Dear Straight People,
There’s no need for you to walk in our shoes to find out how life was like for us growing up. Sure, walking a mile in our shoes might help you understand us better. But we have a much better alternative for you.
We asked 12 Singaporean members of the LGBT community how life was like for them growing up and you’ll be surprised at how diverse their experiences were. For some, their formative years were a whirlwind of confusion and self-hate. For others, their sexuality was pretty much a non-issue.
1. Benjamin Lin (31 years old, Gay)
I have personally seen how people with gay tendencies were tormented in secondary school and national service. I shudder to think what would happen if that person were to be me. There was this constant fear of being exposed.
There was virtually no public awareness of the LGBT community in the earlier years. There was a complete lack of information relating to gay issues. Being closeted made matters worse. There were times I thought of myself as a sicko pervert and I couldn’t come to terms with myself. The 10 years of compulsory education in Singapore never mentioned a single thing about LGBT. It was as if we did not exist.
2. Bobby Luo (45 years old, Gay)
We didn’t have any positive LGBT role models that was represented back (this lack of representation still exists in mainstream media to this very day ) It was quite like a “gay shame” that was never spoken of , but something which we have to live with each day.
3. Sherry Sherqueshaa (24 years old, Transgender)
Firstly, I dropped out of school.
Secondly, family acceptance initially seemed impossible to happen. Which gradually got better after much physical persuasion and prove them I am still like any other child and siblings.
Thirdly, job discrimination. And the list could go on.
4. Scott Lai (26 years old, Gay)
I’ve never really had a hard time about it. It wasn’t until 18 when I was exposed to this entirely new world.
Before that, in school, I made friends quite easily, people were nice and some of these close friends came to know eventually. I’m not sure I told them, they could have found out, but no one really bothered, no one made a big fuss, so that was that.
Started university, made more gay friends, made more straight friends including some pretty close straight guy friends, who my partner and I hang out with on a semi-regular basis. Also was captain of the NTU swim team; the guys knew but it was never really a ‘thing’ so thats pretty cool.
5. Nicholas Lim (36 years old, Gay)
There was definitely a very strong stigma against identifying oneself as a gay man. Internet dating hadn’t even been invented and I remember the feeling of apprehensiveness whenever I went cruising at the parks or to the only dedicated gay bar back then. 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. The fear of discovery or being outed was very pervasive, clouded by a strong feeling of shame in “engaging in those types of activities”.
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.
Personally, I wasn’t that affected by that fear because back home my family had not only come to terms with me being gay, but accepted it as a non-issue.
6. Bi Ling (28 years old, Queer)
I have been pretty fortunate. My coming out process was a gradual realisation, and that happened in my late teens while I was in polytechnic. Hence, I was not so aware and attuned to homophobic bullying which could be happening in secondary school. I would imagine circumstances to be much more challenging if I were a questioning young teen in a homophobic school environment.
However, there were/are some challenges that I face, being somebody whose gender expression is more masculine than majority of females. Disappointingly, some people make assumptions and sweeping judgements based solely on my appearance. It saddens me when people deem LGBTQ persons as ‘lesser’ simply because of our sexual orientations.
Other things would include getting stares in restrooms, in public, and sometimes hearing strangers talk about me in a not-so-discreet way.
7. Lokies Khan (24 years old, Gay)
Growing up as a kid, trying to grasp what was going on with me sexually and not having somebody to talk to was extremely lonely and frightening. I was effeminate, and was often made fun of in primary school. “Ah gua”, “bapok”, “sissy”, “faggot”, whatever derogatory gay terms you can think of, I’ve heard them all.
Transitioning into secondary school was even harder. The teasing didn’t stop, making adaptation into the new environment extremely difficult. I became afraid of going to school, and would often find means and ways to skip school. The loneliness slowly ate me up inside, and I started to have suicidal thoughts.
Things only started to get better when I started going to church. I was a fervent Christian at 13, and never missed a single weekend service. I thought I would finally become ‘normal’, find a good Christian girl in the future, get married and start a ‘normal’ family.
8. Eugene Tan (38 years old, Gay)
In a weird way, I have always found spaces that we think of as masculine, like all boys’ schools and the army to be accommodating of gay men. Especially if, like me, you’re not super gender conforming, those spaces seem to always have just understood that I’m just different, and if I’ve had trouble, it’s been about not having my shit together, more than being gay, queer, or effeminate, or whatever.I’m also hella tall and look like if I fell on you, you might die, so I recognise that maybe many people would think hard before attempting violence.It could also be that as a young person, I was extremely self-absorbed, and just maybe didn’t notice being bullied. My gay friends from my years in ACS all speak of dealing with teasing and other kinds of verbal abuse, which I don’t remember, so it’s entirely possible that it happened and I was too busy thinking about myself to notice.
9. Ayden Constantine (23 years old, Transgender)
I got a lot of weird stares from people mainly because I sound like a man but my chest isn’t as flat as a cis guy’s chest. People judge me a lot especially when I have a simple conversation with them and many people don’t know whether to call me he or she.
But growing up I learned to block out unnecessary judgments from people and just live my own life without bothering what anyone else thinks of me.
10. Gabriel Mark (21 years old, Gay)
I think the most prominent factor of being a gay indian especially in Singapore is the fact that our community is a minority which probably leads to news spreading like wildfire. Most of the community grow up in a very heavily cultured households which can be a barrier to understanding the “outside” world, having to experience things that are out of the norm.
11. Lena Tan (29 years old, Lesbian)
Being judged for sure. Having the eyes when I’m holding my girlfriend’s hand, getting the eye when I enter the female toilet and even at work, I’ve gotten rejected at interviews simply for being just who I am so you’ll be surprise the number of ignorant people out there.
12. Johnson Ong (35 years old, Gay)
Too many to list!
But definitely, in sec school and JC trying to date girls in order to fit in, which obviously was a disastrous situation. Having people close to you telling you being “ah kwa” is wrong and forbidden by God, you grow up with a lot of guilt and isolation because of an intense fear that being found out will risk rejection and disappointment of the people closest to you.
And of course hiding your gay porn from your parents, LOL.
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