Meet 27-year old Singaporean Darius Zee… a former homophobe turned LGBT rights activist!
Darius’ same-sex inclination started when he was only in primary school. However, it wasn’t till he started his secondary school education that his homosexual tendencies became a lot more evident. Darius reflects that:
I guess my inclination was only confirmed during my secondary school days, when I stumbled upon the gay-related channels (#sgboy, #gam, #gay) on mIRC – which were popular back in those days.
The subsequent chats I had in these mIRC channels for the next couple of years proved to be a key starting point in my initial explorations of my sexuality – and probably a vital part of my life till date.
While also being born into a traditional family, understandably, Darius had a difficult time coming to terms with his own sexuality. He recalls, back in the early 2000s, the Singaporean gay scene was very different to how it is now. The social stigma surrounding homosexuality back then was a lot higher; most gay men then were a lot more discreet than they are today. Tanjong Pagar, the de facto gay district of Singapore was also a lot more quiet back then. Darius recalls that:
When I was 17 going on 18. I was brought to the (now defunct) gay club WhyNot. WhyNot was small and if my memory serves me right… most patrons of the club were generally discreet and unassuming in terms of their clothing and mannerism.
The lack of a nurturing environment back then coupled with the fact that he was studying in an all-boys secondary school, drove Darius in the opposite direction instead. His secondary school days became a period of denial for him and he acted out by becoming a homophobe instead. Darius would often join other classmates in making insensitive homophobic remarks. In fact, his homophobia was so strong that he even gave a classmate of his, also a good friend of 3 years, the cold shoulder when he realised that his classmate was gay.
That was how much of a jerk I was – prioritising my homophobic actions over somewhat a meaningful and valuable friendship. It’s a part of my life that I wish I could turn the clock back upon, if I had the chance.
The beginning of his pre-university education was the time when he finally started coming to terms with his own sexuality. His junior college years became his unofficial ‘coming out’ period to himself and he even embarked on his first gay relationship during that time! Despite the acceptance of his own sexuality, he remained discreet and kept the truth from his friends.
It wasn’t till 2009 when he matriculated into the university that he started to truly embrace his sexuality. The professors and most of the students there were all very open to discussions on LGBT discourses. It was that same support which drove Darius eventually to focus his final year project on the lives of sex workers, many of whom identify as transgender.
Another equally big turning point in his life happened when Darius embarked on a student exchange program to the United States in 2011. It was there that Darius got to witness the coming-into-effect of same-sex marriage legalisation in New York on 24 July 2011, the day that the state became one of the few American states that amended state laws to make such marriages possible.
The entire New York City went ecstatic during that weekend with many street parties and parades held – and when I stood at the side as an observer looking at the joy and the happiness that the New Yorkers had, I realized that every LGBT out there – outside New York City, outside America – too deserves this same happiness
That was the trigger that told me I needed to do something when I came back to Singapore
Since then, Darius has become an active human rights activist. He has proactively shared his coming out experiences at workshops and focus group research projects conducted by community groups. He has also sat on the Pink Dot SG Steering Committee from 2012 to 2015 and even got himself featured in photo stories by photographers as well as LGBT news outlets such as GayStarNews.
Outside of his involvement with the LGBT rights movement, Darius keeps a very active lifestyle. He works out at the gym and practices yoga twice a week and goes for CrossFit classes regularly. Darius also enjoys playing racquet sports and lists his favourite sports as squash and tennis. He too enjoys chilling at quaint cafes and cites James Franco as his favourite actor.
Currently working as an editor, Darius hopes he can play a bigger part in future – in whatever capacity – to further the fight for LGBT equality.
Darius has very kindly stepped forward to share his coming out story with us so read on to find out more about his coming out experiences and his thoughts on the LGBT rights movement!
- How was your first coming out experience to your family like?
I officially came out to my family via producing my own coming out film as part of Manila-based B-Change Foundation’s worldwide social media campaign “Stories of Being Me”, supported by the United Nations Development Programme. It was a medium I thought could best communicate, in my best way, what I wanted my mum to know. When I came out to her in January 2014, she told me she somehow suspected this a couple of years back – but she maintained that the more important thing for me was to be financially independent. I can never forget that response, because this was an unexpected surprise – a pleasant surprise of course.
2. How is your family coping with it?
Even though she (his mum) may know deep in her heart that it’s not possible, there are still some occasional moments where I can feel that there’s an inner desire for me to marry a girl someday. To add on, the family currently attends a very conservative Presbyterian church that openly tells church-goers that homosexuality is a sin. You can guess that it ain’t easy for her, with all that constant dilemma attending a church like this but knowing that her son is gay. Yet I love her more than anything else, and the journey to full acceptance (if it ever comes) is for hers to take – no one else can do that in her place. The only thing I can do meanwhile is just be present, and to let her understand that even though I am gay, the fact that I am her son does not change.
The interesting thing is how mum came with me to Pink Dot this year, and that means a hell lot – there are some folks like my mum who are not too good at words but are better at actions. I hope and I am positive that one day she will come one full circle to fully accept her gay son for who he is.
3. How has your experience with the LGBT rights movement been like so far?
The experience has generally been great over the past 3 years. Joining the movement allowed me to meet fellow activists – each one of them dealing with different issues concerning the LGBT community and doing the good work, both inter- and intra-community. More importantly, I think joining the activism movement also reaffirmed the beliefs I have held – via the people I have met in the course of my work – that everyone deserves to love who they want, and no one has the right to judge these choices.
However, it is true that politics exist in every sort of community – and I suppose it would be extremely unrealistic for me to deny that. On many occasions, activists may debate on the strategies we think will work best in the community’s favour, and perhaps do not entirely agree with one another. But stepping out into a broader perspective of advocating what exactly this community means – being diverse, and being inclusive – I guess there is afterall a rightful place for the right to disagree. That being said, this doesn’t make any activist’s love for the community any lesser in magnitude or significance than the rest – in fact, these debates come about probably because we care more for this community than anything else. While activists can disagree on certain viewpoints, the friendships and bonds built up between people who believe in the same cause don’t change.
Sounds challenging to be in such a community, isn’t it? Well, I don’t think so, as long as one learns to embrace what is meant by diversity and inclusiveness – qualities that I feel, again, have not been emphasised enough in our education systems here from then till now.
4. What do you think is the biggest obstacle facing the LGBT rights movement in Singapore?
Legally, section 377a is still in the books and the government has refused to repeal it in the face of recent constitutional challenges; socially, although Pink Dot has greatly heightened the visibility of the LGBT community over the past 7 years, there still remains a considerable level of ignorance and lack of awareness of the community amongst some parts of the society; and religiously, we have seen the rise of the Christian fundamentalists and Muslim groups over the past couple of years.
Singapore is in a very peculiar position; we find ourselves in the middle of many grounds – race, language or religion, just to name a few. This means that any policy that hopes to be passed has to take into account whether it will satisfy the different racial and religious groups here. In this respect, it can be considerably tough to push the LGBT rights movement forward – as many would think LGBT rights and certain religions would not gel.
But we can’t blame the religions for this – people have the right to worship, and they have the right to their beliefs. If you ask me, the onus then lies in the government to take the lead to move the country in a direction that would address the many inequalities that LGBTs in Singapore face – but the lack of political will is apparent, and largely disappointing. Few politicians within our one-party dominated parliament want to speak up on this issue – and this may have to do with a general sentiment to not “rock the boat”. If you ask me, that lack of political will, is the biggest obstacle.
The government has the responsibility to recognise and address the rights of all segments of the society – not just some groups. The government has a similar responsibility to bridge a bigger understanding of seemingly polarizing groups… Politicians have to understand that these cases of LGBT youths and adults suffering because of the political and societal refusal to recognise the community for who we are, are real. If that understanding is established, then will things move more favourably in the direction we have always wanted our society to move towards – one that is more accepting, more understanding and more progressive.
5. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
I used to think coming out is a necessity as a life progression, until I witnessed the stories of some of the members of the community – where coming out may never be an option, at least not for the short term. My advice for them would be – come out only when you’re ready and when you know what it means, to you, to be a gay person.
There are many reasons why gay men prefer to be in the closet. While I don’t think we have any right to (or should) judge a person’s reasons for not coming out, it is important that when gay people finally come out –there will be support, care and concern if things don’t work out as expected. I am grateful for the many friends who texted me and provided me different forms of support – emotional, logistical and otherwise – when I came out to my mum in January 2014, but we need to make sure that other LGBTs have the same forms of support as well, because coming out can be scary and uncertain. But I must say, even though coming out can be a terrifying experience, it similarly liberates someone and allows that person to be truly who he or she is. I’m glad I took that step – and I find myself not having to hide anymore, at least not in front of the people whom I love.
6. What do you think is the biggest misconception straight people have about the gay community?
I think the biggest misconception lies in the imageries that straight people have of us. Most would think of gay men as effeminate folks, lesbian women as butches and transgender people as sex peddlers. While one’s choice of clothes or job is not something we can judge, these stereotypes are also not entirely true.
I recall an ex co-worker who went for a sex-change operation after I left the company, but is still in the corporate world now. The truth is, you never know, but I don’t think there’s a need to judge or to second-guess. If we care to look beyond the surface and recognize that LGBTs, no matter how we look like or dress up as, are still human beings who are capable of love, then a more cohesive yet diverse, society can be formed.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Some people may think of my vision as a utopia, but I’m telling you that this is possible. Change is coming – we have seen it over the years – and it’s inevitable; what we can do is to play our part. Many changes in the world’s history came about only because people dared to step up and voice out – the Civil Rights movement would not have come about without Martin Luther King’s foresight, and the fight for South African independence would not have happened without Nelson Mandela.
The famous Mahatma Gandi had once said before, “Be the change you want to see in this world”.
We have our rights as humans, and we can own this change ourselves
Once again, we would like to thank Darius for sharing his story with us.
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