The book SQ21: Singapore queers in the 21st century is not just a first for Singapore, but a first for all of Asia. A compilation of personal stories by 15 individuals, it speaks of self-discovery, rejection by family, coming out, love…. and much more.
It is the ‘much more’ that is much, much more.Â In a country where homosexual sex is still a criminal offence, where the state policy, particularly over the media,Â is that homosexuality should be cast in the most negative light, and where stereotype, socialÂ prejudice and job discriminationÂ are seldom checked, the 15 people run considerable personal risks by agreeing to be featured.
As Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh (founders of one of Singapore’s most popular websites, Talking Cock) said in their foreword,
while we recognise the stories in this book as ordinary accounts of human beings with flaws, we were also struck by the sheer courage displayed by the contributors - the real names, real photographs, real stories, and perhaps the real cost that must be paid for such candour. We feel outraged and saddened by the tragic irony: that to be accepted as ‘ordinary’ requires an act of superhuman bravery.
Sam Wu, the compere, and Ng Yi-Sheng, the writerÂ
The book is based on interviews by Ng Yi-Sheng (above right)Â over the past year. Even transcribing the interviews was a transgressive endeavour, undermining a lifetime of social courtesy. Yi-Sheng recalls an encounter fromÂ Chinese New Year with an 80something year old widow and neighbour.
Neighbour: These are nice pineapple tarts.
My mother: Yes, why don’t you tell Mrs Gan about the nice book you’re writing?
Yi-Sheng: Yeah, um, it’s a book on homosexuality in Singapore.
Neighbour: Oh my. Is it rampant?
At the launch held at Mox, packed with a capacity crowd of 200-300 people and emcee’d by Sam Wu (above left), 3 contributors - Jeremy Kwok, Nicholas Deroose, Lu Huen - spoke about why they chose to come out as publicly as this. Sheila Rajamanikam read a passage from her story, as did Khoo Hoon Eng, who is not gay, but a mother of 2 gay sons.
I guess before that I had my suspicions. I sort of knew, and yet at the same time, it’s not something you ask. You don’t go to your son and say, “So, are your gay?” after all.
And yet, when he actually announced it to me, I was still so stunned. My first thought was, “He’s going to have a really tough life.” It wasn’t me that I was worried about, I was worried for him. He was still my son.
Khoo Hoon EngÂ bantering with Sam Wu
Khoo was not the only parent of gay children there. Some of the contributors had their families at theÂ event too. The support that these families demonstrate should put a lie to the belief that Asian families cannot accept gay and lesbian children.
SQ21 is available from leading bookstores in Singapore, such as Borders and Kinokuniya. For those outside Singapore, you can purchase it through the online shop of www.fridae.com/. You can also discuss the book at the blog sq21.blogspot.com
Part of the crowd at Mox
14 of theÂ contributors organising themselves for autographing
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Jason Wee (the editor), Lu Huen, Dominic Chua,Â Nicholas Deroose, Jeremy Kwok and Sheila Rajamanikam.