10 things I learnt (part 2)

When I started out 3 years ago to collect stories for I Will Survive from gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Singapore, my primary intention was to bring together stories that could be shared and read by others. I was excited about embarking on the work as I knew what I wanted to do, yet at the same time unsure of how I would be received or perceived. Still, along the way, I somehow managed through and was humbly surprised to have learnt so much from the people I had met; old and new friends, acquaintances and interviewees who readily opened up to me their stories and their lives.

Here’s more of what they have taught me:

7. Sometimes emotional pain can be unbearable….

Self-harm and suicide were occurring themes in several of the stories. Some of those I met had actually attempted suicide: Lance’s painfully honest descriptions come to mind.

Yet others engaged in other forms of behaviours that were harmful to themselves: Wendi spoke of a girlfriend who was emotionally unstable and would often cut herself in order to keep her in the relationship. Bradley struggled with alcohol and recreational drug addiction, and Kavin was diagnosed with an eating disorder. One of my earliest interviews was with Tarry who had lost his boyfriend to suicide, a few days before the boyfriend’s birthday.

Numerous international studies have found a link between LGBT-identified persons and suicide, self-harming and other related-behaviours. Often, the pain can come from the realisation that one is of a different sexual or gender orientation, and also from facing struggles that are either directly associated with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (eg: relationships, family pressures, bullying) or other issues that are entirely unrelated to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity (eg: illness, coping with losses).

 6. But support and hope can come from the unlikeliest sources.

After coming out as bisexual in school, Kenny found himself at the receiving end of harassment by his schoolmates, and often ended up studying and having lunch alone. Surprisingly, the only people who offered him support and stood by him were his teachers, and even the principal . Those boys who were caught behaving inappropriately towards him were either disciplined or given warnings by the school.

Even as their lives felt as if everything was collapsing around them, leaving both Stefanie and Thomas at the end of all hope, standing at a high floor ready to jump, yet something inside told them to find the greater courage to live.

Elle, Luke and Ashraff each sought comfort in their respective faiths: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, not in a dogmatic manner, but it in a way that was unique to them.

5. Trying to be normal can feel so abnormal.

What is “normal”?

Frances was brought up to think that “normal” meant having a boyfriend, even if there was little mutual trust and respect in the relationship. For Wee Lee, living with a physically and emotionally abusive partner seemed “normal” during the four years they were together. And how does one begin to define “normal” for Kris, who has lived half his life with bipolar disorder, or for Lester, who was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 18?

4. Being GLBT is an important part of life, but it’s not the only part.

Every one of the 21 persons I met had their own definitions of what it meant to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. But none allowed that to limit the various roles and responsibilities in lives.

Thomas, a gay man, continues to fulfil his role as a father to his children. Stefanie, a transgender woman, is still a parent to hers. Leng and Ashraff have full-time jobs helping people as professionals in the social service sector; likewise, Bradley, Luke and Lance are regular volunteers with different charitable organisations.

Read “10 things I learnt (part 1)”

Read “10 things I learnt (part 3)”

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One Response to 10 things I learnt (part 2)

  1. Hun says:

    As a gay man who is not fully out to everyone yet, i find that trying to be normal can be extremely challenging as i have to be mindful about the things i say or do in the presence of others. Living a ”double life” can be really hard. – Hun

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