July 1998

Minority race homosexuals in Singapore

by Mr and Mrs Pussy





 The other day, Sheila was asking whether there is a gay Indian scene in Singapore. Predictably, the response was poor, probably an indicator of disinterest. Today Anne asked about why dark skin is at the bottom of the desirability stakes in Singapore. All nationalities have positive and negative feelings about others. Elderly Europeans havenít forgiven the Germans for two world wars; the Greeks have few warm feelings towards the Turks, and so on. Equally, almost everybody has sexual preferences involving physiognomy, size, weight, age and indeed, race. But in Singaporean gay sexual politics, is racial preference largely determined by societyís deep rooted antipathies towards other races, which has the effect of marginalising non-Chinese homosexual men and women?

We know what follows is a generalisation. It has to be. There is little research on homosexuality in Singapore; one has to rely on anecdotal evidence and one's own experience of belonging to a minority. We believe that negative feelings amongst the Chinese population as a whole towards minorities in Singapore, has influenced homosexual politics. There is no denying that in everyday life, Indians and Malays are stereotyped to an extent that is both derisive and insulting.

On the whole, for those of other races on the fringes of Chinese homosexual society, Singapore can be a lonely and frustrating place. Indians "smell of curry or hair oil", they are "black" and they are "hairy". Malays are likely to "ask you for money" fairly early in a relationship or "rip you off." They are "unreliable." Such stereotyping is not uncommon (it may be the norm) when Chinese homosexual Singaporeans are asked their sexual opinions of Indians and Malays. And while there will always be those who care about the person rather than the packaging, Chinese homosexuals are quick to point out that being black, hairy and Indian is a definite turn off. In the next breath many will say that they might consider a North Indian or Pakistani because they are "fairer".

Homosexual and bisexual Singapore Indians (the latter being far more numerous than the former) know this only too well since they suffer constant rejection by the Chinese. To counter this (and to save their pride) some Indians have internalised their own form of stereotyping the Chinese. It goes something like "the Chinese are short, hairless, and have small penises" the opposite of which Indians factor into their definition of maturity and masculinity. One might therefore imagine that a status quo has been reached. In fact, it is one race reacting to the stereotypes of the other dominant and ruling race.

The consequences of this polarisation for Chinese homosexuals are negligible. For Indians it is extremely significant. If, on the whole, the Chinese of your choice are out of reach because they don't want you or because you've internalised a pride-protecting mechanism, what choices do you have? Other Indians? No and yes. Because the Indian community in Singapore is small and cohesive (=kaypo) and because most Indian men who have sex with men also have wives and children, there is a marked reluctance to have sex with each other. Careless whispers and innuendo can lead to the destruction of marriage and family and ostracism from a tightly knit community. Of course, there are thousands of Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore who must count as potential sex partners for local Indians. They do have sex with each other, but on the whole the latter view themselves as having little in common with poor migrant workers. This is not true for Indians from JB and Malaysia and Indian immigrants newly arrived to write your software or run your polymer production plant, since they are educated and culturally, have more in common. In fact, there is quite a lot of coupling between Singapore and JB homosexual Indians since there are few marriage ties between the two communities and because both need to find partners outside their own communities. But, there is no getting away from the fact that many Indian homosexuals live in a sexual limbo, reluctant to cruise, spurned by the Chinese and not willing to risk losing everything by teaming up with a local Indian. This then is one consequence of negative stereotyping of an entire race in Singapore.

Malays do not suffer as much as Indians for the obvious reason that the majority of them are neither "black, hairy or brylcreemed". They have a definite constituency amongst Chinese homosexuals who in a positive light (or double whammy?) describe them as "clean" or "light skinned". Nonetheless, the impression that Malays are after your money or possessions and therefore untrustworthy, is not uncommon. Malays though, have fewer problems finding sex partners amongst themselves in Singapore and Malaysia. They can count on a reservoir of Chinese too.

But like Indians, Malays perceive a welcome (certainly not cold rejection) from caucasians. And this has created another perception amongst the Chinese that Malays (if they think of them at all) are gold diggers, looking for sugar daddies in East/West bars such as Vincent's Lounge. But then is it not a widely held opinion among Chinese homosexuals who eschew Vincent's, that anybody who goes there is a sweet young gold digger looking for a benefactor?

The Chinese/Caucasian debate on Signel, has mostly been hostile to the Caucasian. He is the "transgressor" seducing our "young Chinese youth". It's unclear if this is xenophobia, superiority, racial stereotyping or plain jealousy. But it's obvious that if Chinese homosexuals have a preference other than themselves, Caucasians come far higher up the list than Indians and Malays. Itís true that Caucasians in Singapore run after the Chinese. But this is not surprising given that they are the most visible and accessible homosexual majority, owning and patronising all the watering holes. Anyway, whatís the point of being posted to Singapore if your preference is for your own kind or Zulus?

Do Indian lesbians suffer in the same way as Indian gay men? We donít know but are sure somebody will enlighten us.

Finally, to return to Sheila. There is a vibrant and rather public cruising culture for young Indians, mostly unmarried, in Singapore. Around Seranagoon Road from Teka market to Mustafaís, are bus stops, toilets, quiet side streets, a bar and boutiques where cruising and sex takes place. On the whole, Indians cannot take their tricks home. Some rent rooms by the hour in shabby Serangoon hotels. More common are public couplings and group sex in dark corners, especially where redevelopment is taking place. For a cooler cruise, there is a favourite shopping centre in Selegie Road. A very few of the younger, better educated set, might venture to Fort Road beach.

The plaza in front of Mustafas always looks like a disorganised South Asian summit with Hindi, Sinhala, Urdu, Persian, Bangla, Nepali, Burmese and Mongolian speakers shouting to be heard. Within this chaos, there is heavy cruising though to the untrained eye and ear, youíd never know. Nepalis pair up with Mongolians and Burmese, Pakistanis take anything thatís fuckable, Bengalis look for Bengalis. Some of the boys are rough trade. Most of this happens from 10pm with the focus gradually shifting to 24hour kopitiams in nearby lanes. Not many local Indians dare to be seen in the Plaza. The married ones will venture to a favourite bar, but they get their contacts on the phone and through friends, sometimes the family Hindu priest. The transvestite prostitutes behind Desker road always attract a large, non-local, Indian presence. Just look for the gawking crowd of lungi-wallahs near the cigarette stall, and youíre there. Here, there is little stigma to be seen ogling transvestites because they are "honourary women" as opposed to "gundus" or "kothis".

Is there anything else youíd like to know?

Mr & Mrs Pussy 


Foreword by Yawning Bread

All societies have multiple layers and innumerable pockets. Singapore is no exception. Even among gay Singaporeans, there are divisions, especially by race. Much of what is seen as Singaporean gayness actually reflects the attitudes and activities of the gay male Chinese, since their race makes up 78% of Singapore residents.

In this piece, the writer takes a sharp look at Indian and Malay male homosexuals and the tensions between them and the Chinese. Indians and Malays make up about 7% and 14% respectively of our population. As for the lesbian angle, that's something else again!

This piece was originally written as a posting to SiGNeL, the Singapore gay and lesbian cyberforum. It was part of a thread of discussion about race and homosexuality.