society like this in place, people will benefit from it,” he pointed out. “It helps to have that conversation.”
Having struggled with accepting his own sexuality when he was younger, Wong offered advice for teens experiencing similar difficulties.
“Listen to your heart. Society has ways of telling you not to listen to yourself, but keep listening and looking for the answer,” he said.
“Don’t suppress the questions. There will be lots of moments you won’t understand – that’s OK. Slow down and listen to yourself.”
Feel intense sorrow
Occur at the same time
Cause someone severe and overwhelming shock or grief
An act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration
Used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points
Having or relating to a gender identity that does not conform to traditional binary beliefs about gender, which indicate that all individuals are exclusively either male or female
Having or involving a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture