You sure this interview won’t show my face right?
For the umpteenth time, I had to reassure Madam Tan that her interview would not feature any pictures of her. She eyes me suspiciously, then looks to her son for comfort.
After receiving further assurance from her son that I could be trusted, she settles down into her chair and looks at me with an unflinching gaze.
Ok, what you want to ask me?
Dear Straight People,
Meet Madam Tan, a seemingly ordinary housewife, mother to a son and a daughter. On the surface, Madam Tan comes across as your typical Singaporean tiger mum.
But Madam Tan is not your average mum. Not to her at least. For over a decade, Madam Tan has harboured a secret. One she believes could turn her entire life upside down.
Madam Tan has a gay son.
It all started when she chanced upon her then 13-year old son looking at gay porn. The next few years that followed were fraught with tension between mother and son.
Back then, I cried almost every night. I didn’t understand why he turned gay.
I blamed myself for being too strict with him. I thought that made him hate women.
It took Madam Tan a few more years to come to terms with his sexuality. And while her son’s homosexuality no longer remains a point of contention between them, the thought of her friends finding out that her son is gay still fills her up with endless anxiety.
My generation is still very conservative. If they ever find out my son is gay, they will look at him like a freak.
I get very nervous whenever my friends ask me why my son still got no girlfriend.
Madam Tan’s predicament is not an unusual one.
All too often, queer Asians are pressured by their parents into hiding their sexuality in a bid to protect the family name. Even when parents finally accept their child for who they are, the pressure remains. Do not come out publicly. Do not disgrace the family.
On the surface, such a notion can be interpreted as the parent choosing society over their children. And on some level, that is what it is. But the reality isn’t so simple.
What many don’t realise is that when a child comes out of the closet, it forces their parents into a closet of their own. Unlike us, most parents don’t have a strong support network when it comes to matters like this. Their friends aren’t as accepting as ours. And fear of societal rejection hinders them from seeking support.
With nobody to confide in, it’s very easy for parents to feel alone in their predicament.
Of course, every rule has its exception. And so I show Madam Tan the video interview (above) I conducted with Dr Khoo Hoon Eng; the Singaporean mother of 2 gay sons who started a support group for parents of LGBT children.
When the video ends, I ask Madam Tan for her thoughts on the video. She keeps silent for a moment before snapping that ‘Dr Khoo is different‘. When I prod further, Madam Tan elaborates:
My friends and relatives are not like her. They don’t speak so well, aren’t so educated. They will never be so open.
Madam Tan is completely correct. As inspiring as Dr Khoo is, she isn’t your average Singaporean mum. Madam Tan however, is.
Forced to drop out of school to support her family, Madam Tan never had the luxury of education. Raised during a time where LGBT visibility was almost non-existent, she grew up with a warped understanding of the queer community. So truth be told, it’s unfair to fault her for her attitude. Her fears are reasonable ones.
Madam Tan is merely a victim of circumstances.
For years, the narrative has always focused on the coming out struggles of members of the LGBT community.
Parents who struggle with accepting their children are often painted out to be terrible parents. This is despite the fact that parents have their own set of challenges to contend with. But unlike their queer children, they don’t have the media and their friends on their side.
It’s a lonely world to be in. And one that I only truly discovered during my brief chat with Madam Tan. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Madam Tan admits that she wished she had someone to confide in.
Sometimes, I wish I have someone to talk to also.
I worry for my son all the time. I’m scared he will end up all alone and there will be nobody to take care of him once my husband and me are gone.
I’m not sure if there will come a day when Madam Tan truly accepts her son. I don’t think she does either.
But one thing is for sure. Nobody loves her son more than she does.
Written by Sean Foo: @mrseanfoo
Note: Names used in this interview are not the actual names.
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