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freedom to love: being queer in Singapore

IMG_1156(at Pink Dot with my ma and our new friends)

Not long ago, I sent a friend a couple of questions, in an attempt to understand what being part of the LGBTQ community in Singapore feels like. I have decided to publish his response to my queries with the hope that it might inspire others to get to know their lgbtq friends better and possibly create opportunities for dialogue on how straight allies can help create a safe space.

What is the freedom to love? And what is it to you? Eg what does it encompass?

The freedom to love is exactly what it is: to be able to express your love, admiration, care, support to that one person that has a special place in your heart. We see it all the time – couples holding hands, kissing, hugging and holding each other close – all these expressions are clear representations of the relationship two people have for each other. Members of the LGBT community feel the restriction when it comes to those expressions because of fear of what others might do to them, and more so in recent years. With each Pride event that takes place every year, more and more people begin to question the need for it to take place creating an opportunity for the people who wish to undermine its efforts in promoting diversity.

On a personal level, the freedom to love is to be able to express yourself to those that matter to you – your family, friends, and anyone else who has made an impact on your life. But it is more than that, it also about being honest with who you are as a person, to love yourself. That it the most important; the freedom to love is to be able to love yourself without question.

Has the current environment you are in been conducive for you to be who you are? Why it has/or hasn’t?

Yes and No.

Yes, because the friends I have made over the years and many of whom I have had the pleasure of being acquainted with, are all very accepting of my sexuality. They understand it to be simply who I am as a person and make no attempts to ridicule me in any way whatsoever. Of course, there will always be that sense of ‘uniqueness’ when it comes to being the only member of the LGBT community within your circle of friends. That, or a small number of ourselves are. But whatever the case is, being open about yourself and the people who you associate yourself with are some of the best things that can happen after coming out.

No, because there are still many people and institutions that believe it’s a form of mental illness or is sinful because of religion. I have had the unfortunate circumstance of having both thrown at me at one point in my life. When an institution regards your sexual orientation as a mental illness is as backward as apartheid in the United States was. It was incredibly disconcerting since there were many more real mental conditions a person could be afflicted with besides being queer. But that in turn might have been a blessing in disguise for me, for if not for that, I would have never been able to come out to the people I needed to come out to, particularly me parents. And that’s where religion comes in. They understood the consequences of my coming out, but even more so given my unusual situation. They insisted that only they knew of my sexuality, not anyone else in the family. I understood, but it felt like I was pushing myself back into the closet to seal myself in for good. Maybe some day it will happen, but I am not looking forward to it.

What is the biggest struggle/fear you have as a member of the community?

Given the recent attacks and venomous words thrown at the LGBT community. I fear for my safety. That oppressive feeling that settles in after reading about such tragedies is why we put in so much to celebrate Pride, because it is still an ongoing struggle. For as long as politicians and individuals with extremist views harbour ill intent with the members of the LGBT community, our lives will always be at risk. The places we consider safe havens are desecrated and inspire fear, but for what purpose? Legislation already does not place us in a safe position, people who are able to purchase weapons at a whim, or at least make claims to wanting to gun us down on social media only serve to exasperate the situation. It makes you wonder, for all the non-violence the LGBT community has put in to fight for the freedom to love, the retaliation of said individuals seems a little too drastic, does it not?

How do you think your straight allies can help?

Many straight allies are already friends with members of the LGBT community, and they would greatly benefit from the sense of security they can provide, knowing that they will always be there to support, care for, and love, regardless of the circumstance. They also have a voice much louder than anyone else in the LGBT community ever would, and could aid in spreading the message of the freedom to love and safeguards for all; to stand against those who would use violence and other unethical or unorthodox methods to solve problems, rather than seeking constructive engagement with each other. There will always be people who are against our cause, but for as long as they exist, we will never stop fighting. Our straight allies can all attest to that.

spread love not hate,

VIDYA THANVANTHRI

 

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