Captain Astro

22nd January 2011, Saturday

I am trying to make sense of what has happened to me since last week, and where my life is heading henceforth. Last Saturday, I came out to my parents. I told them I am gay. Why? Because they confronted me with what passes today for “prophetic truth”, i.e. what the latest Indian astrologer had predicted in my ஜாதகம் (astrology, in Tamil). Of all the ways of my parents finding out about my sexuality, this one is the least expected. I still find it hard to believe. I had long since been suspicious of the dubious art, even before I turned to atheistic thoughts. Anyway this is what the astrologer predicted, according to my parents’ account last Saturday.

1) I am having this “weakness” in marriage.

2) Astrologer did not really know how to describe this “weakness”.

3) When my father asked, “Is it between man and woman?”, he said no. “Man to man?”. The astrologer at this point nodded his head or tapped the table with both index fingers in agreement (probably both).

4) Captain Astro (I shall refer to the astrologer in this way henceforth) then assured my mum that this is a “passing weakness” and can be cured through prayer.

5) For the next few months till October, I would experience “சனி தோஷம்” (bad / unlucky period, in Tamil).

6) I would not get married till 37 years of age, when I would meet a “strong woman who will be an asset to me”.

I had a long hard talk with them about how I had felt different, and attracted to men since Primary Two. I had the sense to conceal from them certain habits of mine, including going to spas. Even my brother had prudently concealed his own sexual exploits before telling my parents about his girlfriend. My parents belong to a different era altogether, one in which pre-marital sex of any kind was a big NO-NO. Mum took the news of her “golden boy’s” sexuality very hard. She could not understand how a Primary 2 kid could even have such thoughts. She thinks a kid at that age could not possibly “know” anything, so assuming I was gay at age, 8, is just preposterous. There’s the good, old “You know nothing, so shut up, 1980’s died-in-the-wool MOE teacher” resurfacing. Even now, she thinks her 30 year old son has insufficient experience to “decide or know” if he is gay or straight. She will never understand that it is not a choice for me, though I have pointed out to her that could never “choose” for myself a “lifestyle” that I knew would bring pain and suffering and no uncertain amount of shame to myself and my family. Logical arguments do not work with her.
She made me place my hands on Guruvayurappa’s (a Hindu god) feet – in the picture – and started sobbing uncontrollably, pleading with him to cure her son, crying, “I do not want a gay son” repeatedly. I have never seen her cry so pitiably in my life, and I doubt my brother had done anything to make her this upset in the past, – all the more my sense of guilt and shame to cause this much pain. At that point, between my mother’s tears on my back, I stared, and stared, and stared at Guruvayurappa’s face and one emotion prevailed in me. Anger. Anger at an impotent, non-existent god in whom my mother placed so much faith – faith that was not rewarded. Anger at myself for being born and causing her to cry like this. Anger at a family culture of rewarding “toeing-the-line” while punishing any sign of untowardness or deviance. Anger at Indian “traditional culture” that valued கெளரவம் (Tamil for honesty/honour) above love and respect for the individual.
Mum wanted me to promise I would never associate with gays again. To this, I gave no reply. I knew I could not keep such a promise for long. In this at least, I am certain. I cannot allow my parents, or stars, or complete strangers who look at the stars expecting life-altering answers – instead of over-strained irises and lenses – to dictate my life. As long as I live under their roof however, I still need to abide by their rules and that means at least pretending to pray (both in the prayer room and yes, at the temple – they actually want me to start going to temple every Saturday. I have reasoned with them, this is not going to help me or change me in the slightest, but they do not want to entertain the opinions of an atheist (and therefore ignorant) son.

I invited my brother over for dinner on Friday and came out to him as well. His immediate reaction was a painful grimace. He seemed to think I could change by mixing more with girls. Then he contradicted himself by mentioning his lack of shock at my revelations. He suspected I was gay all these long years, yet explained this away as my own tendency to “do what I like, only, and therefore stick to the same kind of people only”. If that were the case, I could definitely have straightened out since I only started to befriend people who I knew to be gay in NS! Since sexuality is most often determined before the age of 7-8, how could I possibly have been attracted to men all those years before NS, without having contact with a single gay? Will further explanations and counter-arguments help these people understand? No. They are oblivious to logic. I am considering showing them “Prayers for Bobby”, since movies have a way of conveying emotional messages more to my mum. My only fear is they will be so scared I will commit suicide after watching it.

Another option is really appealing to me now. Find a job overseas and leave this country and my bigoted family. The only problem is of course, getting the job first. Even if my family does accept me, what hope is there of setting up a “gay family” in Singapore? What is the point of living with a loving man if I cannot express that love in public, indeed in a society that does not even endorse consensual sex between 2 males? A more temporary solution is to find some friends and rent a place here. At the very least, it would assert my independence. But is all this worth sacrificing the many comforts and conveniences of living here with my parents? Money is also a key issue. Do I have enough to support myself? I cannot believe all this is happening just because of the incredibly lucky and intuitive guess of Captain Astro.

Back to Basics

Today’s the end of my first week at the magazine office and once again, I feel lost, angry and pitiful – not because of the job – but this time because of my parents – AGAIN. They called me down for one of their talks. The following might contain scenes that may induce high-blood pressure, cardiac arrest, palpitations, shock, etc. Reader discretion is advised, but where’s the fun in that?

Mum: S, we want to let you know that whatever you do outside, affects all of us and people will know. Secondly, we don’t ask anything of you, only that you help a little here and there, like after my operation. Other than that, we manage on our own.

Me: Please get to the point.

Mum: Okay, Someone told us that you do to this, “Gay Massage Spa”, every Saturday *Pointing to the words in air, almost like she’s reading them off a screen*. So how do you think we feel hearing this?

Me: *Pulling on my best Poker Face (hopefully!)* This is a lie. Who’s been telling you these lies?

Mum: I am not telling, but this cannot be a lie.

Me: So you’d rather believe strangers than your own son?

Mum: *Silence* You must remember…when I went to the astrologer in KL, he said your brother is very straight, no problems with him, but your second son… would do many FOOLISH things in his life.

Me: So it comes down again to whether you trust the astrologer or me, your own flesh and blood. Let me make one thing clear. I have told you many times before, I am gay, homosexual. I am not going to change. Both of you live in your own world thinking some day, I am going to marry a “strong girl” when I turn 37 and live happily ever after- just because this astrologer says so. You want me to live a lie – YOUR lie. You want me to live a life of misery. I will not let that happen, and… if you force me, I will just have to leave the family, even the country. I hardly meet these people, what, twice a year? I don’t give a damn what they think. Sooner or later, everyone’s going to find out I am gay and they’ll be just like you…unable to accept my sexuality. Let alone a boyfriend or husband – if I ever get one, that is.

Mum: S, this is a promise, we will not force you to do anything.

Me: Obviously, if you can question my integrity and honesty, you don’t trust me. You trust whoever is spreading these rumours more. You don’t even want to believe me. So why should I trust your word?

Mum: We were just asking if this is true. What is wrong with asking?

Me: What is wrong is you’ve already decided that I am lying and secondly, you choose to trust someone else’s accusation over my word. Now are you going to tell me who’s spreading the rumour?

Mum: No. If this is the way you talk to us, no.

Me: Then good. Let me give you a choice then. If you want me to ever speak to you again, you will tell me who this person is. Obviously, it is someone close to the family, or you would not believe them so readily. Make your choice.

Mum: S, you must not say things like this, you must talk to your mother.

Me: You do not care about my happiness. You, like all your favourite Asianet and SUNTV characters, care only about preserving your மானம் (Tamil for respect or dignity) and கெளரவம் (Tamil for honesty).

*prolonged devastating silence*

Me: All this boils down to one thing. I am your son. Do you accept that?

Mum: Yes

Me: I am your gay son. Do you accept that?

Mum: …….(The look on her face says everything)

Me: Then if you cannot accept me, even though I have told you this for more than one year, I have little choice but to leave the family. Ever since the day I sat down with both of you and came out to you, I’ve seen the looks on your faces. I knew in my heart that you, let alone the extended family, would never accept my homosexuality. I knew from day one, that I would have to leave this family, even this country, if I wanted to be a happy, free gay man.

Mum: No S, we do not want you to leave (*tearfully*)

Me: Then you know what you have to do. I have to go up now and do some work.

As I stewed in my room the whole night, my first priority was to find out who’s been ratting on my activities. And as I lowered my eyes from the monitor, something caught my eye. The credit card bill lying on my desk in plain sight, so tempting to the prying eye, the nosy mother. Therein lay all the details of my expenses, including: R Spa and S Spa. Just that morning, I had decided to leave the bill on my table – half out of weary, half-awake morning laziness, and half out of trust that my parents would choose to respect my privacy and not open up the folded bill – trust that I now know is misplaced.

Mum did make her point though. I was being very foolish wasting so much money on spas. I suspect the $1000-over bill total shocked her more than the outlets of my sexual frustration. I was flouting my own rules on expenditure. I was not saving enough money and at this rate, all my ambitions of leaving the nest, cutting the apron strings seemed defrauded of any value. My words are hollow.

As I read No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, by Kee Thuan Chye, further into the night, I started to feel a sense of shame. All my blustering at my parents, was little more than political rhetoric because I’d not translated it into any concrete action plan. All my talk of homophobia, acceptance, etc, was no better than Najib’s 1Malaysia – politicospeak to delay a day of action, a day of change, and further entrench the status quo firmly into an indefinite future. I lied to my parents about not going to these gay spas simply because my sexual activities are my private affairs – not theirs. I act responsibly and take all necessary precautions, but to explain all of this to them? Puhlease… they can’t even get around the fact that I am attracted to men, in spite of all the reading materials I’ve presented for their convenience, and all the times I’ve patiently explained what it means to be a gay man. These people have far deeper issues with superstition, astrology, family reputation and a deep distrust of “the other”, that hinder any progress in understanding their son. I don’t expect them to tell me how they “got it on” in order to conceive me, so I expect them to return the favour. Lying to them about this matter makes me slightly queasy but in light of their blatant invasion of my privacy, stubborn refusal to let me run my own life, and unquestioning reliance on dubious astrologers, I have to say, I feel like a saint. Lying to myself on the other hand, is a different matter altogether. I was under a painful delusion that I had it “all planned out”, and this incident served as a timely reality check.

1) I must stop the spa visits – at least for one month, following which a monthly session would be my allocated maximum, as dictated by my savings rules.

2) I must go to the gym on weekends

How is the above an action plan? Firstly, it will save me about $657 a month in foregone massages. Secondly, going to the gym is going back to the fundamentals. The mind is rooted in my body and I need to take care of it. I don’t have a choice. Thirdly, all that saved money goes straight to my emergency fund, and on top of that requirement, my funds for an overseas Masters degree to get out of Singapore. I cannot look too far ahead – my future still looks murky. But at least I have got a better job and that’s my silver lining. I have a good feeling about this place, not like my previous job, and I am positive that I have not done “anything foolish” by joining this place. A return to basics – taking care of myself, is in order.

I still feel tired and distressed. My body is aching from my run yesterday, but more than that, I feel raw and exposed after my run-in with the parents. Whitney Houston’s My Love is Your Love keeps running in my head like a broken record, rapidly followed by Kurt Hummel’s rendition of I Have Nothing. The latter seems especially apt. I literally have nothing, nothing, nothing… . Just this morning, It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay pounded in my head like a pulsing tumour as I plodded my way down Smith Street to office. And last night, How Will I Know lulled me to sleep with bittersweet tears on my pillow. How will I know if I’ll ever make it? How will I ever know if death is preferable to this mockery of life?

I know that my personal mourning for Whitney comes months too late, and might appear a tad mawkish. But just like the kids in the Glee tribute, I am in circumstances that make me sympathise with Whitney’s fate and her loss. She had drugs – I had gay massage. She was all alone, abandoned. Me – I’ve never known a lover. Her loved ones tortured her – my parents torture me with spiteful words of intolerance. She tried to be strong when the world had weakened her; me, I’m still struggling. I don’t know if I’m strong (or rich) enough to last as long as she did. I seem to draw strength and ideals from suicidal role models like Whitney and Bobby Griffith. Does that mean I’m going to end up like them – dead in a bath-tub or with my innards splattered across a highway – respectively?

Does Singapore Need a Bobby Griffith?

Sometimes, I think we do need our own Bobby Griffith to shake us out of our intellectual torpor, ignore the rhetoric and focus on why gay marriage is important and necessary. Because nothing forces us to scrutinise our actions and policies more, than staring at the cold, pitiless face of death. Even more painful, is the tragedy of a young suicidee. As I scanned through the comments on TOC on a Straits Times article about how gay marriage somehow undermines the “trademark” value of marriage, I became incensed as I observed how willing some people were to blatantly ignore the facts, skew a very simple issue of rights with vague notions of “morality and ethics” and suppress the rights of a minority simply because they are a minority and therefore undeserving. (see:

One commenter in particular raised my hackles and prompted my lengthy post, which I repeat here.

@BlueDot: you claim your concern is ” that marriage has a historical/traditional /cultural dimension that we should not dismiss so easily without first considering if society is ready for it.” This is exactly the kind of disingenuous pseudo social-intellectual argument that slavery proponents used in America to prop up their slavery traditions. They would have us think slavery has “strong, deep roots” in our culture – the undermining of which would tear society down. What they really were defending was their own systematic, cruel oppression and enslavement of a people they could barely come to see as human beings with feelings and basic rights as equal as their own. If slavery abolitionists and blacks had politely waited for society to be “ready for change”, I’m prepared to bet there would have been no civil rights movement, no Martin Luther King, nothing.
The very same “cultural” arguments were used by white supremacists centuries later to openly ban interracial marriage in America. They claimed marrying a black would spoil the white gene pool, lead to social chaos, destruction of American family values etc. Today, there is still some prejudice against interracial marriage, but noone can say that the level of anti-interracial union rhetoric has increased. The fact is, that it has decreased plenty, thanks in large part to abolition of the anti-interracial marriage laws. It is common now to find interracial couples in pop culture and white-black couples are so many, you’d be hard-pressed to find any raised eye-brows. Without this crucial piece of legislation flying in the face of a “conservative majority”, there is no way that Americans would have come to accept interracial marriage as legitimate and fruitful and moved on.
When you claim you are so concerned if “society” is ready for legalising gay marriage, aren’t you really saying that you yourself are not ready for it? You seek comfort in the existence of a supposed majority who are not ready for gay marriage. I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a gay Singaporean who happens to have a loving monogamous partner. Of course, you will be a minority – but does that mean you are any less entitled to marry the love of your life, when in fact you have satisified all requirements for a loving long-term relationship – the very foundation of strong family values – the very same values the majority loves to trumpet in their cause? Would you patiently wait for society to evolve, or would you do everything in your power to change it, no matter how little? If you think the majority – if it exists – has every right to deny the right of marriage to a minority, then aren’t you allying yourself with the values promoted by the pro-slavery, pro-white supremacist movements? Are you that bigoted?
I honestly don’t think you are. The problem is, your words and actions are discriminating and hurting people – people who may be your beloved friends and family. Has anyone ever come out of the closet to you? Just because they have not done so, or you have not suspected any “queerness”, does not mean none of your loved ones are gay. The reality might surprise you. I challenge you to ask yourself, if your son / daughter / any loved one comes out to you, what would you say to them? Words of comfort, to wait for Singapore to evolve, to get out of the country, or to fight for your rights?
Or in another case, assuming that you are happily married in heterosexual bliss, and a friend/family comes out to you. It looks like their homosexual relationship is serious and monogamous. Can you honestly look at your own wedding ring in the same way again? Or to go even further, let’s say you are going to get married to your girlfriend. Now your best buddy comes out of the closet and introduces his boyfriend of 5 years going strong. You know very well they can never marry in Singapore. Would you still marry your girl knowing fully well your buddy deserves the right just as much as you? Or would you just tell them, “Yeah it sucks to be you”, and laugh it off like the trivial matter it is?
Even better – would you give them one of your platitudes, like, “If it can be done without formenting anarchy, i see no reason why gay couples cannot be accorded the same rights as straight couples.”? If you still do, I grant, you may have their safety at heart and don’t want them to get hurt in a gay bashing. Still, aren’t you telling them to just give up, and let others do the fighting just because “society is not ready for it”? If every person thought like you, would society even function, let alone progress? Is your love for them really conditional on their conforming to your vision of a heterosexual normative Singapore transitioning peacefully towards gay acceptance at an intolerably glacial pace? Just because you have been handed the privelege to marry on a silver platter, through no special effort of yours, does not mean you get to withold that right to others. Neither does it mean you get to patronisingly tell gays to “calmly wait their turn” without inducing provocation – that’s just a delaying tactic in political parlance – and the worst kind of insult to our intelligence.