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?

You Young People! Tsk tsk tsk…

In response to: http://pdfcast.org/pdf/the-young-singaporean-adult

I think the title of the article, “The Young Singaporean Adult”, already gives us a clue to what the contents are going to be like. It smacks of that arrogant, condescending and patronizing attitude I associate with un-innovative old farts and bigots who seek only to label and belittle “young upstarts”. And the article does not disappoint. What we read is not so much a stinging critique (because any coherent critique must be even-handed and explore the other side of the story), but rather, a grotesque caricature of young Singaporean working adults. If you replace all the terms referring to young Singapore adults in this article, with words like, Jew, Black, Moslem, Marxist, homo and faggot, you will instantly recognise the shadows of some pretty racist, homophobic propaganda – the type of media that we readily denounce today with good reason. Because we know better.
If the article was interested in being objective and even-handed, it would cover or at least follow-up with the other side of the story- namely, “The Singaporean Employer”. My own anecdotal experience with Singaporean employers has been anything but inspiring, creative, innovative, risk-seeking. In fact, the opposite is true. In the last year alone, I have attended 6-7 job interviews, all of which were dead-ends. In most cases, the employers said I did not have the required experience to do the job. Even when I replied that I was very willing and able to learn new skills on the job, the response was in the negative. I am not even talking about a complete switch in career fields – these positions required skills – 60-70% of which I already had 3 years worth. These employers just want an effective clone to replace the staff who just left; they are not interested at all in “taking a risk” with a new employee. As for venturing out of their comfort zones, need I say more? If young Singaporean adult workers really are as “risk-averse”, as the article claims, then surely it’s partly because they are following the shining example set by their bosses?

 
The article also alleges the prevalence of a mindset, where if young Singaporean employees are unhappy, they just quit and leave for greener pastures. This acute observation, while true, applies to the majority of employees all over the world today. In fact, the observation is belated since management gurus have talked about the phenomenon for at least 10 years. Fact: most fresh-graduates stay in their first jobs for an average of 2-3 years maximum. And with even government agencies doing away with life-time/ permanent employment, and resorting more to short-term 2-3 year contracts (yes the contracts are always renewable, but the threat of a terminated contract always hangs over an employee’s head), is it any wonder that young Singaporean adults feel unhappy, unappreciated or as if they are on permanent probation? Can you honestly blame young Singaporeans for not sticking it out with an employer that’s failed to secure their loyalty? Can you blame young Singaporeans for being human?

 

Feeling the “itch” to leave one’s job is not so much of a sin, as the article would have us believe. It could mean that the young Singaporean adult is itching to break out of their comfort zone and take a risk with their next job or business venture, which ironically is what the education minister and CEOs want after all. If the higher-ups are serious about addressing the issues of lack of innovation, creativity and risk-taking, then surely a similar performance review of Singapore employers in these critical areas is in due order. It’s high time that Singapore’s employers’ commitment to innovation, creativity and risk-taking were subject to serious, independent scrutiny.