COSMOPOLITAN CONSUMPTION OF SEXUALIZED SPACE: HONG KONG’S GAY BAR/ CLUB/ SAUNA
WONG See Huat
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Sciences (Urban Planning), The Centre of Urban Planning & Environmental Management The University of Hong Kong
I declare that this thesis represents my own work, except where due acknowledgement is made, and that it has not been previously included in a thesis, dissertation or reported submitted to this University or to any other institution for a degree, diploma or other qualifications.
Is Hong Kong, marketed as ‘Asia’s World City’, really cosmopolitan? One measure of cosmopolitanism is thriving cultural diversity. Most gays in Hong Kong are still not openly gay. In this study, the gay scene (gay bars, clubs and saunas) are examined in relation to ‘cosmopolitan consumption’ (consumerism in a cosmopolitan context). The research explores cosmopolitanism, gay entrepreneurship, and the creation of a cosmopolitan city.
The impact of this study concerns the visibility of the local gay community in the context of multiculturalism in urban planning. Assuming that gay spaces augment cosmopolitanism, the entrepreneurial form of urban governance (gay space as a commodity) will be explored in the Asian context. Since a gay index is not available, the mapping of gay scenes (the ‘gay quotient’ of different districts) can be used to gauge gay demography.
The findings of the research are primarily drawn from 220 online and on site questionnaire responses from the gay community and business owners, and the general public. The analysis focuses on the use (interpretation) of space, and the envisioned use of space by the gay community. The general awareness, tolerance and recognition of the gay iii
scene in Hong Kong are also explored. Supplementary in-depth interviews with prominent figures from nine Hong Kong gay NGOs and three government associated institutions were undertaken to get a balanced view. An additional focus group (involving 15 individuals) was also held.
According to the qualitative findings of this study, the gay community in Hong Kong is optimistic (69% responded that they were positive) about the relationship between the cosmopolitan city and gay space. However, 53% of the general public disagrees that the gay scene existence will promote Hong Kong as a diverse and creative city. They also feel uneasy about ideas that link Hong Kong with: gay establishments in neighborhoods (40% support); Hong Kong as Asia’s gay city (22% support); and gay tourism (39% support).
Nevertheless, there is public support (53%) for gay (equal) rights in Hong Kong. At the same time, the gay community indicates a willingness to integrate: 51% support a visible gay scene and 49% have invited non-gay people to the gay scene. The sustainability of the gay scene in Hong Kong is evident: 56% of businesses continue for more than 5 years, and there is no political or public pressure put on gay businesses (100% of respondents confirm this). However, there is less indication of the specific value of gay capital (and social capital) in entrepreneurship: 72% of gay scenes owners do not incentivise or allocate budgets to sponsor gay activities; only 16% see their role as promoting gay rights. iv
In conclusion, Hong Kong needs to improve its knowledge and diversity (two key elements underpinning cosmopolitanism). 77% of respondents from the general public have no awareness of the local gay scene, 76% had never encountered gays, and only 34% know or are willing to emulate overseas gay scenes locally. As regards respondents from the gay community, 53% had no idea of gay spending power (the “pink dollar”) and only 15% are aware of legislation concerning gay rights. This dearth of knowledge and awareness suggests there are political and cultural barriers to recognizing...
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