|Clarence Singam is a counseling psychologist with Oogachaga, a charitable pro-people pro-family sexuality-affirming counseling and support group agency. This is an extract of an article he wrote on coming out.
"I still remember when Han and I first got together and moved in to a tiny apartment in Club Street. I had told mum that I was moving in with a friend and that the apartment was tiny. She asked me where he slept and I said that we shared a room. Some months later she decided to visit me. Mysteriously I started having severe gastric pains. It had not happened to me in a long time. I attributed it to work, which used to give me these pains which were so agonizing that only ulcer medication would work even though I had no stomach ulcers. So for four days as mum visited I was bent over in pain – literally. The visit itself was uneventful. She did not say anything about me sharing a bed with Han, being too worried about my state of health. However, less than an hour after she left, the pain just disappeared as mysteriously as it had come. That is how my coming home to mum began.
Where possible I don’t believe that coming out should begin by telling your parents you are gay. I believe we should come home first. When it concerns our family, our gayness is often not even in the closet – it just isn’t at home. So the coming out process to one’s family really should begin by coming home first.
The idea first struck me from a book called, “Tongzhi – Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies,” by Chou Wah-shan. The author asserted that, “In traditional Chinese (and I would add Indian and Malay) culture, an individual exists through and is defined by his or her relationship to others.”
It struck me that I had hidden my gayness from my family for over 20 years during which time I went through many struggles of my own to come to self affirmation. It seemed to me rather unfair then to just one day blurt out to them that I was gay – what more if it came out in the context of an argument. They wouldn’t have 20 years to work through the issues I had to work through. Also the fact was like anyone else I was scared – of disappointing mum and dad. I was scared that I would break their hearts and that they might reject me. Also I was keenly aware of the continuing pain that Han and his family experience over the conflict between his sexuality and their religious beliefs. I had heard at close range Han’s own heart rending experience of pretty much being thrown out when he came out at 18.
Not many people have the luxury of planning a coming out. Most of us try to avoid the thought completely. And for most of us it is a comfortable existence. But once in a while it just happens and we are caught off guard. For Han it was just forgetfully placing his diary open on this table. When confronted, to his credit he refused to lie.
I am not sure if I followed Wah-shan’s advice out of wisdom or cowardice but looking back I am glad I did. So instead of coming out I decided to come home first.
Wah-shan points out that coming home recognizes that our cultures are based on the primacy of relationships over the individual. So he suggests that coming out in the traditional Asian context involves firstly a building of guanxi (relationship). The purpose here is to build relationships between my biological family and my gay family.
After mum’s first visit, I began to invite gay friends over for dinner whenever she came. These were friends that I trusted and who took the time to speak to her, listen to her rattle and grumble about her pains and her difficult life, her stormy relationship with her husband. People who would tell her how young she looked despite her age and tried their best not to roll their eyes in disbelief when she told them how wonderful her son was but not to tell him she said that. Friends who would take the time to take her around if she needed to. It is a tribute to this bunch that mum still has a photo in her room of my friends Woo, Ho, Keong and Chan with Han and I having dinner with her. I still remember the occasion. Han and the rest were red from too much wine having laughing matches with mum. It is the only photo of a dinner gathering that I have ever seen her treasure. The point is, long before mum knew any of my friends were gay, she knew they were all human, spoke good Cantonese, would spend time listening to her and were all unmarried.
Reading this you are probably thinking that I have had a wonderful relationship with my parents. I probably do but it wasn’t always like that. I still have memories of mum thrashing me because she was so angry with dad’s infidelities but had no one to take her anger out on but me. Till today I sometimes struggle with a fear of being abandoned, because I am still haunted about her suicide threats because there were times in her life when things were just too difficult. Somewhere in my adult life, I had to come to terms with my parents’ own brokenness. I find our community constantly remembers PM Lee and SM Goh’s statement that gay people are just like you and me. But we forget that there is another side to that statement – that straight people are just like you and me. And I am thankful that at some stage in my life, I came to see that dad and mum really were just like you and me too. It is only from that point that we can build relationships."
Source: Coming Home - How I Loved My Mum (and maybe Dad) into My Life, by Clarence Singam. The full article was first published on Fridae.com. Republished with permission from the author and Fridae.com.
Clarence may be contacted at clarence[at]oogachaga.com.
Labels: Personal Journeys