Do you think you would have any friends if you didn’t have a six-pack?
That was the first question I asked my next interviewee.
Probably not the best question to ask someone that you’ve only just met. But considering the circumstances which brought about this meeting, I felt like it was the best way to kick off our interview.
Dear Straight People, meet 24-year old Singaporean Marcus Goh.
When I meet Marcus for the first time, he takes out a weighing scale to weigh his lunch. And as I sit there watching him diligently key in the nutritional make-up of his lunch into MyFitnessPal, it’s very easy to dismiss Marcus as another vapid body-obsessed ‘influenza’.
Marcus first caught my eye when pictures of him started popping up on my Instagram explore tab. But it was his feature on The Gay Passport that sparked my journalistic interest. His interview with The Gay Passport wasn’t particularly intriguing. Not on the surface at least.
But the fact that he kept talking about ripping his shirt off even when it wasn’t relevant to the question piqued my interest. Something must be up. Nobody normal talks like that. So with the help of a mutual friend, I reached out to Marcus for an interview.
Marcus readily accepts. But as he puts it himself:
I didn’t know the interview was going to be so intense!
Any gay guy active on Instagram would have seen Marcus’ thirst traps at one point or another.
But it wasn’t that long ago that Marcus was someone with a negligible social media presence. He only had 4,000 Instagram followers at the start of 2017. Within a span of 6 months, he grew it to an army of over 25,000.
Now, with almost 30,000 followers, Marcus is undoubtedly Insta-famous. His rise to social media stardom however, wasn’t by accident. Everything on his feed, from the poses he strikes to the people he features, is a calculated decision. Marcus is a man who knows how to play the game. And he certainly isn’t shy about admitting to it.
If people say that I’m conforming to societal pressure, then yes I am.
What however, would compel someone to make a New Year’s resolution to become ripped and Insta-famous?
The answer lies in a specific life-changing incident that happened to him at the end of 2016.
Marcus travelled to Bangkok at the end of 2016 for a holiday, unaware that White Party 2017 was going on at the same time.
While holidaying there, he was invited to a gathering by a friend he met through Jack’d.
When I reached the gathering, there were all these hot guys from another country. And they were giving me this look that made me feel uncomfortable.
So I felt like I wasn’t good looking enough so I told my friend I wanted to leave. But he told me to stay. So I stayed.
As the party progressed, the hostility from the rest of the party goers lingered. The breaking point came when two of the guys conversed in Chinese not knowing that Marcus could understand them.
They were saying ‘Why is this dark skin person here? His body not even nice’.
That really hit me hard.
That incident made me feel that having a six-pack was the answer to being accepted and validated by the gay community, although I came to realise later that that is not entirely the case
Faced with certain struggles during his final year in Med school, Marcus took a gap year. It was during this gap year that he took the opportunity to work on his body. Within a span of 3 months, he managed to reduce his body fat from 17% to 10%.
His new set of abs also brought about a new set of friends. His social circle grew, and now includes other insta-famous gay guys. And with his newly-found confidence, Marcus finally feels like he belongs somewhere.
Wherever I went in the past, I never really fit in.
Whether it’s school or hall or whichever CCAs I did, these were mostly straight activities and I was never able to fit in.
Now, I finally feel welcome in the gay community where I can be myself.
As impactful as that incident was, reducing the current Marcus to a single incident would be too simplistic a route to take. As I dug deeper into his personal life, it became clear that his family background played a pivotal role as well.
Born to a Chinese father and Filipino mother, Marcus’ parents divorced when he was just one.
My father was never around growing up.
Raised by his grandparents and biological mum, Marcus only moved in with his dad and step-mum when the latter remarried while he was in secondary school.
It was when I moved in that my dad refused to let me see my biological mum.
There were a lot of issues with the way my dad and step-mum brought me and my brother up. They had a lot of idealistic expectations of what they wanted their sons to be – the standard straight boy who would excel in studies and sports, and eventually get married and have children.
Of course, these expectations weren’t met when they found out I was gay, which eventually led to a lot of abuse, because I fought back. That made me want to find validation from other sources.
Up till today, I don’t forgive them for what they did to my brother and I.
At the start of 2017, Marcus made the decision to move out with his brother and reconnected with his biological mother. And it’s only when talking about his mum that his eyes finally light up. Unlike his dad and step-mum, Marcus’ biological mum is fully supportive of his sexuality.
She said she knew from young as it was very obvious, and fully accepts it because she loves me as her son, and wants me to be happy.
She prefers to be proud of the fact that I am on my way to graduating and becoming a doctor. And of course she wants me to find a handsome and successful boyfriend.
Marcus may have gotten his six-pack, a sense of belonging and a circle of popular friends. But all of this comes with a price.
When I ask him whether he’s sick of weighing his food, he smiles to himself for a moment before answering sometimes. But it’s not hard to see why he continues to adhere to such a strict fitness regime.
His primary social circle now is made up of people he has only known for less than a year. And when everyone around him boasts a Men’s Health worthy body, the pressure to stay lean is intense.
There was a phase where I was bulking up and I was quite plump at 16% body fat.
My close friends still cherished me for who I am but they were very honest with me and told me I was getting too fat. But they did it with good intentions.
When you live in a world where 16% body fat is considered ‘too fat’, it’s easy to see why Marcus continues to weigh every meal he consumes. But he does admit that most of the time, he does put unnecessary pressure on himself to look good and be ripped.
With almost 30,000 Instagram followers and a bright future ahead as a doctor, one would expect Marcus to finally feel validated. So it might come as a surprise to some that he answered ‘6.5‘ when I asked him to rate how confident he felt now on a scale of 10.
There is still that insecurity there. It has only been 1 year. So it still hits me very hard. And of course, there are other aspects of my life, like my school, where there is pressure to perform and meet expectations.
At the same time, having been out in the scene for awhile now, you realise that there is more to it in life than just wanting to be validated for having a nice body.
But if you really took the time to know Marcus, his answer shouldn’t surprise you. Maybe it’s his family history. Or maybe it’s his sexuality. But everything about him seems to stem from a desire to prove himself.
Marcus’ story is not just a coming out story. At its core, it really is about a young man’s quest for validation. From making it into med school to courting social media attention, everything he does seems to stem from a need to prove himself.
That need surfaces most clearly when he talks about his favourite diva; Lady Gaga.
In the past, I liked her because she was very different.
Now, it’s because she is very confident. She knows what she wants and what kind of music she wants to do. So she doesn’t need validation from album sales anymore. She is just doing what she wants to do.
I really aspire to be self-confident like her.
So if you were to ask someone who only knows Marcus from his online persona, they would probably tell you that he is just another superficial fame hungry attention seeker.
But if you were to ask me, Marcus is pretty much just like you and me.
His relentless search for validation is something all of us can relate to. And while some chase validation by climbing the corporate ladder or by finding a significant other, Marcus chose to go with the social media route.
It’s very easy to hate on influencers like Marcus. And with the recent wave of backlash against influencers dominating local news, anti-influencer sentiment seems to be at an all time high.
Yes, some influencers really are just influenzas. But if you took the time to actually get to know some of them like Marcus, you’ll start to understand that there is always a backstory to why they are doing what they are doing.
I’m not sure if Marcus will ever find that validation that he so greatly craves. But then again, how many of us actually do?
Written by Sean Foo
1. When did you first experience same-sex attraction?
I remember I was 7 and I was watching this TV show where there was this very hunky guy in a cartoon. The next day, I wanted to watch that show because of that guy. So I experienced it very young.
My first crush was on a secondary school friend when I was 16. He was very weird. He would entertain my gestures but he eventually dated a girl.
2. Who was the first person you came out to?
My classmates in JC. They were all girls. They kind of asked me. And I said I probably am. And they were all like yayyyy lol.
3. How did your family first learn about your sexuality?
They found out on their own. I was kind of seeing this guy when I was in JC. We weren’t really dating. We would just study together. Sometimes hold hands. So I would write his name in my diary and write these lovey-dovey notes
One day my step-mum was looking through my stuff and she found it and asked who was this? She thought it was some girl. So I said it was just some stupid thing.
She went into my Facebook and she searched his name and realised he is a guy. And that was how they found out I was gay. They couldn’t accept it.
4. Do you feel like the friendships you’ve built since becoming Insta-famous are genuine?
Yes and no. At the end of the day, in life, you realise that you are able to click with a few friends, regardless of who they are (whether insta-famous or not), and it’s these people whom you cherish and keep as friends. I don’t understand why there would be a stereotype that ‘insta-famous friendships’ are not genuine.
There are quite a number of guys in the scene (both locally and overseas) that I’ve become closer to. I can’t say much about ‘genuinity’ because we have only known each other for awhile. But to me, emotional connection is a very strong indication of friendship and for these guys, I struck a really strong emotional bond with them. And that to me makes the friendship genuine.
But I always believe that over time, as your values in life change, your friends may naturally change too. Maybe it’s because of a change in working environment, or a change in hobbies/interests, but you will definitely lose friends along the way, because you no longer are able to hang out with them doing the same activities you used to be collectively interested in.
Whatever it is, I choose to be grateful for the friendships I have and just live life in the moment.
5. What is the biggest misconception about you?
That I just want sex lol, probably because of the SEX tattoo
I actually have a very low sex drive; I barely have sex in Singapore HAHA
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Marcus Goh for sharing his story with us.
You can read the full interview transcript with Marcus by supporting Dear Straight People on Patreon here.
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