- The former owner of controversial shop Fetish Fashion in Hong Kong, Brenda Scofield, 73, reflects on her eventful life
- In her current role as chairwoman of a suicide prevention NGO, she says, she offers ‘an ear without judgment … It’s what we all want, isn’t it?’
Few people can have lived a life as unpredictable as Brenda Scofield has, nor can they say that they have held down such a diverse range of jobs as she has over the years.
From being a schoolteacher to owning a fetish shop, working in music and art, and then becoming a certified counsellor specialising in sexual and gender diversity, this 73-year-old long-time Hong Kong resident has packed more into her life than the average person.
On the surface, these jobs might seem poles apart, but to Scofield they share a common factor: fostering genuine human connections and engaging with people from all walks of life.
Scofield was briefly the talk of Hong Kong in 2001 after police raided her Fetish Fashion establishment in Central. People were curious about what the former schoolteacher was doing running such a business, and newspapers seized on the contrast between her past and present occupations
Scofield and her manageress each faced one count of keeping a disorderly house, and six charges of managing an objectionable performance; her husband, Laurence, was charged with aiding and abetting.
Evidence was given by undercover police officers who had infiltrated some of their parties. All three were acquitted after a trial that lasted several months. Nearly two decades on, the ivory-haired Scofield lights up as she speaks. Her energy is contagious and her confidence unshakeable.
She recalls the experience in court, and remains indignant about the case, saying that it brought what she describes as “an overwhelming feeling of unfairness” as she was “misunderstood through ignorance”.
“Fetish Fashion was a fetish shop,” she says – a place that provided playrooms that catered for BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism). From her point of view, she was allowing people who embrace this type of minority sexual expression to do so in a judgment-free environment, and engaging in it was neither bad nor good.
“It’s the way you are. It’s no more a choice than being gay is. The most important thing is to feel at ease with the way you are. It’s not a character trait,” Scofield says.
The experience of being criminally charged and having her name dragged through the mud is etched unpleasantly on her memory.
“Having fingerprints taken was humiliating … The fear came from being isolated and not being able to contact the other people arrested; this was a new experience to me, and I had no knowledge of the process. I’d never even had a speeding ticket,” she explains.
“You’re a cog in the wheel, something on a conveyor belt which is being controlled by the only people who know what’s going to happen. It’s all designed to intimidate you.”
Scofield grew up in a South Wales household full of music and art, and came to Hong Kong with her first husband in 1977.
Being an only child did not mean she was spoiled by her parents. On the contrary, she learned discipline and detachment from the moment she was born.
Her mother raised her by the strict rules of controversial paediatrician Truby King, whose methods emphasised a regimen of feeding and sleeping. The purpose was to build character by emphasising minimal physical contact and attention like cuddling, which was limited to 10 minutes a day.
“My mother was strict in the way that was largely accepted in the ’40s and ’50s,” she says.
According to Scofield, because the early maternal bonding that a child forms with their mother was overlooked in her case, she had “a respectful but cool relationship with my mother. My father was the one with whom I had a great relationship. We shared a love of the arts and I felt he understood me.”
The young Scofield nurtured human connections by playing with friends, she recalls. “Playing with friends out on the street, inventing games at a time when money was short and childhood was a time of fun and had far more freedom than now.” Making human connections has been an integral part of her being since childhood.
“It’s lifeblood for me. Real, honest connection, however transient. I don’t think we realise what a difference it can make to someone to have a compliment, a smile or a friendly greeting,” Scofield says.
“We’re in such a rush. Sitting with someone who needs to talk and quietly letting that happen is a gift to them and can be a gift to you. Be human and make the connection. What do you have to lose?”
One memorable experience came during her arrest, surprisingly, from an undercover officer known as Dave, whom she nicknamed “Dave the Bum” due to a noteworthy physical aspect of him.
“He was just another nice person who came to some parties and enjoyed himself. He was anonymous and just doing his undercover duty.”
Not long after the trial ended, she recalls seeing Dave in a passing vehicle and as they both waved at each other, it triggered an indescribable feeling of connection. She believes that however transient the connection, it leaves an echo in someone’s life.
“It can stay for a few minutes, a few weeks, a lifetime. We remember it as a moment when human met human with sincerity. We tend to wear masks (not physical ones) to protect ourselves. It’s natural and in many ways helps society move on oiled tracks. But when we forget that and make a connection from the heart, it’s a moment like a spark of electricity which feeds the spirit.”
Scofield also knows the significance of being true to oneself and points out that being different is a prerequisite for truly living your life.
“We fear we are alone in our difference whilst others are together in their similarities. It’s a recognition of our natural fears, and it makes us feel as if we are outside of the majority. Of course, we try our best to hide these feelings. Remember how it was as a teenager when you longed to belong?”
Asked if the 2001 arrest had changed anything in her, she says: “All experiences change you. You grow. You fight against injustice and ignorance.”
Over the past two decades, Scofield has taken up a variety of roles, all of which have helped her to connect with people.
“I don’t think I’ve morphed or transformed. I’ve just found the space to do other things, added to my experiences. I am the sum of my experiences and will continue to add to them,” she says.
On the question of what is next, her plan is to have no plan.
“I’ve never had a plan for my life. I’ve just held on for dear life in the currents! Maybe it’s life rafting; going with the flow and seeing where it takes you. I’ve been approached many times to write a book … maybe one day. As my daughter says: ‘At your age, one day is now!’.”
Now working as chairwoman of a suicide prevention non-government organisation, Scofield might have found her greatest calling.
“There is a pull,” she says, and believes this challenge has chosen her. She says that the person who started the NGO in Britain summed up the job by saying: “You have only one job and that is to pour love down a phone.”
“No advice, but an ear which listens without judgment and accepts the caller exactly as they are. It’s what we all want, isn’t it?”
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The surprising life of Brenda Scofield, from schoolteacher to owner of Fetish Fashion shop and counsellor, life is all about making human connections.
Published: 29th March 2020.