Racism within the Singapore Gay Community

There are some people who do not want to date people of the other races. Some Chinese guys do not want to date Malay or Indian guys.

I want to talk about one reason why this could be the case. For some gay people, we feel that as a gay person, we feel lesser of ourselves – because we cannot accept ourselves or yet to fully accept ourselves. And when that happens, we will do things which will compensate for that.

As I’ve discussed before, one way we do it is to associate ourselves with certain people who we think have certain ‘status’ – or so we think – within the gay community, and so by associating ourselves with them, we feel that our ‘status’ is uplifted, and this makes us feel more accepted of ourselves – we use external factors to resolve the inner lower acceptance levels that we have towards ourselves. Of course, there are some people who choose to not involve themselves within the gay community but associate themselves with the ‘straight’ community, with the thinking that by doing so, we can disassociate ourselves from the side of us which is gay, so that we do not have to delve into it further, but this is another story.

And so, in the same logic, for some Chinese guys, they would not want to associate themselves with other Malay or Indian guys because they feel that, if Malays or Indians are already discriminated in society, by associating with them, this makes my ‘status’ lesser. By all means, this does not apply to all Chinese people. And this does also happen the other way around.

But what’s truly happening here? For some gay people, they might not be able to come to terms with themselves and this is a strong self-stigma that they perpetuate on themselves. Any other perceived discrimination that they feel society might enact on them will much further accentuate this self-stigma that they already has. And thus, they feel that, by association, associating with people who they feel face discrimination, means also bringing on this discrimination that others face onto themselves, which means deepening the lack of acceptance for themselves. In effect, they are trying to reduce their lower acceptance levels for themselves by associating with people of higher ‘status’ and by disassociating from others who are perceived as facing other forms of stigma, this will prevent them from facing further stresses.

Unfortunately, our fellow Malay and Indian gay people have to face this added stigma – in part due to the coping mechanisms of others that they have subconsciously devised to deal with the low self acceptance levels.

What this also shows is the larger form of discrimination that exists in society. I was discussing with an Indian friend today. A Chinese guy had told him that Indians are “smelly”, “do not care about their hygiene” etc. I know this is not true because I’ve met some really hot Indian men, but if this people I had met had appeared in any colour, they would still be hot.

Truth is, in our society, there is discrimination enacted in the form of colour. There are many reasons why this is so. I will quickly bring up some but this isn’t the purpose of this article – like how we enact judgment onto others (not just in terms of colour), it’s because we do not understand enough about others. We do not know enough about the lives to understand why they do what they do and thus we carry on judgments that others have about them, and assume them to be true. For gay people, we would understand how it feels – because others already have preconceived notions of what a gay person is, instead of giving themselves a chance to understand us for who we are, they might enact judgment on us instead. If we know this, we would know how people of other ‘races’ feel and we would know how not to enact judgment on them, wouldn’t we?

Of course, this is a larger structural issue. The lack of discourse about racial and religious issues, because the government had constrained such discussion means that even though on the surface, we are seemingly agreeable with one another, they are underlying unease that we perceive of one another.

But question is – so what if I bring this up? What can we do? So what if there are gay people who discriminate against others by virtue of their colour? Sometimes, I find this disappointing because if we are in a position where we know how it feels to be discriminated, all the more we should know not to discriminate against others. But this isn’t the case for some – if we are yet to be able to come to terms with ourselves, we will seek out other sources of affirmation for ourselves (by seeking out people ‘of status’) and reduce our association with others whom are perceived as discriminated.

If this is something that’s happening to you, what can you do? If you understand that some people might disassociate themselves from you because of their discomfort with themselves, you know that it’s not something that they are doing because of you. It’s something that they need to overcome. So don’t let it affect you. Understand that they need their time to find out more about themselves and come to terms with themselves. It’s not that they cannot accept who you are. It’s because they cannot accept who they are. So you have to respect that they are in their journey towards finding out more about themselves and you need to give them that time and space to grow.

But if we are unhappy still, then it says more about us. If we are unhappy that someone cannot accept us, then we need to understand and think about this – is there something we cannot accept about ourselves? Because if we believe in ourselves, we would know that if others cannot accept us, we would understand and know our worth to believe and have faith in when we are, and know not to allow the judgment of others to affect us.

What of those who judge – or actually, those of us who are unable to accept ourselves? Then, we need to understand how we use the distinction that we make among people, to define who we are, and how we use these external influences to cater for an inner need that we have. We need to understand this because it has implications on how we react towards others, and how we might cause hurt towards them by our sometimes subconscious thoughts and actions. Then, we need to learn to look within ourselves to understand why we are unable to accept ourselves and work around our internal feelings, so as to truly understand and gain acceptance towards ourselves.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Some of us might have simply have cultural preferences. Some people might feel more comfortable getting to know someone of the same cultural background, only because they are used to growing up within a cultural pattern and want to continue in that. The key is – if we are aware that we are making a choice not out of the denial of who others are but because we believe in doing something without having to hurt others, and we have the awareness and authenticity to understand our thoughts and actions, then at least we are being responsible. So, this means being aware and having the clarity of what we are doing.


7 thoughts on “Racism within the Singapore Gay Community

  1. Joanna In Singapore says:

    You touched upon so many issues I’ve been feeling here in Singapore. Coming from the US which is such a melting pot, people date outside their race all the time and its not that big of a deal, unless you’re from the South! H partner is Singaporean and while in the US together, I never focused on race and neither did anyone else. After being here for a while now, I’ve noticed a serious racism problem among pretty much everyone, even within her extended family. I understand why they don’t like me, but the amount of negative and racists comments about white people I hear from them is unacceptable. I also notice a lot of tension between the races, like everyone is walking on eggshells. I’m not really sure what is behind this racism here and I’m sure there’s history I’m unaware of.

    I also think its perpetuated by your government. After hearing several speeches by various people on National Day focus on the birth rate among ‘pure’ Singaporean couples, I realized that a majority of these views towards others of a different race may very well be coming from the conservative government here. I found some of the speeches to be very disturbing and gave me an insight as to why I feel this country is so divided.

    It’s hard enough to be gay and I’ve never felt more isolated than I do here. But, if you add the race layer to an already difficult situation in a country like this, it makes it even more isolating and challenging. I feel different everyday here and my differences are thrown in my face daily. I couldn’t imagine being gay and having grown up in a country like this.

    • Hey Joanna,

      What you say is very true. I hope that the government will realise that a rethinking of our policies which govern racial issues or discussions is in order. It is not right to subject people’s social and emotional well-being to the whims and fancies of economic growth, and where people’s thinking abilities to empathise for others is thus compromised – which has thus resulted in a situation as such. I am sorry that many people have to undergo judgment because of a self-centredness that has thus been perpetuated, and I do hope this will change, as more of us speak up about this issue.

      Roy 🙂

    • Deej81 says:

      You speak for me when you mention the feeling of walking on eggshells here. The presence of different races and religions results in competing needs. When they come into close contact, one or more of those needs by default has to play second fiddle in the name of accommodation. That moment of accommodation is your eggshell moment. In a weird way I think this act of accommodation breeds contempt for those being accommodated. Being magnanimous enough to accommodate someone else can make you feel morally superior.

      It is a condescending attitude that leaves little room for understanding the roots of others’ needs and leads to us painting a vulgar caricature of others being backward, un-progressive, stubborn and primitive. Caricatures have no grounding in reality, but govt propaganda like “differences will always be there” and constant accommodation only serve to reinforce these caricatures as a reality.

      The result is a racialised mind, as someone else has written before, can’t remember where. Our politics is racialised too. The electoral system of GRC(Group Representative Constituency) demands all three major races are represented by a party in a constituency. If the party fails to produce a minority candidate, they cannot take part. We also have racial quotas for buying and selling HDB flats which distort the market pricing mechanism.

      So like you, I feel my differences thrown in my face daily. Sometimes in subtle ironic ways that make me pause and reflect. But more often, it has come in a plain, unadulterated nasty and malicious form, particularly when I was in school and NS. Still, I learnt to live and bear with it. And so has every other minority in Singapore, for our short history. If I were to be up in arms every single time I was on the receiving end of a racist remark, I would long have been institutionalised in a mental asylum.

  2. Viknesh Jeg Pillay says:

    It is good that somebody has written about the elephant in the room that nobody dared or even bothered to address so far. You have quite rightly highlighted the problem. The reasons though are far more varied and pervasive.

    As a gay Indian Singaporean, I have had a very hard time growing up. I can state without any hesitation that I have had more hatred shown towards me for being Indian than for being gay, and to make it worse, by the gay community. As you read this, there are many more minority gay teenagers feeling as lonely, isolated and lost as I was back then. Many Indians like me then grow up with a protective ego mechanism by being racist towards the race of people who were racist to them. It is an unhealthy self-perpetuating cycle of hatred and intolerance.

    The standard that we need to set for ourselves should not be that of the US or Europe. Chinese Singaporeans who have travelled would undoubtedly have experienced racism themselves. Many gay men overseas are still racist towards non-Caucasian looking people. We need to set a standard of our own, as we have done in many other aspects from our infrastructure (Changi Airport, Singapore Airlines) to our economy (one of the richest in the world). This standard should be to look beyond race and to acknowledge and love everyone beyond superficiality. We can and should set an example to gay communities all over the world and truly live up to our multi-racial and religious label that we have obediently adorned all these decades.

    On the bright side, the situation is getting better in Singapore. Having been overseas for many years, the changes are noticeable. For starters, you almost never see ‘no Indians or Malays’ in profiles anymore. Interracial couples are being bolder in declaring their relationship to their peers. Before we start lighting up the fireworks it is important to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go.

    We tend to prefer stay in our comfort zones and lampoon about another race thereby failing to recognise the inherent reason for doing so. As the author rightly pointed out, it may be a sense of insecurity brewing deep within, or the need to attach oneself to a class of people (the majority Chinese race). Whatever the reason, the first step should be to acknowledge the problem and have a common end goal in mind. We can then collectively work towards that by understanding why we do that things and how we can change these embarrassing attitudes. I do believe that Singaporean gay men are more than capable of creating a loving and accepting society. It is time we stood up and took the bull by its horns.

    • Hey,

      I just want to say that you brought up some very strong and salient points. I really wish that more people can read what you have said because they are very precisely what is happening, how some of us are reacting to discrimination heaped on us and how we need to have a broader mind to understand the overall perspective.

      I do think it would be great if you could set up a blog or find some ways to let your thoughts be known to other Indian gay people – I’m only saying this because there are specific issues faced within the Indian gay community and you had presented one side of it so well, that many can learn from you.

      Thank you so much for commenting. It’s greatly appreciated.


      • Viknesh Jeg Pillay says:

        I do reply when I can and hopefully a new perspective is gained. I have been trying to find ways to reach the Indian gay community in Singapore. For starters, there does not seem to be any LGBT organisation for minorities where I can volunteer or play an active part in. I would want to even, with the help of a few others, start up a small organisation or some sort of platform to help. Perhaps you could assist me here in pointing me in the right direction if you know any organisations or any person interested? Thanks Roy.

  3. Shane says:

    Hi, im glad i red your article which help me to understand what are some situation of people in gay community here in singapore. I’m a filipino and i like to date a singaporean chinese as i really like chinese guys. But apparently i find them a bit difficult to ask for a date i been going on some dating sites and also going out on a bar but in my 1 year stay here i never even get any response on them. Sometimes i think that is it my look, my race or my physical appearance which i think that im not teribbly bad (i can say that i have a look in terms of physical apperance) to go out for a date. I want to understand what they really like (though i know everybody have their own preference) in general. Though you know sometimes it gives a negative impact on your self esteem which affects your thoughts like “am i ugly, am i not worth it, am i terribly bad in conversation etc.” which at the end of the day you will just end up thinking that you are not and you just talk, look and move like a typical person.

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