What is it like to be a lesbian in Hong Kong?

Life is never easy when you are alone in a foreign country, let alone if you are a lesbian in Hong Kong, where the lesbian scene is preciously rare. In a city like Hong Kong, where people come and go so quickly and going out for drinks is almost the only option if you want to meet, how did Lee Harlem Robinson manage to lead a promiscuous life? Fridae’s reporter Tony Ed Lo speaks with Hannelore Arbyn, the person behind the story.

Hannelore Arbyn is a Belgian living in Hong Kong who has been writing Lee Harlem Robinson’s life in the virtual world for more than 18 months. Her debut novel Come and Go picks up where her blog Trying to Throw my Arms Around the World left us.
Author of Come and Go: Hannelore Arbyn

In the novel we follow Lee after her heartbreaking separation from Stella. The sleepless nights and the wounds are still fresh, and Lee is trying to indulge herself in unintentionally promiscuous relationships involving her new love interest Nikki and her ex/ boss Lucy. “In Hong Kong, a four months relationship is equivalent to a year in other countries.” This was how Lee described the situation in which she found herself as she headed towards the break up.

Arbyn explained: “Hong Kong is such a compact city, people’s work ethic is much more aggressive. Everything in Hong Kong is very fast and people feel like they have to do everything much quicker; maybe they know they won’t be staying long. Hong Kong is a city which will make you change your pace.”

Imagine Sex and the City or The L Word, filming in Hong Kong and you will have a hint of what Arbyn has to offer. Come and Go is basically a unique Hong Kong version of the lesbian drama. It is really easy for those who have been to Hong Kong and are familiar with the place to relate to this tale.

“When I was writing the novel, I was thinking about different names for places, and then I came to the point that why not use the original names of the restaurants and places.” And this was when Arbyn started putting her favourite places in the story. “Maybe you’ll find Stella or Lee sitting next to you when you go to a restaurant next time”, Arbyn chuckled.

The lesbian life of Arbyn’s description is dramatic and promiscuous. In her world, meeting another lesbian is never a problem, and the life her novel portrays could totally outshine most gay men’s lives in terms of drama.

“When you are a single lesbian when you come to Hong Kong it must horrible, really horrible. It could happen like that but it’s just not that easy.” Arbyn told me about her fictionalised lesbian life in Hong Kong. She warned that anyone who wanted to come to Hong Kong after reading the book should think twice. “There isn’t really that much of a lesbian scene in Hong Kong, just the monthly party [at Les Peches], which is the only lesbian thing I have been to. And I don’t really know many of the lesbians in Hong Kong. We (Arbyn and her wife) hardly meet any lesbians, a few through some friends and that’s it.”

Contrary to what one might expect from the creator of Lee, Arbyn is actually a happy married woman, and moved to Hong Kong with her wife – with whom she has had an 11-year relationship – 18 months ago. And when she came to Hong Kong she started writing about Lee’s life online. People who know her would notice the differences between her life and Lee’s story. “I would like to write a little bit more of a dramatic story with a sad tone to it but in the end I tried to put a little humour in there and a happy ending. You know when you write fiction you want to keep it a bit more interesting.” Arbyn responded.

Lesbian movies or novels are somehow not as prolific as the gay’s, Arbyn said. “I just really enjoy seeing something lesbian-themed, not just because it’s fun to see, but also you got the feeling that the lesbians aren’t being forgotten. Sometime it’s good to see yourself reflected, maybe not entirely, in some entertainment.”

Arbyn also feels the lack of lesbian publications: “It’s important to have things out there. My book is not about coming out. I featured characters that some of the other lesbians may relate to.”

Sometimes writers will unconsciously invest their personal feelings and experiences into their books. I asked her to tell me which of her characters had the most of her inside them. The answer was none! How about her wife? The answer was the same.

“It is completely different from our real life.” Arbyn explained. She admitted that sometimes she uses her friends’ stories for inspiration. “Of course it’s not completely the same.” But she told us one of the characters who appears in the early stages of the story was based on a hot and sexy gym instructor who did have the same character.

Having written Lee’s life in the virtual world for almost 18 months, Arbyn felt that it was time to extend her life via print into an actual novel. So Arbyn published the novel herself. She didn’t bother to look for a publisher; the easiest way was to just go ahead and publish it. Which, she said, was a good deal as she ended up with complete control over everything. She also knew she would be able to do it this way since she had been publishing online for some time. It seems to have been the right decision.

Arbyn promises there will be more to look forward to, and intends to tell us in short stories about Lee’s life before meeting Stella. She will focus a bit more on Lee’s first arrival to Hong Kong and how her relationships with gays started. And she has already started planning for her next novel.

If you want to find out more about Come and Go please visit www.comeandgothenovel.com. Both paperback (USD12.99/HKD100) and ebook (USD2.99) are available online.

by Tony Ed Lo
Source – Fridae