Stephen Hoo's story
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( STEPHEN HOO )

Stephen’s English mother and Malaysian-Chinese father met through their work as nurses during the 1970s. Stephen’s connection with the Chinese portion of his identity began in college, leading him to study in Beijing. Stephen is openly gay, and has worked as an actor in several productions on the theme of gay inclusiveness.

INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

Hello, my name is Stephen Hoo. I’m in my late twenties and I was born in Redhill, Surrey.

Stephen, can you tell us a bit about your family history and about your parents?

My mother’s English and my dad’s Chinese. My mother was originally from Chester in the north, and then moved to London. My dad was born in Malaysia, in Penang, and then moved to London when he was eighteen.

What was your experience like when you were growing up in the UK?

I grew up in a very multicultural environment. My parents were both psychiatric nurses. During the 1970s, the government needed nurses so they brought a lot over from other countries, and from around the UK and Ireland, and we lived in terraced houses which were owned by the hospital where my mum and dad worked. So my neighbours were a mix of Mauritians, Irish, Scottish, Malaysians and Filipinos, and I grew up in a very multicultural environment.

"As a Eurasian, I will go into Beijing and I’ll hear people call me ‘laowai’; or in Malaysia and my own relatives will call me ‘gwai lo’, which means ‘white devil’. So in that sense I’m seen as a foreigner."

When I went to college when I was around 17-18, I got really interested in my dad’s culture, Malaysian and then Malaysian-Chinese. I thought, ‘I’m half-Chinese, half-English and I really want to get involved and find out more about that’. So it was only later on in life that it became a thing for me, and I decided to go and learn Chinese and do a degree in Chinese at SOAS, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

When you’ve travelled to Asia, what has been the reception that you’ve got as a British Born Chinese and as a Eurasian?

That’s an interesting question because people say, ‘Oh, how do you identify yourself?’ And can say I’m British, I can say I’m British-Chinese, I can say I’m British-Eurasian, I can say I’m Chinese. But saying all of that, I will go into Beijing and I’ll hear people call me laowai; or I’ll be in Malaysia and my own relatives will call me gwai lo, which means ‘white devil’. So in that sense I’m seen as a foreigner.

"When we’re in Malaysia, that’s when we don’t talk about me being gay. And I think that’s a Chinese thing; you just don’t talk about these things, or I wouldn’t tell them because I know that they would react badly."

I know that in this country, it depends on who’s looking at you. In London, being a very multicultural place, if someone is an intelligent person, they’ll look at you and realise you could be British-born or you could be a foreigner. But then I could go to somewhere rural, and they will automatically assume that I’m not a Brit. So I’m everything to everyone, and I’ve got no problem with that - as long as there’s no disrespect or negative intent.

Could you tell us about coming out as gay and your experiences in that?

Well, I came out to my mum when I was seventeen and that was a big deal. When I told her, she said something to the effect of – and she’ll deny this because your parents have an alternate history about how things happened – ‘Oh I think you should try it with a girl first, before you - ’, as if to say, ‘you’re not gay’. And I said to my mum, ‘Did you have to try with a girl first to know you’re not a lesbian?’ I don’t remember how she answered it; how could she answer it but to say ‘no I didn’t have to’? But she’s fine with it now - she has no choice!

As I’ve become older it’s become easier to talk to my dad about it. Before, I was the one with the problem; I didn’t want to talk to my dad about it. I’m sure he would have been fine. In fact, I think he reacted better than my mum. But before I made it into a problem because we live in a society where it’s still a problem. But it shouldn’t be an issue; it should be easy.

Do you think any of the difficulties you had speaking to your father was anything to do with a Chinese cultural difference?

No, I don’t think so. I think anyone else’s father would have been the same, no matter what their race. But I know that when we’re in Malaysia with my father’s family, that’s when we don’t talk about it and they don’t know. And I think that’s a Chinese thing; you just don’t talk about these things, or I wouldn’t tell them because I know that they would react badly.

"The stereotype of an East Asian person in the gay scene is that they are submissive; they always take the feminine role. There may be an element of that that’s true, but I know a lot of East Asian gay friends that aren’t like that."

Because of where they come from, their mentality, and living in a Chinese environment where first off you’re a child, then you’re a brother or sister, then you’re a husband or wife, then you’re a mother and father. Being gay is outside of all of that, and so it’s ‘Other’: it’s different, which can cause fear. That’s the problem - they still live in this kind of traditional mindset. I know that if I was born and raised in Malaysia, my whole story would be completely different and it would probably be negative.

Can you tell us about your experiences in the gay community as a British Born Chinese?

I know that other East Asian gay people have a problem with the gay scene because they feel that they don’t fit in. The archetypal image of the gay scene is of white, muscly men listening to dance house music and of visual signifiers that give you your potency. If you’re East Asian, or any other colour, or a person that doesn’t fit into that then you’re an ‘Other’ and you don’t fit in. But I haven’t really suffered as I revel in that!

The stereotype of an East Asian person in the gay scene is that they are submissive; they always take the kind of girly, feminine role. There’s this stereotype that they’re money boys looking for white sugar daddies; they’re sissies and things like that. There may be an element of that that’s true, but also I know for a fact that a lot of my East Asian gay friends aren’t like that. So I don’t have a problem with the gay scene although I know there are problems with it, and I think that it is stupid to look at someone else and reduce them to a stereotype!

Hello, my name is Stephen Hoo. I’m in my late twenties and I was born in Redhill, Surrey.

Stephen, can you tell us a bit about your family history and about your parents?

My mother’s English and my dad’s Chinese. My mother was originally from Chester in the north, and then moved to London. My dad was born in Malaysia, in Penang, and then moved to London when he was eighteen.

What was your experience like when you were growing up in the UK?

I grew up in a very multicultural environment. My parents were both psychiatric nurses. During the 1970s, the government needed nurses so they brought a lot over from other countries, and from around the UK and Ireland, and we lived in terraced houses which were owned by the hospital where my mum and dad worked. So my neighbours were a mix of Mauritians, Irish, Scottish, Malaysians and Filipinos, and I grew up in a very multicultural environment.

"As a Eurasian, I will go into Beijing and I’ll hear people call me ‘laowai’; or in Malaysia and my own relatives will call me ‘gwai lo’, which means ‘white devil’. So in that sense I’m seen as a foreigner."

Growing up in that mixed environment then, were you aware of being British Born Chinese?

I wouldn’t say I lived in a really white environment, so I didn’t feel that I stood out at all – it was only later on that happened. Only looking back on that now do I realise that actually I did have a very Chinese environment at home, even though my mother was English. But at the time it meant nothing to me, it was just what we were doing.

When I went to college when I was around 17-18, I got really interested in my dad’s culture, Malaysian and then Malaysian-Chinese. Then I got interested in China and started reading lots of books, watching lots of films, and it really kind of developed then. I thought, ‘I’m half-Chinese, half-English and I really want to get involved and find out more about that’. So it was only later on in life that it became a thing for me, and I decided to go and learn Chinese and do a degree in Chinese at SOAS, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

You have said that you are now very proud of your heritage. What are you proud of?

That’s a really hard question - I can’t say everything! I think I’m proud of how interesting it makes my life now. Being British and then having these two cultures: my mother’s side, she’s a northerner, so I can connect to that; I’m a Londoner, I can connect to that. It’s given me opportunities. I can go to Malaysia and Singapore, which I did as a kid and which I do now. I’ve lived in China, I’ve travelled and worked there. And I’ve got to go to Taiwan and work in Macau. I can only acquaint it with good things, so I take pride in that.

When you’ve travelled to Asia, what has been the reception that you’ve got as a British Born Chinese and as a Eurasian?

That’s an interesting question because people say, ‘Oh, how do you identify yourself?’ And I can say, I identify myself with anything and nothing: I can say I’m British, I can say I’m British-Chinese, I can say I’m British-Eurasian, I can say I’m Chinese. But saying all of that, I will go into Beijing and I’ll hear people call me laowai; or I’ll be in Malaysia and my own relatives will call me gwai lo, which means ‘white devil’. So in that sense I’m seen as a foreigner.

"When we’re in Malaysia, that’s when we don’t talk about me being gay. And I think that’s a Chinese thing; you just don’t talk about these things, or I wouldn’t tell them because I know that they would react badly."

I know that in this country, it depends on who’s looking at you. In London, being a very multicultural place, if someone is an intelligent, smart and enlightened person, they’ll look at you and realise you could be British-born or you could be a foreigner. But then I could go to somewhere rural, and they will automatically assume that I’m not a Brit. So I’m everything to everyone, and I’ve got no problem with that - as long as there’s no disrespect or negative intent.

Could you tell us about coming out as gay and your experiences in that?

Well, I first came out to a friend when I was about fifteen years old. That was a terrifying experience because at school I hadn’t spoken to anyone about any of it and it was a big, big secret. So coming out to a friend was kind of scary; I remember I shook physically and I didn’t know what was going to happen. But then, you know, she got over it, I got over it, and it was fine. I came out to my mum when I was seventeen and that was a big deal. When I told her, she said something to the effect of – and she’ll deny this because your parents have an alternate history about how things happened – ‘Oh I think you should try it with a girl first, before you - ’, as if to say, ‘you’re not gay’. And I said to my mum, ‘Did you have to try with a girl first to know you’re not a lesbian?’ I don’t remember how she answered it; how could she answer it but to say ‘no I didn’t have to’? But she’s fine with it now - she has no choice!

Have you spoken much about it to your father as well?

Well, as I’ve become older it’s become easier to talk to my dad about it. Before, I was the one with the problem; I didn’t want to talk to my dad about it. I’m sure he would have been fine. In fact, I think he reacted better than my mum. But before I thought ‘you don’t talk about it’. I made it into a problem because we live in a society where it’s still a problem. But it shouldn’t be an issue; it should be easy.

Do you think any of the difficulties you had speaking to your father was anything to do with a Chinese cultural difference?

No, I don’t think so. I think anyone else’s father would have been the same, no matter what their race. But I know that when we’re in Malaysia with my father’s family, that’s when we don’t talk about it and they don’t know. And I think that’s a Chinese thing; you just don’t talk about these things, or I wouldn’t tell them because I know that they would react badly.

"The stereotype of an East Asian person in the gay scene is that they are submissive; they always take the feminine role. There may be an element of that that’s true, but I know a lot of East Asian gay friends that aren’t like that."

Because of where they come from, their mentality, and living in a Chinese environment where first off you’re a child, then you’re a brother or sister, then you’re a husband or wife, then you’re a mother and father. Being gay is outside of all of that, and so it’s ‘Other’: it’s different, which can cause fear. That’s the problem - they still live in this kind of traditional mindset. I don’t discuss it with them, so I guess that’s showing my not dealing with the situation. But it’s easy for me because I don’t live there. I live here in London so I can do what I want. I know that if I was born and raised in Malaysia, my whole story would be completely different and it would probably be negative.

Can you tell us about your experiences in the gay community as a British Born Chinese?

I remember discovering these gay clubs in my teens which only played alternative rock music and I started going to those clubs all the time: Popstarz, Underwraps, Ghetto, Trash Palace. I had the best time of my life because it was a gay scene, but it was alternative music. It was different from the mainstream and I’ve always enjoyed that, I’ve always enjoyed being different. I’ve never wanted to fit in – I find homogeny and monoculture the blandest thing in the world. So when you ask me about my experience in the gay scene, I know that other East Asian gay people have a problem with the gay scene because they feel that they don’t fit in. The archetypal image of the gay scene is of white, muscly men listening to dance house music and of visual signifiers that give you your potency. If you’re East Asian, or any other colour, or a person that doesn’t fit into that then you’re an ‘Other’ and you don’t fit in. But I haven’t really suffered as I revel in that!

The stereotype of an East Asian person in the gay scene is that they are submissive; they always take the kind of girly, feminine role. There’s this stereotype that they’re money boys looking for white sugar daddies; they’re sissies and things like that. There may be an element of that that’s true, but also I know for a fact that a lot of my East Asian gay friends aren’t like that. So I don’t have a problem with the gay scene although I know there are problems with it, and I think that it is stupid to look at someone else and reduce them to a stereotype.

You spoke having children in the future. What values would you pass down to them?

I have a very clear vision about how I want my kids to grow up. I would love my kids to speak all different types of languages. If I adopt they could be any colour, but I do want them to speak Chinese. I want them to have a really good education: I don’t know if that’s a uniquely Chinese value though; all parents want the best for their kids in that sense. They’d all be eating Chinese food I know that for sure, that’s unavoidable. My mum, after meeting my dad, has eaten more Chinese than English food in her lifetime because she met when they were 19, so from then on it was all Chinese food!