The Phantom of Hegemonic Masculinity in Emergent Lesbian Discourses: Sexual Modernity in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China.

Carman K.M. Fung

University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

In the late twentieth century, lesbianism has been broadly conceptualised in Hong Kong and Taiwan as a pairing between a masculine-presenting individual and her feminine-presenting partner. The former was called a tomboy while the latter was termed a TBG (tomboy’s girl) or a po (literally “wife”). This vernacular soon spread to China in the early 2000s. By early 2010s however, the three regions have seen an plethora of new lesbian sub-labels and discourses.

This paper argues that these emergent discourses are defined through their rejection of the preceding tomboy label, which is perceived to be too closely aligned with “Asian hegemonic masculinity”. Further, I argue that the idea of an “Asian hegemonic masculinity” actually draws from both local and trans-regional (including Japanese) popular culture. Drawing on interviews with 40 members of the lesbian communities conducted in Hong Kong, Taipei, and Southeast China (Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangdong) in 2018, this paper explores what hegemonic masculinity means to lesbians who reject the tomboy label. Specifically, I ask: what kind of masculine performance is imagined to be part of traditional culture? In what ways are new sexual identities positioned to be modern? And how may sexual modernity be projected onto geopolitical imaginations of statehood?


Carman K.M. Fung is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her research deals with Asian sexualities, queer media and intra-regionality. Carman has received her MPhil in Gender Studies from the University of Cambridge and her BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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