“To me, the essence of Comparative Literature lies in integrating theoretical knowledge with everyday experiences.”

SIU FUNG 小風 (BA 2013; MPhil 2016) identifies as genderfluid and promotes gender inclusion and diversity in Hong Kong and Asia. They (editor’s note: “they/them/their” is used as the gender-neutral and singular pronoun for Siu Fung, suggested by the interviewee) lecture publicly on gender and transgender studies in tertiary institutions and high schools, corporate companies and various NGOs. This story shows how Comparative Literature inspires them to rethink about gender identities and their own bodies.


Studying abstract theories is a familiar yet sometimes off-putting experience for many Comparative Literature majors, and Siu Fung is no exception. When they were still an undergraduate student, they disliked reading theoretical texts. “As a pragmatic person, I struggled to relate to these theories, and found them confining my understanding of who I am.”

It was not until their senior years and MPhil research that they began to recognise the connection between theories and everyday experiences. The gender studies courses broadened their perspectives on the possibilities of gender. They introduced notions such as bisexuality and the third sex, lifting them out of the binary perspective they were accustomed to. Courses on Hong Kong popular culture also pointed them to the social construction of narratives.


“We are exposed to representations that are often too essentialist. What about individuals who don’t fit into a particular spectrum or set of binaries? How can we understand the state of in-betweenness?” As Siu Fung observed, stories about transgender people in mass media tend to follow a standardised, linear narrative marked by a drastic transformation, where an individual is pictured being happier after gender reassignment. “Yet, the stark contrast presented reduces one’s unique journey into two points in time, disregarding identity and self-exploration as a dynamic and ongoing process.”

Seeing existing narratives and representations as problematic, Siu Fung identified the need to develop new approaches to understanding gender. “When studying poststructuralism, we were introduced to the notion of deconstruction. Yet these theorists do not always suggest how we can actually transcend these binaries in everyday life. After deconstructing them, what comes next?”


The turning point that altered Siu Fung’s view on gender identity was the experience competing at a bodybuilding contest. Although Siu Fung identified socially as male, being assigned as female meant that they could only join
the female category. “I initially found it difficult to picture myself wearing a bikini on stage. It felt like a male wearing a bikini. But as I reflected upon my attitude, I came to see how I have imposed a ‘frame’ upon myself by internalising social norms and binaries on gender-related expressions.” Recognising the performative dimension of gender from their academic studies, they started to reflect upon the possibility of embodying both genders and undertake a project of self-experimentation.

In hindsight, Siu Fung described that their “gender awakening” was intertwined with their “academic awakening”. The critical awareness that their
understanding of gender and bodies had been shaped by media representations and conceptual frameworks enabled them to reconceptualise views on gender identities and expressions. And it is these insights developed through learning, unlearning and relearning that they hope to share with the wider public.


One form of advocacy work Siu Fung has actively engaged in is education. They spoke at workshops and lectures in international schools and tertiary institutions and adopted an accessible approach—by drawing abundant examples from popular texts and exposing their limitations in representing transgender people.

The skills of performing “textual analysis”, developed and practised in Comparative Literature, come into play—just that the texts have extended from films and literature to TV shows and advertisements. “In most settings, the audience wouldn’t be able to grasp abstract theoretical ideas. Instead
of bringing in alienating jargons like ‘representation’ or ‘marginalisation’, I engage participants with everyday examples and play clips extracted from popular media. I enable the transference and application of academic knowledge to ordinary citizens, which is conducive to shifts in thoughts on an individual level.”

Committed to raising public awareness, Siu Fung has also appeared in local and international media and attended panel discussions on a variety of topics, including an interesting one on sports, gender and menstruation. In recent years, they have also visited corporates in the financial, IT and legal industry. “The audience is often keen to know more about what they can do to create a more inclusive workplace and safeguard the rights of gender minorities. In fact, many international banks have begun providing gender-neutral washrooms to their employees, which is a very encouraging move to see.”

Siu Fung is a living example of how deconstruction can happen beyond the classroom. Through challenging gender assumptions and demonstrating the many possible manifestations of gender identities, they inspire us to rethink about the images we see and the bodies we live in.