Meet 28-year old Singaporean Bi Ling.
Contrary to popular belief, one does not need to have a drama filled life to get a feature on the Out Of The Closet series. Bi Ling didn’t experience any adverse reactions when she came out. In fact, her coming out journey has been relatively smooth!
My coming out process was a gradual realisation… I have been very lucky to have friends who have silently, and not-so-silently, accepted me in their own ways.
I have been pretty fortunate in this aspect.
Bi Ling is going to grant us some insight into what exactly happens behind the closed doors of Oogachaga, and dispel some counselling related misconceptions along the way!
But before we get into the whole counselling part, it’s necessary that we first start from the beginning.
Bi Ling’s growing up years were relatively drama-free, and she did not realise that she wasn’t straight till she was 18. And when she did come out to herself, she initially identified as gay. But that label’s hold on her didn’t last very long.
When I began to find out and understand more about the often-misperceived umbrella term of “Sexuality”, the term queer seemed more befitting for me.
It feels less restrictive and more fluid.
With her short cropped hair, Bi Ling’s appearance is more masculine than the majority of females in Singapore. While she did not experience any distressing events as a direct result of her sexual orientation, her less-than-conventional gender expression did stir up some discomfort in others which impacted her negatively.
Disappointingly, some people make assumptions and sweeping judgements based solely on my appearance.
(They) include getting stares in restrooms, in public, and sometimes hearing strangers talk about me in a not-so-discreet way.
But what’s more absurd is that her appearance has actually affected her professional life!
I’ve been asked questions about my sexuality during a job interview, and I was also declined an internship position because it was assumed that I would bring my ‘values’ and LGBTQ-affirmative stance into the organisation, even after I’ve clarified otherwise.
It saddens me when people deem LGBTQ persons as ‘lesser’ simply because of our sexual orientations.
Apart from the issues regarding her gender expression, her transition into adulthood was a lot smoother than some of our other interviewees.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Counselling from UniSIM, she pursued her career in counselling…
I wanted to help others. It is as clichéd as that. I’ve always been intrigued by counselling as a form of help. And the more I studied/knew about it, the more it felt ‘right’ to me.
During my course of studies, I have personally benefited from counselling, and I wanted to help others, the way my counsellor did for me.
And that was how she ended up as a counsellor at Oogachaga.
Try as we might however, we couldn’t get Bi Ling to share with us some of the more memorable cases she’s received at Oogachaga. Not even off the record!
But she did let on that her job isn’t as dramatic as it seems. There’s actually a lot of paperwork involved!
Believe it or not, we do a lot of administrative/paper work. As it is a small staff team, each of us play a part in keeping the organisation going.
For example, today was spent responding to emails, answering phone calls, making phone calls, doing administrative work, and seeing a counselling client.
She also explained that counsellors aren’t problem solvers. They are not there to provide solutions, nor do they have the miraculous ability to make problems go away.
Counsellors guide and empower clients to decide on the best possible solutions, tapping on their strengths to help them cope effectively.
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
Honestly, I cannot remember when that was, exactly. But I remember the feelings of apprehension and fear.
A group of my close friends and I have yearly Christmas gatherings. It took me a while, and one year I just decided to ask them if I could bring my ex-partner, a female, along. We had a Whatsapp group chat for our discussion of the gathering arrangements. I still remember the anxiousness when I had asked that and while waiting for someone, anyone, to respond.
Thankfully, they were very open and casual about it. There was no awkwardness.
2. How did your family respond to your sexuality?
My brother is okay and open about it. He has been dropping by to Pink Dot to say hi, while I’m with Oogachaga at the community tents, for the past 2 years. After coming out to my mum, I asked for his support if I ever needed anything, and he said ‘okay’. He’s very sweet in his own little ways.
I’m not so sure about how my parents are coping at this moment, but it appears that they’re not yet ready to be completely open and conversational about this, so I’m respecting their space. A few of my cousins know too (I guess after this is published, anyone with internet access would know), and they have been cool with it.
3. What has been the greatest challenge for you in your time at Oogachaga so far?
As a counsellor, the biggest challenge thus far, personally, would have to be going through major life events while seeing clients.
Experiencing vulnerable human feelings while having to maintain a level of emotional and mental energy to support my clients through their issues and their own life events isn’t easy.
I’m really glad to have gotten support from my partner, friends, and counsellor during those times.
4. What’s the most memorable case you’ve received so far at Oogachaga?
I wouldn’t be able to tell you about that, because we keep all our cases and client information confidential, but I will share what has been significant and rewarding to me while working with clients at Oogachaga.
It always encourages me, both professionally and personally, when I witness the growth of a client. To be able to journey with clients through their challenges, to witness their courage and strength is both humbling and a privilege.
5. What has been the most rewarding thing about working at Oogachaga?
Meeting such big-hearted people from all walks of life. Clients, volunteers, people who are contributing in some ways to the community, to make it a better one at large, without wanting recognition for it.
Working with clients has also taught me a number of things about resilience and resourcefulness.
6. What advice do you have for people struggling with their sexuality?
Not really a piece of advice per se, but I’d ask them, or anyone actually, to take their time to get to know themselves. Ask questions. Reach out, talk to people. It can be a friend or a family member whom you trust. Google, read up. There are many resources about sexuality available online currently as it is more discussed now than ever. Of course, not everything available online is credible, so it would be helpful to keep that in mind and seek clarifications when in doubt.
If and when you are ready and are open to counselling, Oogachaga provides counselling services (face-to-face, email, Whatsapp, hotline). Our counsellors and volunteers are trained to listen without judgement, and they’re always open to hearing you out.
7. What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about receiving counselling services?
A very common misconception is that people seek counselling because they’re weak or crazy. Many people have been taught that problems and challenges are meant to be resolved and overcome independently, and that anything other than that represents weakness. Contrary to that, it actually takes a lot of strength and courage to reach out to seek help.
Another misconception that people have about counselling is that counsellors have the ability to ‘fix’ people and provide solutions to issues/problems brought up in counselling. Counsellors provide emotional support and a safe holding space for clients to talk about, explore, and process issues. We journey alongside them as hopeful equals as they seek clarity and gain insight for themselves.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Bi Ling for sharing her story with us.
Update: Bi Ling has since left Oogachaga and is now counselling clients through Heart Knocks Counselling – a new LGBTQ friendly counselling service. You can reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org
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