PERSPECTIVE: “The repeal of section 377A of the Penal Code affects me not because I'm a homosexual, but because I'm a Singaporean.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced to the nation at this year's National Day Rally (Aug. 21) that the government will repeal section 377A of the Penal Code and decriminalise sex between men.
The founder of local advertising company Goodstuph, Pat Law, who identifies as non-binary, says the repeal opens doors for the next generation of LGBTQ+ folks to come out, and for good conversations between people with different views on the topic.
She also reflects on her own coming-out experience, and shares her views on growing up gay in Singapore.
By Pat Law, as told to Alfie Kwa
The repeal is a start
I was surprised because I didn't think the government had the balls.
Firstly, 377A is a very ridiculous law we should have abolished eons ago.
I ended up having an impromptu Goodstuph repeal 377A party because as an employer, I needed to set the tone.
The reaction in the office was very polarised. I heard people going from happy to angry.
I think those who went from happy to angry thought: "Finally, we did this. Wait a minute, why the hell did we have to even fight for this?"
So I get that. And some others go: “Yeah, it's very small, but yay. Let's move on.”
I know it's not a big win, but we need to stay positive. So I decided a win is still a win, let's celebrate it first.
One of the guys in the office asked me: "Why are you not angry?" I said it's not that I'm not angry but I implore you to keep your faith in Singapore.
If you don't keep your faith, you will shut that door down, and when you shut that door, it does not open up for the next generation of LGBT folks to come.
Repeal of 377A affects all of us
The repeal of section 377A of the Penal Code affects me not because I'm a homosexual, but because I'm a Singaporean. I believe very strongly about that.
To begin with, it is a crude law that strips my country from collective empathy and it definitely fuels bigotry because this very law states that gay men are not equal.
I have been reciting the pledge for how many years of my life and in school, and there is still a law that goes against the values of what we stand for, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.
Where's the justice and equality? I cannot recite my pledge without thinking about the hypocrisy.
First love at 15
I first realised I had feelings for girls when I was 15 and over at my best friend's house to study for the Chinese mock exam.
To me, she was my first love.
I thought to myself: “Hey, I might not be straight,” but I didn't know there wasn't a definition for it at that point.
Back in the day, we used to buy magazines from the newsstand at MRT stations.
There was one called Teenage magazine with a section, an Aunt Agony of sorts, which spoke about sexuality like: "I'm female, I like my female best friend, am I a lesbian?"
The cookie cutter reply was always: "It could just be that you’re going through a phase. You may not be gay."
And I remember believing that.
Before my best friend, I'd always thought about women in that way but I never acted on it.
What I had with her was a very genuine friendship which made it more confusing. I thought: “Do I have this friendship because I am gay?
Self-discovery is confusing. But over time, you’ll get to know who you are.
Yeah, it took a while to be clear like how I am right now.
I can be sexually attracted to both males and males and females, but emotionally I can only connect with a female.
And thanks to today's library of different definitions, I would identify as non-binary.
But it was far more convenient to say: “I'm gay,” it can be a very awkward first conversation with anyone, so I don't bother.
I guess I'm happy to say I'm gay. I'm also happy to say I'm non-binary.
Wrote a coming-out speech
I first outed myself when I was 17 to my secondary school volleyball teammates because I was the closest to them.
I prepared an essay with an introduction, body and closing. Basically, I wrote the whole script.
I remember getting through the introduction of my script during one of our regular dinners.
The build-up was so long, that I didn't even get to the body before my captain said: "Oh, I know what you're gonna say already, you're gay."
They were all new to it, nobody completely understood what it meant to be gay.
There were some questions we will deem offensive today, but I think they were genuine questions that didn't warrant my anger then.
So, one of them asked: "Did something happen to you? Were you raped?" Then I said to them: "No, I have a girlfriend right now."
There were maybe a few awkward moments but it quickly became like any conversation we’d have over a guy.
Wouldn’t have come out to mum
I was in my early 20s, barely out of polytechnic and at my first job when my then-girlfriend broke up with me and I came home crying.
I don't cry much, so when I did, my mum was worried.
She was trying to console me and said: "It's okay, don't cry, you can find somebody else.".
In the midst of being an emotional wreck, I ended up shouting at her and said, "Ma, are you stupid, I'm gay."
And then my mum being my mum, replied: "Of course, I know. You're gay. You think I'm stupid?"
The best part and I'll always remember this is when she said: "So many girls you bring home all best friends ah?"
It was an accidental relief for us because the truth was out in the open.
After that, I didn’t need to lie anymore, and I feel many LGBTQ+ people can relate to this – half of the time, it's just emotionally draining to live a lie.
Of course, my mum being my mum, had no boundaries and told the whole village. She probably saw it as her license to tell the world, and she did.
But honestly, despite knowing how good it turned out for me, I never wanted to out myself to my parents.
I know my mum is a product of her time, and she may view homosexuality in a certain way.
I don't think I had the right to change her, and I don’t want to hurt her.
Even today, knowing that my mum's more liberal than I thought, I still don't think I would have wanted to tell her.
It’s a very personal choice, there's no right and wrong to whether you should out yourself to your parents or not.
Scared people would talk behind her back
The very thought of being a lunch topic amongst colleagues going: "Hey, do you know Pat is gay?" made me sick to my stomach.
So I figured if my sexuality was so obvious, nobody would gossip behind my back.
Before I joined a new company, I was invited to their Christmas party and I could bring a plus one.
I decided I'm gonna bring my girlfriend and by doing so, they’ll already know I'm gay.
It's quite unusual because you’d do that if you're older or a bit more established in your career but I did it from day one. Maybe it was me projecting the fear of being discovered, but why should I fear being discovered?
Not getting upset by casual homophobia
Sometimes there are very ignorant, clueless Singaporean men who say to me: "Oh, you gay ah. Would you like to try my dick for affirmation?”
Rude as f**k, right? It's annoying but I don't get mad.
It was my opportunity to exercise my brain and have clever replies that would either end the conversation with an awkward laugh or we’d become good friends.
Overall, my experience as a gay person in Singapore has been pleasant, but I have a very, very supportive family, and that's important.
The people you love the most saying they’ll always be here for you no matter what gives me more confidence.
Likewise, the reverse is true. If the people you love the most abandon you, it will hurt you and scar you to some degree, right?
The clueless Singaporean man asked me if I wanted his dick for affirmation. It is rude but I cannot be certain he said that to hurt me.
There's a big difference. He could have said that because he thought it was funny or because he wasn’t thinking about others.
But did he say that with malice? I can't be sure. And that's something I have to constantly remind myself of in order not to get angry.
Gets people to talk and exchange perspectives
If knowledge is power then knowing what we don't know is always wisdom. And that needs to come from both sides.
I think the government's decision to repeal 377A unlocks a lot of conversations that are up to us to have.
It should be a two-way conversation, a good one is always two-way.
A great one is when you collect knowledge or a perspective you otherwise will not have.
Your mind should open to the acquisition of a new perspective.
My mum told me she never knew there was this law and went: “Huh, a gay man cannot have sex with each other? How come?"
I was trying to explain it to her and I said it in the most colloquial way possible. I said angmohs introduced the law in the 1930s during our colonial period.
Just like how my mum didn't know sex between men was illegal, and I had to explain it to her, I think the repeal will start a lot of conversations, especially online since Singaporeans tend to be a bit more outspoken online than they are offline.
And I think those are good conversations to have.
As any good conversation goes, it's always organic. It might be over your family dinner this weekend or at drinks with your friends tomorrow.
I hope we will be more empathetic as a society and more open-minded over time because culture is not produced in a day.
It will always take time and Singapore needs to discover who she is and what we all stand for.
Appreciate marriage more
The good thing about being gay is, I think, we tend to appreciate things a bit more and not take certain things for granted.
You dread hosting a wedding with 100 tables at Capella? I can’t even host my wedding in Singapore, even if I wanted to.
I’m having my wedding on 11.11 (Nov. 11). So, we are having our wedding in Tasmania. And that’s a far trip for anyone, about an eight-hour flight.
We have family members coming from Hong Kong and Singapore. I’m talking about 75 to 80-year-old uncles who said: “I'm going to the wedding.”
And, my mum is so stressed about having a tea ceremony.
She said to me, “Who's going first? No, we have to follow tradition.”
And I told her: “Ma, it's fine. You know this is not traditional, right?”
But, I'm appreciating every bit of it.
Also, being in this generation and being gay, you tend to work very hard.
I’m not saying straight people don’t work hard yeah, I’m saying that a BTO is not my birthright and at the very lowest end of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the shelter, doesn’t come cheap.
We aren’t able to apply for Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, and it makes a good number of us — I wouldn't say all of us — work so hard to afford private housing or to afford to travel to get married.
Now, that's not fair right? Because not everyone can do it.
But for now, that is our only choice, even in a post-377A Singapore.
Top images taken from Pat Law/IG.