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The Chiongs on Queer Politics, Media and Kids

Written by alina on . Posted in Family

Sayoni sat down for a chat with Olivia and Irene Chiong last year. The Chiongs have been receiving some attention in recent years, with Olivia’s blog gaining traction online and their same-sex parenting group (Rainbow Parents) advocating for equality for LGBT parents and children. But over the course of the interview, it became clear that Irene and Olivia do not want to be solely defined by their same-sex parenting activism. Other topics that came up in the course of the chat included media representation, children's rights, and queer politics. Olivia has released her first book, The Unbusy Entrepreneur and is taking preorders for her second book, titled Baby Zoey: Our Search for Life and Family.

Note: The views represented here are those of the individuals and may not represent Sayoni's stand.

Irene (left) and Olivia. Photo courtesy of the Chiongs

How would you describe yourself?

Irene: I've done quite a bit of queer activism and language activism, working on issues that affect me personally. I would like to work on issues that don't affect me personally, like racism or transgender issues. I'm a queer parent. I'm also interested in the intersections between feminism and the tech space; other related issues are sex work, queer rights and transgender rights. I don't want to use the umbrella term "queer rights" to cover transgender rights, because there are unique challenges.

Olivia: I'm an accidental activist. Still accidental after all these years. I like to think that I put my family first at this point in my life. I'm enjoying my work and hoping to build an empire helping small business owners. My politics are different from Irene's, in that I'm passionate about things that touch me personally. For example, encountering someone who is transgender helped me to understand and want to contribute to that.

What's the image you're trying to present?

Irene: I'm not trying to present an image, but I don't want to buy into the thinking that queer rights is based on being safe, monogamous and having children. It should not be the case. So part of me is thinks that we shouldn't be so visible, not because I am closeted, but because queer rights is about everybody.

You mean it should be about the whole spectrum of queer people and not just a certain group.

Irene: Yeah, not only monogamous, married queer couples are entitled to certain rights. I'm quite uncomfortable with using couples or families as the face for queer rights.

Mothers’ Day 2007

Written by Jin on . Posted in Family

Just some thoughts on what I did on Mothers’ Day this year.

I normally have lunch every Sunday with my uncle and aunt. Usually it is just the three of us (since my grandfather passed away, my cousin went to study in Sydney and my sister moved to Malaysia). On Mothers’ Day my aunt and her siblings were doing a big family lunch with their mum, and they invited me to join them. My partner was not invited, because I am only out to my aunt and uncle (not to her extended family), and also because they still think it is wrong and they disapprove.

So lunch was at a lovely Thai restaurant and the food was delicious. It was all very “decent” and “civilised”, by which I mean that there was no mention of my partner. But of course how could there have been when the majority of the company do not know about us.

I think that being in the closet is both an active and passive thing. It is like walking a tightrope, a delicate balancing act. It is like sitting on one of those large rubber balls supposed to strengthen your core muscles; your aim may be to remain perfectly still but you are expending lots of energy just to maintain your balance on the bouncy sphere.

That is how I feel when I am with company that I am not out to. I feel as if I am always on guard, holding my breath in case they ask me the dreaded “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”, double-filtering all my words before they come out of my mouth, and other fun varieties of mental Solitaire.

So let’s move on to dinner on Mothers’ Day. My partner was planning to bring her parents out for dinner, and she suggested I join them. My relationship with them is cordial, at most. The main reason for this is the language barrier. Secondary reason is that my partner and I mostly hang out at my place, so I haven’t met her parents very frequently. However those times that we have met, they have been friendly and kind towards me. We also think that they do realise that we have some kind of relationship going on, even though my partner has never actually talked to them about anything gay-related.

Dinner was at a very crowded eating-house nearby. They managed to get a table while I was parking the car. Food was also very good. Conversation was pretty mundane, the superficial type of chatter that you can have with people whom you don’t know well, in a language which you failed in school.

But throughout dinner, it did not feel awkward at all (aside from the awkwardness of my Chinese). I felt welcome and accepted. It was not strained, forced or contrived. My partner’s parents seemed to be quite happy, acting normally and enjoying the food. I was happy.

The contrast struck me as interesting.

Lunch with my aunt and uncle (who I am out to) and her family. I felt like I was hiding, and trying to be someone whom I’m not.

Dinner with my partner’s family. We have never actually declared to them that we are in a relationship, but from what they can figure out, I am the only Girl-Friend who is brought home. Many dissimilarities between me and them in terms of background, language etc. But I felt safe and welcome.

Disclaimer: I am aware that there may be many reasons and contributing factors to explain why the lunch and dinner turned out so differently. However, if I start all the conjecture and hypothesis, I would be perhaps-ing and on-the-other-hand-ing until the cows come home and no closer to a concrete answer. Thus I have chosen to focus on the way that that day made me feel, because my feelings cannot be reasoned away.

Set parents FREE!

Written by AnJ on . Posted in Family

I had the chance to pass by a certain glass panel in a door and saw this frail old man, head bent, in his scratchy blue hospital outfit, hunched over in the chair. His masculine daughter towered above him, in a motion as if to embrace and comfort.

It was a fleeting poignant picture- it wouldn’t have been polite to linger.

What i came to learn after grieved me a lot more.

He told his daughter this:
He’s sorry that she turned out the way she did (lesbian), attributing lesbianism to the way he neglected her in her childhood.

This is a real twist of an already warped theory. The original crap-theory said that effeminate men are made because of an absent father- neglect- and hence they attach themselves to their mothers. Since mothers are feminine, these men turn out feminine. So, adapting this to females, there should be an absent mother, not an absent father. Hence, without a feminine mother to follow, she emulated her masculine father. Makes sense right?

What bothers me most is the self-condemnation that parents put themselves through for the sexual orientation of their children. Condemnation kills! It eats away at their bodies. Somehow, somewhere, someone has got to tell them that sexuality is not something that can be manipulated. [Remember what sexuality entails- it’s comprehensively includes behavior and thought processes.] Just because one of your kids is gay (if you have many children, it’s unlikely that all are gay), it doesn’t mean it is because of incompetent parenting.

Incompetent parenting does not give you gay kids.
Competent parenting does not give you straight kids.

Incompetent parenting predispose your children to other risks- if they have no other resources. Which is rarely the case. The importance of a supportive external family or a close network of neighbours and friends, which most children have, cannot be undermined. How many of us had our lives impacted by the wise words of a teacher, an elder, the Aunt who lives down the corridor etc?

Stop putting heavy heaVY heAVY hEAVY HEAVY burdens on the shoulders of parents! [All you imbeciles of Crazy Religious Pharisees!]


When i came out to my mother, she asked me, ‘Is it my fault? Is there something i did?’

I gave her a resounding no, offering academic perspectives to her. It’s time we move away from passe theories that are now studied in literature. It’s time we empower our parents and free them from all these inflictions of condemnation, which stems from a lack of access to resources.

Our parents deserve our protective love and affections.


I survived my sister’s wedding Part II

Written by Jin on . Posted in Family


So, now that I had bought a dress, I had to face the issue of make-up (no pun intended). I actually had already started thinking about make-up months before. At first, I had thought I could get away with not wearing any make-up to the wedding. But then various people started telling me that I had to. OK, they didn’t say it was compulsory, but the person who managed to convince me was my colleague (different from the dress-shopping one, but also another straight female one) who told me “If you are not wearing make-up, and when you take photos with your sister or the others who are wearing make-up, then you will look like a ghost in contrast to them.” No, my colleagues are not big on subtlety.

Before I continue, I should perhaps explain that I have a love-hate relationship with make-up. It goes beyond mere unfamiliarity due to never wearing any. I actually do believe that make-up is a form of oppression. Why do women have to go through so much effort just to look natural ? Don’t they look natural to begin with, the way they were created? Why is it normal for a man to spend just 5 minutes getting ready to leave the house, but unheard of for a woman? And obscene amounts of women’s salaries go to keeping the cosmetics industry probably the largest industry in the world.

I survived my sister’s wedding!

Written by Jin on . Posted in Family

Part I
My sister got married in October last year. It was an event which caused me many mixed emotions, and I haven’t even finished ‘processing’ the whole episode with my counsellor. But perhaps for Part 1 of this narrative I should start with the funny trivial incidents, and leave the serious emo stuff to later posts.

My sister wanted the colour theme to be Blue&Silver. She decided that her bridesmaid, and other key people, be dressed in some shade of light blue. So, it was off to find a proper dress for myself. I wasn’t the bridesmaid (thankfully) but nonetheless had to get something halfway decent, as would no doubt be appearing in a dozen or so photos.

The words “jin” and “dress” rarely appear in the same sentence, so I enlisted the help of a colleague and went shopping one Saturday afternoon. Thank goodness for straight colleagues blessed with a sense of fashion.

So off we went to a shopping mall, and located a shop specialising in pretty gowns and party frocks. Shiny, satiny, flowy, sexy… and that was just the gowns in the store window. I was visibly nervous at having to step into the shop. I spent a good few minutes inspecting the window display, the miniature pool of water with its plastic flowers swirling at the mannequins’ feet. And all this while stalling for time making inane conversation with my tolerant colleague. Though it turned out to be a good thing eventually, because I stumbled upon the subject of footwear. She quickly informed me that “you have to wear strappy heels with the gown. If you wear closed shoes, you will look like an auntie”. But but but they do not make girly strappy heels in size 41 … “No, you will not look nice at all” …Oh great now I have to embark on a mission to find shoes as well….

So I finally mustered up courage to step into the shop. I do like looking at elegant gowns and all that, but to picture myself in one of them took all the strength of my imagination. My philosophy is COMFORT. My favourite material is cotton. My shoes are all sensible. There is a shop I buy many of my clothes from; the lady working there thinks I am a teacher. (Well, close enough: I work in healthcare. No one would fault you for dressing for practicality.)

Anyway, back to my fashion escapade. I finally found a dress that I didn’t mind trying on. It was a pale shimmery blue, bias-cut ankle-length thing, with a strap / sash over one shoulder so it looked like a Roman toga. Inside the fitting room, I wiggled and struggled into it, paranoid that I would rip some stitches. (Unlike t-shirts, it would not have stretched. Of course.) Managed to jiggle myself into it eventually. But horror of horrors, I could not breathe. Well, OK, I could only take small shallow breaths. I was struck with the thought of 18th Century ladies with their corsets, and the men armed with smelling salts to revive them when they fainted. Serious conflict with dyke image…

“Hey, it suits you!” my colleague said, when I drew back the curtain. “Yes, but I can’t breathe” I whispered. “Ah, yes breathing is important,” she agreed “your sister will say, I told you to get a blue dress, not turn blue yourself!” So we abandoned the shop, and continued to search elsewhere.

Dozens of shops later, we drifted to yet another mall. I finally managed to find an outfit which a) was my size, b) didn’t make me look fat, and c) allowed me to breathe. I immediately decided to buy it, and was very relieved that my quest was completed. And in the end, when I wore it at the wedding, people did tell me I looked nice.

Morals of the story:
1) Be adventurous! It is safe to try new things, provided you have adequate supervision.
2) An outsider’s point of view is often very valuable
3) Persevere and you will find what you want
4) Fashionable female straight friends are very useful!

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