Default Setting: Discussing Conversion Therapy in Hong Kong Through Theatre

A local LGBTQ+ support community has produced and released the drama Default Setting, which has opened discussions regarding the nature of sexuality and the state of conversion therapy in Hong Kong. Lately, concerns about conversion therapy have been mentioned by several such communities but this is the first step being taken to confront the prevailing social issue head-on.

The early stages of psychiatry had suggested that homosexuality was a mental illness, giving birth to conversion therapy which has attempted to “convert” homosexual individuals into the more socially acceptable and desirable heterosexuals. The conversion methods include medical ‘cures’ such as electric shot therapy and medication, or religious methods such as prayers, fasting, and performing an exorcism.

In 1990, the WHO affirmed that homosexuality is a normal orientation in human sexuality, and was no longer classified as a disease or mental disorder henceforth. However, there are no regulations against conversion therapy in Hong Kong, and such “treatment” is still provided secretly via religious groups and some psychologists.

The drama, Default Setting (原廠設定), is a project that was being performed by a local community “LGBT Love Free” (愛自由計劃), during the dates March 10th to 12th, 2023. The plot revolves around a homosexual man who voluntarily joins conversion therapy and tries to fall in love with a woman after attempting to commit suicide with his boyfriend.

The scene where main character Lok voluntarily joins conversion therapy; Photo credit: LGBT Love Free authorised.

The drama criticises the absurdity of conversion therapy, touching upon LGBTQ+ discrimination which could be contributing to the deterioration of the current situation and pushing homosexual individuals towards such drastic forms of “conversion”. The title of the drama subtly questions the audience if there is any ‘default setting’ in human sexuality.

The producer and social worker in charge of this drama, Mei Mei, shared her thoughts in the house pamphlet, saying that she believes everyone can live independently in the spectrum, where human personality, interest, ability, and sexuality are within the spectrum according to their age and experience.

The drama further poses a question to the audience on the last page of its pamphlet: “If you are to reset to the default setting, what do you want to backup…?”

I hope that everyone can accept their true self, embrace their imperfections, and don’t need to change their unique self due to other people’s eyes.

— Mei Mei

Another local LGBTQ+ support community, the Society of True Light, published their research report on the situation of “Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE)” in January earlier this year. In this report, conversion therapy is defined as one form of SOCE, and it is revealed that 21.9% of interviewed homosexuals have experienced SOCE at least once before.

The Society of True Light has claimed that family members and religious leaders are the two major advocates of SOCE. Furthermore, almost no interviewee, who has previously experienced SOCE, said it is effective, whereas 83.3% developed suicidal ideation, and 39.6% of them developed clinical depression.

On the other hand, the New Creation Association, a Christian organisation that has been accused of offering conversion therapy holds a different opinion. The association said they acknowledge that society is trending towards respecting people with different personalities, but those who do not feel comfortable with their homosexuality are seeking help.

“One of our main focus is to provide emotional support to families and friends of those who are struggling with same-sex attraction,” The New Creation Association wrote in their mission statement.

One guest attending the performance, Alvin Cheung, said he has undergone conversion therapy before, and shared that the “voluntary” participants of the therapy were often more harmful than being forced, since it meant that the attendee was internalising the anti-homosexual teachings and social pressure. He added that they would later experience a greater internal conflict, as they begin to see themselves as the “perpetrator” and the “victim” of being homosexual at the same time.

Conversion therapy is like brainwashing or psychological abuse. It leverages the “name of God” to support an act of the entire societal culture’s discriminatory belief.

— Alvin Cheung 

Despite the recent changes in the electoral system, there are no LGBTQ+ supporting lawmakers in Hong Kong. The artists behind Default Setting, LGBT Love Free, said that although the current legislative system is disappointing since it does not legally stand against conversion therapy, they will continue to create the art they believe in and put their faith in the people of Hong Kong who keep striving for a better world.

Featured image: LGBT Love Free (authorised)

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