The chapters in this section will help challenge medical language’s claim of superiority through focusing on body politics, corporeality and spirituality. In our study of university students attending my course on human sexuality, participants were invited to talk about their experiences of their sexual body parts during focus group interviews. Their narratives unglued us from our preoccupation with an appropriate language of sexuality or desire. We reappraised the value of using such precise terms as “vagina” and “clitoris” to describe the bodily experiences presumed to be associated with them (Ho & Tsang, 2005). This exercise expanded our awareness of the fluid topography of sexuality in women’s bodies and the contingent relationship between the signifier and the signified. In participants’ diverse representations of their experiences, we noticed a blending of multiple language systems. Given the privileged circulation of medical language in Hong Kong, most young women know the “proper” medico-anatomical labels. Most of our participants, however, chose to use other words instead. The medical language of anatomy and physiology was assimilated into a heterogeneous language practice in the participants’ representations of sexual body parts, and was transformed in the process. The translation of Western medical labels of sexual body parts into Chinese also revealed some of the intricate dynamics of “proper” language (Cheng, 2004; Ho & Tsang, 2005). Tsang and I have come to the conclusion that the exclusive adoption of the medico-anatomical topography—even in feminist discourses critical of its knowledge claims and prescriptive practice—can restrict the discursive space for women to reimagine and reimage their bodies. We hope to question how the standardized medical lexicon and topography support the conventional imagination of the body and perpetuate institutionalized disciplinary practices.
I first saw The Vagina Monologues performed by Eve Ensler in Boston in 2001 when I was a visiting scholar at Harvard-Yenching Institute. Having spent the major part of my life in Hong Kong where there is not much feminist discussion about sexual pleasure and desire, I experienced, for the very first time, intense engagement with the topics of women’s bodies and sexuality with a large audience in a public venue. The intellectual excitement it stimulated in me led to a series of dialogues with Tsang and Dr Cheng Sea Ling when they came to visit. These dialogues eventually gave birth to a few articles (Ho & Tsang, 2002, 2005; Ho, 2003; Ho et al., 2005) and to Cheng’s creation of a (p.43) localized Hong Kong version of the play, The Vagina Monologues: Stories of Our Little Sisters (Little Sisters), performed as part of the second biannual Women’s Theatre Festival, “Girl Play”, in 2003. Through the process, a more critical distance was gained from the original The Vagina Monologues (Cheng, 2004), resulting in a deepening of our need to question the superiority of medical language in making sense of the experiences of our research participants.
During this period, I took another critical step in my career development. I graduated as a doctoral research student and became an assistant professor of social work. I was zealous in trying to introduce human sexuality as part of the social work curriculum. It was through engaging with the university students’ self-discovery/reflections in class and in the focus groups that I gained new research insight, and was compelled by these new experiences to expand my investigation into a broader and deeper exploration of issues—inclusive of sexuality—in everyday life.