Send your MP a National Day present

Ever thought of sending your Member of Parliament (MP) a present to mark National Day?

And what better gift than a book?

Or an ebook, since all MPs probably have their own tablet or e-reader.

I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore” is a collection which brings together the real-life experiences of love, grace, faith, dignity and courage of ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances.

To mark National Day in August, and in collaboration with publisher Monsoon Books, we will send a copy of the ebook to a Singapore Member of Parliament for every pledge received from a Singapore citizen or permanent resident. Free-of-charge!

We hope to receive pledges to send copies to all 87 elected MPs, 3 non-constituency MPs & 9 nominated MPs. The purpose is to remind our MPs that, even as they continue to serve this beautiful country, hopefully they will also remember the struggles, challenges, hopes and dreams of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.

To make a pledge,  email and tell us:

  • Your full name (or whether you prefer to remain anonymous).
  • Your address (or postal code) so we can locate your constituency & MP.
  • Whether you would like to add a personalised message for your MP.

You can get in touch before 31 August through the website, or look for me at upcoming IndigNation events.

Update (1 September): A total of 70 copies of the ebook have been pledged & sent to 60 elected MPs, 3 NCMPs, 6 NMPs & 1 former GE candidate.  You can refer to this list of MPs to see who has not yet been sent a copy of the book.

Majulah Singapura!

Leow Yangfa

Editor

I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore

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10 things I learnt (part 3)

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:

3. We have allies.

Reading the stories, it would be easy to imagine that many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Singapore might view those outside the community with some discomfort and distrust.

Realising that these stories also needed to reach out to mainstream readers, I followed the advice of a publisher and invited a few gay-friendly, non-LGBT identified people to share their reflections on the LGBT communities in Singapore.

The choices were obvious, and there was not a moment’s hesitation from any of them to agree to contribute an essay when I approached them. Hence we have a Foreword from Mrs Juliana Toh, Executive Director from the Counselling and Care Centre; Reverend Yap Kim Hao, the retired Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore; and former Nominated Members of Parliament Ms Braema Mathi and Mr Siew Kum Hong. Additionally, I also approached Ms Leona Lo to share her personal and professional perspectives on transgenderism in Singapore.

2. It’s not just about coming out.

Despite having already come out to myself and others as a gay man, meeting these 21 ordinary people with their extraordinary stories has taught me that coming out is neither the start nor end of a journey. Although important, coming out is just a part of one’s whole identity. There are many ways to live life as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person in Singapore: young and old; Indian and Chinese; single and in a relationship; female and male; Malay and Caucasian; religious and non-religious; transgender and cisgender; Singaporean and non-Singaporean; with and without illness; closeted and out.

 There are just so many ways to BE.

1. The human spirit is indomitable.

How do you put up with months and years of bullying and abuse?

How does one live with a life-long illness?

How do you go on after losing someone you love?

How does one deal with being diagnosed with HIV as a teenager?

How do you cope with pressures from family and society to conform to certain roles, relationships and expectations?

What does one do after reeling back from a suicide attempt?

You survive.

Through their stories, all 21 contributors have shown themselves to be living examples of what people can go through and still thrive, unyielding. They are resilient; indeed it is harder to survive than die, and certainly requires more courage.

*     *     *

 “To survive is to win.” ~Zhang Yimou, Chinese film-maker
 “To survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche, 19th century German philosopher
“The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!” ~Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
“Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it.” ~Robertson Davies, 20th century Canadian author
“Survival is the celebration of choosing life over death. We know we’re going to die. We all die. But survival is saying: perhaps not today. In that sense, survivors don’t defeat death, they come to terms with it.”~Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Read “10 things I learnt (part 1)”

Read “10 things I learnt (part 2)”

Find out more about the ebook.

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)”