ST: 'Mum asked if I could change ...but how to change something as basic as being gay?'

Sunday, July 13, 2003

'Mum asked if I could change ...but how to change something as basic as being gay?'

Jim Chow, 32 In the light of the Prime Minister's revelation that the Government is employing openly homosexual people, one gay Singaporean tells THERESA TAN about his 'coming out' experience.

When he was nine, Mr Jim Chow remembers watching Taiwanese movie legends Lin Ching-hsia and Chin Han romance each other on the big screen. Then in Primary 3, he would wonder: Ching-hsia's pretty, but why do I find Chin Han attractive too? A couple of years later, while still in primary school, he chanced on Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest. While the play is not about homosexuals, he found the literary classic intriguing enough to want to read up on the author. 'It was then that I found out Wilde was a homosexual, and I identified my feelings as being homosexual ones.'

Unlike the 19th century Irish wit, who was jailed for being gay, Mr Chow, 32, said he has never felt discriminated against in Singapore, except in one instance 'some time back'. He was working out in a gym with his partner, when someone called him a 'faggot', a derogatory term for homosexual.

He is very thankful for Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's recent revelation that the Government is now more open to employing gay people and that with time, more people would accept them. Out and proud of his sexuality, Mr Chow 'came out' to his mother when he was 18, in his second year of junior college. That was when he started dating. The late nights and long telephone calls got his Cantonese-speaking mother asking him some rather pointed questions. He said: 'My mum would ask why I had so many guy friends calling. I said I had many guy friends.

Over time, the questions got more specific. 'One night, she asked me if I liked guys, and I said yes.' Mrs Chow, who accepts her son's sexuality but declined to be interviewed, could not believe what her second youngest child told her at first. His four siblings are straight. A divorcee with five children, the 50-something Chinese-educated beauty salon owner thought homosexuality was something abhorrent and an illness. Mr Chow said: 'She went through a denial stage, and then there was a 'let's fix it' stage. 'She asked if I could change. She asked what went wrong. She was worried what people would think of me and also her. 'I told her I was sure of my sexual orientation and it was here to stay. I rationalised with her. How could you change something so basic?'

It took her a few months but she accepted that fact and, over time, has met some of his boyfriends. In fact, she once went on a holiday with him and a boyfriend. Now, she has meals at least once a week with him and his partner, a 30-year-old information technology professional. During Chinese New Year festivals and other special occasions, his partner is invited home and is treated as part of the family. He has always been very open about his sexuality with relatives, friends and colleagues, he told The Sunday Times. For example, he said, his friends from school and some of his teachers knew he was gay.

He went to a top boys' school and graduated from university here, but declined to name the schools. He said: 'I never pretended I was straight. I never pretended to have girlfriends. 'Once you get to know people, even in working relationships, eventually they will ask the right questions to find out.' But some of his relatives are too embarrassed to ask him about such matters or broach the subject gingerly. 'During wedding dinners, some relatives ask: When's my turn? I tell them I'm never going to marry and they get the picture.'

Mr Chow, who has worked in five different companies in sales and marketing jobs, said that his colleagues have never been bothered by his sexuality. 'Most people are quite cool about it or they don't care. As long as you perform in your capacity, I don't think they are very concerned about your sexuality. 'And if someone asks point-blank if I'm gay, I tell them point-blank. If they hint at it, I hint right back.' He has no qualms about reaching for his partner's hand in public. 'I'm not very self-conscious in that way,' he said. 'I've other things to think about, like work, paying bills, health.'

An articulate man who loves to read and exercise, he admits he probably has it easier than most of his gay friends. 'Coming out is not a bed of roses for most gay men I know but most of their parents never gave them a really rough time either. Although some parents are in perpetual denial about the issue.' While he feels most straight Singaporeans have been tolerant towards homosexuals, he does not believe the Prime Minister's revelation in an interview in Time magazine, reported on July 4, would result in a flood of gay people coming out of the closet. 'People are still fearful of doing so and dealing with the issue. It takes more than one man in the highest office to change that fear overnight.'