Hi, I am Roy. I am gay and this is my story.
When I was in Primary 5, my form teacher had made me the class chairperson. He felt that I had the maturity and responsibility to represent the class. In Primary 6, I was given the Model Student of the Year award. This continued in my later school years, where in Secondary 1, I was made the class chairperson, before becoming a student councillor, and also in my junior college years, when I was made the class representative, and representatives of most subjects that I had undertaken. Things weren’t always rosy. Learning to be responsible was based on trial and error. It was also a journey to understand myself, to understand what was right and wrong and what I should do, in a position of responsibility. But so is life.
In Primary 5, there was a Malay girl and an Indian girl who had kept to themselves. The class was made up of largely Chinese students and because they were more comfortable speaking in Mandarin, they had formed cliques among themselves, mostly. I decided to make friends with the Malay and Indian girls, partly because I never felt myself as belonging to cliques, and they also seemed like friendly people. When I was in reservist a few weeks ago, there was this Indian guy who was in the same vocation as some of us but when we had gone for a firing range, he had kept silent mostly. Most of the other guys were simply more comfortable speaking in Mandarin because of their background. So, I thought that I would start making conversations with him, since if it was me, I would like to be able to speak to someone for the hours that we were going to be there. It turned out that he was a funny and smart guy and we had engaging conversations. Some other people also began having conversations with him because he was interesting to talk to! In my current group of close friends, two of my closest friends are Malay. I do not seek out specifically to make friends of any ethnicity but if it so happens that I hit it off well with anybody, I would be grateful for the opportunity to establish closer relationships with them.
I had generally done quite well in school. Academically, I was top in Geography, English Literature and Art in some of my secondary and junior college years and had won awards. I was also on the Dean’s List for one semester when I had studied in the National University of Singapore. (I do not mean to bring this up because I am proud of my academic achievements and want to highlight them – no. What I want is to share with you the different facets of my life, so please understand it in this way.)
I wasn’t really an athlete though. I know some gay guys are. But I am not. I am bad with balls, period. Not all balls of course. I was good with the shuttlecock. But that’s because mom had also represented her school in badminton and she taught us how to play it well – at least then! So yes, I am generally terrible with most balls and I am relatively OK with the shuttlecock, thank god.
When I was in national service, I was what you would describe as being “garang”. I was always one of the first to do things or to volunteer, if it was within my capability. See, I had believed that if we could do things fast, and if we could help each other along, we could get things done quicker and we could move things along faster. During my NSF days, I could even manage gold for IPPT and finished the Standard Obstacle Course in about 8 minutes. For the most part, I don’t believe in the regimentation that the army had enforced though, because forced discipline takes the autonomy out of people and it has been shown in numerous research that when people do not have the autonomy to do things according to their own will, they would have lesser commitments and ownership over what they do, and the standards would necessarily be lowered. But of course, with autonomy comes responsibility, and if we want to be given the trust to handle things, we would need to be aware of this responsibility and exercise it wisely.
I told my family that I am gay at various stages in my life. I had told 3 of my closest friends that I am gay when I was 15, and then I had decided to tell my sister as well, who was older and whom I was close to. She started telling me of many of her gay friends, who appeared out of nowhere, and how they had decidedly turned straight all of a sudden. I told my mom when I was 20. When she realised the meaning of what I had said, she cried and went into “denial” for many years. I told my younger sister that I was gay when in my early twenties. She never did speak to me about it in the initial years after I told her. I never did tell my dad but I had brought my boyfriends home before, and he has seen me surf gay social networking websites and go on mobile phone applications.
Before I had told my family that I was gay, I thought that we were the model family. We had relatively good relationships and we would talk about issues and come out with solutions together. But after I told them that I am gay, we grew apart. They didn’t know how to deal with the fact that I was gay and I resented them for not being able to deal with it. Gradually, I stopped feeling close to them and reduced the amount of conversations that I had with them. I wanted to move out of the house. On hindsight, I realised that they needed their time and space to deal with the information that I had presented to them. No one had spoken to them about what being gay is like, and what they knew about being gay was from what they had heard or seen in the media – it was portrayed negatively and as something to be judged. Because I had rejected them as well, I did not share with them more about my life and had allowed them to also adopt these media-influenced stereotypical views about me.
The turning point came when my older sister got married a few years ago. I was so touched and happy for her. Slowly, my defences towards my family came down and I started reaching out to them again. In my eagerness to want to be accepted, I had forgotten that they, as well as I, needed our time and space to learn more about one another and to grow with one another in this journey. Only during then was I able to realise this and could start allowing myself to open up to them again. I learnt to respect that they have their journeys to understanding, just as I had mine, and we need to learn to respect one another for that. Gradually, my sisters learnt and understood that I am still a respectable person, who happens to be gay, and who still believes in love, commitment and a long term partnership with someone whom I can be with for a long time. My mother started speaking to me about boys. Sometimes she would continue to be in a state of denial but sometimes she would surprise me with her words of advice. I had asked her once about why I had to go out with guys with which nothing would work out thereafter. She advised that perhaps that was how I could then learn to find out more about what I want in my partner – by meeting these men to learn more, and she was right. Dad and I never discussed about my being gay, but I know he is OK because he had once mentioned that no matter which partner that we choose to eventually be with, what matters is that we are happy. And dad has learnt to respect and trust me for what I know and understand.
During the few years when I was upset with my family, I had also undergone a period of learning for myself. In my late teens and early twenties, I have met, dated and gotten involved with many men. Some of them came into my life for a few weeks or a month and then disappeared from my life. I didn’t understand why and blamed myself for it. I thought that I wasn’t good enough. I felt that there had to be something about me which people found not worthy. Because of the low self worth that I had for myself, I started rejecting other people in the same way that I was rejected. For many years, I knew that I had low self esteem, and I knew that I needed to learn to become stronger and more confident of myself. But I didn’t know how to. I thought that if I could find someone else to love me that this person could help me become more confident and that I could learn to love myself more. Of course this didn’t happen because when they say you need to love yourself before you could love someone, it is true. Because of my low self esteem, I would bring my insecurities into relationships that I was in. I would start being distrustful and judgmental towards my partners because I felt that I wasn’t good enough and would come out with reasons to think that they would want to leave me for someone else.
See, first of all, I didn’t know how to manage relationships. I didn’t have any relationship to look to or learn from. I wasn’t taught in school how to manage relationships or handle sexual relations. As a society, we choose to be embarrassed about the very thing that we spring out from. The sad thing is that as teenagers, we go through the same concerns that our youths have – when should I have sex, should I have sex, what should I do if my partner wants sex, how should I insist on condom use if my partner doesn’t want to use a condom, and so on. As teenagers, we think about these things but when we become parents, we choose to forget about these and we choose to allow our youths to be put in harm’s way because we have issues dealing with our own beliefs about sex. We become selfish. We think we have to conform to certain norms – society says we cannot talk about sex and we shouldn’t. My religion says I should not encourage discussion about sex and even if I know that in my youth, I would need information on sexuality issues, I will deny the right of youths to have that because my religion says so. We think we know better, but truth is, we have become influenced by others and we speak what others speak, and what authority speaks because we want to belong and be part of a group. We are scared of being different, sidelined – to become an outcast. And then we start discriminating. Against other ethnicities nationalities, the elderly etc. It becomes a chronic societal issue.
In the past few years, I have embarked on a journey to learn and discover more about myself. Along the way, I’ve read more than 100 books to learn how to love myself, to strengthen my self belief and become a more confident person. Now I know that I need to believe in myself and my own worth. I will insist on using condoms because I know that I need to protect my own health. Over the past few years, I have tried to be less judgmental and to be more empathetic. I try to understand the lives and circumstances of others as far as I can so that I wouldn’t judge but would learn to then accept and embrace who others are. I have learnt that if I can be happy and contended, I would not look at others and compare myself with them. I’ve learnt that even if others disagree with me or with what they believe to be me, I need to respect that they should be given the space and time to understand and digest their beliefs and make sense of them. For some people, they don’t think through their beliefs because they choose to wholeheartedly absorb what is told to them, and that’s fine. I have to respect that.
Why am I sharing this story with you, my fellow Singaporeans. I am gay but being gay doesn’t define me. Being gay is only one aspect of me which I am proud of, yes, but it is not something that makes me who I am. It is definitely something that has enriched me. I had to learn to understand why people choose to look at me differently and sometimes, judge me. I had to learn to understand why people are not able to accept me and why they hold the attitudes they hold. It has made me more introspective and more aware, not only of myself, but of others as well, and for the better. I’ve learnt that people judge because they do not know. They see a gay person and that’s all they see. But is it any fault of theirs? Humans process information according to how much they can contain – To understand that a gay person has different aspects to his/her life takes time and most people simply think it’s easier to judge a person as being gay than to understand the person as a whole. And this is why I have decided to share this story. I am like the friend you have, your classmate, neighbour or a family member. And I am gay. Are our lives any different? No. But I am gay, and because of that, you might have certain judgments because you think you should have them, because that’s what others say you should have. I am giving us an opportunity to understand me better.
There are hundreds and thousands of gay men and women in Singapore. Some of them live with low self esteem and self-judgment. Some of them live their lives feeling lesser of themselves because they think that their family or friends are not able to accept them. They are then unable to have fulfilling relationships and lead destructive lives. But this doesn’t have to be. I have learnt to be stronger and to learn to embrace myself. I have learnt to understand the importance of my life and to live it as proudly as I can. And I know my fellow gay friends can as well. But we need your understanding.
What I am asking for is a right to live my life as a person. I seek to live a life where I lead mine, and you lead yours, and we learn to understand and respect one another and our spaces. What I am asking for is not for the right to love to be returned to be but for the right for me to love to be reinstated back in the law, for the law to not make me a lesser human being. Whether people accept me or not, I will lead my life proudly because I am assured of myself. But I hope that they do because as a whole, we can make this world a better place. Truly, we can.
I am writing this because I care for the people around me and I want them to lead happier, fulfilling lives.