So here’s the thing: I’m gay. This article is anonymously written because I haven’t fully come out of the closet yet. Well, at least not to my family. Everyone else knows; it seems like the entire world that I have created for myself knows. And to be completely honest, that has always been enough for me.
I went on a trip recently and in the process of getting to know the people around me, naturally, conversations progressed to talking about relationships and life. It’s strange but I’ve always felt that it’s so much easier to open up about being gay and sharing that part of my life, to people I’ve just met. In a way, you could say that my friends and acquaintances know more about the 'real me' than my family does.
I talked about how I’ve been with my boyfriend for close to 10 years now. How both sides of our families are rather—at least, we think they are—clueless about our relationship. How we don’t openly show our love for one another in public. How homosexuality is inherently illegal in Singapore. And how it’d be nice to actually be married to him one day but if that doesn’t materialize, we’re totally fine with how things are and hopefully, be.
“Wait. Your parents don’t know about you and your boyfriend? That’s ridiculous!”
“You must feel oppressed living in Singapore.”
“It’s so strange to hear that, especially coming from a country where you can actually be who you really are.”
These are valid statements made by my new friends. They’re valid but it has never occurred to me that these were problematic issues. These were never things that kept me awake at night. It took a couple of people from the outside looking in to get me thinking that maybe living a lie is not ok. That maybe having had to live my life around the confines of a mostly traditional Asian society is not what I deserve.
I thought that trying to fit in instead of completely being myself from day one, would make for a better experience than the one I had in primary school.
I can’t speak for all gay Singaporeans, but based on conversations with some of those that I know, it’s often a similar reality. We prefer to lay low, remain discreet at home (and sometimes at work too), try our luck at making real connections in hopes of finding love on Grindr, and let it all out on Saturday nights at Tantric, Taboo and Peaches; sometimes in that exact order. And chance upon allies along the way.
It hasn't been an especially smooth-sailing experience though. I knew as early as the age of seven that I was not into the same things that my other male friends, or even male family members were into. Back then, I didn't know that there was a term for it. Or that being gay was categorically different. But I knew that I was the very rare few who had crushes on the same guys that my female friends had, and didn't regard Britney Spears as the icon who awakened me sexually, unlike my male classmates.
There were constant teasing and verbal bullying because I was best friends with girls, and only hung out with them after school. I felt like I could relate to them better; we liked almost the same things after all. I tried tuning out the unnecessary name-calling ('pondan' and 'bapok' mostly; crude Malay words which essentially refer to a man who is effeminate) but they did hurt at times.
Did I ever feel like I had to conform? Sometimes, especially when it came down to team sports during physical education lessons. I had to pretend to like playing football (it was such a bad front since I was, and still am, horrible at it) with the boys, while my friends went off to play netball. Being part of a team sport when you don't really have a good rapport with your male classmates, is not great.
They’ve never questioned why I ‘chose’ to be gay or pushed me towards being straight.
When I entered secondary school, I attempted to create a new persona. I thought that trying to fit in instead of completely being myself from day one, would make for a better experience than the one I had in primary school. I was wrong. I couldn't really suppress the need to blurt out, "Oh my god! Yes, I think he's hot too!" whenever a friend expresses an interest in a senior. But I realised that there were less negativity. The boys around me couldn't be bothered or would rather just not talk about it, at least not to my face. I guess, the older you get, you tend to adopt a more tolerant outlook on things.
I consider myself exceptionally lucky now because I’ve managed to create my own support system of close friends. It’s cliché but they really are like family. These are friends (most of whom are straight) that I’ve known since my early teenage years. And from the moment I eventually came out to them (it didn’t take long), they’ve been understanding and supportive. They’ve never questioned why I 'chose' to be gay or pushed me towards being straight.
In fact, lately, we’re at the phase of our lives now where we talk about marriage, having kids (never, by the way), buying a house, and hope to never settle into a life of mundane routine. The circumstances are definitely different but the discussions are relatable. Instead of bidding for a BTO (build-to-order government housing), my concern is getting a shared space with my boyfriend. While my friends are saving up for their weddings and honeymoons, we’re saving up for our annual holidays where we can have some semblance of 'normal' as a couple, away from our families.
I’m certain that my real family loves me but because I’ve chosen to not be completely open to them, I feel like they love the image of me that I’ve chosen to let them get to know.
At the end of the day, there really isn’t anything different between me and my straight friends, apart from our sexual preferences. There’s no pretending that me being gay is 'normal' because to them, there’s nothing to pretend about. And I’ve never felt the need to assert my 'gayness' either; I’m not just their token gay best friend.
It might sound somewhat sad, this idea of creating a family from people you’ve no blood relations with. But sometimes, a family doesn’t have to be one you’re born in. Family should be one that’s open, supportive and loves you for who you truly are. I’m certain that my real family loves me but because I’ve chosen to not be completely open to them, I feel like they love the image of me that I’ve chosen to let them get to know.
To be fair, I’ve never once broached the topic to my parents. It’s an awkward issue to bring up, especially when they’re more than moderately religious. Maybe there’s an off-chance that they might somehow be open to it and accept me for me. But right now, I’ll settle for this version of normalcy; this other world that I’ve created just for me.
So am I oppressed? Stifled maybe, but not oppressed.