From a young age, I grew up in a family surrounded by five women (my mother, my aunt and my cousins) without my father being present much as he was working two jobs to support the family. I never really enjoyed sports, and I guess that’s why I bonded well with my cousins. I guess being surrounded by so many women — and having a lack of male models in my life — I grew up familiar with the feminine mannerisms and was considered effeminate.
Things were alright until I started primary school (at six years old). I was bullied and picked on for not liking “boyish” things, for being “effeminate,” for being afraid of insects. Things didn’t get better for a long time. I got bullied at every stage of my education (up until university), and it didn’t help that I did not fit the stereotype mould of “a boy who likes sports and doesn’t fear anything.”
I struggled with the bullying and found it difficult to make friends. I tried to seek help from my mother, but she too has an ingrained idea that “boys must be able to take care of themselves.” Eventually, I started withdrawing from her and other people because no one seemed to be able to understand or help me at all. I recall an incident one day just before my Chinese O’Levels; I had no idea why my classmates were so hostile towards me. One kind female classmate of mine called me to tell me that “they found my behaviour to be very ‘gay'” — hence they wanted to pick on me even more. I was devastated. I thought I found some people who I could be friends with, but that was not the case. Many people had fond memories of their secondary school life; I had nothing but traumatic memories and pain.
I also grew up struggling with my sexuality. I knew I was different from other boys from a young age. In secondary school, it was my first time getting a computer, and I started finding out more and more about what made me different. That’s when I came across the “gay” label. But growing up in a traditional Chinese family and being the eldest grandson of the eldest son (in Chinese culture, there are a lot of expectations placed on the eldest son and grandson), I felt that there was a lot of pressure placed on me to be heteronormative. I thought this was abnormal and due to media portrayal, I had no role models to look up to. The only story of gay people I ever heard of was from my mum who said she had a gay colleague who died from HIV. I thought I was abnormal, I thought I was cursed. It didn’t help that my mother had unrealistic expectations of me — she only cared about my academics. She constantly wanted the best from me, but she was not aware of my struggles. Eventually, I started breaking at the seams and I lost interest in my studies.
In Junior College, I admitted to a few friends that I had an interest in a male senior, hoping that they would accept me. I remember I was so worried that I called them up afterwards and had them reassure me that nothing had changed. I grew more confident of my sexuality, and I slowly began to accept myself. I started to open up more, until one day, I found out that one of the friends I confided in had told other people about my sexuality when I was still struggling with it. That broke me. I thought I could trust people. I couldn’t.
Eventually, I had to enlist in National Service, and that was when the pressure of my sexuality and years of accumulated bullying and helplessness broke me. I got diagnosed with depression and I felt years of pain overwhelmed me at once. The army called up my parents to tell them that I had “suicidal ideations” and they got really concerned. They tried to get me to talk about what happened. And… after beating around the bush, I finally came out to them in an outburst — “YOUR SON DOESN’T LIKE GIRLS OK!”
Calling the silence deafening at that point was an understatement. The weight of my statement broke my parents’ world. My dad, who I have never seen crying even during my grandfather’s funeral, had tears streaming down his eyes. My mum also wept in silence. That night when I finally came clean, it felt like the heaviest weight on my heart was lifted. It was painful, but for a moment, it was a little less painful.
Since then, I have managed to accept myself, and my mother has even told me that she “wants to be at my wedding (to a man), for (she) is my mother.” A lot of things have changed then, and I am now doing my Masters in Psychology. When people say it does get better, I can safely say yes it does. I am now surrounded by friends who support me no matter what.
My advice to every person (young or old) out there who is struggling with their identity or anything at all is this: please don’t give up. If I had given up back then, I would have never felt the joy of acceptance, I would never have experienced so many things. The journey is hard, and tomorrow may not be a better day, but there will definitely be a better tomorrow.