A four-part, real life journey about coming of age and coming out
by R Ishi
Hello there young me,
We've just had World Aids Day on 1st December. Much had happened since Aids/HIV made its appearance. Currently, there is still no cure for Aids/HIV, but doctors have developed a drug called PrEP, which is effective in reducing HIV infections for the sexually active. However, do remember to still practice safe sex. Fortunately, you went through the whole turbulent period unscathed.
With that in mind, I guess I have to tell you who your first kiss was from. It’s your male cousin, Alan! It started-off as curiosity but escalated rather quickly. Alan would come over whenever mum and dad were away. Sometimes you’d go over to his place too. He was about 3 years older than you.
Before telling you more about your future boyfriends or relationships, let me first start on my decision - on “coming out”.
You will come out multiple times; to the family, friends and at work too. It’s never-ending as most of the time you need to gauge peoples' reactions to it, as not everyone would be accepting. Your first ever coming out happened at work. You had a cushy position at a 5-star American brand hotel. One evening, as you were leaving the hotel after working hours, through one of the unofficial hotel exits, a security guy decided to call you out loud, “Hei! You faggard!". You ignored his name-calling and just continued walking. However, he shouted again with the same words, you just turned to look at him and continued walking.
Couple of hours later, you were still affected by that incident. Human Resource has a red mailbox for staff - for those who wish to confidentially report any unhappiness they encounter at work, and HR would assist to seek a solution to it - I decided to write in.
The first inquiry was, “is there a restriction or company policy against any gay employee?” Then, continued with the incident by the security officer. No names were mentioned. I confessed I am gay, and I did not appreciate another colleague to start name calling me within the hotel property, or a public space. To top it all up, he was in uniform!
Along the way, you will meet and make some unexpected good friends. Right before National Service, I met a Brother from St Francis of Assisi. Hang on, this is not a story of a closeted gay priest. We discussed lots on general matters and religion - Christianity and Islam. At that time, I was doing Islamic Religious Knowledge and he came in at a heavenly time. (pun intended!). I did Christianity Studies too but didn’t take the exams. At that time, there was an interest in French, picked up a bit from him. He speaks French and English. But gave up because I can’t wring my head on the "tu" and "Vous".
Coming out to family was quite a breeze too. One day, during the yearly festivity period of Eid, you decided to tell one of your cousins that you are gay. It was at the period when there was a lot of news on the Repeal of the 377A law. (I somehow feel that telling the cousin would mean the news will be spread to the rest of the family and close relatives. Which it did! To me, I don't care who knows about it. I would be open to discuss it if any relatives would like to know more). You would be glad to know that your close cousins are not bothered by it and are very welcoming. Cousin Rose, actually said she had always known, but just did not know how to broach the subject. Well, that is good news. Overall, I do not know if the whole extended family is aware. Within the family, there are also a few closeted cases that I know of. Funny thing, your Aunty Bee is still in denial that you are gay, even though she has met and know of my boyfriend(s). The conversation would always start as, “Rishi, I know this girl. She’s very quiet and shy too. A good girl. Stays nearby….. etc etc etc”. If her daughter is around, I’ll look at her, roll-up my eyes and tell her - "there, your mom is starting again!" and we will both burst out laughing. I don’t resent Aunty Bee, it’s so sweet that she still cares about me despite being a full-blown adult.
What I seek in a relationship?
Someone understanding - someone who doesn’t play games. Truthful and caring. Someone who wants to be committed to a long-term relationship. To have a partner who is out of the closet or still in, that depends on that individual. If the person is still in the closet but has accepted and is comfortable with his sexuality, why not? But you know how Asian parents are with family pressure and the concept of maintaining a family unit?
Though not politically correct, you have a racial preference - you’ll find out along the way; or have you already?
Then comes the question "to love, or be loved"? Hmm…..it is nice to be loved and wooed but sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. In all your cases, you are always the wooer; pursuer. Currently fitting the “Daddy” look. I found some are just with me for companionship or the status of “having a boyfriend”. I had two of those.
First, was an Indonesian guy. He was a student here in Singapore. At that time I partied a lot. Got to know him at a club. We were together for about two and a half years. He became my clubbing mate at Zouk. He had a regular group of Indonesian friends there too. Unfortunately, he had to return to Indonesia. We did the long-distance relationship. A year later, I just casually asked his best friend if I were to meet someone, would that be bad? Her response was, if you meet someone else, just go ahead! I was shocked, this coming from his best friend. I then approached the subject to him and he admitted that him being with me wasn’t for love, it was just for the companionship of a boyfriend.
Enough to say, the second guy got angry that I would be sleeping at his place when I wasn't feeling too well because I'll be sweating on the bed. I told him I will clean up the bed and what do you know, I ran as fast as I could after that!
Well, you are with an Indian guy now, been together for four years, with a big age gap. To be honest, I lied to him about my age when we first met. (Gays are very ageist. Above 35 years is considered over the hill, mind you!) Thankfully, he accepted me. He’s a great cook, with a passion for cooking and baking. Hoping he would enroll himself in culinary school soon. I would gladly support his passion. We’ve done lots of food-tastings and in that process, growing sideways. (LOL!) Well, I am happy that he is happy.
Another wish is, he would open up more and for us to live together. I can sincerely hope, however, I do have to understand he is closeted and not out to the family. I am only known as the “Malay Boy” to his Amma and Appa. Well, I do hope he feels comfortable with me and do love and care for me, as I do to him.
Well, I shall not share all the relationship details. It’s something that you must experience yourself and decide on what is good to keep the relationship going. Never compare or judge the relationship with another or others. Each has its own merits. What may work with others, might not work with you. As you have always been doing in life, go with the flow.
Though outwardly you always say, fewer expectations fewer disappointments, but deep down in your heart, you do know what is expected in each relationship. Always view the world with a positive outlook, speak your heart with confidence (you are a tad too confident sometimes which can easily be misunderstood as arrogance). Listen to others as well as your inner voice and you will be on the correct path of which direction to take.
A brand-new year is coming. Hoping is all for the better, we’ve had a rather crappy 2020.
Ok, be good. Stay healthy. Stay young always!
I’m back. How’s the month been treating you? All is well, I hope.
Last month, Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions. Personally, I feel he is just trying to pacify the general public. Not splitting hairs, but he is only referring to civil union, not exactly church marriages. The world now is much open and acceptable of gays, to some extent, of course. There are many Pride Parades around the world and advertisements showing same-sex couples - so are adoptions and surrogacy for male-male couples. Also, hotels and holiday destinations targeting the pink dollar. Well, I won’t dwell too much on that. I guess I will never hear of such an acceptance or understanding from an Imam. Anyways, religion is complicated, personal and very much a sensitive issue.
Oh! Touching on religion, Mum and Dad decided they wanted to do the Hajj. Yes! That very big decision. And guess what? You are coming along! At 13 years old doing the Hajj, mind you and it is even not the smaller version which is Umrah - It’s THE Hajj!
And this time too, you already have an inkling that you are gay. Listening to some horror stories during the Hajj preparation classes, of pilgrims being tested or shown revelations by God while performing the Hajj, sounds scary. Well, don’t panic now. You completed the Hajj without any test. No hell and brimstone fires, I know, DRAMA! Only with a very high fever for a couple of days at Muzdalifah and Mum got very worried. It was heat exhaustion (maybe the breath of hell winds there, ooops) during daily hot days performing the rituals. You are in the desert area after all. You actually do feel calm about your gay self during the whole process. To be honest, there was a moment when you reflected on who you are at the Masjidil Haram, feeling that God will always be testing you daily but as long as you’ve made peace with yourself and cause no foul or harm to others, things would work out on its own.
Saying that, puzzles of life will show you why some things happen in life, and realising that being gay or an adopted child is not a bad thing afterall. You are able to overcome them. Perhaps life is already predestined and you are living the way it was meant to be. You will understand more later.
Though other religious or self-righteous people will have different opinion but it is your own faith, your life and it only involve you, your immediate family, and the person that you love. Always do remember you can never please everyone in your life. You need to believe God have placed within you components to make you complete; your gender identity and expression of love included. You will do your best. Life is a constant movement forward.
I guess the Hajj pilgrimage gave some enlightenment to its believers. Dad had an early retirement from the Police Force, to become a personal driver and then, delivery driver. A couple of years after the Hajj, Dad decided to be fully retired and became a much homely and available father. He spent time at home and also at the Kassim Mosque. He became the unofficial volunteer Imam at the mosque. Fajr, Maghrib, and Isha are his mosque duty timings. He had answered his calling; a wise decision. My regret was the emotional distance that was already there - I wasn’t really able to really connect with him. I do hope you will be more able to overlook his past and accept the new him. Be a good son. Sometimes one only realised of the person’s love and care when that person is gone.
On a lighter note, school itself is rather boring. In secondary school you had a crush on the school soccer captain; tall, dark, lean-muscled Malay boy. You didn’t stalk him - thank God! Just fangirling in your heart, whenever you see him across the canteen or along the hallways. Yeah, sounds like most American high-school tv series, huh! Sitting on the window side in class do have an advantage - spying your crush when there’s soccer practice at the school field. No one knows about it and will never know!
Funny thing is he remembers you by name. Years and years later when you bumped into him, he recognized you and calls you by name - I kid you not! A very “oooooh my” moment. I could only smile and act cool. (Oh, do look out for a romantic movie, Call Me By Your Name oh, and Love Simon, too.) He’s now married and a father of three. He still maintains his lean look. (okay, snap out of it!) I never did ask why or how he stills remembers my name. Let it remain a mystery, don’t spoil the fantasy!
(Update! Just peeped into his Facebook page - oh, you'll know of Facebook later. Facebook is something like when photo album and gossip corner got married and have a baby). Yes! I do remember his full name too. Our names both starts with “R”. He’s got 6 kids now - 5 boys and a girl)
You’ve made a good friend in school. Your partner in crime - your alibi for returning home late. A best friend that you sometimes refer to as “my cousin”. How to spend the night out? Tell Mum and Dad you are invited to a birthday BBQ at a chalet. But can’t use that reason too often, maybe once a month. You’ll figure out more excuses along the way.
You started drinking quite young - at 16. Due to your height and built, you tend to look older than your actual age; now it’s quite the opposite - ahemmm! You started with Shandy (IKR!), then moved on the beer but you will hate that bloaty feeling afterwards. Then progressed to hard liquor. Over the years, you’ll will learn to drink like fish to water. Nowadays, you just settle for wine. The first gay club you went to was Niche at Far East Plaza. Years later you will discover Sunday Boys Nights or Shadow Nights. Clubs that had them were Rascals, Heartthrob, The Gate, Music World, Studerbaker, which was renamed Venom then to ChinaBlack, Happy, and Centro renamed to Butter Factory. Another gay-friendly place is Zouk at Kim Seng Road. Zouk is where you practically grew up in, attending the parties every other week - with your group of Indonesian partner and friends. Most recent place now is Taboo but currently closed and “looking for a new location”. GOD, I feel OLD writing this.
National Service was a breeze. You served in the Police Force - trained at the Police Academy in Thomson Road, Singapore. Your squad mates seemed to understand who you are. Occasional gay jokes but nothing seriously offensive from them. Too bad, no eye-candy or hunks. Oh wait, thinking back, the Drill Instructor (DI) was sometimes a bit too friendly, perhaps flirting too. (GOD! I was so dense when young, no offense)
On a Saturday afternoon when you were rostered to stay overnight in-camp alone, after all the troops left, the DI came to the barracks for a chit-chat, saying to stay indoors and not to go out late night. Gave me newspaper to read. Passed me some snacks. And he was like delaying his departure. Maybe just showing concern. What would happened if I had initiated the first move? Hhmmmm? NO! You better not get yourself in trouble.
At that moment, my plan was to lock myself in the room until dinner, then hide in the bed till morning and book-out on Sunday when my takeover reports in. No ghostly encounters during the whole 3 months in-camp training; though lots of spooky stories were told. That is a good thing. (Word of advice. Even on normal days when the troop mates are around, I’ll suggest you still stay indoors, no roaming around the premise at night. Police Academy is spooky. Go toilet early before lights off. Your buddy will never accompany you).
After completing the Basic Military Training (BMT), you are posted to the PNS Records Office, subsequently to the Computer Systems Division in Central Police Station - always the nerd!
*Reservist was a culture shock. Best of all, this gay boy got the Marksman award on every revolver test; easy SGD200 incentive. I can shoot straight – need I say more?!!
Your first reservist reporting was at the Beach Road Police Station, now demolished. Then when the Multi-Task Group (MTG) was formed, you will have a permanent team and posted to Geylang Police Station. You will have an OC and AOC (Inspector rank) that would leave you (unofficially) to do the patrol pairing of teammates and fix of patrol locations on your own. Clever if you can keep this a secret from your fellow team mates, or they will keep bugging you for team-ups with the same partners and locations. The thing is you are holding no rank but commanding (indirectly) your Corporals and Sergeants. A few teammates are aware of this but they didn’t bother you.
Other MTG Units also wondered why this Special Constabulary – no rank guy is attending all the MTG meetings. You might do slightly longer office hours but still have lots of free time in-between, however must still be in full-uniform and armed. Your OC and AOC often disappear for the day after morning briefing, contactable via mobile. The bad part is that you will need to compile all the daily recording of screenings, incident reports, cases attended etc. You’ll complete your National Services liabilities on a good note.
There’s no regret in serving National Service, No major hiccup being gay during the active and reservist period. Everyone maintained that “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality. All your colleagues and mates accepted you as one of them. Most important is to work hard, do a good job.
Ok, ok, nothing scandalous in here - maybe more next? Will spill some tea later…
*A reservist is a person who is a member of a military reserve force. They are otherwise civilians, and in peacetime have careers outside the military. Reservists usually go for training on an annual basis to refresh their skills. This person is usually a former active-duty member of the armed forces, and they remain a reservist either voluntarily, or by obligation. In some countries such as Israel, Norway, Finland, Singapore, and Switzerland, reservists are conscripted soldiers who are called up for training and service when necessary.
Hi, how’s your day? It has been kind of slow and quiet here due to the Covid pandemic. A little poignant as I’m writing my thoughts at Raffles City, Singapore, where your future adult life become an open book by “coming-out”.
You will always hear that mantra, ‘life will get better’ repeatedly growing up. Being an older-future-you, I can assure you, it does get better. It is based on your own perspective, really. It might not be as glamorous or high-flying as other’s but just being yourself and accepting openly what life has thrown in your direction is the way to go.
Home and school played a lot of different roles in your life; it is a bit confusing. Putting on different personas for family, relatives and friends. Hey, you know what, you were born an introvert but work environment will turn you slightly extroverted. Oh, you will master that - and too well at times. You will know when to be the quiet guy and when to let your hair down. It’s good that you could feel happy, be in times of solitude or amongst friends and colleagues. You’re a survivor!
I know you do feel lost at times with family situations and somehow unsure of your own identity - distanced father, controlling mother, an estranged elder sister and to add to that equation, you are an adopted child. Then, the worst hit you; realising around the age of 12, that you are gay. I know you must be wondering who will have your first kiss? Nope, I wont tell you that now. Keep on reading * wink *
I have good news though; Dad matured over the years and became much responsible father. Mum will always be controlling but then you realised that whatever she does is all because she cares and loves you. Errrr…your sister? That would be a whole book by itself. We’ll talk more about her another time.
Surprised you are adopted? Don’t lie, young me! You already sensed and realised you are an adopted child without anyone confirming it. Clue number one is, whenever mum had done her ablutions (wuduk) before prayers, she would often reiterate for you not to touch her hand or have skin-to-skin contact or she would need to do the ablution again. You were already well aware that as Muslims, men and women who do not have blood relations are not allowed skin-to-skin contact.
But this is such a strange world - people always remarked how you and mum look so alike; but then again, maybe you do. To the unknown, you are mother and son. With that, later in life, you and mum will really be dependent on each other.
Puberty hits you hard at fourteen when your height peaked at 1.8m. You will grow-up into a gentle giant. Weight issue is another story all together. Well, not obese - just a tad heavier than average and it becomes a constant issue. Some said I carry it well with my height and that is jolly good to hear. There was constant name-callings by primary school friends - fatty bombom, jumbo/dumbo was their hot favourites but know what, it was good that you are just able brush it off.
You discovered the love of books; the quiet fantasy of other worlds; reading the crime-solving stories of The Famous Five, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys. You will join the school library as an assistant. I vividly remember you completed The Man In the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas at thirteen and understanding it! Well done and congratulations; ahaaaa, the start of your journey as a book nerd! Though now, I would rather watch Hobbits, the movie than reading the book.
Karma sometimes comes knocking onto your door at a later stage in their life. You will hear that your primary school bully lost his child in an accident. It was reported in the national papers and became a major news coverage on television of the rescue and such. Yes, of course you do feel sorry for the loss of life but some parts of you will also feel that he deserves it for the two years of constant bullying at primary five and six; you were just about eleven. I am not sure when you will read this note, but my advice would be never ever be afraid to face life head-on.
Secondary school will be easier, you will have been so immuned to some name callings. Being you - you will just shrug it off. If there is something I may add here - study harder!
You will be surprised that you were able to balance school life while exploring the gay evening scene in Orchard Road, Singapore with a fellow schoolmate. You and the friend were on the same boat, really - both mums did not allow any over night stays – YET!
We’ll continue later, younger self – I have tons to tell you…
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