July 1999

"(Oh no!), I'm gay!"


    

 

 

There is nothing like listening to gay people talk with honesty about their lives. That is the best way to understand what it feels like to be gay, and is useful not just for straight persons wanting to gain an insight, but also for those who think they may be gay themselves. Of the latter, there are some who are so alone that they don't know what to make of their own feelings and thoughts.

The internet opens new possibilities for communication. This is by now a cliché. Yet for isolated individuals who are gay or lesbian, the cliché is priceless. It opens the possibility of finding out, without revealing themselves, what the world is like beyond their immediate surroundings of unspeakability or even outright hostility. But for them to be successful in their search, there must first be content to be found. And content should be relevant to the seeker. It's not very helpful for a Singapore girl to know that it's OK to be lesbian in Southern California.

With this thought in mind, I set out to do an email interview focussing on the process of self-awareness and making friends. Thanks to a dear friend who helped recruit respondents, there are altogether seven women speaking here. Of course, one should not take them as representative, but I hope they give a valuable glimpse into a bit of Singaporean reality.

* * * * *


Yawning Bread : How old were you when you realised you were lesbian or bisexual?

Just Me : Since before I got into kindergarten. Didn't know what was lesbianism of course, but there was this strange feeling I like a gal.

Cub : It was round 'bout when I was 17, that I kinda come more to terms with my own sexuality. I have always suspected that I was lesbian even when I was much younger but there was totally nobody who I could turn to or talk to about my preference.

Jewel Moon : Lack of support. I need and crave more gay-related books (at a more affordable price), cheap/free gay or gay-friendly therapists and support/social groups, positive role models, and so much more.

Tula Dew : I guess I always knew it, so it would be hard to pinpoint an exact age. ... it would be safe to say that I finally REALLY knew it when I had my first interaction with a lesbian woman and I realised that I could identify my views with hers. I was then 16. It was only through interaction with this older person that I found myself in the process of coming out. (she automatically assumed that I was a dyke when she first met me hence she was always free with her views about things). Anyways ...  after spending heaps of time with her, I realised that I could have the courage to recognise who I really am.


Yawning Bread : Could you describe the process by which you realised that of yourself?

Jewel Moon : My first crush on a girl was when I was 13 but I was convinced (and was told by everyone) that it was just a phase that would pass. I had another crush the following year, but it wasn't until I seriously fell for a woman when I was 19 that I began to suspect (and fear) that I may be gay/lesbian.

I spent about half a year denying to myself that I was seriously attracted to her, for that would mean that I really am a lesbian...yikes! It was a very gradual process, and somewhere in that half a year or so, I finally admitted to myself that the attraction was for real and that (oh no!) I'm gay!

Cub : The process of discovering comes after a lot of self denial. I tried to hide and make everything seem alright or more normal by getting myself boyfriends whom I may not totally be interested in. There was a lot of deceiving but I guess I came to the point when I got tired, tired of having to hide my own desires and emotions. That's really when I decided that it was time to come to accept myself as who I really am.

Jane Duan : I think I realised I had that leaning at about 6 or 7 years old but of course at that time I didn't have a name for it and didn't know what it was. I just knew I liked being with girls a lot and I always stood up for them when they were bullied by the boys. However, I didn't hate boys. In fact, they were my playmates when I was young 'coz I preferred boy's games. When I grew older, I learnt the word through friends of mine (they were gossiping about some other girls) and then I realised that I was different and the word lesbian described me.

Redqueen : I am 28 now. I had just turned 25 when I first realised that I am not straight ( I say that because at that time I thought I was more a bisexual than a lesbian ). Prior to that I had been rather promiscuous with men. For a few years it was a different partner for every weekend, NEVER a relationship. It was rather confusing for me, as the person whom I had my first lesbian sexual encounter with, was a friend of mine and I was EXTREMELY homophobic at that time. But after living with her for a year, I realised that, hey… I am a lesbian, that's because sexually and spiritually, I found it a more rewarding experience that being with a man.

Yuppie : [I was] unsure when I was 15, started having crushes on 2 best friends at different times. One was homophobic, didn't work out, another was curious but I chickened out. Then dated 2 men, didn't work out because no chemistry. Refused to date anybody after that and became a religious freak to deceive myself and also as a mask to my identity. My stubborn mind admitted to it only when I was 25 (few months ago).


Yawning Bread : Was that process painful?

Redqueen : Yes it was, initially.

Just Me : Nope.

Jewel Moon : Excruciatingly so. It was difficult to find support, the internet was the best resource for that but I needed a lot more. I'm lucky 'coz I had the opportunity to go overseas (Canada) for an exchange program for 6 months, and it was only then when it all stopped being painful.

Jane Duan : [For me] it was not. In fact, I feel liberated. 

Tula Dew : I would say that it was liberating.

Jane Duan : It was like I know what I am now and that I was not weird or something. Just different.

Redqueen : Know how all your life you've thought that you are something but you are actually something else? It was painful, mainly because I felt that I would not be socially accepted.

Cub : Surprisingly, not so much for me. I count my blessings everyday, for the fact that my family has accepted my sexual preference and most of my friends are alright with it too. I think, for me at least, it would be painful if my parents totally flipped out on me. Initially, it wasn't easy. But I would have made it even more painful if I gave up trying to make them understand that I am still the same old daughter that they have seen for the past 21 years. I have lost friends in the process though, and that was not easy to take. However, one really can't have the cake and eat it too. I can still find new friends but it has not been easy on my part, seeing myself in a different perspective and accepting myself. I don't think I will throw away my own beliefs just because I want to maintain some friendships. If my friends can't respect my conviction, than the pain is not for me to endure.

Yuppie : The process of self-discovery wasn't painful -- knew it all along -- but self-admittance is. Mainly because of having to admit to failing the expectations of family. Not so much on personal friends or life. No big deal to self.


Yawning Bread : Did you know any other lesbian person at that stage of your life? What was your connection with her, and was knowing her helpful to you or not?

Jane Duan : None of my friends were lesbians at that stage.

Yuppie : [I had] no connection with any other lesbian. [I am] still closetted and now struggling alone to come out to friends.

Jewel Moon : I knew several lesbians and bisexual women, but was close to none of them. The bisexual women were friends from school who had once been involved in a gay relationship but were now with men, so I was unsure of how they identified themselves or viewed their gay relationships. The lesbians were casual women acquaintances who were reputedly lesbians, they never came out to me nor I to them….

Yuppie : Difficult but understandable when lesbians in lesbian circles don't trust people easily, especially one that has been with strong religion background and in no way seem like a les.

Jewel Moon : …. so knowing these women weren't helpful at all. I was reluctant to come out to them 'coz they were in the social circles of my close straight friends, and I was scared as hell, then, of these friends finding out about me.

Redqueen : I knew of a couple of women whom I thought were lesbians but they were never OUT to me. These were mainly friends of my girlfriend. The fact that we were all not OUT to each other made it difficult for me to talk to anyone.

Cub : One of my good friend in school was a lesbian. When she first came out to me, I was still pretty much in the closet, no intentions of coming out at any times. I was totally alright when she told me and that kinda reaffirmed my own preference because I was too alright with it! In fact, she expected me to react more dramatically but I didn't.

Knowing her did open up more experiences for me, no doubt. In a very big way, since she was in a long term relationship, that helped to reassure me too that lesbian relationships are not all about lust but they do work out . Of course, after that, I knew more friends through her and all of them being lesbians or bisexuals provided me with a very huge outlet to talk and learn. So, yes, knowing her has been helpful. I think a lot of it has to come with the fact that you know that at least you are not alone and dealing with this yourself. There are people like us around and they are doing okay and can do okay. That was a big step.


Yawning Bread : Is it easy or difficult to get to know other lesbians in Singapore?

Cub : It is not tough finding lesbians ….

Just Me : Sometimes [tough], especially when you meet homophobians… many of them confused [about] their preferences. Or should I say they have tendencies showing they are bi.

Yuppie : Never tried. Spotting them is pretty difficult, unless you know their hangouts AND you know someone in there.

Jane Duan : It can be easy or can be difficult. It really depends on what kind you want to look for. Most of the easy to look for ones hang out pubbing at "known" places. But the so called "decent" ones are more difficult. It really takes great effort to sniff them out. Usually one gets to know another through friends.

Tula Dew : I work in the arts, so it's never been difficult to find lesbians, I guess I'm lucky that way. I find no problems developing a good (non sexual) friendship with these women. 

Redqueen : It's not difficult to find other lesbians in Singapore. It's easy as well to make friends, I have made some really good friends from SiGNeL, #lesbiancafe and RedQuEEn!


Yawning Bread : But is it difficult to develop a quality or depth of friendship that you desire?

Just Me : Difficult to develop anything. Other times, they are rather still in the closet and don't want to really commit.

Yuppie : Developing friendship… I haven't tried face to face but did try over email with a little bit of transparency on myself for their trust but no positive results.

Jewel Moon : I find it difficult to find [other lesbians], get to know them, as well as to develop the relationship to the quality I desire, in Singapore.

Finding them and getting to know them is hard 'coz I believe the lesbian community in Singapore is pretty much invisible, and I get the impression that the community is really small. To be honest, I don't get any sense of a 'community' among the glbt people here. I crave social events that do not revolve around alcohol or sports. My difficulty developing friendships to the quality I desire, I suspect, is due more to my own inadequacies (low self esteem, etc) than the lack of suitable people or opportunities.

Cub : I always joke that the circle in Singapore is so small that someone else's girlfriend might just turn out to be your ex or your ex is someone else's ex-girlfriend…. who knows? There are lesbian parties around and it is not difficult at all when you get introduced pretty easily to other lesbians by your friends too. It is like a chain reaction, you know one, you know another and soon enough, you know a lot more. Most of my good friends are lesbians so a good depth of friendship can definitely be attained. I think such bonds can be achieved basically because we do not need to make the conscious effort to hide or try to act different. When that barrier is removed and you start feeling comfortable about telling the other person more about yourself, a trust is formed and a good friendship will bloom.

Jane Duan : I do not find the quality of friendship satisfactory. Perhaps I am looking at the wrong crowd? But on the whole I think at least 60% of them are quite pathetic. All they do is think of how to get a girlfriend and they gripe about not having one. Come on, have a life! How to have a decent conversation (and depth of relationship for that matter) if it revolves round girlfriend and more girlfriends all the time? Of course I did come across a few whom I can call friends. On the whole, they just disappear once they get themselves a girlfriend. The "friendship" lasts till the next girlfriend comes along.


Yawning Bread : Have you ever been in a relationship?

Jewel Moon: No.

Jane Duan : Yes I have.

Yuppie : No.

Redqueen : Yes, a year, with my first girlfriend.

Cub : I was in a relationship with this person for almost a year and a half. We started off in the chat room and one thing led to another and we found ourselves getting together and enjoying ourselves for as long as it has lasted.


Yawning Bread : What were the ups and downs?

Cub : There were definitely its ups and downs like all relationships. She was a good 7 years older than I was, which means she had different ideas, beliefs, perspectives from what you would expect from a 21-year-old. I found myself growing up so quickly all of a sudden. I found myself hanging out with the older crowd and talking and doing things that I don't usually do with my own friends. In that aspect, I missed out growing up at my own pace. There were times when she would try to mould me into what she expected me to be and being the wiser and mature one, she believed she knew what was good for me. But this was not what I needed, I needed to fall and fail sometimes, that's how I can learn. She can't cushion me all the time. A lot of arguments triggered because of this.

There are ups too. I travelled a lot more. My parents trusted me with her so it kinda eased a lot of things. I learnt a lot from her. One big thing was the fact that I know I am capable of loving someone so much. That knowing is really comforting. The fact that she was that much older also meant that I saw things sometimes in a different light which was good because more alternatives are explored. I think I grew up a lot emotionally, I learnt how to deal with things more rationally. She still remained my closest confidante.

Tula Dew : [For me],  there were many ups and downs [too]. I was 17, it lasted for 8 months. She was my first love, she thought I was too dependent, I thought she was too independent. I just figured that it was just a character conflict.

Jane Duan : My very first relationship was with my schoolmate. She was in the senior class while I was in the junior class. I liked her a lot. One of those crushes thing (or so I thought) and so I kinda dug hard for info and started appearing in places where she went to. Though I was discreet, word got out and before I knew it, one friend introed me to another friend and another friend introed us. We got along well and of course she did notice that I seemed to be appearing in front of her quite a lot recently. Then we became a couple. We broke up a couple of months later though. We're both young and we both wanted different things. So we moved on.

The ups were of course great sex and great companionship. But we had downs in great fights and those jealous ugly spats like usual. Not to mention emotional stress coming from family, church, peers, studies….

Redqueen : We were really good friends for 2 years before anything happened. It started when I stayed over at her place rather often. She was 30 and I was 25. While watching TV she would cuddle me... One night after we were out drinking with friends, she initiated sex. The day after we were both confused, we sat down and talked about it and decided that we should carry on, and I moved in with her. The only down part for me was that I couldn't tell my other friends how happy I was at that time, being attached to a woman, because my girlfriend was pretty much closetted. We were together for a year, unfortunately we are no longer friends.


Yawning Bread : What do you think are the difficulties in finding the right woman?

Yuppie : Difficulties in finding the right woman as in REALLY FINDING the RIGHT woman (for long term partnership)?

Redqueen : Homophobia from within and without.

Jewel Moon : Hard to meet gay women, lack of opportunities for socialising with them outside of the clubs and pubs. 

Yuppie : I am not a party animal, especially don't like picking/knowing girls in clubs/pubs and the labels/games some play. Am not a butch nor femme, just a simple person looking for a lifetime les partner, get married (if possible) and have kids. Nothing much different to hetero partners, nothing dramatic. Will try advertisements and local les clubs in time to come.

Jewel Moon : There are occasional activities like potlucks and cycling trips, but many women are reluctant to come out to these events. And problems with family. I'm still financially dependent on parents as am still studying, have little choice but to live with them, thus no privacy. Gotta lie when I'm going on a date, gotta be careful about what I say while on the phone with a woman I'm interested in. It's very hard to express your attraction to her when your mom's sitting next to you.

© Yawning Bread 


 

Footnotes

  1. Five of the seven women continued with the second interview, about their experiences in coming out. See Red hair, green eyes and webbed feet

 

Addenda

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