Growing up in Singapore, I was constantly afraid of the law and of discrimination from my friends and family, especially if they found out that I was gay. I acted “straight”, kept my relationships secret, and worst of all, pretended to be homophobic at times because of the pressure from my social groups.
When I moved to the UK, this Singaporean social stigma stuck with me. I recall an episode when I was having drinks at the Pembroke college bar with a couple of LGBTQ friends. A colleague walked in, and my immediate response was to hide behind the door. It was instinctive. I was terribly afraid of him finding out about my sexuality. My friends tried to alert my colleague of my presence which made me cower even more behind the door. I had let Singapore’s society instil fear in me.
After ten years of being in the UK, I’m in a much better place. Two significant moments helped me build the inner strength to be open about my sexuality. The first was when I started teaching at Wadham — I had students who were queer, transgender or non-binary. By just being myself, I became comfortable with my sexuality around my students and colleagues. The second was related to my interest — dance. I’d always thought social dancing was heteronormative, and being a male, I had to be the leader. During one dance lesson, there were too few female followers and I volunteered to be a follower although I was a little fearful. Despite facing awkward reactions from the male leaders, I persisted and since then, I was the follower for many subsequent lessons. My instructors started switching their terminology from “Guys” and “Girls” to “Followers” and “Leaders”. I have also noticed more same-sex couples at social dance events and male leaders now invite me to dance at a once heteronormative dance scene. It took me a lot of inner courage to step out of my comfort zone and be who I am in these situations.
I truly appreciate how the Oxford community has helped me grow to be who I am today—a gay conservationist passionate about wildlife preservation. It was a ten-year journey; initially imbued with fear, then self-doubt, and finally self-realisation. The community’s acceptance of who I am has given me fortitude and has enabled me to achieve my full potential in contributing towards biodiversity and environmental causes.