Do you see anything positive about the gay community in the media? Do you see any real-life character that is publicly out, and who is an excellent example of a successful gay person (or at least a gay person who is happy and contented in life)?
No, right? There are none. This is at least true for the mainstream, mostly heterosexual, society in Singapore. Is it then unsurprising, that for most youths, part of their homophobia stems from the fact that to be gay is unthinkable? Because it seems like such a scary, unknown and helpless situation. Something that they cannot identify with in the mainstream media. People reject the unfamiliar after all.
Gay youths are often at a lost as to how to live their lives now that they know that they are different. There aren’t any guide books, or helpful resources in schools that will soothe their worries and affirm the normalcy of their feelings. Sexuality education does not touch on homosexuality at all. Teachers are perceived as the ’right’ role models to teach teenagers. However, by the decree of the government, they generally take on a homophobic stance despite their personal beliefs. Thus, many of us gay youths would feel apprehensive to approach teachers (even those who are obviously gay) for help and understanding. They are not the role models that they could potentially be, even though we desperately need them.
Who do we look towards then? For assurance and support? Mom and dad?? I’ve never heard of parents telling their kids nostalgically about their dalliances with homosexuality when younger, in case they feel that they might be steering the children in the ‘wrong direction’. Our parents are usually the end of the line in such matters. That last frontier of coming out to overcome. Though they may be our role models for various aspects of our lives, in that one area which we struggle with the most… they are absent. We see in them the hetersexual, nuclear family model. Something which we find hard to imagine for ourselves, for we cannot force ourselves to love in the name of compliance and conformity. What is straight love if it ain’t genuine? No, our parents are not our role models as we come out of the closet.
If learning to accept yourself and living as a minority is hard enough. Well, newsflash: Love is harder.
All around us… in movies, TV shows, books and magazines…. straight love overflows in abundance. There are millions of fictitious scenarios for hetersexuals to model their love and dating life after. In fact, there is a whole slew of properly mandated, tried and tested, dating SOPs (standard operating procedures) and formulae for the average heterosexual. There are a thousand and one dating tips and articles in teenage magazines, fantasy stories of prince charming and his beauty in chick flick movies, and even great works of heterosexual romance in our study literature (shakespeare anyone?). There are so many role models for the heterosexual romance.
But what about the average GLBT? There is no social scripting for us to follow. That can be a good thing actually, as we do not have to follow stuffy social rules and can be creative in the way we date and love. But first and foremost, it leaves many of us confused and completely clueless about love. Yes, love. We feel its emotions and that painful tugging of the heart strings… We are all pros at being that silent, secret admirer, harbouring our love for another in the safe depths of the heart. But do we know anything about finding love? Chasing love? First of all, most of us (well, at least for me) have a hopeless gaydar. And unfortunately, teenage magazines aren’t particularly keen on publishing articles such as, “101 tips: How to tell if she bats for the other team”. Our straight peers and friends too, though they may be our role models for academic excellence or atheletism, aren’t that helpful when it comes to lesbian dating. (How would they know?) We have no role models when it comes to love….
But the most important of all…we lack a certain role model in the public arena, which if present, would send a message to all scared and questioning youths that… despite what others say, you can have a future if you are gay. A gay person in the public eye, who has been successful in many aspects of his/her life (career, family, relationship or otherwise). Sure, one can say that we do not lack gay champions. There are many in the West. Ellen Degrenres, Rosie O’ Donnel, whatever. But they are too far away and distant. Living in a society so different and much less conservative than ours. Their situation is different. How could a gay youth look upon them and see a future? A future in the West perhaps. That’s the problem, you see? We need a gay role model in our society. Singapore society. In the Singapore GLBT community, you actually do see many. But in the larger context of greater Singapore society, none are publicly out…. for being out in public could possibly be social and career suicide.
As long as we lack role models, there will still be many youths who feel that to be gay is to be condemned. That there is no such thing as a ‘happily ever after’ if you’re queer. For us youths, it’s as though there is a big gaping hole in the imagination of your future. A hole that appears when you realise that the ‘husband, two kids, condo and car’ dream may not be exactly what you’re looking for. Or more likely, the ‘husband’ bit is not what you’re looking for. What do I dream about then? In place of this ‘dream’ which once seemed appealing but now seems more prison than paradise to me? What future do I have??? If I don’t fit into that cookie-cutter version of happiness I see perpetuated everywhere around me. The fact that Singapore society and coughahemcough, is still homophobic in general.. it seems that to swim against the tide is futile. Conformity seems a better, ’safer’ option. And the reason for that is becos we don’t seem to have a choice. There are no role models to prove to us that we have a choice to live as the people we are. That we do not need to suppress or hide in a life of pretense, in order to find happiness.
The truth is, we still have a long road to travel to achieve that level of gay-friendliness in our own homeland. Many more teens will stay in the closet, and try their darndest to emulate that model of happiness that the media churns out, their parents lecture to them about, and that which the government tries to promote. And they will not know that the idea of ‘a heterosexual married life being the only key to happiness’ … is a myth. Your happiness and life fulfilment isn’t governed by your sexuality.
We need our role models now more than ever.