Pride Of Place: Why Visibility Matters In 2021
“Is that rainbow flag for Pride Month?”
‘No, that’s just me.”
Sometimes big moments are explained in small phrases, and that’s how it was at a party earlier this year, as a new friend and I added each other on Instagram.
But sometimes big moments are a long time coming. The rainbow flag is a recent addition to my social media profiles. So are the flags of the UK and Hong Kong; representing respectively the country where I was born and raised, and my new home since February.
So what is it about this moment, for me, in Hong Kong, that means I am now ready and comfortable to be far more open about my bisexuality; if not shouting it from the skyscraper rooftops, then at least flying the flag online, speaking about it on a recent podcast, and volunteering in my spare time to help bring the Gay Games here in 2022?
After all, my sexuality is not new to me. And while Hong Kong is an open and welcoming city, with a small but thriving scene, it lacks some measures of equality compared to where I grew up.
The answer is Pride and visibility.
For a long time for me, Pride meant parades. And while parades are all good and well, they weren’t for me. Not my cup of tea. I’d no sooner parade my sexuality than I would my religion or political views––after all, you never know who might be listening. And especially while I worked in a public-facing role at the BBC, I guarded my privacy even more jealously. What felt like “over-sharing” was neither necessary nor wise.
But over the last 12 months, my understanding has changed. It’s been roughly a year since my then-girlfriend was offered a job in Hong Kong, setting in motion our move across the world. It’s been roughly 8 months since we were married, ensuring we could make the move together. In the time since that very big moment––the first four months of which the pandemic forced us to spend apart––I’ve come to realise the power and significance of being truly seen and accepted by someone.
From there my own Pride has grown and flourished, and so has my understanding. The parades, the speeches, the dancing, the parties...they can divert your attention from what is really going on, in the way a lavish wedding celebration might. Because just like standing alongside your partner and exchanging your wedding vows, Pride is about looking the world in the eye and affirming who you are. It’s a moment of loud celebration, but also of quiet insistence: this is who I am.
Why did speaking publicly take so long? Is it marriage? Being away from home? A new city? A new start? I’ve asked and been asked these questions a lot recently, and I think visibility can help explain.
Acceptance and coming out took so long because as I grew up in the UK in the 1990s and early 2000s, there weren’t many bisexual role models for me to look up to and learn from. Things were gradually improving for LGBTQ+ people at this time, with legal advances and changing attitudes. But for the most part, the message was: you can either be gay or straight. And if you felt you were somewhere in the middle? Well you were just confused, or going through a phase, or indecisive, or in denial.
Slowly, and sometimes painfully, I navigated those uncharted waters, towards where I am now: a proud and happy bisexual. But moving to a part of the world where there is an ongoing struggle for acceptance and to overcome homophobia, where my life would be quite different had I arrived with a husband instead of a wife, made me finally realise how important it is to be seen.
In a city far away from where I grew up, in circumstances I barely imagined 12 months ago, I have learned the power of visibility: that bisexuals and everyone else in the LGBTQ+ community have to be seen to be believed. That’s what explains the rainbow flag, the openness with new friends and colleagues, and my small part in helping The Games. That’s what visibility means to me, here, in Hong Kong, in 2021. And that’s what Pride means to me.