As I start writing this on the Sunday afternoon after Pink Dot, I am surrounded by family members: my mother and aunts, who are talking about their brother’s family living in China; my sister whose husband is originally from Malaysia; another sister who’s back from Belgium with her 2 girls on their annual summer holidays. Between my 5 nieces, they used to carry passports from 3 different countries. Like many families, rare is the occasion where every member is in the same place (or country) at the same time.
“Home” to me is not about whose house we’re sitting in to have green tea and home-made blueberry muffins. It’s really about the people around me as we’re catching up on life’s vagaries and other gossip.
Since it first started in 2009, I’ve been attending every Pink Dot, Singapore’s annual outdoor gathering to promote the freedom to love, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Even as I often fret about what outfit to wear and how to accessorise, every year I always take away with me a deeply satisfying feeling of having connected with other people.
This year was no exception.
Having edited and published an anthology called “I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender stories in Singapore”, many came up to congratulate and share with me what the book has meant to them. At the same time, as the newly-appointed deputy executive director of Oogachaga – Singapore’s professional counselling and personal development agency for the LGBTQ community – I was also keen to introduce myself to our partners and stakeholders.
Along the way, I made new contacts and saw familiar faces. The moderator of an online Confessions page was there early to take photos, so that followers of the page would know what to expect at Hong Lim Park. The head coach of the all-male cheerleading squad readily offered his business card, which explained the team’s name. The international director of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association dropped by the Oogachaga booth to say hello.
While walking around to distribute copies of our locally-produced LGBT community resources guide, I ran into an old school friend I hadn’t seen in years; he also happened to know the founders of my organisation. A Singaporean who had relocated to the UK had made contact with me through the book, and promptly appeared with another friend of mine. As it turns out, they have known each other for years through working in the UK.
My ebook publisher was there with his family; the children had already devoured all the pink muffins by the time I found them. A young man I introduced myself to reminded me that we had previously met; we shared an alma mater, and a teacher referred him to me as he was keen to learn more about working in the social services.
In a country of 5.3 million, in a park surrounded by 21,000 people, it’s amazing but not impossible to still be able to make these personal connections as if we were a closely-knitted community.
I am fully aware that I have made many choices in my life. Although my sexual orientation was not one of them, there are plenty of other choices I can and do consciously make now: my career as a social worker to empower and enable the people I work with; the connections I make with others who do things that matter; and where I call home.
And I choose Singapore.
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Leow Yangfa is editor of the book I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore, and the deputy executive director of Oogachaga, an LGBTQ-affirming counselling and personal development agency in Singapore. He’s also the proud uncle to 5 girls and a golden retriever.
It could be in Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Timah, Choa Chu Kang, Dover Road or Eunos Crescent; it’s where you grew up, it’s printed on your NRIC, or a place for bills to be sent. More importantly, it’s where you can just be yourself.
Or can you?
Many of us look forward to going home at the end of the day. To see our loved ones, to catch up with a favourite TV programme, or cook a nice meal. Yet for some, it means facing family members who don’t understand or accept what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
For children and young people, home should be a place of safety, where they can grow and be nurtured. And sadly, some are hurt and abused by the very ones who have been entrusted with their care.
Parents remind their teenagers to “come home early”. But if you’re being bullied in school by your peers for being different, the last thing you want to do is face the shame of being unable to tell the ones you love what actually happened.
Home for some is a state of mind, to be found in one’s faith and religion. And when centuries-old scriptures condemn you for being who you are, where then is that peace to be had?
You might be reading this in the comfort of your home, on the MRT or bus, or just wishing you had some place you could go where it’s really home: a place where you’re taken seriously, where you can connect with someone honestly, where you can decide what you want to do, and where you feel safe. Above all, home should also be where you belong, where you’re accepted, and where you feel love and are loved.
For those who believe in having a place that you can truly call home, come down to Pink Dot and make yourselves comfortable, because everyone present truly wants to be there.
For many who may not yet be ready to come out to those around you as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, it’s OK. Come home to Pink Dot, for you will find acceptance among many like you, and many others who are different from you, because that’s OK too.
For the 5.3 million of us here on this little red dot – in Sengkang, Tiong Bahru, Ubi Avenue, West Coast, Yio Chu Kang and everywhere else in-between – perhaps it’s time to celebrate a place we can all call home.
Leow Yangfa is editor of the book I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore, published by Math Paper Press. He is also the deputy executive director of Oogachaga Counselling & Support, an LGBTQ-affirming social service organisation, and has been going to Pink Dot every year since it started.