Sayoni organised a talk show event on coming out at this year's IndigNation, where invited guests Bian, Caryn and Jin spoke on the topic together with Valerie, our host and moderator. The audience were active participants in the show, coming forward with their own stories and sharing a tapestry of different perspectives.
Here are some notable moments from the evening, seen in quotes from the speakers and participants.
I grew up in an affluent, privileged, Chinese family in Singapore, complete with enrichment classes and Sunday school. I loved Barbie and Pokémon with equal intensity, and I would try to fit in with the girls while having no qualms about hitting a boy. I often thought about death when I was a child, but I suppose I had most of it figured out – eternity was taken care of by faith, and I would try to be a clever girl, marry a boy who would think my fat body beautiful, never have children, and die happy.
By the time I was sixteen, the issue of sexuality was close to my mind; not that I doubted I was straight – I just could no longer find any emotional conviction in the biblical truth I grew up with, that alternatives to heterosexuality were neither natural nor morally acceptable. Some of my closest friends weren't straight and I would not accept that they were going to hell because they weren't sorry about their sexualities. I fell silent about that which I used to protest with a vengeance, because I feared damnation for challenging the authority of the bible. Yet the taste of that silence in my mouth was that of remorse, resentment and the deepest sense of shame.
In my own small ways, I was beginning to question the legitimacy of heterosexism, like when I challenged my mom to consider the hurtful implications of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, or when I spoke against the use of "gay" as a term of ridicule in class. I dare not say that I was an ally then, neither was I familiar with the LGBT community – but that was when I started to throw out my prejudice.
At the end of my junior year in high school, however, I made a most unusual observation – I, a hitherto straight girl, was attracted to my butch-identifying soccer teammate. For all the months I spent scouring Google, however, I found no answer that hit home, being unable to trace any "classic" signs. There were no childhood crushes on older girls, or lack of attraction to boys. Neither was I able to identify with any of the "butch", "femme" or "andro" (androgynous) labels, further frustrating my novice attempt to find my place in the world of lesbian attraction. I was therefore ashamed to take on the identity "gay", "bi", or "queer", because those were for the self-assured individuals who got detected on "gaydars". Not I – I was in question; I was a poser.
This post is by guest writer Ellen the Generous. It is tongue-in-cheek humour that's not intended as coming out advice, but the writer does hope you have a good laugh over it!
I thought I would share my coming out experience with readers, since I successfully came out to my parents. If the following fails, have a good laugh about it and then go get a better coming out guide. There's one by Sayoni.
Step 1 On the day you’ve decided to make the leap, take your parents out for a great dinner.
Step 2 Choose a day when a movie with a gender-bending/gay/lesbian theme is being screened. Take them to it.
Note 1: Ensure that the movie is still being screened. Buy tickets early!
The feeling of falling into a deep pit is how Yiap Geok Khuan, 67, would describe her state-of-mind when she first received word that her daughter, Eileena Lee, 38, is gay. Tears filled her eyes before she even heard the words. She had been in denial for years and her greatest fear was about to be confirmed – that the daughter she once dressed up in her own image – would turn out to be lesbian.
I never truly understood what femme privilege was till the time I walked down the street with a butch-seeming friend and felt the looks change, became conscious of being different.
But I hadn’t changed at all, I declared to myself, shocked. I could have walked this path two days ago and not merited a second glance. The visibility actually came as a shock, which says a lot about how much I’ve been in the straight world lately.
The fact is, in this society it’s not hard to pass (as straight), especially when you’re happily single, with no fetching woman on your arm, and dress in fairly feminine attire. I probably could get by the average straight person’s gaydar without a second glance.
I love Chinese New Year [CNY]. Every CNY, i would disappear among the crowds at Chinatown where the New Year bazaar takes place. How i love the hustle and bustle. A myriad of colors- red dashes everywhere and fruits of every kind. A gamut of goods- pastries, hair accessories, lucky charms and all. Away from the bazaar, the family would get ready with all things new. Two changes of clothes, a pair of new shoes and a bag are necessities for each member of the family. Spring cleaning beckons... the kitchen floor receives its most rigorous scrub of the year amidst squabbles about doing it right.
This year, i went home for 3 days. During the short stay, we went out for a Chinese movie ‘True Legend’ together... where i spent much of the 2 over hours shrieking [every time i think the protagonist was going to plummet to the ground from an enemy’s sword slash or iron fist punch], much to the annoyance of my little sister. The family outing was heart-warming, and a rare treat for a father who works seven days a week.
Outside of the immediate family is where a fresh set of challenges lies.
“No More Daddy’s Little Girl”- a book by Karen Lee.
Before i read Karen Lee’s book, i received plenty of� comments pertaining to it. Most of them were negative, criticizing aspects from grammar and style of writing to content.
I bought the book anyway, complete with her autograph on it. You never know till you read it, i thought to myself. Besides, i believe in supporting the first Singaporean lesbian autobiography. In the same train of thought [to support local queer writings], i bought the Chinese publication “tong lei” by OC. I finished the book in a couple of days, snatching moments before bedtime and during dinnertime.
The first half of the book touched on her early crushes, with a heavy emphasis on her involvement in Girls’ Brigade. Parts of the book provided information in somewhat random chunks. Sometimes the pieces were too brief to comprehend in detail. A characteristic, i surmised, as a result of length constraint. After sharing childhood memories, the story segued into her stints in Australia, Sweden and eventually Canada.
The greatest criticism was probably on content. Someone commented that the book is screwed up because Karen implied that she is gay as a result of being molested in her childhood. Indeed, in her coming out email to her parents, the uncanny pairing of the coming out declaration with the molest incident hinted at perceived causality. The person went on to say that the book gives fundies ammunition to target the lesbian population: you are gay because you are screwed up in your childhood. It was also pointed out that the book reflects badly on romantic relationships in the community. You can imagine a fundie going “look at how many flings Karen had! This is evidence that lesbian relationships are unstable.”
“She’s probably a screwed up lesbian,” was the concluding remark. Coupled with Karen’s continuous struggles with reconciling her faith and sexuality throughout the book, it’s easy to see why some do not find the book uplifting.
But there were little entertaining bits here and there that amused me greatly. Karen’s ego and narcissism had me guffawing. Her confidence exuded from the very pages. She declared her own leadership, discipline and attractiveness. The audacity of demanding for someone’s girlfriend was appalling and amusing at the same time. In retort to any reader’s immediate question “how can you do that? She’s attached!”, Karen’s justification was one of standing up for her affections.
The book has several ingredients for a grabbing piece: horrifying incidents [e.g., lesbian almost-stabbing drama], the agony of being at odds with God, love, fleeting attractions, sex, eventual familial acceptance and so on. It’s certainly not a boring piece. No More Daddy’s Little Girl sent me through a torrent of emotions, ranging from exasperation to amusement. I raised my eyebrows, rolled my eyes, laughed and melted. I felt like i was sitting down with an acquaintance over coffee, listening to her life stories. Somewhat conversational [which might explain the writing style/grammar/sentence structure].
As i put the book down, sweetness overflowing from the last chapter on familial acceptance, i mulled over the merits and demerits of the book. Yes, i agree the book does not help the current negative stereotypes of lesbian women in Singapore. Yes, it is sad that people still attribute homosexuality to some childhood mishap. And certainly, it is rather sobering that some people cannot reconcile their sexuality and faith. But the book is about Karen’s working paradigm of her sexuality, spirituality and the world. Some lesbian women do think in such and such a way.
I define an autobiography as a life story worth a read.
As an autobiography, i think No More Daddy’s Little Girl has delivered.
A short note from Karen:
“No More Daddy’s Little Girl” is an autobio written by Karen Lee. The book is available nationwide at most major bookstores such as Borders Whee Lock, Kinokuniya (Ngee Ann City & Bugis Junction), MPH (Novena, Robinson Road,Raffles City and CityLink mall), Select Books @ Tanglin Shopping Centre and Oohtique. Also 24 POPULAR bookstore branches. Do pick up a copy to support me! Thank you!
Editor’s Note: Please note that this review is the author’s personal opinion and does not reflect the official position of Sayoni in any way.
Sayoni presents the first ever Coming Out Guide in Singapore. Please provide your feedback on the guide through this link [DO NOT CLICK: WINDOW FOR FEEDBACK HAS PASSED]
(Update: You can download the word document version of the guide here)
This preliminary version of the guide was launched on 1 August, at the opening of IndigNation 2009, Singapore’s pride season. Anj Ho, the leader of the team who put together the Guide, gave a short address, reproduced here:
When I first saw the design of cover for the guide, I laughed.
It reflects the question of someone wondering apprehensively. 'What if', and then tapers off to a whisper, 'I'm gay?' Half-hidden, almost as if one is afraid to ask, and even more afraid to say the words 'I'm gay'.
Then the words in small print: 'a coming out guide', small enough to embolden the cautious questioning person to pick up the guide and walk away with it; clear enough so that those seeking will not miss it.
It speaks to those whom we hope to reach: questioning, struggling, fearful... essentially, anyone who finds difficulty in communicating about her or his sexual orientation.
The first memory I had of experiencing great injustice was an article in TODAY, written by one of our infamous law professors. [I shall refrain from speaking the name, but you know we only have 2, so it's not hard to guess.]
She quoted a study in which Exodus ex-gays reported being free from homosexuality, reinforcing homosexuality as a mental illness and the possibility of a 'cure'. She conveniently left out numerous other studies that spoke of reparative therapy as harmful and ineffective. Spitzer, the researcher whose study she quoted, was up in arms against anti-gay groups who misused his study.
This is the problem. There is a massive amount of information, but sometimes, we hear some parts more often than others. At other times, information is not readily available or digestible. How do we ascertain that what we received is accurate or not?
We need to critique the information we have, or else we will fall into the trap of whoever speaks the loudest or seems the most credible, is seen as 'right'.
Another incident took place in a small forum. A group of gay people, who were attached for some years, sat on the panel. Someone from the audience asked, 'How long do gay relationships last?'
One by one, the panelists shared, that for some reason, most gay relationships dissolve by the 7th year. Someone added, that since lesbian relationships are so intense, you have to multiply the duration by a few times to match the duration equivalence of straight relationships. The forum ended on that note.
If gay relationships cannot last, I have nothing to say, but this is not true. It is one thing for an anti-gay person to think so; it is quite another for a gay person to internalize all these.
What I have shared are some of the common myths of gay people. In Sayoni's coming out guide, we address common myths and point out how to spot myths.
Having such knowledge before coming out is critical to a gay person's sense of self and esteem. It enables one to weather the possibly arduous coming out process better. The guide is certainly not exhaustive, but it's a start.
Following these, we also looked at the pros and cons of coming out, to oneself, at work/school, to friends and family. We rounded off the book with a few coming out stories. We are still waiting for more stories to come in.
I am grateful to Sayoni for this opportunity to be part of the coming out guide and to the Global Fund for Women for supporting this project. I would love to acknowledge the writers and the designer in this 7-person team for their time and effort. Thank you also, to everyone who contributed stories. Without all of you, this guide would not have been possible.
Please feel free to give your feedback and comments on the guide over the next three months. This guide will later be published and made available at various locations around Singapore.
In conjunction with the launch of Sayoni’s coming out guide, Sayoni presents Singaporean coming out stories.
My earliest concrete memory of questioning my sexuality happened at Sec 2. I was developing feelings for a girl who seemed to have taken a liking towards me during this time.
What I remember was the rush of adrenaline whenever I saw her, the feeling of warmth whenever she smiled at me, and the crazy things I did in order to accidentally ‘bump’ into her. At that time, my dad (probably noticing my close friendship), spoke to me about how it was normal for adolescents to develop crushes on their same-sex peers during their development. This piece of information sustained and comforted me during early adolescence because it told me that I was okay and that those feelings would go away.
My next significant memory happened in late adolescence. A girl whom I liked (at this time, I convinced myself I only liked her as a friend) fell down and hurt herself. Upon physically helping her, I experienced such an overpowering, indescribable sensation in my body that I had to excuse myself to go to the ladies. Safe inside the toilet cubicle, I exclaimed to myself, ‘God you are screwed! You are so gay’’
I didn’t tell anyone during this time because I had no idea what was happening to me. I did not want to have these ‘special’ feelings towards any girl and I desperately clung onto my dad’s words years before that it was a natural part of my development and would go away. Even when I hit my 20s, I reassured myself that I was a late developer and my attraction to boys would come when I had ‘developed’. Even when I was with my first girlfriend in my 20s, I would question my gayness because a part of me felt that my relationship was ‘a friendship gone wrong’ and did not mean that I was gay. I resisted the concept so much that I kept this relationship a secret for so long, even among my closest friends, even among friends who were themselves gay.
It can be difficult, risky and yet rewarding for us to communicate honestly and openly about our attraction or relationship with someone of the same sex – to ‘come out'. This Coming Out guide by Sayoni seeks to provide basic information and support to persons who are considering coming out.
It describes commonly used terms about sexuality, often propagated myths and how to spot them. It covers frequent concerns of a person coming out to themselves, to parents, friends and peers, preparing them for possible scenarios and suggesting approaches. Real-life stories and a list of local resources are included to support readers in their individual journeys.
This is piece of guest writing by dubdew, who published this on her blog some time ago. It is dedicated to her girlfriend, who still makes her feel that fuzzy warmth after all this while.
Taken from http://buzzguy.shroom.com/
I haven’t even had that much time to get to know you. Surely the only you I’ve had the chance to get to know is the one you tell me of. The one who saw those crazed days, months, years, fly by, the one who runs, the one who hangs on for dear life, the one who loved, the one who lost, the one who laughs and makes me laugh so impossibly hard. I’ve fretted my mind into quite a knot over you, and it’s the same you that I couldn’t quite seem to push away with as much conviction as I probably should have, should you have turned out to be anyone else. I can’t quite decide what someone like you could possibly want with someone like me – I’m so .. young, I’m so green, I’m so aimless, and it’s all just one big mess that I’d never voluntarily take on.
Yet you do. You take me on with the determination of a gung-ho kamikaze bomber. You’ve taken the insane amount nonsense I’ve given you in an equally insanely short period of time, nary a complaint within earshot; simply that bemused smirk which creeps across your face like sunlight over the horizon, then finally melts away into that musical laugh as I try to tell you what’s going through my mind and end up retreating under my covers. You sit right there in your chair, legs crossed, knee resting against the table, fingers twirling your watch around when they’re not otherwise tucked in your pockets or folded across your chest. Standoffish is what you seem to like describing yourself as, yet I catch you leaning forward and perching yourself on this very precarious ledge, nonchalantly swinging your legs over the edge, cards lain out on the table. You’re ready to retreat into your shell should I so choose to request of you, but that’s not the point, is it? The point is that you’re out here, waiting for me to take your hand, even if this crashes and burns the very day after I step off that ledge with you.