Dear Straight People,
My name is Sean Foo and I’m the founder of Dear Straight People – Singapore’s leading LGBT publication that reaches over 300,000 people a month.
It has been two years since I started Dear Straight People. Two long years. Over the course of these two years, Dear Straight People has become known for its Out Of The Closet series. From an openly gay pastor to a same-sex family, I’ve tried to tell the stories of openly queer individuals in all of their complexity.
The funny thing about writing all these coming out stories however, was that it was hard to ignore the irony of it all. Here I was, a closeted gay man, telling empowering stories of individuals far braver than I was. On one hand, I was trying to inspire the community to speak out. But in reality, I was hiding behind my keyboard.
To put it crudely, I was a hypocrite.
But I always managed to find an excuse for myself. And I was real good at it too. I would convince myself that the timing wasn’t right. That I wasn’t ready. That the people around me weren’t ready. I needed their permission first. I needed their approval.
So I kept on waiting. Waiting for the kind of approval that queer people so often craved. Waiting for someone to give me the nod and tell me that I’m allowed to come out now. That it’s ok for people to know that I’m gay.
It took me a while. But I realised that the people who don’t want me to come out now never will. That there would always be a reason to remain closeted. But more importantly, I realised that coming out publicly was always going to be terrifying. It would never feel like the right time.
So after two years of writing the stories of others, I’ve decided to take the plunge by finally telling my own story.
Growing up, I struggled a lot with my masculinity.
At home, I was always getting scolded for not being manly enough. In school, my effeminate nature made me an easy target. I lost count of the number of times someone called me a ‘sissy’. I grew to really hate that word.
So I tried very hard to adopt conventionally masculine mannerisms. Not doing so had consequences. I learnt to sit the ‘right’ way. Walk the ‘right’ way. Hold my wrists the ‘right’ way. And over time, I succeeded. I moulded myself into someone most would consider ‘straight-acting’. So, the bullying stopped. And for a while, all was well.
But then… puberty struck.
I was 13 when it happened. A handsome senior in school caught my eye. And for the first time in my life, I experienced same-sex attraction. I panicked. So I rushed home to conduct some research to seek an explanation for what I was feeling.
I remember vividly the wave of relief that swept over me when I read that same-sex attraction was a normal phase during puberty. That made sense to me. After all, I was in an all-boys school. I was convinced that once I graduate, I would grow out of all this confusion.
In my case however, it was never a phase. My homosexual tendencies followed me as I proceeded on to junior college. It didn’t matter that my junior college had an abundance of girls. My heart only saw men.
I was so deep in denial that I somehow managed to convince myself that I was straight despite the fact that I was crushing on guys around me all the time.
In my desperate bid to conform, I tried very hard to develop feelings for the opposite sex. I dated a couple of girls over the years. But for obvious reasons, none of them worked out. But I never gave up. Convinced that it was just a matter of meeting the right girl. Being gay was simply not an option for me.
It took me some time. 10 years to be exact. But I finally had that long belated epiphany at the age of 23. There was no life changing incident that triggered it. I just woke up one day and acknowledged to myself that I was gay. And with that simple revelation, the inner turmoil that plagued my life for a decade dissipated.
Not long after, I made the life-changing decision to launch Dear Straight People.
I wish I had a better story of how Dear Straight People came about. Unfortunately, the circumstances that shaped its creation were rather mundane.
After coming out to myself, I started to come out to my social circle which was predominantly straight. While I didn’t encounter any adverse reactions, I realised that misconceptions were rife. That was when it struck me that a gap existed between the straight and queer communities because queer publications were only talking to queer audiences.
So on 26th July 2015, I founded Dear Straight People.
The first few weeks were tough. With zero connections, barely any relevant experience and no funding, Dear Straight People struggled to find an audience.
The turning point came when I stumbled onto a blog post about self-acceptance by openly gay Korean American Dustin Sohn. As someone who struggled a lot with self-acceptance, his words really spoke to me. I was so inspired by him that I approached him for an interview.
Neither of us could have anticipated the kind of response that his story would receive. Back then, Dear Straight People didn’t even have a Facebook page and was barely scraping 100 views a day. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much of a response. But the internet proved us wrong. Within a matter of days, Dustin’s feature story generated over 2,000 organic shares on Facebook alone.
In fact, Dustin was so blown away by the response that he personally crafted a thank you post on his Facebook page!
The next few coming out stories that followed elicited a similar response. The first 3 features from the Out Of The Closet series all garnered over 1,000 shares on Facebook each. But stats aside, it’s the social impact that the stories have had that has been my greatest source of motivation.
The heartwarming messages from the LGBT community have been particularly encouraging, especially the anonymous messages from those still closeted. Visibility aside, they have also inspired others to come forward to share their stories. Darius Zee was the first person to write in wanting to share his story. Since then, many others have followed suit.
But as Dear Straight People grew larger, so did public criticism. Members of the community started to call me a hypocrite. Several of them said it straight to my face. As much as I wanted to come out to take ownership of the content that I was producing, the only thing stopping me from doing so was my parents.
My parents aren’t particularly religious people. Nor are they stupid. My dad for starters, holds a PhD. They have however, never met an openly queer person in their life. And thanks to mainstream media censorship, they grew up with a warped understanding of the queer community.
As the eldest son, my parents have always held high expectations of me. Having already disappointed them in my career choices, I couldn’t bear to disappoint them in my personal life too. Coming out to them would be a huge blow to them. So I put it off longer than I should have.
But it was a secret that I knew I couldn’t keep forever. And as my parents, I felt that they deserved the right to know. So a few months ago, I came out to them. My dad cried. My mum blamed herself. But thankfully, neither of them threw me out.
The situation at home has improved considerably since I first broke the news to them. But while they remain tolerant of my sexuality, they still struggle with truly accepting my orientation.
So I implore everyone reading this not to bother them about it. Whatever enquiries you may have should be directed to me instead. It would be unfair to them if my public coming out implicated them in any way.
After interviewing so many queer individuals, my situation at home isn’t an uncommon one. Asian parents tend to struggle with accepting their queer children. And truth be told, it’s unfair to fault them for their attitudes.
The majority of them grew up during a time where LGBT visibility was almost non-existent. Coupled with the negative press from traditional media, it’s not hard to see why queer people are at odds with their world view. And that is why I believe visibility is so important.
Making a difference doesn’t necessarily have to involve extraordinary feats. For a community that have been marginalised for so long, being open about one’s sexuality and gender identity can be a powerful statement in itself.
That is why coming out stories are so important. Not just to educate the straight community, but also to show the next generation that it is possible for a queer Asian to be open and happy.
While I do care about effecting social change, I am not a policy maker. What I am however, is a storyteller. And the only way I know how to contribute to the community is by telling socially conscious stories that have the potential to reach the masses.
So whether it’s sharing the story of an accepting mother of two gay sons or showing a different side of trans and straight sex workers, my aim has always been to tell stories that broaden hearts and open minds. Hopefully, the stories that I’ve told will integrate into a much larger story of hope, love and acceptance.
While Dear Straight People has easily been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life, single handedly running a website while holding a full-time day job has not been easy. And I’ve burnt countless nights and weekends doing so.
So I’ve decided to set up a Patreon page in the hopes that I don’t burn out like the many others who have come before me. If you see value in the work that Dear Straight People has been doing, then please do join Dear Straight People on Patreon!
Written by Sean Foo – www.instagram.com/mrseanfoo
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