Cherry Tan
Jun 19, 2023

Pride Month: Coming out is a family affair

Singapore has turned a page on section 377A, but the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over. This Pride Month, Finn Partners' Cherry Tan shares her personal tale of struggles, stigma and coming out.

Photo: Unsplash
Photo: Unsplash

On 3 January 2023, history was made. After years of concerted, persistent activism by the local LGBTQ+ community, Section 377A—a colonial era law that criminalised sex between men – was officially struck off the books. While not actively enforced by the authorities, the law legitimised discrimination against the local queer community. Its repeal is a hard-won victory of queer activists in their push for acceptance and inclusivity.

Yet, queer struggles did not magically disappear overnight. With Parliament’s right to define marriage now enshrined in the constitution, the community has shifted gears to celebrate the families of LGBTQ+ people.

In this spirit, I’d love to talk about mine.

We come from a family of six, with our parents and two other siblings. My younger brother and I fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum—he is gay and non-binary, using he/they pronouns, while I identify as bisexual. Between my folks, my mum is extremely liberal for her time and is—in many of our friends’ words—“so cool.” Conversely, my dad is about as conservative as it gets amongst his generation, in the sort of half-jokingly "Okay boomer!" kind of way.

Coming out wasn’t always intuitive for me. As a straight-passing, cis Chinese-Singaporean woman, my majority privilege shielded me from the need and desire to identify with the queer community, even though I knew in theory, that they were “my people”. Only after exposing myself to more queer and intersectional literature, such as works from Jeannette Winterson, James Baldwin and Roxane Gay, was I more comfortable in identifying as bisexual. I also began to test the waters by asking my mum what she would do if any of her kids came out as LGBTQ+.

Each time, my mum simply responded, “There’s nothing wrong with that! Of course, I’ll still love you.”

I was empowered, not just by her acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, but her unconditional love for us, her children. Although it still took me a couple of years to come out to her, it went as smoothly as I could ask for. In fact, my mum was perplexed that I’d assumed it would be a big enough “problem” that I had to skirt around. She loved me for me, and that wasn’t about to change with my coming out. While I’ve kept mum (hah!) about my bisexuality to my father, I’m bolstered by the support of everyone else to live as I am, and would probably have no issues with him finding out.

Between my sisters and I, we like to joke that we’d always known our brother was gay. Growing up, he did not fit in with many of his male peers. He got along much better with the girls, and alongside “acceptable” interests for boys like Bakugan Battle Brawlers and swimming, he also had plenty of interests that were considered "feminine"—Winx Club, musical theatre, and drag.

I’d like to think his coming out to my mum, my sisters and me was as smooth as mine. We all sort of knew, and were happy that he could breathe easily with it being official information. It was trickier with my dad, who isn’t the most informed on navigating LGBTQ+ issues sensitively and was also the last to know. Drag added a layer of complexity—as dad was uneducated about the scene, only familiar with the trans and homophobic stereotypes he grew up with.

Here’s the silver lining: despite these deep-seated cultural norms, people can and do change. They just need time, some education, and a little love. As my brother embarks on his career as a drag queen (shameless follow plug here), we’re all firmly by his side. While we give him make up tips, zip him up in his outfits and share feedback on his performances, my dad takes the initiative to buy tickets to my brother’s gigs for our family. He even happily records videos of my brother’s drag performances. Heck, he even shared Wanda Sykes’ takedown of Dave Chappelles’ transphobic comments in our family chat! My dad may not quite get it sometimes, but he’s trying his best to show up. If that isn’t proof of his love, I don’t know what is.

We can’t choose the family we’re born into, but my family has shown me that we can choose to accept each member for who they are, and who they will become. They’ve stayed with my brother and I as we learn and grow to be our best and truest selves—that’s as beautiful and rewarding as a coming out can be.

Cherry Tan is a senior content specialist at Finn Partners.

Campaign Asia

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