Sculptures have been a rendering of the ideal human physique throughout history. We stare in awe, imagining their creators diligently chiseling away at the marble to uncover a full bicep, and V-shaped external obliques. Bodybuilding, both a physical and artistic endeavour, is not dissimilar; the only difference is its medium — the human body.
Siufung Law takes this medium to another level, moulding it into an expression of his genderqueer identity. As he tells us: “My body is a blend of everything and I’m here to show people a possibility, an alternative beyond a binary understanding of what a man’s or woman’s body should look like.” Recently placed second in bodybuilding competition IFBB Wings of Strength Ms. International Classic, Law is also a gender studies scholar and member of the team working to bring Gay Games 2022 to Hong Kong.
Still / Loud caught up with Law after his workshop “Muscle as Medium,” as part of Para Site’s “In Search of Miss Ruthless” show, for a conversation about his journey in bodybuilding, gender fluidity, and genderqueer advocacy in Hong Kong.
Still / Loud: How did you get into bodybuilding?
Siufung Law: I began bodybuilding training in 2014 and started competing in 2015. I started my research the same year I started bodybuilding, and I decided to use my own experiences with gender as the praxis of my thesis. My research questioned whether or not a body can house more than one, or conflicting identities.
This was seldom mentioned even in transgender studies because there’s always been a focus on crossing from one gender to the other. Bodybuilding allows me to connect my mindset and body through my muscles. It probes me to rethink my gender identity, incorporating both theory and practice.
How does your narrative divert from the mainstream transgender narrative?
I [identified] more as a transgender man [before I started bodybuilding] but I also doubted whether or not I fit in that category. I never felt like my narrative fits with the normative narrative of transgender men. I don’t think of myself as a man entirely.
Most of the transgender folks I’ve met in Hong Kong are concerned about physical transitions, which I’m not at all interested in. I see bodybuilding as a way out for someone who doesn’t want to or cannot go through Hormonal Replacement Therapy or top surgery. It’s possible for me to sculpt my chest into a “man’s chest” without going under the knife so to speak.
My existence is an education for other people.
Female bodybuilders already challenge the world’s understanding of femininity with their muscular bodies. I add another layer for genderqueerness, going against a gender binarist system. My body is a blend of everything and I’m here to show people a possibility, an alternative beyond a binary understanding of what a man’s or woman’s body should look like.
In your previous Facebook posts, you talked about encounters with unfriendly gym goers in the female changing room and the strategies you developed to cope with these situations.
At first, I hated going to female changing rooms because I didn’t want to deal with unfriendly people yelling at me. One time there was a middle-aged woman staring me down so I stared right back at her. And suddenly she just laughed and I felt defeated. Maybe because she found me stupid.
My existence is an education for other people. Most people aren’t there to discriminate but it’s often out of the fear of the unknown and misunderstanding. I learnt to be more compassionate. I developed a strategy to overcome conflicts and odd situations. Sometimes I’d use humour. You have to be brave enough to take the first step and reach out.
You are arguably one of the most prominent genderqueer figures in Hong Kong but you also mentioned you didn’t like being in the limelight. What are your experiences in LGBT activism?
I don’t really consider myself an activist since fighting in the frontline for rights isn’t my strength. I’m more apt at teaching, connecting people, theorising and putting things in practice. And I think that makes me more of an advocate. I am more concerned about “mental transition” and preparing those around me to understand me as a man in social context.
I have this rather radical belief that everyone is genderfluid and pansexual. How would we ever know for sure who we are?
I put myself out there because I think positive media portrayal is necessary. I’m often put in situations where I have to answer for transgender people who are planning on transitioning but that’s not who I am. I do believe there are more genderqueer and gender non-binary people out there who just don’t have access to the vocabulary to pinpoint their identities.
There’s been a lot of discourse and vocabulary that sprouted out of Western gender studies. Are there parts of which you think isn’t compatible or translatable in the local context?
I have a solid understanding of Western transgender theories and how the transgender identities encompass a huge spectrum. I only learnt about the term “genderqueer” about five years ago. I know there are more of us out there who live in between or outside of the gender binary in East Asia, but there wasn’t a word to describe us.
The word for “transgender” in Chinese didn’t appear until seven or eight years ago. 跨性別 is more neutral than 變性, which has a negative connotation for some. When I first started talking to local Chinese mainstream media, there wasn’t a translation for the word “genderqueer.” I opted for 性別酷兒 — which is neutral and to the point — with 酷兒 being a transliteration of “queer” from Taiwan.
People often talk about how we shouldn’t put ourselves in boxes. That’s true as far as going about our daily lives go, but I think categorization is necessary in a political context and in activism. To distinguish between genderqueer or gender non-binary, with transsexuals*, for example. I do hope that’s a more liberating form of categorisation.
*Editor’s note: The term “transsexual” is considered outdated in many contexts outside of Hong Kong. Although some transgender people identify as “transsexual,” it isn’t a label that should be applied to all transgender people. In the context of Hong Kong, the term and its Chinese translation 變性人 remain prevalent in the local vocabulary and official documents when referring to transgender people. The most recent consultation paper by the HK government’s Inter-departmental Working Group on Gender Recognition acknowledges the evolving vocabulary to describe transgender people, but continues to use “transsexual” and “transsexualism” as “generic terms.”
Any other thoughts?
We live in the postmodern era, there are so many possibilities for people to interpret their gender. I think we are moving towards a world where gender fluidity and neutrality become the trend. Muscularity is just my interpretation of it and I don’t want to create a “mainstream” genderqueer narrative.
I interpret the fluidity of gender through the lens of Buddhist philosophy and the Buddhist belief in impermanence. A lot of people think of the transgender experience, or transitioning as linear. I have this rather radical belief that everyone is genderfluid and pansexual. How would we ever know for sure who we are?
Siufung Law conducted his workshop, “Muscle as Medium,” as part of the exhibition “In Search of Miss Ruthless” at Para Site, which runs until September 10. This interview has been edited for length and flow. Wilfred Chan contributed reporting; Holmes Chan contributed editing.