Leslie Cheung

Leslie Cheung looking thoughtfully at the camera with his hand on his chin.

Leslie Cheung looking thoughtfully at the camera with his hand on his chin.

"My mind is bisexual. It's easy for me to love a woman. It's also easy for me to love a man, too"

– Leslie Cheung

One of the most famous pop stars from Hong Kong, Leslie Cheung’s short life is subject to intense speculation. Before he came out, he was constantly questioned and pestered about his sexuality. That makes it all the more unfortunate that once he did come out as bisexual, everyone promptly ignored his declaration and decided he was gay instead. 

Born September 12, 1956, in Hong Kong, Leslie Cheung remembered a difficult childhood. Though his father was a very successful tailor working with stars like Marlon Brando and Cary Grant, his family life was fraught. The youngest of ten siblings, he said his home was filled with arguments and he would spend more time with his grandmother than either of his parents. Recalling that period in his life, Cheung would talk about and later be diagnosed with depression. 

He was sent to study in England at the age of twelve, and it was there that he decided on the name Leslie. He said:

"I love the film Gone with the Wind. And I like Leslie Howard. The name can be a man's or woman's, it's very unisex, so I like it."

When his father became ill Cheung returned quickly. He did not return to England, even after his father recovered.

In 1977, he instead entered a music contest and won second place and was signed by a label. His music career was an absolute failure at first, with his album being largely ignored, and his performances being interrupted by booing that would force him to leave the stage. He wouldn’t get recognition for his work until 1982. After five years of flops, Cheung released Wind Continues to Blow. In 1984 the single Monica would become the best selling single in Hong Kong history. 

Quickly becoming one of the most famous people in all of the Chinese music scene, Cheung would also slowly begin to enter the world of film. His performances were praised worldwide, breaking box office records and receiving award after award. 

In 1989 he took a break from being a pop singer, though at the time it was meant to be a retirement. He was the first Cantopop singer to hold a retirement series of concerts and went on to focus on his film career and composing music. 

Finding great success in both realms, Cheung maintained his place in the spotlight and received regular questions about his sexuality. Though he had been a part of several public relationships with women, the press continued to ask if he was gay. In 1992 Cheung came out as bisexual.

This statement has been widely ignored; media outlets brushed over Cheung’s clearly stated identity to call him gay, sometimes within the same paragraph as a quote from him saying he identified as bisexual. 

A large part of his identity was also centred in androgyny, wearing clothing associated with many different genders. He never seemed particularly attached to the idea of traditional masculinity. Though there isn’t any clear indication that he identified as anything but a man, his gender expression was widely varied. 

He discussed this saying:

"I believe that a good actor would be androgynous, and ever-changing,"

Described as one of few Chinese actors who would play explicitly gay characters, his work was often banned in his home country, and his performances which contained many queer elements (including introducing his boyfriend Daffy Tong Hok-tak to his audience in 1997) were often harshly received. 

The Passion Tour, his final tour, leaned into these criticized elements intensely, including costuming from fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Though internationally these concerts are still seen as one of the highest points in his country’s musical history, his own country maintained it’s dismissive position. 

In 2003 Cheung died by suicide at the age of 46. Because he passed on April 1, it took fans several days to believe the news. 

Memorialized many times over, Cheung remains a well-loved figure in the public consciousness. His family has also made a point to include his partner Daffy Tong Hok-tak in their mourning process, and named him as Cheung’s spouse in some releases. 

As in life, after his death, Cheung’s identity has largely been erased. Most decide he was gay because he was in a long-term relationship with a man and ignore both his many relationships with women and his words, something that is not uncommon for bisexual celebrities and regular people alike. 

While in many cases in history, there can be a very thin line, that line is much more clear when self-identification is added into the mix. This line is crystal clear; Cheung was bisexual.

[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]

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