The Blackwood Research Group

Posts tagged ‘Hong Kong’

Queer time? Family time? Re-Thinking Queer Temporality


This is a common Hong Kong wet market scene. Unlike supermarkets in the United States that open 24/7, wet markets in Hong Kong open within a certain time frame, usually from 8:00 in the morning until noon, and then open again at 4:00 until 7:00 in the evening. Wet market is a place embodying family time: kids go to school before 8:00, so moms and domestic workers are free to go to wet markets after 8:00. Family dinner time should not be later than 8:00, so wet markets close at 7:00. As defined by Judith Halberstam in her book In a Queer Time and Place, family time refers to the normative scheduling of daily life, and queer time refers to specific models of temporality that leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family. According to the definitions, shopping at a wet market is a family time because it orients to the normative schedule of most ordinary, nuclear families. 

But, is family time always neatly distinct from queer time? Can family time produce a queer moment, let say in the wet market? My research on female same-sex relationships among Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong provides me a window to re-think the notion of “queer temporality.” It also enables me to recognize the productive effect of family time in producing queer time. Let me explain it.

As live-in domestic workers, the Indonesian women are required to stick to the family time—early to rise to finish household duties and not allowed to leave the apartment without employers’ approval. Through understanding how they worked out their same-sex relationships on weekdays, I found that the women managed to queer family time. I was told that it was not uncommon for them to date an Indonesian woman, who was also a domestic worker and lived nearby, when they went shopping at wet markets. The family time of shopping at wet markets enables Indonesian domestic workers to gather at a certain time, i.e. 5:00 in the afternoon, at a certain spot, i.e. wet market.Shopping at a wet market is not necessarily a mundane daily routine, but may be a queer moment–seeing a woman she is longing for. 

Family time and queer time are not necessarily separate or distinct categories.

Family time may produce queer moments.





A Sunday Morning in Hong Kong

Tomboy Funky

It was a shocking scene to me when I was invited to a pageant of Indonesian women domestic workers in Hong Kong last year. I was told that the theme of the pageant was “Tomboy Funky” with all participants wearing the trendiest clothes and make-up and walking with masculine gestures. I was shocked because their masculinities were under the spotlight — they displayed no smile, short hair, flat chest, leather boots and heavy metal accessories.

My shock did not go away with the end of the “Tomboy Funky” pageant; instead, it was further intensified when the “Miss Evening Dress” pageant began right after the Tomboy Funky show. The candidates’ sweet smiles, soft gestures and slim-cutting evening dresses highlighted their body curves, making a strong contrast with those tomboys’ masculinities. I was amazed to see both Tomboy Funky and Miss Evening Dress taking place in one event because it suggests that female-bodied persons are now free to choose what attributes, either femininity or masculinity, they want to show off in one event. Everyone has a place to run if one likes to, no matter you are a tomboy or a femme. Isn’t it fair?

Miss Evening Dress

Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are live-in domestic workers. They are required by law to live with their employers. The only holiday they get every week is Sunday. And so, Sunday is the only day they can really express themselves, especially in a gendered way, as either a tomboy or a femme. Some Indonesian domestic workers told me that at their employer’s house they could only wear simple clothes (such as T-shirts and sweatpants) and were asked to tie up their hair. Neither hyper-femininity nor hyper-masculinity is allowed. They are being de-sexualized from Monday to Saturday. Sunday is the only day they can celebrate their beauty and their masculinity, and also refresh and recover themselves from the laborious 6-day work.

%d bloggers like this: