Meet 31 year-old Bhas Karan, an ethnic Indian born and bred in Singapore.
Being gay in Singapore is hard. But being gay and Indian in Singapore is harder. Sexual racism is prevalent within the gay community. And in Singapore, the group which bears the brunt of it are the gay Indians. Profiles which state ‘No Indians’ are a dime a dozen on gay dating apps.
When asked upon my race in a random conversation, I would get an immediate rejection after revealing my race.
The sexual racism that Bhas experienced online affected him so much, he would lie about his race on dating apps. Instead of stating that he was Indian when his ethnicity came into question, Bhas would lie that he was of mixed blood to downplay his Indian heritage.
The common one I admit to using was “Indian/Eurasian mix”, which I am not proud of till today.
The Bhas of today however, no longer lies about his race. But it took him quite some time to come to terms with his own race…
Growing up, like many typically gay men, Bhas was always more comfortable in the company of women as opposed to men. From as young as he could remember, Bhas has always had a strained relationship with his father.
Dad was a typical Indian man; an alcoholic with poor financial responsibilities… There were beatings and utter negligence of my sister and me.
During my younger days, I was helpless towards my Mum and the whole situation. However, as I grew older, I stood up against his bad attitude.
Naturally, Bhas gravitated towards his mother and younger sister at home. At school, he interacted more with the girls than the boys. And for some reason, his behaviour became something that many of his Indian schoolmates took an issue with.
They thought that I was an attention seeker, or that I mix around with the girls too much, or that I can get loud with my personality sometimes.
To an extent, I was even threatened to “act like a man” because they felt that I was tarnishing the image of an Indian… This made me fear hanging out with the Indian boys.
While Bhas avoided the Indian boys during his growing up years, he found himself gravitating towards other boys as he grew older.
Bhas was just 8-years old when he first experienced same sex attraction.
His family home’s close proximity to a swimming complex meant that trips to the local pool were a frequent family affair. And it was there that he had his first brush with homosexuality. The swimming pool that he frequented as a child was a popular hotspot for SAF soldiers, and their toned physiques caught the eye of an 8-year old Bhas Karan.
When it’s time to shower and change up, these soldiers would be wrapping up their lessons, hitting the shower at the same time. There they’ll be, all naked and fooling around with their soap filled bodies.
I found that weird, but was attracted at the same time. I was not able to get that image out of my mind for a very long time
A crush on another boy in primary school confirmed his attraction to the same gender. It took him a while to accept his homosexuality. But by the time he hit his early 20s, Bhas plucked up the courage to start exploring the gay scene. His foray into the gay community however, was not a smooth journey.
Racial discrimination is rife in the gay community. And while the verdict is still out on whether such discrimination equates to racism itself or that it’s merely a matter of personal preference, there’s no denying its effects on racial minorities. Many a time, Bhas was rejected solely on the grounds of his race.
The very avenue I sought to find comfort from gay men, who ought to be experiencing the same journey as I was, had casted me aside because of my ethnicity.
The constant discrimination that he faced took a toll on his self-esteem. And he felt compelled to lie about his race in order to land a date.
In the past, I found the need to lie about my race on dating profiles because gay men tend to be more accepting towards someone who was “Indian/Portugese mixed” or “Indian/Malay mixed”
But as Bhas grew older, he started to become more comfortable in his own skin. Currently in a stable 3-year long relationship with a Singaporean he met online, Bhas no longer lies about his race.
As I matured, I began to feel more comfortable and confident. I was embracing my own colour and ethnicity.
I then realised there was no need to lie because that would mean I was ashamed of myself. I was not.
While Bhas has come to terms with the colour of his skin, there’s no denying that years of sexual racism has taken a toll on his self-esteem. And the racially induced insecurities that he’s had follows him up till today.
At our first meeting, Bhas states rather matter of factly that ‘nobody checks out an Indian man‘. And whenever he notices that somebody is checking him out, he confesses that his immediate reaction is that there must be something wrong with his face or attire.
When he finally confirms that there’s nothing stuck in his teeth and his shirt isn’t stained, it still takes Bhas a while before it finally dawns on him that said person is indeed checking him out!
But Bhas Karan is more than just an Indian man…
Beyond the colour of his skin, Bhas is a people person. His day job as an Events Organiser makes full use of his outgoing and sociable nature, a trait that has allowed him to nab emceeing gigs every now and then.
I was a prefect in school and a very popular guy, not because I was a school heart-throb, but because I was very sociable with people.
His love of social interaction has also driven him to become a LesMills BODYATTACK and BODYPUMP instructor, a role that lets him meet all kinds of people from all walks of life.
Interest wise, his hobbies are wide and varied. They range from baking up a storm in the kitchen to experimenting with his DSLR. He’s also a fan of EDM but lately, he has been getting into Trap music as well.
Aspiration wise, Bhas hopes to get married and have kids one day, though he concedes that such a dream can be hard to achieve in Singapore. He also candidly confesses to having beauty pageant ambitions.
I secretly have this aspiration to take part in Singapore Manhunt someday, once I am all chiselled of course, representing the minority race, as I feel we need to showcase more of the diversity in our Singapore multi-racial society.
Bhas has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to answer our Q&A so read on to find out more about his story!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
I don’t remember coming out to anyone by choice, although I knew friends and colleagues were snooping behind my back, utilising social media to find out about my sexuality.
Even if I had a non-important person asking me about my sexuality, I didn’t find the need to tell them the truth. Therefore, I would lie. And sometimes, it is the lie that they would expect as my answer. So I would ask myself if this person is worth coming out to. If it is not, I would give them the answer they expect.
And to those who have concluded that I am gay just by looking through my social media accounts, I would not bother much with them.
2. How did your family respond to your sexuality?
My sister already knew, because her poly classmates apparently saw me in Tantric (a gay bar) and went to inform her. The following day, she just came to me and casually asked “Eh, last night Tantric ah?” with a grin in her face. I just went, “Oh…. yea”. That was it with my sister.
However, the most dramatic coming out experience was with my Mum. By that time, she was already a divorcee and I have completed my 10 year bond with the SAF… My Mum started crying of course. I found the need to stress to her that I am still her son, no matter what my sexual orientation is and that I will still love her as I already have. Nothing has changed.
However, the biggest worry my Mum had was not about her accepting me as a gay son but more of what others will feel about her having a gay son. It was unsurprising for my Mum to think that way as she was after all, an Indian woman. At that point of time, it was my Sister who was constantly there, vouching for me and reiterating to Mum…that happiness was about us and not by living in the shadows of others.
I gave Mum space and after two months, she embraced me like how she used to. She didn’t say a word. I knew that hug meant her acceptance for who I am.
3. How has sexual racism in the gay community affected you?
I think sexual racism does exist in our gay community, although it is not as bad as how it was a decade ago. To the outside, we constantly advocate acceptance but within the community, there is so much hatred and discrimination, including racism.
I have had the opportunity to explore the scene since my early 20s. Back then, or even earlier, the mode of communicating with another gay person was through IRC. Then slowly, sites like Fridae and SGboy were introduced. Most of the time, it seemed like I had to constantly take the back seat because of the colour of my skin and my ethnicity.
4. What was the most memorable incident of racial discrimination that you personally faced in the gay community?
There were many of such incidences. Just to name one, there was once I got to know this dude, whom I shared some really intimate conversations with online. We met up for a chat and nothing more. It was nice to talk and share your views to someone, rather than just casual sex.
After that episode, he went quiet on me. And when I texted him, he expressed that he no longer wished to speak to me nor do anything sexual with me because he was not into Indians.
His response was appalling. If he was not attracted to me, he could have just been very direct about that. Instead, he chose to play the race card, which I thought was absolutely unnecessary.
5. What advice do you have for other gay Indians in Singapore?
The gay community is better and much more tolerant today as compared to a decade ago. Step out and take the chance to meet more people. Broaden your social circle and you might be surprised how many non-indian gay men actually find Indian men attractive.
Side note: The Indian community is not that small in Singapore. There won’t be a chance where my mother would know your mother. There is no need to hide when you see me or any other Indian gay men for that matter.
6. What do you think is the biggest misconception gay people have about Indians in general?
That we smell? I mean, every human has body odour. It is wholly dependent on how one grooms themselves and I take pride in doing that.
And yes we are hairy so quit asking us that! The last I checked, hairy chest is in!
7. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Fear is never permanent, but with the right set of mind, we can overcome fear.
To quote from my favourite comic the X-Men, “Hatred is fear of the unknown”. I always believe in being yourself even if that means standing out and being different. Never be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. You might just learn that you aren’t alone.
Belonging to a minority ethnic group doesn’t mean I cannot go out and do what others are doing. I am proud to have accomplished what I have thus far, and I am still hungry for more. It is my wish to see more young gay people with aspirations work hard with determination to achieve them, no matter how many times they fall.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Bhas Karan for sharing his story with us.
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