‘I’m not ready’
That is the answer I always get whenever I approach a gay actor for a feature on the ‘Out Of The Closet’ series. My reflex would then be to explain that it will never feel like the right time. That coming out publicly would always be terrifying.
But it never mattered how convincing my arguments were. Their answer remained the same. Sometimes, it’s due to personal discomfort. Most of the time, it’s business concerns. Both are reasonable justifications. After all, coming out publicly in a country like Singapore would be uncharted territory.
It may be 2019. But Singapore does not presently boast many prominent actors who are publicly out of the closet. Apart from Ivan Heng and Kumar, no one else comes to mind. Joining the likes of Singapore’s very limited pool of ‘out’ public figures however, is our next ‘Out Of The Closet’ feature.
Dear Straight People,
Meet 44-year old Singaporean Steven David Lim.
His handsome mug may seem unfamiliar to some of you. But Steven was once a familiar face on local TV. He is best known for his role in the hit TV series ‘Growing Up’, where Steven starred in all 6 seasons of what would go on to become Singapore’s longest-running English-language drama.
Currently based in Bangkok as a restaurateur, Steven has kept himself out of the local limelight in recent years. But he is about to find himself under public scrutiny once again by coming out publicly on Dear Straight People.
When I ask him how does he feel about being Singapore’s first openly ‘out’ actor, he responds with a laugh.
Am I really Singapore’s first openly gay actor? I could name a whole bunch just off the top of my head… lol.
That response right there, accurately reflects the state of gay media representation in Singapore.
Many of Singapore’s onscreen heart-throbs play for the other team. Some of them aren’t exactly discreet either. But while they aren’t actually closeted, they aren’t out in the press either.
It’s an interesting situation. One that is a direct reflection of Singapore’s social climate. The existence of Section 377A in Singapore, which criminalises gay sex between consenting men, makes coming out as a public figure a convoluted affair. But because Section 377A isn’t enforced, many don’t see the need to take a public stand. As Steven himself puts it:
You can live a fairly gay lifestyle without facing persecution in Singapore. For most people, there has never been that urgent or important a need to take a stand on the
So while many of Singapore’s gay actors reside in glass closets, Steven David Lim is one of the few Singaporean actors to date, to publicly share his coming out experience in detail.
Unlike most of my previous interviewees, Steven is unable to pinpoint the exact moment he knew he was gay.
I don’t remember it being one singular moment of clarity but rather over quite a long period of time with small incidences. A stronger than usual connection to a best friend. A lingering contact of the forearms with a stranger on public transport…
Perhaps I had already realised that I was but my Asian Christian upbringing built a really tall wall of denial.
It took Steven some time. But he finally had his epiphany when he found himself in a relationship with ‘the most popular girl in school’.
She was (and still is) one of the prettiest, smartest and kindest girls I have ever known. The kind of girl that every boy wants to be with – the perfect girl.
I was the luckiest boy in the world and should have been the happiest too but there was still something missing. I guess I knew then that perhaps the perfect girl for me wasn’t a girl at all.
Shortly after, Steven had his first gay sexual experience, which culminated in his first same-sex relationship.
My first coming out experience would have been allowing a guy to chat me up (cruise me) as we left a local swimming pool. He had caught me checking out his ass – he had the most sculpted glutes I’d ever seen and a really handsome face with a beautiful smile.
I actually remember intentionally walking quite slowly when I left the swimming complex. For a slow pace, my heart felt like I was running a race.
Sure enough, he caught up with me and introduced himself. We went for a drink and the rest, as they say, is history. He was my first boyfriend and we were together for over a year.
By the time Steven entered the media industry as an actor during the 1990s, he was already out and proud. The media landscape back then however, was a deeply closeted scene.
You knew about the other gay actors but nobody was publicly out.
You would have interviews with the press and they would ask you the usual ‘Do you have a girlfriend etc’ which most actors would create a ‘beard’ and a backstory.
Uncomfortable with lying to the press, Steven took on a different route.
I decided quite early on that I did not want to lie about it but I also would not give direct answers when asked about my private life.
‘Are you attached?’
‘Who is the lucky girl?’
‘I don’t have a girlfriend.’
When it became clear that I was telling them I was gay without spelling it out, they very quickly learnt not to ask those kind of questions.
It may have been over 20 years since Steven kicked off his acting career in Singapore. But sadly, the situation hasn’t improved much.
Queer public figures are still actively discouraged from coming out. Many are explicitly instructed by their managers to hide their sexuality. I know of one A-list actor who was instructed by his manager to unfollow Dear Straight People because of the attention it might draw. An unfounded concern really, considering how non-predatory the local media scene is.
The unique conditions under which Singapore’s entertainment industry operates means that most queer public figures take on the same route that Steven himself took during his heyday. That is, they live their lives openly in private but shun the limelight when it comes to queer public representation.
It may seem like a non-issue to some. But for a community that have been marginalised for so long, being open about one’s sexuality is a powerful statement in itself. Especially if the person coming out is a public figure with considerable influence.
I do think that there is strength in numbers. Perhaps if there are enough of us who take the stand, it makes it easier and easier for others to follow.
Perhaps, when the numbers are large enough, it finally becomes a non-issue.
No longer a full-time actor based in Singapore, Steven no longer needs to worry about the implications his sexuality may have on his career. He has taken up roles in many overseas productions which dealt with queer themes, such as ‘The Swimming Instructor’ and ‘Cut Sleeve Boys’. In fact, one of his proudest projects to date was starring as one of the leads in the locally produced gay web drama ‘People Like Us’.
The main objectives of the project and the organisation behind it (Gayhealth.sg) is
something I am 100% in support of. The fact that it is also dealing with many taboo topics that should be discussed made it a project that I knew I had to do.
The way I see it, I am really lucky to have been part of this project. It is one of the projects that I am proudest, and thankful, to be a part of.
It remains to be seen if Steven’s coming out on Dear Straight People would inspire other public figures to do the same.
But it is a tad sad that Pink Dot has to keep depending on straight allies to be the ambassadors for the LGBTQ+ community. After all, who better to stand up for us than people from our own community?
For anyone struggling with the thought of coming out, it feels like the hardest thing in the world to do. Your world will change completely after that or it might be a complete non-event.
For me, the most amazing thing having come out is that I never had to act, ever again, other than when I was in a role.
Editor’s note: This article previously mistakenly asserted that Steven David Lim is Singapore’s first ‘out’ actor. Revisions have since been made to correct that assertion.
2022 UPDATE: After a long hiatus away from the public limelight, Steven recently made his acting comeback by playing a homophobic father in ‘Getaway’, Singapore’s first gay BL web drama series.
Getaway chronicles the highs and lows of Singaporean Sam (Sean Foo), who jets off to Bangkok after his coming out to his conservative dad (Steven David Lim) goes horribly wrong. His search for his exiled gay uncle (Otto Fong), who was similarly disowned by his family for guidance, leads him to cross paths with a charismatic Thai party boy Top (Snooker). Together, they search for Sam’s uncle but sparks soon fly between the two.
Binge the entire first season of Getaway for free below.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Steven David Lim for sharing his story with us.
If you would like to keep up to date with how Steven David Lim is doing, you can connect with Steven on Instagram via @stevendavidlimphotography
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