Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hong Kong Day 4: Sex and the City, Hong Kong-style

On Friday, the 29th, I still could not get over what occurred in Bar Amazonia the night before. I woke up feeling awkward and out of place and I realized that I was still very unhappy about the incident in Wan Chai.  I thought we should never have gone to a seedy place like Bar Amazonia so later that evening I asked Sam why he decided to take us there in the first place. He apologized and said that he should never have. I accepted the apology but still could not shake my misery over what happened.

It was my last night in Hong Kong though and I wanted to have a nice, relaxed, unproblematic evening. I just wanted to have fun. At the beginning of the trip I had wanted to visit the harbor, go to the famous Peak, visit different museums and possibly go to Disneyland. I did not have the energy, time and resources to do all those things though. But I could still get my obligatory harbor picture that night because the harbor was just near. So in 4-inch heels, I walked some distance to the place. I love walking and I had absolute fun getting there.

Harbor pic

After I decided to go to Lan Kwai Fong, a more upscale place, to have drinks. I went to a place called California Bar.

Last night with Santy

After probably half an hour, I was approached by an English guy. He just came over and did not even bother to introduce himself and asked me perfunctorily how much I charged. I was too shocked to speak for a few seconds and after gathering my bearings back, I told him “I don’t know if I should feel insulted or flattered. I am sorry but I am not a working girl.” This egged him on and he said, “That’s better. So can I take you home?” I said, “No you can’t. I have a boyfriend.” He then said, “Then I’m just wasting my time here.” I icily retorted, “Yes you are.” So he left.

At that point, it dawned on me that a nice respectable Asian girl can never get a break in Hong Kong or perhaps anywhere in the world. A certain reputation will always precede her and if she is not a sex worker then she is a ladyboy sex worker. When I was in Europe, I heard the exact same thing. Asians even if they have white or blue collar jobs tend to moonlight as escorts. Not everyone does it of course but the stereotype has stuck.

I myself have nothing against anyone who does sex work. There is a growing sex workers’ rights movement that have claims parallel to other liberation movements: sex work is work; sex workers have the right to self-determination as much as the next person; sex workers need to unite so they can collectively change their material conditions—rid their profession of its stigma and empower sex worker so they have more control of and security in their bodies while making sex work a safe, less hazardous and rewarding occupation.

Because of sex workers’ collectives around the world, laws have been put in place to protect sex workers’ rights. In Scandinavia, for example, it is legal to sell sex although illegal to buy it. This sort of Catch 22 has been debated among activists and policy makers and sex workers have begun to question the wisdom of this legislative model. In the Philippines, there are no organized groups advocating for sex workers’ rights but, awhile back, a lawmaker drafted a proposed bill to decriminalize prostitution very much following the Scandinavian model. The proposed bill purports to shift the responsibility of availing of sexual services from those who sell it to those who buy it. Selling sex, remains largely, illegal here though and much of the world.

In Hong Kong, sex workers cannot come together. It is okay to sell sex if one does it alone. There is an assumption that one only does it randomly, as a sideline and not really one’s main line of work. That means, a sex worker cannot work with a pimp or another person to sell sex. Further, one cannot advertise sexual services and profiting or benefiting from money gained through prostitution is punishable in the Hong Kong penal code.

I have met many trans girls in Hong Kong who are working girls. Many of them are just in it for the money and have become apologists for what they do. I have yet to meet someone who does it who is empowered, who feels no guilt over what she does, actually thinks she can do it as a lifetime job and demand societal restructuring to protect her rights as a service provider and proprietor. But such is not the case. This idea was addressed in Gayle Rubin’s seminal article Thinking Sex: Notes for a radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. According to Rubin, one of the ideologies that have held people’s views on sex and sexuality in a stranglehold is sex negativity, the view that sex is “a dangerous, destructive and negative force.” Sex negativity underpins the view of sex as sin and its non-free, non-procreative expressions as bad. In this view, sex is neither for pleasure nor profit. Such a view explains people’s condescension on sex work and those who do it. After all, one is not supposed to sell sex but give sex for free. Rubin notes that such thinking combined with other anti-sex and sexuality attitudes has resulted in socially ingrained sexual hierarchies where the married heterosexual occupies the most privileged position while sexual outlaws like prostitutes, crossdressers, pedophiles, BDSM-practitioners and even transsexuals occupy the bottom rung.

As the last two posts have shown, I have my own prejudices to unpack. I think that Hong Kong has ultimately brought out my sex negativity by my public declaration of neither being a ladyboy nor a prostitute. I somehow feel guilty over this and I think I need to reflect on this further. I will try to do so in a future post but for now I hope these thoughts will suffice.


Deepak Sharma said...

Hi Pinay,

Your article is very insightful. I have been to Amazonia and other bar you mentioned. And the way it is crowded with the working girls, this sort of assumption is natural for many if not for all.

But at the same time I also have met people in Amazonia who go there solely for the rock music and they don't show any interest in the girls at all.

But what you have observed about stereotyping is true.

Keep on writing! It will help others to understand this world better!


PinayTG said...

Thank you for reading, Deepak. :-)