Dear Straight People,
Meet 32-year old Malaysian Jack Lim, whose story brought actual tears to my eyes.
As I listen to Jack recall his story over a video phone call from his apartment in Kuala Lumpur, I can’t help but tear up a bit. This man is an absolute inspiration. Forced out of his home at the age of 19 after getting outed with nothing but a few pennies in his pockets, not only did Jack lose his family, he had to drop out of law school as well.
Being homeless out of the blue at 19-years old meant no money, no back-up plans.
Naturally, I couldn’t continue with my law studies.
Despite the heavy odds stacked against him, Jack still managed to fight his way back to the top. As a Talent Business Partner in the world’s largest media company, Jack has it all; financial stability, career success and a healthy and stable relationship.
His road to success however, has been a rocky one. From the lost 19-year old wandering the streets of Malaysia to the accomplished man you see today, this is Jack Lim’s story.
Born in Penang, Jack was attracted to men from as far back as he could remember.
I didn’t know that this feeling had a name; “gay”.
Neither did I know how to address this, considering that we didn’t have access to any support and education on this subject. Even if there were any, the controlled content was often distorted and biased.
Unlike the other boys in school, Jack never had the urge to date members of the opposite sex. The closest thing to a heterosexual romance that Jack had was when a girl asked a then 17-year old Jack out on a date.
We didn’t hold hands. There was no kissing, no follow up.
It died naturally.
2004 was a year that Jack would never forget. A then 19-year old Jack was in his first year at law school.
When his mum stumbled upon a Christmas card he made for his then boyfriend, all hell broke loose. Over the next two weeks, the tension at home got so bad that it eventually blew up into a heated argument that compelled Jack to leave his family home.
With nothing but a few pennies to his name, Jack used his last remaining coins to find a public phone to call his then boyfriend for help.
Walking on the street, homeless for the first time, two things my mum said rang in my head till this very day:
“Behind every successful man, there is a woman.”
“Every mother’s wish is to see her son to grow up successful in his career, marry to a woman and have children.”
That evening, I whispered to myself that I will turn this around and build a successful life out of this.
And turn this around he did. To make ends meet, Jack got a job as a barista at Starbucks.
I was so skinny then because I didn’t have enough for food. I secretly ate the unsold pastries at night.
Besides working hard and taking in more hours when given, I learnt to work smart.
Despite his meagre salary, Jack managed to get by. He would jot down all of his expenses in a tiny black diary that he carried with him at all times. Determined to prove his parents wrong, Jack worked hard at scoring a promotion.
His efforts paid off when he was promoted to become a supervisor; a rare feat for someone so young.
Within 9 months, I joined the STAR Team to develop new stores across the Northern Region of Malaysia.
That’s when I learnt about setting up a business from scratch, retail operations, recruitment, training, labour law, etc.
At the age of 23, Jack was offered a better career opportunity in KL. He decided to take the plunge but before he could do so, he needed to get his academic qualifications from his family home first.
I found my brother on Friendster and asked for his help to pass it to me. He ‘stupidly’ asked my mum where she kept the certificates.
That was when I received a call from my mum, after 4 years of total disconnection;
“I’ve passed your certificates to your brother and he will pass it to you,” she said calmly over the phone.
I took the opportunity to date her, “Would you like to come out for lunch? Then you can pass it to me.”
It took a few seconds of pauses before she replied “Okay.”
That fateful meet-up with his mum ended 4 years of estrangement from his family. His mum has since come round and even volunteered once to show her support by attending Pink Dot.
A few years ago, she messaged me on Facebook:
“I bought myself a pink blouse and I want to go to Pink Dot in Singapore. Will you be going? Even if you’re not going, I will be.”
Currently working as a Talent Business Partner in a media conglomerate, his career success is made all the more impressive by the fact that Jack managed to climb his way up the corporate ladder without a college degree.
Of course, there were some rocky times, but I must be one of the lucky ones.
I guess I’ve come to a point in my career, where employers are more interested in qualifying my career achievements and what I can add-value instead.
While his passion lies in the field of ‘Talent Acquisition’, Jack is also an occasional model who has lent his good looks to everything from underwear to supplements!
Happily attached to his partner of almost 4 years, the pair are planning to move in together by 2020.
A man with diverse tastes, Jack enjoys watching just about everything ranging from superhero flicks to documentaries.
I also enjoy biographical movies and one of my all-time favourite is “Prayers for Bobby” – A movie I’ve watched more than 5 times.
An able cook, Jack can whip up all sorts of dishes ranging from an Italian bolognaise to a comforting Adobo from the Philippines.
Find out more about Jack Lim and his inspirational story by checking out the Q&A section below!
1. How was your first coming out experience like?
Coming out from my family was a story by itself. Coming to a full self-acceptance, took a journey which happened a few years later. It spawned from a difficult break-up when I was still working in Starbucks. I actually shared with my fellow baristas.
To my surprise, all of them – from different races and religious backgrounds offered me love and support. I wasn’t treated any lesser, in fact my coming out made our friendship stronger and I still keep in touch with all of them up till this very day.
That’s when I realised, sometimes, our friends and the people around us are kind, welcoming and more loving than we presumed them for.
2. Tell us more about what happened when your family found out about your sexuality?
At such a young age, I was clearly not ready to come out.
Life became incredibly difficult after that. The hurtful feeling of being degraded was a feeling I vowed to not let myself experience again. To cut the emotional roller-coaster ride short; I was compelled to leave the family home one night, after a heated argument with my mum.
It was about an hour before midnight, I remembered the sky had just stopped raining and the air was freshly chilled.
I told myself I will be as successful as any man out there. If not, more successful. There were no tears, but a strong sense of determination.
3. What was the biggest challenge for you back then?
I joined Starbucks as a Barista, when they were just starting out.
They had very few stores across Malaysia at that time. Making MYR4.50 per hour was quite a challenge at first. But I made the best I can out of the little money I made.
4. In retrospect, how do you feel about your family’s reaction to your sexuality?
In my younger days, I was equally as angry and disappointed. But along the way, I could understand why my family, especially my mum reacted the way they did.
Of course, it could have been managed better. But we will have to look at what happened from a wider perspective.
You see, my parents grew up in a small town in Penang. Where, society treated the LGBT community with great taboo and discrimination. A time when they had no fair learnings about LGBT. This limited their understanding on the subject.
Thus, when I explained to my mum that this is natural and homosexuality is also found in other species like penguins and dolphins, I got a slap on my face. Perhaps, the information was too shocking to their system. Perhaps, the younger me, could have explained it better.
5. How is your family responding to your sexuality now?
My dad can be socially awkward. He is your rough and macho mechanic. But he welcomes my partner to our family dinners and I can see he was putting good effort in trying to engage in a conversation with him.
My brother, he respects my partner a lot. He is probably aware of how nice my partner has been to me.
I’m proud of my mum that she has been more receptive to learn, observe fairly and be educated about this. At times, her mixed signals can be confusing. But I appreciate that she has been trying. I’ve brought back my partner to my family home in Penang various times. My mum loves him.
Once, she called and asked, “You have a stable career now. When do you want to settle down?”
“Mum, I thought we talked about this many times…,” I replied, starting to get annoyed again.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I was referring to when are you planning to marry your partner? I will help you plan a flash mob proposal. Maybe a Zumba,” Mum said.
My family and I, clearly, have come a long way to where we are today.
6. What do you think is the biggest misconception that straight people have about gay people?
“So, which one is the boy and which one is the girl ah?” asks the straight person. “Surely one is the girl one. Must be you lah. You always cook for him. Haiyo.”
It’s like, asking which of the two chopsticks is a fork or spoon.
In some gay relationships, like mine, I like being the man. And, I like my partner as a man. It’s really that simple.
7. What advice do you have for gay people still hiding in the closet?
Life indeed got better for me after coming out. But I came out by stages and clearly, it wasn’t easy.
By coming out, it doesn’t mean I walk around with a loud gay banner. I am still me. Take your time to come out. Only when you’re ready.
Should your coming out experience not turn out to be a pleasant one, don’t do stupid things to harm yourself or others. Talk to people who can support you, it will be a great help. You can also reach out to me.
8. How is the situation like for the LGBT community living in Malaysia?
Malaysia actually has a vibrant gay scene.
But realistically, the Malaysian landscape in the area of LGBT rights will be challenging. However, we are getting better and the positive change can be felt in a slow, but stable manner.
9. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of the biggest misconceptions about me is that I am just another stuck-up gay man who spends his time obsessing with his muscles in the gym. Honestly, I am not. I am, or at least trying my very best to be as welcoming and caring in my own ways.
I learned about the term “Silent Activist” from one of the friends I’ve worked with. That we can influence change one step at a time even from behind the scenes; whether it be supporting a young man with self-acceptance or even comforting a recently diagnosed HIV stranger and educating him that it is really not the end of everything.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Jack Lim for sharing his story with us.
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