Meet 35-year old Singaporean Nicholas Lim, who also happens to be the admin of GLBT Voices Singapore (GVS); the largest Singaporean GLBT community on Facebook!
When Nicholas was only 5-years old, he was sexually abused by various male figures in his childhood. The childhood sexual ‘happenings’ continued on till he was 7, when he finally moved back in to live with his parents. Nicholas kept silent on the issue for the next couple of years and only revealed them to his mother when he was 12.
I could feel her anger as she apologised for not having known all these earlier but she taught me another crucial lesson – I could let these experiences shape me and play the victim, or I could leave these memories where they belonged, in the past and move on.
My sexual orientation should not be a direct result of what had happened to me when I was a kid.
And moved on he did. Nicholas dated a couple of girls throughout secondary school but by the time he turned 15, he finally came to terms with the fact that he was gay and embarked on his first gay relationship.
Unfortunately for Nicholas, not everyone was as accepting of his homosexuality as he was. He was outed at his secondary school by his best friend and the aftermath that followed was his worst nightmare come to life.
I was ostracised overnight by practically everyone and even from people I didn’t know. I received snide taunts, canteen food dumped on my clothes and person, had my school bag thrown into the swimming pool (and was) even (subjected to) physical violence.
The bullying got so bad that Nicholas started to skip school which eventually culminated in him dropping out of school altogether. However, with the encouragement of his mum, Nicholas returned to school and eventually obtained a Bachelor’s degree.
The combined shame of being a school dropout and gay would have brought many low. It almost did to me and one afternoon at home, I broke down when my mum was nagging me for just hanging around the house.
I finally told her the real reason why I hated school. I admitted that I felt ashamed to be her son and such a disappointment. She said to me then, I was only a disappointment to her if I gave up.
The severe homophobia that Nicholas experienced was not something that was restricted to his school alone. The social stigma attached to being gay back then in Singapore was a lot more severe than what it is now. The gay scene back then was very lacklustre and gay men had to resort to cruising at gay parks in order to find companionship.
I remember the feeling of apprehensiveness whenever I went cruising at the parks… (and) the fear of discovery or being outed was very pervasive, clouded by a strong feeling of shame in “engaging in those types of activities”.
Most of the gay men I met were very much older and leading double lives, so whatever contact we had were very furtive and secretive.
That fear of being discovered was definitely not an unfounded fear. Complaints filed by the public with regards to cruising in public areas resulted in police entrapment raids, whereby attractive undercover policemen would pretend to be gay cruisers. In fact, one of the most famous police raids targeted at the gay community took place on 30th May 1993, whereby patrons of a gay club called ‘Rascals’ were subjected to police intimidation and harassment.
Surprisingly, the police subsequently issued an apology for the raid on ‘Rascals’ and the Singaporean gay scene eventually started to flourish with the advent of the Sunday Night Parties as well as the establishment of gay clubs and saunas.
Despite the growth of gay businesses, the fear of getting discovered was still a very pervasive fear within the gay community.
I had friends who had major panic attacks when they realised a colleague or even distant family member spotted them outside a gay joint. I had a friend who was being blackmailed by a female colleague at work and it got so bad that he had to quit his job.
Thankfully, not everyone back then was homophobic, especially Nicholas’s mum.
A truly remarkable woman, his mum readily accepted Nicholas when he came out to her without any qualms or drama. She made it clear to him that regardless of his sexuality, he would always be her son and her love for him would never waver.
My mum handled my coming out with the best grace and understanding I could ever hope for and appreciate.
She made it clear that she hoped I could change because life for a gay man in 90’s Singapore wasn’t exactly peachy, but at the end of the day I was her son and she loved me no matter what.
His mum’s acceptance of homosexuals didn’t just apply to Nicholas but also extended to every other gay person that she came into contact with. Whenever one of Nicholas’ gay friends was in need of temporary accommodation, his mother would always be happy to offer their place up as a solution.
All I had to say to my mum was, “Yeah this is my friend. His mother/father/brother/sister found out and he needs a place to crash.”
My mum would give me a sympathetic look and tell me to make sure he had fresh towels and if need be, there was food in the fridge to heat up.
Little did Nicholas’ mother know, the social support that she provided to those in need during his growing up years would be instrumental in shaping the way in which Nicholas would come to run GVS (GLBT Voices Singapore).
Back when ‘confession pages’ were all the rage in 2013, Nicholas set up GVS (formerly known as Gay Sg Confessions) on Valentine’s Day; A Facebook page that hosts user-contributed personal stories by the LGBT community.
The response to GVS was explosive. In its first week of operations, the page received 100,000 likes and shares and accumulated 550,000 post views. By the end of its first year, the page had received almost 10,000 confessional posts and over 12,000 likes on its Facebook page. As the page grew in popularity, Nicholas eventually transformed what was originally meant as a shallow confessional platform into an active community that regularly provided social support to its members. Nicholas himself often hands out personal advice to troubled members. He also regularly plans gatherings for the members of GVS as a way for them to make new friends and foster a sense of community offline as well.
Of course, running GVS has its challenges as well. One notable incident was the sudden shutdown of the page on the 15th of April in 2013 which required Nicholas to personally make a trip to the local Facebook office to appeal the decision. Another prominent event which occurred was the slew of religiously motivated homophobic posts that flooded the page on the 21st of May in 2013.
Despite all of the challenges, GVS has managed to overcome them all and continues to grow from strength to strength. With over 45,000 likes on its Facebook page currently, GVS is not just Singapore’s largest online LGBT community but also, a unique feature of the Singapore’s gay landscape.
Outside of his involvement with GVS, Nicholas is currently working as an account director in an established advertising agency. His ultimate aspiration is to one day, open up a shelter for disenfranchised GLBT youth
On a more personal level, Nicholas is an avid reader of almost everything ranging from fantasy to political movements to comics. A self-confessed foodie, he enjoys cafe hopping with his boyfriend and loves the thrill of discovering awesome local hawker food. He also candidly reveals that he makes an excellent backseat driver as he ‘totally sucks at driving‘.
Nicholas has very kindly agreed to share his coming out story with us so read on to find out more about the man behind GVS!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
So all that childhood sexual “happenings”, I finally revealed all of that to my mum when I was 12. It was a pretty messed up situation at home; I was your typical rebellious teen with emotional management issues and I was lashing out. It wasn’t an instant acceptance but she made sure that I knew I was still her son and her love for me didn’t change.
But outside of my home, I still had to hide who I was from the world at large. Instinctively I just knew that coming out to those around me, apart from my family would be a huge mistake.
2. How is your family coping with it?
So you know of my mum’s unwavering acceptance of me, and then I have a fantastic younger brother who grew up hero-worshipping me.
The last person to come around would probably be my dad. Like most Asian sons, I didn’t have the best relationship with him and being gay compounded with the fact that I wasn’t an aspiring doctor/lawyer/engineer/banker just widened the gulf between this rebellious ang-moh-pai (Westernised) brat and a man with deeply conservative Chinese values. Now I know that he was struggling to come to terms with who I was, as well as express his love for me as a father. He never found the right words and I certainly never made it easy for him.
But today, my brother treats my partner as his own brother and my dad welcomes him as another member of the family. No drama, just lots of love.
3. What made you start GVS (formerly known as Gay Sg Confessions)?
I wish I had a better origin story for this but I don’t so please don’t be too disappointed.
A few things to note; it was 2013 and Gossip Girl had just ended its TV run. I was having coffee with friends and somehow somewhere someone mentioned the then-current trend of ‘confession pages’. While the conversation revolved mainly around the kind of trivial complaints and rants featured on those pages, I started thinking at the back of my mind a couple of things.
One, the whole fad sounded a lot like Gossip Girl. Anonymous tip-offs meant nothing more than to titillate and entertain this increasingly voyeuristic society we are living in. Two, the current crop of pages were rather institutional based. How would one be able to apply that to a community at large and yet, have a sense of a common identity. And bingo, I latched onto the gay community as one that befit the criteria I was thinking.
I have to confess right here for the record, I was so not expecting the kind of page it turned out to be. Like I said, Gossip Girl was a big cultural reference for me at that point (haha!) so I was expecting entries like who slept with whom, personal take-downs and bitchy rants. Oh how shallow I was.
4. What has been the greatest reward and challenge for you in running GVS?
The biggest reward is easy. It’s how the page became accepted so easily and quickly. This isn’t personal hubris masquerading as false modesty when I say that the page and what it stands for today is 90% the result of the community. It is affirmative, it is authentic, it is supportive, and it (almost!) has universal appeal because the page has grown beyond the borders of just Singapore.
The biggest challenge for me (and still) is for me not to take it personally. From the very emotional stories that poured out like a dam bursting to the vicious hate mail to the snide remarks from the community, it took me a while to adjust to that level of visibility and social responsibility. I had to learn very quickly how to deal with and respond to various social issues that crop up and I was very conscious of the possible repercussions and what they could entail.
5. While many other confession pages have come and gone, why do you think GVS continues to thrive?
The page is authentic in its sincerity. It’s a reflection of what the gay community is like. Yes there is the occasional hyperbole. Yes not all entries are real. Some are fictional. But everyone who writes in has a piece of themselves to share and conversely, I view every entry submitted as a representation of a need for recognition, a reaction and acknowledgement that he or she is a person in this community. A community that has far too long been silent, overlooked, despised and held in derogatory contempt.
Yes social acceptance is on the rise but for many, the fear of coming out is still very strong because the consequences are severe. Being rejected by one’s family cuts to the heart of everyone’s need for a stable home. Being rejected by the only social circle you have cuts to everyone’s need to loved. GVS allowed people to voice out who they were and the anonymity afforded them that tiny sliver of space to connect and discover who they might be.
6. Now that GVS has established itself as a unique feature of the Singaporean gay community, what is your ultimate aspiration for GVS?
I am flattered to have GVS characterised like this. I am not so sure it is that pervasive but I hope to build on the page’s unique ability to empower and support. By Valentine’s Day 2016 (yes the page began on V-day. Cheesy I know) it would be three years and I really hope to push the page to a whole new level in terms of reaching out and supporting GLBT youth here.
7. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
Don’t be in a rush to come out. We don’t have an established social support system for those who do and then find themselves in situations that are untenable. From youths who are disenfranchised to working adults who find themselves discriminated at work to even professionals who are blackmailed, there are negative consequences.
But it is easier with friends, it is easier with the right support. It’s not always easy but that’s what GVS is for.So come out when you are ready. I know it sounds idealistic and a bit naive but I truly wish the best coming out experience for everyone. Not exactly roses and rainbows and unicorns but an experience that is filled with acceptance and empathy.And that can only happen when you come out to yourself. That means self acceptance as an individual like any other, deserving of love, respect and be treated with full dignity. That acceptance also extends to others within the community.
8. What do you think is the biggest misconception straight people have about the gay community?
That it is only about sex. The notion that gay couples have long lasting relationships is a foreign notion to many. The concept of a same sex couple growing old and taking care of each other is so far out.
9. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If I had a choice to change what I had to go through, I would do it all over again. Yes, it was not always easy and there were periods, not just moments when I felt like giving up. I made mistakes, some almost unforgivable but I have been blessed with love at every step of the way. Love not just from my family but from friends, colleagues, mentors and even strangers. My first public coming out was not by choice but since then, I have come to realise that living a life of lies, always hiding was not a life I wanted to lead. I don’t lead with my sexuality but I don’t bother hiding anymore.
The people who matter don’t judge and the people who judge, don’t matter. I cannot agree more.
Once again, I would like to thank Nicholas for sharing his story with us.
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