Meet 25-year old Singaporean Scott Lai!
Growing up, Scott never really struggled much with his sexuality, largely because he never had the time to pay much thought to it. A competitive swimmer from young, Scott spent a large part of his childhood training in the pool. He would hit the pool at 530am for a morning session and return to the pool at 5pm for another session once he was done with school. The lack of personal free time meant that he was too preoccupied to have much time to explore his sexuality.
I grew up not particularly sexual, probably started masturbating far later than anyone who care to believe and never had the habit of watching porn.
It wasn’t till the end of his Junior College years that he started to pay more attention to his sexuality.
This guy dropped me a message on MSN Messenger (lol)… He seemed like an admirer of sorts and I was intrigued so I agreed to meet. We’ve been together since then.
But I think this has more to do with us getting along and the dynamics of our relationship that made it work, more so than that he was a guy per se.
Despite getting into his first gay relationship, life didn’t change much for Scott. No one really bothered him about it, nor did anyone make much of a fuss over it. While he would acknowledge that he was seeing someone if the topic were to arise, his private nature meant that he rarely went into much detail about his relationship.
I’m not one to really share about my life either, and I don’t feel like it’s something I should tell or not tell, especially if there’s no need for the other party to know.
I don’t see it as being different as anyone else in any relationship; you don’t just share your life like an open book to anyone nor do you always need to elaborate on the specifics of your relationship.
So apart from 2 close friends during his Army days, Scott never really bothered to come out to anyone. Most of the time, the people around him found out on their own.
I’m not a particular fan of ‘coming out’. I’m not sure if it’s a thing, a ritual or coming of age thing of sorts.
It’s just, so much unnecessary pressure and for what? To make extraordinary something we claim isn’t supposed to be?
(So) none of that ‘hey, I have something to tell you’ stuff for me
While Scott isn’t much of a believer in the notion of achieving liberation through the coming out process, he’s a strong advocate of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The issue of HIV/AIDs is a topic that doesn’t get much attention in Singapore due to the negative connotations associated with the disease. The social stigma attached to HIV/AIDs has led to a continued perpetuation of fear, discrimination and misinformation regarding the disease. The negative attitudes towards HIV/AIDs can be largely attributed to the slut-shaming culture prevalent in Singapore.
Unfortunately, we have this slut-shaming culture going around, which really does no one any good socially and perpetuating medical stigma.
Just know that there’s no shame in wanting to and looking for sex.
The shame associated with the disease has only served to aggravate the HIV/AIDs issue. Statistics reveal that there are a total of 6,658 HIV-infected Singapore residents with 456 new cases in 2014 alone. Medical experts however, believe that the actual number is much higher and estimate that up to 70% of people living with HIV are undiagnosed. Thus, it’s clear that there’s a strong stigma attached to HIV testing as a result of the negative attitudes towards the disease.
In an effort to spark a much needed nation-wide conversation regarding the topic of HIV/AIDs, Scott and 3 of his University friends launched the Paint the Town RED campaign this year.
One of my greatest fears in life, is to live and die and never have made a difference to the world, to my community, to those around me. As far as a successful life for me is concerned, it would be in the number of positive differences I’ve made in people’s lives.
That, and my “privileged” growing up years that made me want to reach out to those who needed more help.
The Paint the Town RED campaign that Scott’s team founded is a nation-wide, integrated campaign to get Singaporeans to start talking about HIV/AIDS and raise awareness to better understand the disease and the relevant treatment and support systems available.
Through our survey, we found out that there is an insufficient level of “sex ed” amongst young people and this had led to their misinformation of the virus, fears and stigma.
The lack of understanding towards HIV/AIDs among youths can be partly attributed to the fact that MOH and MOE aren’t engaging young people more in these discussions. Scott shares that:
It’s a lot of politics and “toeing the party line”, and focusing on high risk groups (men over 30) that has led to young people being ill-equipped on sexual health knowledge.
And why should young people have to suffer for them, for matters that were deliberately hidden from them.
Thus, Scott and his team have decided to focus their efforts on youths and young adults. The Paint the Town RED campaign hopes to bring together public healthcare agencies, NGOs, private organisations and industry leaders so as to get people to start addressing the HIV/AIDs issue. The resulting conversation would hopefully, reshape perceptions of HIV/AIDS in Singapore as part of the first step towards a 2030 goal of making Singapore an international role model in eradicating the disease (as per UNAIDS’ target).
Of course, reshaping attitudes towards HIV/AIDs alone, is not sufficient to combat the issue. There is also a need to promote safe sex practices.
DO NOT engage in risky sexual behaviours like ‘chem sex’ or orgies/threesomes without a condom…and make sure you have some knowledge about STIs/STDs, prevention methods, transmission, symptoms and treatments.
Have all the sex you want, you’re young, testosterone is in overdrive, just BE SAFE.
Apart from the issue of HIV/AIDs, Scott’s other interests includes cars, tennis, cooking and tech trends. He confesses to being a ‘skincare junkie’ and reveals that he’s also an avid consumer of news:
I start my day with the newspapers and on Saturdays/Sundays, I can spend a good 2 hours reading it page to page
Scott spends most of his free time catching up with friends and he lists gymming, travelling and eating as some of his favourite hobbies. He also concedes to being a fan of long drives despite the fact that it’s not carbon friendly at all.
My car is like a bubble and I love driving, I drive way too much
Scott has very kindly agreed to share his coming out story with us so read on to find out more about him!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
I don’t really recall any particularly memorable experiences, nor my first. I only vaguely remember telling maybe 2 or 3 friends about it, mostly that the person I was dating is a guy. Straight guys, all individually, probably because they were close enough friends to me such that I wanted them to know. At that age, suffice to say, these things come as a surprise, but I remained closed friends with them. So yeah, definitely no backlash with being gay.
I know there are people who are having a harder time or who find it difficult to publicly acknowledge dating someone of the same sex. Which is why I sometimes think this whole ‘coming out’ thing is BS; be a good friend, have dreams and really believe that being gay is simply one part of you, and most definitely not a defining characteristic.
2. How is your family coping with it?
It’s not something I’ve spoken to them about explicitly, because if we build on my need-to-know model, there’s no need to know here. I don’t particularly see how them knowing is going to change anything, given I share very little of myself to begin with. I think they might know? But I’ve never asked.
Is this an important thing to most people? I don’t make extreme attempts to hide it (I bring the bf home sometimes), but neither do I ‘come out’ boom boom in full force. I really see infinitely little value in the traditional sense of ‘coming out’, and while I can see how “I’m dating a guy” can be socially divisive, I can’t see why it’s anyone else’s business.
3. How did the ‘Paint the Town RED’ campaign come about?
Paint the Town RED started when a friend of mine told me he was positive and one of the first things he asked was “would you still me my friend?” I guess that opened my eyes to the realities of stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV (PLHIV) face and that whole injustice really really annoyed me.
So I kinda made a promise to myself that if I could, I never want another young person to find himself/herself in that situation, especially due to a lack of education and access to information. I can’t turn back time, so the least I can do is to make sure that young people especially, have the means and knowledge from putting themselves at risk and more importantly to find out their serostatus and know where, when and how to get help if necessary.
4. How does the ‘Paint the Town RED’ campaign aim to achieve its goal?
Paint The Town RED is a youth movement to provide youths and young adults a platform to learn, engage and discuss about HIV/AIDS, and in doing so, to take charge of their sexual health education and wellbeing. The campaign aims to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS by encouraging young people to speak up, educate them by providing reliable and easy-to-understand information so as to reduce stigma of the virus and the fear of testing.
Ultimately, the campaign is build on strong research so we can better cater to the fears and misconceptions that young people have. We are working on producing information sheets and working with both print and digital media partners. We’re also reaching out to ‘young people’ haunts, working with several personalities and planning a video
5. What has been the greatest reward and challenge for you in running the ‘Paint the Town RED’ campaign?
The biggest challenge we face, and I use the words of the HPB rep we met with, (is) that “this is the real world”. The campaign started off very idealistic and then we started talking to people… that were trigger happy in telling us all the things that couldn’t be done.
Personally, I hate being told that something, anything, can’t be done, but they were older, more experienced and their concerns had to be taken into consideration.
Occasionally people don’t take us seriously, we’ve heard things like “you’re 4 students and you want to do a campaign on a national level”. And coming from a senior official who plays a key role in shaping HIV and infectious diseases policies in Singapore, it saddens me that such thinking and bureaucracy is doing such a disservice to our society. I wish more could be done, and more quickly, but I now know that will not be the case.
Reward-wise, it’s mostly meeting really cool people, people passionate about what they do, people who offer a perspective and a story we otherwise would have never heard. There are some great people doing some great work and we’ve met a great number of them. But the single biggest reward will come when someone takes precautionary measures, abstains from risky sexual activities or getting tested regularly and getting treatment as soon as possible if necessary. When someone’s life changes for the better because of what they’ve seen or heard from this campaign.
6. What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learnt from the ‘Paint the Town RED’ campaign?
People at the top are willing to help! Had a meeting with MOH where Senior Minister of State Amy Khor made time to meet with us alongside senior officials from MOH and HPB. We hear she doesn’t meet anyone often so that was pretty cool and she wanted to see how we could work together towards a common goal.
Internationally, we’ve spoken and are getting support from TREAT Asia (amfAR), engaged with the co-chair of the International AIDS Conference 2016, Dr Olive Shisana, who gave us great advice and expressed her interest in coming to Singapore. Recently, we also dropped an email to Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who discovered HIV in 1983 and won a Nobel prize for it, who replied back with very encouraging words. It’s nice to see that we’re not alone, and we’re working towards an #AIDSfreegeneration
7. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
No pressure on this whole closet and coming out thing. You’re not just gay, you’re a son/daughter, a friend, a student, so be the best versions of those. And be memorable, make a difference. Whatever you do, society’s not gonna like it anyways so why bother trying to appease someone else. Be a good human being, be a good member of society and those are the things people will know you for, so don’t try to make being gay the center of your identity. As with all things in life, make good friends, invest time and effort into building relationships; they’ll be your pillars, your wall and that’s really all you need.
8. What do you think is the biggest misconception straight people have about the gay community?
HAHA I don’t know! But I guess it’s that gay people always wanna hit on them? Like I always jokingly tell me straight gym buddy, every time he makes a lewd comment on another girl in the gym, there’s some guy somewhere making similarly lewd comments about him.
(And) that gay guys are “gay acting”? I don’t even know what that means.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Scott for sharing his story with us.
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