Gaydar Feature of the Month – Leslie Cheung

“I am who I am, a different color sparkler. I love myself, just like the bloomy rose waiting to flourish even in the desert.” – Leslie Cheung


In this Gaydar Feature of the Month, we will be walking through space and time to 80’s Hong Kong, paying tribute to the trailblazing Cantonese actor, Leslie Cheung. An actor ahead of his time in embracing gender expression and identity, his flamboyance and androgynous stage persona sparked Hong Kong’s media controversy back in 1980’s. 21 years after his passing, his legacy still lives that inspires countless queer individuals across Hong Kong, Asia and even the rest of the world.

Early Life

Leslie was born in Kowloon, Downtown Hong Kong at 1956 to a middle class Hakka family. He was the youngest among his 10 siblings while his father was a well-known tailor in Hong Kong’s fashion industry. By 12, Leslie was sent to a boarding school in United Kingdom and eventually returned to Hong Kong in 1976 when his father became half paralyzed due to a stroke. Leslie did not have a pleasant childhood as he had “nothing worth remembering” from his estranged household and boarding school as he experienced racism.

After his return to Hong Kong, he started his career by forming a band and took part in the RTV Asian Singing Contest. He remained until the final round of the Hong Kong division, finishing as the 1st runner-up. He advanced to the pan-Asian division and finished fifth.

Even though he received contract offers after the competition, his early career was quite challenging. Leslie’s first movie, a softcore porn titled “Erotic Dream of the Red Chamber” (1978) was not successful. Not only that, his first to third music albums also failed commercially. Leslie himself mentioned that his early careers were full of uncertainty.

Stardom and Clinical Depression

After leaving Polydor records, Cheung signed with Capital Artist and started covering TVB drama original soundtracks. It was at this moment where his singing career took off. In his acting career, he was featured in “Nomad” (1982), as well as cameos with other TVB drama productions. His hard work was recognised when he won best actor at 1983 Hong Kong Film Awards. Other famous movie titles by Leslie Cheung were; “A Better Tomorrow” (1986), “Farewell My Concubine” (1993), and Happy Together (1997). His most famous recording album was “Summer Romance” (1987). He was one of Hong Kong most famous men during the late 80’s and 90’s.

Leslie never hid his androgynous stage expression and sexual orientation. He openly dated Daffy Tong from 1997. Back then, Hong Kong media was still very conservative and blasted Leslie’s “controversial” way of life, living as an LGBTQIA+. He was constantly followed by paparazzi wherever he went and this contributed to his state of depression. Unfortunately, Leslie took his own life in March 2003.

Legacy and Recognitions

In 2010, Cheung was voted by CNN as one of top five iconic musicians of all time, alongside Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Bob Marley. South China Morning Post also mentioned that Leslie was able to bring Cantonese pop to new heights, and was a remarkable queer fashion icon. Lots of international media mentioned and remembered his legacy to Hong Kong’s showbiz last year, commemorating him posthumously, 2 decades after his passing.

Leslie Cheung left us too soon before he could even reach a higher potential. His passing reminds us that there are those amongst us who struggle daily from the lack of acceptance and even persecution by society or family. We hope that anyone undergoing depression or have thoughts of suicide will reach out to suicide and crisis lifelines.

Need Help Now?
Call 119 or to access suicide prevention counselling services, the Love Inside Suicide Awareness (LISA) Hotline can be contacted at:

Indonesian: +62 811 3855 472
English: +62 811 3815 472

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