Bodybuilding and bikinis: The Hong Kong athlete fighting for transgender equality
Gender queer bodybuilder Siu-fung Law was part of Hong Kong’s successful bid team to win the 2022 Gay Games.
Hong Kong will become the first Asian city to host the world’s biggest international sporting and cultural event featuring athletes and artists with different sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, in what is hoped will be a catalyst for LGBTI rights across Asia.
Siu-fung was born female and is socially male. He hasn’t had sex reassignment surgery and competes in the female bodybuilding category.
Here he tells of his experience as a transgender athlete, the struggle for transgender equality in Hong Kong and his hopes for the Gay Games:
Bodybuilding is a paradoxical sport when it comes to gender. It creates the biggest muscular women but at the same time regulates what femininity is.
Bodybuilding is a paradoxical sport when it comes to gender, especially for female bodybuilders. It creates the biggest muscular women but at the same time regulates what femininity is. When we are on stage we are judged not only on our muscle - we have to do our hair, put on make-up and wear a particular style of bikini.
I used to suppress my femininity but through bodybuilding I learnt to love my female identity as well as my masculinity. I think we all have both sides but society expects us to suppress one most of the time.
I don’t think of myself as either a man or woman. I don’t want to be confined by a binary construction of gender that society imposes on us. Bodybuilding allows me to explore and transcend these boundaries.
Before my first competition it was a huge challenge for me to wear a bikini and perform on stage with confidence, as I wanted to be seen as a man. I learnt to remove the binary labels we give clothes and treat the bikini as a costume. Now I get excited wearing beautiful bikinis on stage, although I wouldn’t wear them on the beach.
Struggling with gender identity and sexuality
I struggled with my gender and sexuality for a long time. I attempted suicide several times because I felt I was the only one in the world like me. There was hardly any representation of transgender people in the media and the limited amount was mostly negative.
So many people are still afraid of coming out. When they do come out, traditional Chinese values means the response is often ‘ok you know who you are but just don’t tell others
Many families are conservative and will not accept their son or daughter as transgender. Before a transgender person comes out they have often struggled for a long time. They have to make sure they are financially independent first in case they are kicked out of the home when they tell their family.
Coming out to my family
My parents are quite conservative but are supportive. I’ll always be their daughter and they accept I am different. It is a gradual acceptance.
I never came out as such to my family. I gradually told them a little bit more about myself. My parents are quite conservative but are supportive. I’ll always be their daughter and they accept I am different. It is a gradual acceptance.
My father told me I have chosen a difficult path, and he worries whether I will have enough friends. These are the worries every parent has about their child. Several years ago, he asked me which washroom I use as he realized the problems this can cause me. Now we go to the same washroom. He also started to share his clothes with me and accepts it is normal that I dress socially male. My family are trying to accept me for who I am.
When I started bodybuilding my mum really hated it. She would say muscles are for men not women. She’d tell relatives I was competing and I will look ‘normal’ after my competition is over. This changed last year when I had my first competition in Hong Kong and she wanted to watch. I came fourth and she came backstage afterwards and told me I should have won as I had the most muscles.
Challenges transgender people face in Hong Kong
LGBT people face different challenges but are often all grouped together. For the transgender community, the biggest obstacle is acceptance from mainstream society.
I am optimistic as young people are more open to diversity and accepting of difference. In ten years, these will be the people in government so in the long term the outlook is positive.
In the workplace, if you have a job and want to change gender, many companies are not ready or willing to accept this. Often a transgender person has to quit their job to have their operation and then find a new job. It is getting better but stigmatization and misconceptions in the workplace still exist. If a male to female transgender person uses the female bathroom it can often lead to lots of complaints from co-workers.
This highlights the need for Hong Kong to have anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people. It shouldn’t be the only goal but it is an important basic step. The discrimination won’t go away but at least we have a basis to protect ourselves and it sends a strong message to the wider community.
People ask if the LGBT community want special privileges, but all we are asking for is equality. Love is love regardless of your gender or sexuality. We need to celebrate diversity and difference.
I am optimistic as young people are more open to diversity and accepting of difference. New media helps young people have a better awareness of transgender people. In ten years, these will be the people in government so in the long term the outlook is positive.
Supporting the Gay Games
I hope if anyone is struggling with their gender and sexuality they will see that they are not alone, and they will never be alone.
Even though it is five years away, I’m already excited about competing in the games in my home city. It will be a major milestone for the LGBT movement in Hong Kong and Asia. I hope it will encourage both LGBT people and the wider community to play sport, but also for sport to be a platform to promote human rights and equality.
For bodybuilding we hope to have an additional category alongside male and female, either transgender or one where you don’t have to assign a label to yourself. This will send a positive message to the transgender community in Asia.
We hope the Hong Kong government will get behind the games, including the use of public sports venues. So far the government has been quite cautious and ambiguous, claiming it supports equality but doesn’t want to be seen to be privileging certain groups.
There needs to be more visibility and representation of transgender people in mainstream society, particularly to support those that may be struggling. I hope if anyone is struggling with their gender and sexuality they will see that they are not alone, and they will never be alone.
Pictures of Siu-fung Law: Robert Godden