That’s it for you. You’re done. It’s over.
That’s the response Henry Wilson (played by Jim Parsons) spits at Rock Hudson (played by Jake Picking), when the latter shows up on the red carpet with his boyfriend in one of the most show stopping scenes of the recent Netflix extravaganza, Hollywood.
Now, Singapore is no Hollywood. But there are many parallels that can be drawn between Singapore’s entertainment scene and Ryan Murphy’s fantastical retelling of tinseltown. Race relations aside, anyone who wants to be anyone in Singapore showbiz is told to hide their sexuality.
A fact that my next interviewee is very well aware of.
Dear Straight People,
Meet 30-year old Singaporean Justin Foo – chef, entrepreneur and all-around personality.
If you find Justin’s handsome mug familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen him on national television before. Not too long ago, Justin was signed to an artiste management agency. During his stint as an artiste, he rubbed shoulders on TV with some of Singapore’s biggest stars.
All of that however, came with a price.
I was told that me being part of the LGBTQ community will draw much gossip… I caved in and let the supposed experts tell me what I should do – don’t mention that you’re gay.
Having been ‘out’ since he was 20, Justin found himself in a somewhat peculiar situation. People usually come out of the closet, not head back in.
Justin first discovered his attraction to the same sex in secondary school. But he kept it to himself for fear of being outcast.
I had a secret admiration for one of my peers but I was afraid to let anyone know about these feelings. Being labeled ‘ah gua’ in my school was social suicide.
It wasn’t till his National Service that he had his first coming out experience.
I first came out to my army mates halfway into my service. But after I told them the truth, we laughed it off and became friends. I was glad to find a safe space where I could be myself.
Coming out to his family however, wasn’t quite as smooth sailing. When his sister noticed that his social circle was predominantly made up of men, she asked him point-blank if he was gay.
One night, she couldn’t sleep because of this unanswered question. I knew if she couldn’t sleep, neither would I. I answered her in hopes that she would go back to sleep.
She asked the second question: ‘When are you going to tell Ma?’
Frustrated and half asleep, I dismissed her by saying that she could tell when ever she felt like
His mum found out the very next day. A war of words erupted and tensions got so bad that Justin almost left home.
My mum told me that we both had to work on this together. I stayed on and went for one session of counselling.
I learnt that as much as we expect our parents to love and accept us, they are as human as we are. The struggles of LGBTQ people and the parents of LGBTQ people are equally as significant and difficult.
Upon completion of his National Service, Justin worked as a chef first before opening his own gastro bar. It was during his stint as a restaurateur that stardom beckoned.
His gastro bar eventually had to shut down due to various factors. But his time running the restaurant allowed him to connect with many people from the media.
I was offered opportunities from people from the media industry.
I was burnt and depressed from the grind of being a chef restauranteur. I decided to explore a new industry.
Justin scored a contract with a leading media agency, who had plans to groom him into a celebrity chef. The pursuit of stardom however, demanded sacrifices.
Very quickly, I was told that me being part of the LGBTQ community will draw much gossip and make life difficult for me. I was advised to clean up my social media accounts.
To me, this was a far cry from opening a shop with a rainbow flag hung at the shopfront.
Justin did as he was told. He deleted all traces of his partner from his social media accounts, and put on a ‘straight’ front in his public dealings.
Being forced back into the closet however, took its toll on him.
Suddenly I had to live a double life; something I struggled so much not to do in my growing up years.
At some point, it felt like I was back in school. Keeping my silence on my sexuality was the better thing to do lest someone does not want to engage me for any opportunities.
On one hand, Justin felt like a hypocrite for pretending to be straight. On the other hand, he felt like he let himself down by returning to the closet.
I felt misjudged; caught in the middle of defending the community yet holding my ‘credibility’ as a straight man in the industry.
Because it was my decision eventually to step back from the community, I felt I have disappointed a lot of my friends, whom have been a huge support to me when I ran my restaurant.
It may have been a few years since Justin was told to hide his sexuality upon joining showbiz. But sadly, the situation has not changed much.
Many of those seeking stardom have been observed to ‘clean up’ their social media accounts once they become a contracted artiste. Some have even had to rename, or even restart their Facebook and Instagram accounts.
The LGBTQ+ community rarely outs one of their own. But in the world of social media, nothing ever gets truly erased. Traces of their ‘past life’ can still be found on forums and group chats. And so try as they might, the only closet they can possibly return to is a glass one.
Returning to the closet may seem like a non-issue to some. But doing so perpetuates a vicious cycle of marginalisation. And for a community that have been marginalised for so long, being open about one’s sexuality is a powerful statement in itself. Especially if it’s a public figure with significant influence.
But in a country that prioritises pragmatism over idealism, hiding in the closet will always seem like the smart thing to do. Most will not want to risk their rice bowl. And many will not see the need for it too. A peculiar byproduct of Singapore’s social climate, where gay sex is criminalised but not enforced.
As a result, Singapore only boasts a handful of public figures who are ‘out’. Kumar and Ivan Heng are some names that spring to mind. Steven David Lim too, was notably featured in our ‘Out Of The Closet’ series last year, where his coming out story was groundbreaking enough to get picked up by other media outlets.
The rest of Singapore’s LGBTQ+ celebrities however, continue to lead double lives.
As for Justin himself, he eventually left the pursuit of stardom, and now functions independently. At the start of 2020, Justin embarked on a joint venture called Forkcast – a digital media platform specialising in food and lifestyle content.
No longer pressured to put on a false front, Justin’s social media accounts are no longer ‘straight-washed’. Photos of his partner can be found peppered across his Instagram account, and he even took part in our Pride passion project last year.
While Justin is no longer leading a double life, he understands the risk coming out poses to those still in showbiz.
I know it is a scary thought for closeted stars to come out because they might lose fans and jobs.
The variety of jobs available to actors and actresses is not yet enough for local stars to take this risk, especially the ones who have been in the industry for some time.
At the same time, Justin too believes in the importance of greater queer public representation.
A change is needed, and there can be no better paragons of this change other than our local stars.
Hate and opposition will come, but that’s what public figures signed up for when they go public.
However, as much as there is hate, there will also be encouragement. But encouragement will never be found if no opportunities for it were presented.
I believe your sexuality takes a back seat in the public eye when your craft takes precedence. No one talks of Sir Ian McKellen as a gay man, that’s because he’s an astounding actor.
For the record, Justin’s interview was conducted over a year ago. But as I binged watched my way through Netflix’s Hollywood, I couldn’t help but recall the predicament that Justin and many others like him find themselves in when pursuing a career in local showbiz.
In Netflix’s Hollywood, its ethnic and gay protagonists triumph over oppression by taking a stand and making bold gestures. Real life unfortunately, isn’t so simple. Despite its liberal front, even real life Hollywood continues to pressure its LGBTQ+ players to remain closeted.
That said, the importance of queer representation cannot be understated. As long as Singapore’s public figures continue to stay closeted, those looking to make it in showbiz will continue to be pressured into being someone that they are not.
Reality may not be as straightforward as Ryan Murphy’s fictionalised narrative of post-war Hollywood. But in a country where queer representation is sorely lacking, taking a public stand would be a good start.
Hopefully, Justin’s example will inspire other public figures to come out of the closet.
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Justin Foo for sharing his story with us.
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