Tucked away in subdivided flats and massage parlours are one of the most unseen and marginalised groups of Hong Kong. Despite the city’s subtle shift towards diversity and inclusion, male sex workers are struggling to integrate into the mainstream as stigma against sex work and homosexuality prevails.
In Hong Kong, sex work, albeit legal, is restricted by a multitude of laws. Due to the prohibition of related activities such as street prostitution and having multiple persons work in the same establishment, sex workers often find themselves treading in legal grey areas with minimal protection.
As for laws restricting homosexual relationships, they were decriminalised only in 1991, with same-sex anal intercourse deemed illegal under age 21, until it was lowered to age 16 in 2006 to be on par with heterosexuals. Despite that, the malicious labelling from society and the press towards LGBTQ+ sex workers is still prevalent, with no laws protecting queer individuals from discrimination.
Unlike female sex workers who work often together as a community within a building, male sex workers tend to work in solidarity due to the scarcity of men working in such professions, labouring alone in secluded flats of tong lau buildings. Moreover, while discrimination and hate crimes are minimal due to the heavily underground nature of their community, harmful stereotypes are not scarce. Male sex workers often feel alone as many choose not to disclose their profession and sexuality to family, friends, or even spouses for fear of judgment. These intersections put them into one of the city’s most marginalised groups and pose high risks to their safety.
“They are minorities even within marginalised communities – many female sex workers do not see them as counterparts due to homophobia, and the LQBTQ+ community is not always accepting of sex work. There has to be a place that accepts those who are most rejected by society.” — Ngai Tak Kin, the director of Midnight Blue
Ngai Tak Kin, the director of Midnight Blue, has been working for years to create a support network for male sex workers in Hong Kong and, more recently, mainland China. Founded in 2006, Midnight Blue is a Hong Kong-based non-governmental organisation that advocates for the rights of male and transgender sex workers.
The organisation published a book titled Midnight Blue – Oral History of Male Sex Workers in Hong Kong in 2022. The book, which took five years to complete, includes the life stories of eight male sex workers aged between 20 to 70. By documenting their lust, growth, and self-discovery, the book reflects on the influence of Hong Kong’s development on sex work, as well as how society’s understanding of the values of sex, ethics, and relationships has changed through time, filling in a part of history mainstream media has failed to cover. The organisation wishes to destigmatise sex work in the hope of moving towards a more inclusive and diverse society, as well as to shed light on the marginalisation of sex workers.
Leung Kun Ho, the writer of one of the stories, said the hardest part of writing the book was gaining trust from his interviewee, Siu Lam. Siu Lam, who had started sex work at a young age due to poverty and familial issues, was at first reluctant to share major parts of his life. “It was understandable,” said Leung, “any ordinary person would be wary about presenting themselves like an open book for the world to judge, let alone someone within one of the most marginalised and misunderstood communities.
“However, as we got closer, I realised he was just another young adult who wanted to be understood,” Leung added.
Ngai hopes to shine male sex workers in a light of familiarity through their publication – to show the general public that despite their differences in profession, readers can still find a connection between themselves and the protagonists of the stories. “Having grown up with the same historical and social background, we are prone to experience the same powerlessness against societal systems,” said Ngai.
“I want readers to think about whether they would have made the same decisions, and consequently end up in similar paths, when in face with the same circumstances,” Ngai stressed.
Featured Image: Midnight Blue