There has been a lot of dismay and unhappiness over the past few days regarding the release of the OSC survey and how it skewed and labelled “gay lifestyles” as generally “unacceptable” for Singaporeans. Naturally, it was met with great derision and mockery; an ironic outcome for a national initiative meant to bring together Singaporeans, I thought.
The term ‘lifestyle’ is often perceived as an insult when used upon the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, since it implies choice and over the years, certain negative connotations and stereotypes. One would find the term “heterosexual” or “straight lifestyle” laughable so why apply it to sexual minorities? But upon giving it some thought, I would humbly proffer a peek into the Singaporean “gay lifestyle”, if one insists upon using such a pejorative term.
This peek is largely anedoctal but it does not come courtesy of my own life or even my friends. It is courtesy of a small but growing Facebook community by the name of Gay SG Confessions and with the anonymity afforded by such a platform, the local LGBT community has been afforded a voice as well as a glimpse into how diverse and paradoxically, how similar we are. With over 6,000 confessions thus far and counting, this is my summation.
If I were to describe the term “gay lifestyle”, in a Singaporean context I would say it is one of fear. Fear of ostracisation, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood and erroneously labelled or judged. It is the fear of a parent telling us we are no longer loved, the fear of a good friend recoiling in ignorance. The fear of losing one’s job should colleagues discover our “status” or the fear of being charged under martial law should we come out during our National Service. It is the fear of receiving disgusted looks when we reach for our partner’s hand in public, and the same fear that suppresses our open display of loving another man or woman. It is the fear of being pre-judged for what we are, not who we are and also the fear of causing embarrassment to those closest to us, such that we lie during family gatherings that we are “focusing on our careers” when asked if we are getting married; it is also the fear that we are consigned to our partners being unrecognized and unable to act upon our behalves should we be ill or incapacitated. It is an institutional fear that the Singapore Government would one day rescind its word and choose to prosecute Section 377A. It is all these fear and more that stifles gay men and women from leading full and productive lives of happiness, a fear that leaves a lump in our throat whenever someone asks, “are you gay?”
The confessions on our page would demonstrate this all-too-familiar theme and I find it extremely saddening. From youths who are beginning to be sexually aware to adults who have lived repressed lives spanning decades. In other areas and values we are no less than other ‘heterosexuals’. We lead lives of ambition to do better and to do good. We honour and respect our parents and we wish to excel in our chosen fields of work. Our interests are as wide and varied as any other community, from sports to arts to even politics. Just like any other human being, we are imperfect. We are no different in our failings and oft times, even share the same prejudices and biases as other ‘heterosexuals’.
So while it may be easy to misdirect and focus on the differences between who we love, the same critics often overlook how similar and universal our expressions of love. We seek the good in others and when we love, we long to express that love not by deeds of debauchery, but by having our nearest and dearest, our family and friends accept our choice of partners. The same choice made by any other ‘straight’ men and women that says, this man or woman completes me. He or she makes me happy and I wish to spend the rest of my life with this person.
So other than the fear that separates us, pray tell how different is a “gay lifestyle” from any other? And if I could request that you answer honestly, would you wish your son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew, niece, grandson, granddaughter, classmate, colleague, churchmate or NS buddy to lead such a life of fear?