Dedicated to the memory of Lek and Chandee, two of the first Asian-Thai gay men who marched in the 1978 pro-gay demonstrations that marked the start of Sydney Mardi Gras.
A-MEN is available online: www.acon.org.au/a-men. We would like to hear from you. Please drop us a note or feedback at www.facebook.com/amensydney
Concept Min Fuh Teh Gary Paramanathan Jiva Parthipan Editor-in-chief Min Fuh Teh Co-editor Shinen Wong aRT DirectOR/GRAPHIC DESIGNER Kevin Bathman CREATIVE DIRECTION Min Fuh Teh Roderick Ng Model Photography Simon Le Edmund Edwards Ed Ng Sam Lim Writers AJ Ronaldo Khoo Hoon Eng Marco Selda Miguel Rivera Min Fuh Teh Senthorun Sunil Raj Shinen Wong Visakesa Chandrasekaram Vuong Nguyen Interviewers Min Fuh Teh Shinen Wong Kevin Bathman Van Long Tieu Modelâ€™s Swimwear Marcuse 2EROS A-Men ÂŠ 2012 by ACON Health. All images are copyrighted to their respective photographers. All written material is copyrighted to their respective writers. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of their respective copyright owners.
Image by SHINEN WONG
All of us who have worked on A-Men would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we operate on across New South Wales. We acknowledge that we are on Aboriginal land. We also acknowledge the Aboriginal Elders, past, present, and future, and in particular, those reading this document.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT In everyday life, the acknowledgement of our interconnectedness is too often overlooked. Writing these acknowledgements has thus been both instructional and humbling. Thank you to all the following people. Filmmaker/curator Gary Paramanathan and performer/artist Jiva Parthipan, who in our conversations back in 2010, unravelled the potential for an artsbased project that addresses racism and other challenges facing Asian gay men. Thank you for being a part of the grant application process, and for setting the wheel in motion that birthed A-Men. City of Sydney’s Local Community Grants, for supporting A-Men without which this project would not have been possible. Roderick Ng, fashion designer and contacts extraordinaire, who on one spring morning walked into my office and said: “I want to do something for the community!” In between bridal couture and ‘bridezilla’ days, you brought together photographers, make-up artists, hair stylists, and sponsors; you supported other fashion designers to come on board. You did it humbly without even an ask for recognition. Sorry Roderick, going against my word: Thank you for all that you have put in motion, and for your words “Great people don’t have much of an ego; they’re just too busy for it!” Kevin Bathman, layout extraordinaire, machine of a man, for your keen graphic design eye and sheer efficiency in doing everything, from artistic direction, through to contacting people, invites,
sponsorships, rubber stamps...the list goes on. Thank you for the long hours and many late nights, for your calmness and humility. Shinen Wong, my colleague, comrade, and most fundamentally a fellow companion on life’s inner journey, for your keen eye in helping me compile, edit, interview; your sharp pen and extraterrestrial ad verbatim typing skills. Most of all, for your unflinching reminder of our path of mindfulness practice, your wisdom and compassion. To the photographers for volunteering so much of your time and doing this because you care. Simon Le for making time in your busy schedule just so you could do the first group shoot. Edmund Edwards for effortlessly shooting with 16 guys in a day. Ed Ng for your passionate explorations of difficult emotional terrain in your series “Power Words.” Finally, Sam Lim, for your wit and laid back attitude. Thank you to all for the many late nights and long hours editing, and all pro bono. Andy Quan and Laurindo Garcia, for your wise counsel and timely inputs throughout the process of putting A-Men together. Benjamin Oh, for your heart, courage and capacity to stand inside the truth of our experiences, and being present with me when things go pear shaped. Thank you for reminding me that we can all have the courage to be vulnerable. To all of you who helped me when there was just too much to be done: Mithree Almond; sponsorship and launch planning. Reison de Guzman, Kien Tran, Van Long Tieu; my ‘secretaries’, a godsend. Benjamin
Zaubzer and Syeed Rony for doing make-up, Ben Edwards and Tommy Pham for assisting in photography. Juny Kim, hairstylist and Stephen Chau, make-up artist for our first photoshoot. Special mention to Michael Yeung of Marcuse and Jason Hoeung of 2EROS for sponsoring our swimwear and underwear. Thank you for your generosity in supporting A-Men. To all of you who paved the way for us: William Yang, Tony Ayres, Michael Camit, Matthew Hua, John Wang, Solomon Wong, Saysana Sirimanotham and Ng Yi-Sheng of SQ21, I salute you! To all 60 volunteers (and counting): the everyday community members who I now call ‘models’, the many named in the following pages, and the many more unnamed. Thank you for your hard work. I bow to your sheer courage and trust in the project. Thank you to Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney, for officiating the launch. A-Men would not have been possible as well without the support of my colleagues at ACON. Lastly, I cannot end without thanking my parents, their open hearts and compassionate minds to see and feel, even when sometimes they might not understand. Thank you for your unconditional love and support, without which this would not have been possible. The Editor
MODEL: JOsé. Image by SAM LIM.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense. Rumi, Quatrain #158, Open Secret
EDITOR’S NOTE “Our work against the AIDS pandemic can only be won at the cultural level.” * I write this as a Community Health Promotion Officer, working to address health, wellbeing and HIV awareness in the Asian gay community. The line above, from the foreword of “War Diaries” by Dr. George Ayala, Executive Officer of MSMGF, and Vallerie Wagner, of AIDS Project Los Angeles, stuck with me as I ponder the realities of working with Asian gay men in HIV awareness and education. Between concepts of identity, health promotion, culture and sexuality, could a space be found that speaks of it all? For a community that sits on the margins, Asian gay men live a life dancing between realities of being Asian - of our parents’, communities’ and religions’ expectations, and our private lives. Two sometimes conflicting worlds coming together in one body, one person. Add in discrimination, both racially-and sexuality-motivated, one comes up against many walls, many barriers. Walls and barriers that still entrench us, making vulnerable our lives to low self-esteem, depression, risk taking and HIV.
to tell our own stories, in all our talents and triumphs, our flaws and vulnerabilities. A space to shed light. A place of hope. A-Men is also political. For once we see Asian faces, Asian bodies being represented on printed pages, in mass media, not as tokens of ‘inclusivity’ or notions of the ‘exotic’, but as authentic everyday people. And we are not one homogenous lot. We and our ancestors come from South, through to South-East and East Asia, and with it we bring with us our rich cultural, linguistic and religious traditions. This is also as much about the journey itself, both for me and everyone in A-Men. I reflect on the past few months, the many individuals that have so humbled me and my co-interviewers by opening their inner lives to us, or the arrival of written works that upon reading, left me choked, holding back tears in the office. The friendships forged, the tears and sacred vulnerable spaces shared, in pop-up conversations on photoshoot sets and after-meeting dinners. Community building. Walls once again being broken down.
Pull down these walls that silence, that separate us…
And all 60, are volunteers.
A-Men attempts exactly that. It is beyond walled-in concepts, beyond what is defined as ‘promoting health’, what is discretely ‘art’, what ‘identity work’ is, beyond HIV statistics and medical interventions. At once groundbreaking, at once mundane, it lays bare the many realities of living as Asian and gay in a “Western” and multicultural setting of contemporary Sydney. A coming together of the Asian gay community
But while I recognise the following pages as ordinary accounts of everyday people, I am also struck by the sheer courage displayed by the contributors. Many of them are not out. For some, they will make this their coming out tool, to their loved ones, their parents, their community. We hear for the first time after a long wait, HIV positive Asian gay voices, Asian parents, Muslim perspectives. Real names,
real stories, real photographs, and the very real risks that they take, the costs that might potentially be paid for such openness. What an irony that to be seen as everyday people, requires an act of superhuman bravery. But with this gesture, come trust, and a greater hope - that other untold stories will find the courage to be told. I write this as an invitation to you, dear reader, whether you are a fellow Asian or non-Asian gay man, a lover, a parent, or a straight person. The invitation to honour this trust, this vulnerable and resilient space. Above all, in the spirit of the words of 13th century Persian poet-philosopher and Sufi mystic, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, I also invite you to find in the following pages an open ground. To move beyond black and white, beyond what is right and what is wrong, to sit with our stories with hearts and minds unencumbered. Rumi’s words rang true 800 years ago, as they do today... Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. We’ll meet you there.
Min Fuh Teh February 2012 Sydney, Australia Image by EDRENALIN
*Quoted from Tisa Bryant & Ernest Hardy (ed.), “War Diaries,” AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF), 2010.
by Shinen Wong
I have been talking a lot with White people And I need to decolonise myself To write about my experience of being A Gay Asian man Without reflecting all of myself In their eyes.
speaks of the Double Consciousness of being black and American, A “sense of always looking at one-self through the eyes of others, Of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
This is “Double Consciousness”… W. E. B. Du Bois, An African American writer and philosopher
As a gay man, I have the Double Consciousness of knowing and understanding and being able to see the world
through the values of the “straight” world; “Hetero-centric” values: I have been inculcated with This Seeing the world through a lens riddled with ideas of Male and Female Masculine and Feminine Yin and Yang In heterosexual union… But I also have the unique consciousness of my own homosexual development...
One that sees the potential of union between Male and Male Masculine and Masculine Yang and Yang Or that there is the inherent “Both-ness” within myself That I can be Masculine and Feminine Mummy’s boy and Daddy’s girl Muscle Stud and Drag Queen...
Image by Simon le. UNDERWEAR BY MARCUSE.
This Double Consciousness is both a blessing as well as the eternal curse of never being able to truly represent myself in a way that will ever come close to a mainstream understanding of Authenticity. I have only this Dance between lensesâ€Ś I inhabit multiple worlds From business boardroom to public toilet Family gathering to sex club And all the way, I bring with me the Fear and the Triumph Of being so split.
Also: I am an Asian man And an Australian citizen, in an Australian society that sees me as International student; Eternal immigrant; No matter my ancestry nor my descendantsâ€Ś While that may change yet, and has indeed changed for so many Asian communities in Australia before me and since, There is this Double Consciousness Of seeing the world as an Australian, yet being seen by other Australians
as Other Than Australian, And being uncertain, therefore of what right I have to be here, Though rights be so granted by powerful abstractions Such as nation-state or local jurisdiction... The power and freedom to get jobs and retain them without fear of deportation While occasionally wondering if I will be seen truly as Me And not interchangeable by name with some other Asian colleague.
So I am bitter, Yes As medicine... I do not carry with me any false humility, No... I have known strength and power and privilege and love and acceptance and equality and respect and True humility. We may continue to struggle for awhile yet.. Fingers crossed; I forge ahead until this Truth is easily uncoverable again by All of us For all the fog of a history That is still being written.
MODELS: KIRK, KIM & KIEN. Image by Simon le
All That I Am by Vuong Nguyen
I was born in Saigon. But I do not have too many memories of Vietnam because I left when I was 2 years old. Together with my family, I spent the next 10 years in a refugee camp in Palawan, Philippines before moving to Manila. We were then resettled to Cabramatta where I have been for the last 10 years. We escaped Vietnam as refugees and spent 7 days on a boat. Our boat was one of the luckier ones; no pirates, no storms. But I’ve heard from my close friend at the time that he was on a boat where they’d run out of food and were adrift in a storm. His youngest brother died from sickness and hunger and my friend had to throw his dead brother into the sea just so others could not eat him. Camp conditions were horrible; although I was just a kid at the time and did not realise how horrible it was. In fact, I thought we had it all. Electricity from 7 – 10 at night (even then most times it would cut out), an egg for two and a can of fish for 3. We were lucky if we got some more meat on Thursdays and some watermelon on the weekends. There wasn’t a whole lot of food but somehow I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. No television, cartoons, computer games etc. But there were trees to climb and a beach to visit. Us kids invented games to play with each other.
Despite leaving Vietnam at such a young age, I feel very strongly Vietnamese. I have been incredibly lucky to inherit this culture from my parents. Even without formal Vietnamese education, I speak it fluently because my father gave me Vietnamese books to read, and I taught myself by with a dictionary alongside. I love languages and can also speak Tagalog, English and a bit of Spanish. A lot of my friends who are Vietnamese but were born here in Australia seem less connected with their history. What if my parents fall sick tomorrow and the last words they speak to me are in MODEl: VUONG. Image by Edrenalin
Vietnamese and I don’t understand them? It would be such a waste. Their life stories would be forgotten. I want to continue to learn Vietnamese language and literature. When I was in Manila at 15 years old, I was lucky enough to go to an international Catholic school. My parents had to work especially hard at their wholesale business to get me in; they had to pay higher tuition fees than the average students because we had no legal documentations. There were a lot of other refugee kids who were not allowed to study in the Philippines, also without papers and identification. While I always knew that I was different from other boys, it was at this school that I started exploring my feelings a little more. Like other boys my age, I got a girlfriend. After a few months, I realised it wasn’t for me... so we broke up. I knew then that society didn’t think that my feelings were acceptable. The term in the Philippines was “bakla” (Tagalog term used to refer to effeminate/gay boys) and they were teased. When I was that young, I didn’t hear a lot about being “gay” or anything like that - no open discussions about rights or legislative change or even simple sexuality topics.
I was mostly in the closet, I suppose. No one really to talk to. We came to Australia on a special humanitarian permit, where we settled in Cabramatta. When we first moved here, it was tough in every way. Apparently, there were services available to newly arrived refugees but we were never told about them. We eventually got access to Centrelink and other services but my brother and I had to take our own initiative to access these services. We were privileged enough to speak English, so we adapted really quickly. I think public service providers need to reach out more. Surely they can’t expect our parents (who do not speak English) to ‘log on’ and find out about these services.
It was only after we moved to Australia that I came out to my parents and family. Mum cried to her best friend. She was concerned that if you are gay then you must be unhappy. But being the caring and loving parents that they are, they love and accept me anyway. They didn’t kick me out of the house! Nothing has changed much since I came out except they now stop talking about me getting married. Being the traditional Vietnamese parents that they are, they do not sit down and discuss homosexuality with me or introduce me as “He’s my gay son and we are proud of him”. Instead my mum would say “He may never get married, but that’s ok, as long as he’s happy, I’m happy for him”.
It’s a different kind of support but it’s all about love. While I was really comfortable growing up in the straight world, I sometimes had this yearning to be closer to who I was and am. Sometimes I would say to my friends, “Hey guys, let’s go to Oxford Street!” but they wouldn’t be too keen. It’s funny because I felt like I had to lobby for it every time just to hang out on Oxford Street. At this point, I knew I wanted more gay friends. One of my few gay friends at the time invited me to the Asian Tea Room at ACON. It was one of the best experiences of my life! I walked into a room, with 20 other gay Asian men there. I felt like I belonged. Even though people said things that I didn’t always agree with, everything was open to discussion. I had never had this before, and I wanted more of it. I started volunteering to facilitate workshops for the Fun & Esteem Project with other young gay men. After I ‘graduated’ from facilitator training, I felt SO good, I put my name down to facilitate the first workshop. There is something really COOL about having gay friends. There are common interests, hobbies and ambitions. Some of the best friends in my life now I have made through my volunteer work there! This was how I have formed
my gay community, and it has been fantastic. Of course, I am not just gay. I study, I work, I do charity work. I have a lot of straight friends. I am a son, a student. Because I have lived in a few countries and have travelled places, I feel like I am a citizen of the world, and by being so, I am everything. I have been shaped to be confident because I have been through all that I have, with all the support from family and friends.
And if I have survived being in such vulnerable places in my life, I can survive anything. While studying at the University of Technology, Sydney, I decided to go back to the Philippines to volunteer for a year. I took part in assisting the resettlement of 200 remaining refugees still stuck in the Philippines after 18 years. Dad was not too happy about that saying that it would affect my studies. I told him, “Dad, how can you say this? If it weren’t for the volunteers, how could we have come to Australia?” He was still not too happy but he gave me the blessings anyway because he knew I was right.
When you are a refugee, you don’t know what opportunities are available to you outside of the camp. The experience of having no legal identity and no freedom has haunted me. I want to end this experience for them and present them with such opportunities. Since, I’ve moved on from the Philippines to work with Vietnamese refugees and political dissidents in Cambodia and Thailand, to assist in their resettlement. At the time of writing, I am extremely ecstatic to report that the last 64 cases of Vietnamese refugees in Thailand have been successfully lobbied to be resettled to Canada. This marks the last chapter of Vietnamese refugee resettlement in the world. I am very proud to have been a part of that process.
In terms of reactions to being gay in Cabramatta, it really depends.
I’ve heard stories of people who would never come out to their family out of fear that they would have nowhere to live. I was lucky enough to have a really open-minded family. Cabramatta is really awesome! It’s not violent and dangerous as some people may think. I can be really free in Cabramatta. I can say, act and wear whatever the heck I want in Cabramatta. My friend (who is straight) and I hold hands walking around Cabramatta; surely we had a few looks, but nobody cared! I do wish there were more things going on in Sydney’s Southwest. A lot of kids these days want to come out and live the lives that they want and deserve, but there are no resources or venues. Travelling to the city everyday is not exactly convenient for them. Even another version of Asian Tea Room (based out West) would be amazing. One can only hope. Working with my ethnic community can sometimes be challenging. It’s not just about sexuality, but about age and a whole lot of other issues. These days, when questioned about my ability, I normally respond:
“I might be gay and young. But I’m also experienced, hardworking and community and charity minded. So if you want my involvement, you’ll have to acknowledge and accept all of who I am.”
CHRISTOPHER I was born in Malaysia. My parents are both Malaysian-born Chinese also. My mother was born in a small village and my father was born in Ipoh. My family moved to Melbourne in 1989 when I was 3 years old. Unfortunately, I do not speak any other languages but English.
I consider myself Chinese Australian. When people ask where I am from, I answer, “I was born in Malaysia. “ Overseas, I answer “Australia.” Growing up here, I have been blessed to experience both Eastern and Western cultures. Every year my family celebrates Chinese New Year, and by attending schools in Australia I experienced Christmas and Easter. My parents always wanted me to finish high school, go to uni, get a stable job, make money and work till the day I die.
I wanted to make a show that any gay person could relate to. The series has won the award for Best LGBT Film at the New Media Film Festival San Francisco Bay Area 2011. It was also a finalist in the ALSO Foundation’s ‘Take Care Out There Film Festival’ in Melbourne’s Midsumma festival this year. I moved to Sydney to obtain a role in the film industry. I currently work for a company that bonds film and television shows. I have also started my own independent production company, ‘Kameo Media’. I want to show my parents that I don’t need to have a boring and stable job to be successful.
I can lead a fulfilled life and succeed by following my dreams.
I know my parents mean well, but I grew up in a generation where we were encouraged to try new things. To do what we love. They came from a generation where you needed a good job to live. After I graduated high school I wanted to study media, while my parents wanted me to do a business degree. So I compromised. I did a business arts degree and majored in Marketing and Media. I have always been interested in films. Like most children I grew up in front of the television. But what I found fascinating were the stories. I love a strong narrative, being able to tell the same story in a different and unique way. That’s what filmmakers do. The first thing that got me any recognition in the media world was releasing my web series “Friends and Benefits”. This 21-part web series tells the story a young gay man named Ben who lives in Melbourne and goes online dating looking for love. Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
DYAN I grew up in a small town called Ipoh in Malaysia and moved to Sydney when I was 19 to pursue my music career. Since then I’ve released a 4 track EP, completed an Australian tour last year and recently released my debut single and music video. I have always been quite musical. I started playing the piano and violin when I was 7 and since I moved to Sydney I fell in love with indiepop and electronic music. That’s how I got into writing and recording my first EP. I’m a proud Asian hipster who is not afraid of being seen out and outrageous in public with a bottle of Tequila.
I think the world would be a better place if we stop over-analysing things and just have fun with the things we do.
Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
JOSÉ I came from Macau, of Chinese-Portugese heritage. I consider myself Australian. I love the outdoors, sun, sea and people. Connecting with people. I have many passions in life; I design T-shirts, I am completing a Masters in Entrepreneurship and I’m hoping to turn my own T-shirt designs into a business in the near future. I am currently one of the lifesavers on Tamarama beach.
As a volunteer, I feel that it is good being of service to other people, of all racial and cultural backgrounds.
Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
KIRK I am from Hubei, China. My passion: I like physical activities. I am a personal trainer. I am also interested in traditional Chinese martial arts, as it connects me with my heritage. In Chinese martial arts, there is an understanding of energies that flow through our bodies… or ‘qi’… I connect with the idea of Yin and Yang, the balance of opposites. This translates into our every day, in our personal character, in how we regard and are regarded in life.
For me, these principles ground me.
Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
ERIC I got this pendant in my first relationship. I bought it for myself and I got my then boyfriend a matching one. The wing represents my dreams and aspirations. How high and far I fly, depends on how forcefully I flap those wings. The feathers represent every experience, every encounter and every person that has enriched my life.
I gather them, so that my wings may become fuller, and that helps me soar.
Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
TONY I was born and raised in Peru and throughout my life and travels I’ve been exposed to a number of very different cultures. In Peru, for example, exists a strong cultural distance between the native indigenous people and the more “Western” society, which has led to a high degree of racial discrimination against the indigenous people. This cultural issue is currently affecting my country’s progress and has also encouraged many people to distance themselves from it, which is very sad for me. I bought this bag in Peru before I started living overseas. This bag was hand-made by native women living in the highlands of Peru and it reflects the strong and historic culture, traditions and beliefs of the indigenous population. Women in Peru would use these bags to carry their children and belongings as it is part of their day-to-day lives; however, for me it symbolizes my own cultural background, or the culture that I’ve embraced as my own. Regardless of my mixed Chinese, SpanishPeruvian heritage, I feel I strongly identify with the culture of native people in Peru and carrying it around is a way to demonstrate that I pride myself on it and that everybody should be proud of who one is and of where one comes from. I’ve been travelling and living overseas since I was 18, and this bag is some kind of reminder of the journey that I’ve started, as well as which my origins and roots are, wherever I may be.
I like it when people notice its particular looks, combination of colours and its design, and especially when they acknowledge my country as a beautiful place to be and the amazing things you can see and do there. Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
REI “Ad Superna Semper Intenti” This quote means “Always aim high,” which I learned from seminary. I’ve always aimed high. I’ve always had high hopes for change. For most Catholics, the rosary symbolizes the life of Christ. For me, it also symbolizes my journey... And the love for my mother. I was bullied when I was young. At school, kids would call me derogatory names. I would come home crying. I can still remember… Mom would hug me and ask why I was crying. I made up a hundred different stories. Mom has always been my protector and refuge. She had to leave for overseas for work. This was her parting gift. From that moment on, I always treasured it. Every time I came home from school crying or was lonely I’d just hold the rosary. I entered seminary to be a priest, so my mom would not worry. A tough decision to make when you are just 12 years old. During my seminary life I was able to find myself. I tried my best and excelled in my studies, to make mom and my family proud. I graduated top of class, and left to get a degree outside the seminary. I got into relationships with girls and did what a guy at my age did. But after breaking up with my girlfriend, I realized that I was different from other guys. I was afraid to admit it to myself, afraid that people would treat me differently or avoid me. I might lose my friends. Still, I stopped having relationships with girls because of the guilt. I didn’t want to hurt them.
Being the only son in the family made it a lot more complicated. I was afraid that my family might not accept me. I did not want to give my family any embarrassment. It came to the point that my friends started to ask me if I am gay because I don’t engage with women anymore. I first told my best friend. I was frightened, knowing that I might lose her. She hugged me and told me not to worry because it will not change anything in us.
For once I felt free and loved for who I am. A weight on my shoulder was removed. It was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I missed my mother. After my degree, I left the Philippines and decided to start a new life in Sydney with Mom. Although she never knew about my experiences, what mattered most was our reunion. Mom still doesn’t know that I’m gay. I’m still trying to figure out the right time to tell her. I can’t wait for the day when I can share with her my life and how she helped me to be a better person… a better son. I’m tired of wearing different masks. I just want to be myself, to be proud of the person I am. I can’t wait to tell her how the rosary that she gave me made me stronger and a fulfilled person. I can’t wait to tell her how she inspires me. I can’t wait for that moment…
Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
My Two Young Men
By Khoo Hoon Eng
activists who are supportive of human rights of women and other minority groups. As I got to know them better, I became comfortable with identifying myself as the mother of two gay sons.
When I think of my sons, I think of two wonderful young men. They are engaged with the world and trying to make it a better one for others. One of them is an attorney who works for a non-profit legal organization in the US that is committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. The other volunteers at a Buddhist book store and has been working for ACON as a community development officer. While I never doubted my love for my sons, I did have much to learn. One day, my older son, then aged 15, told me, “Mama, I am gay.” My first reaction was one of disbelief – was he testing me for my reaction for some school project? After that, I thought that this cannot be a test. It is too serious. Then I offered a denial response to him and said, “How do you know? You are so young! Maybe you should just continue to be friends with everyone both male and female before you make up your mind.” I watched him over the next few years. He continued to do well in school and made me proud.
I began to think about what it means to be gay. I asked him how he knew he is gay. In reply, he asked me how I knew I am straight. That made me really think about my own attraction to the opposite sex and how I knew from a relatively young age. I realized then that he probably already knew too about his attraction to people of the same sex when he was quite young. About 3 years later, my second son, also aged 15 at that time, told me that he is also gay. That is when I realized that I had to educate myself more about homosexuality.
One day, I was told by a gay activist that he knew of cases where parents threw their children out of the family homes when they discovered that they were gay.
s, Ming and En Hoon Eng with her son
My non-religious family background meant that I did not see it as sinful. However, I knew that they would face strong societal prejudices. I reflected on my role as a parent. What did I want for my children? Of course I wanted them to be happy and able to contribute to society to the best of their abilities. I saw that one way for them to overcome societal prejudices would be for them to see that I was willing to be openly supportive of them. Therefore, I should learn how I could support them as they continued to develop themselves through education and their careers. So I started reading books written by parents of gay and lesbian children and the various ways they supported their children. In the meantime, in Singapore, my life continued. My sons went abroad to university and were becoming independent. I had always been interested in women’s issues and so I decided to be more active with a Singaporean women’s advocacy group. I also became a volunteer counselor at an anonymous HIV testing clinic. These activities brought me into contact with communities of people in Singapore who are committed to helping others. I discovered many
I was horrified and was determined that more education was necessary as well as a support group for such parents. Over the next couple of years, I got to know other women who had gay brothers, lesbian women and supportive church members. At the end of 2005, I was asked by a gay activist whether I would mind having my story of being a mother of two gay sons included in a book with real stories of gay and lesbian people in Singapore. The publicity following the launch of that book in 2006 meant that I was now known to many members of the gay and lesbian community in Singapore. That encouraged my friends and me to set up a support group for family and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. We launched the group in 2007. Since then, we have received requests to meet family members of GLBT people who needed to just talk with other supportive family members. We have participated in workshops for gay people who are considering whether and how to come out to their families. A married gay couple with a daughter has written to ask for introductions to other gay families in Singapore. I have participated in inter-faith dialogues on homosexuality where I learnt that homophobic attitudes arise out of ignorance and often misguided or wrong interpretations of religious texts.
Our support group participates in the annual Pink Dot event in Singapore – a rally for “the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in Singapore to love”. I have been interviewed by a researcher on the experiences of gay activism in Singapore and her findings give me hope that the Singapore society will become more accepting and respect the fundamental human rights of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. Of course, my life is more than just being involved with gay activism and the gay community. I have continued with my efforts targeting empowerment of women through education. I am actively involved with a project to set up a liberal arts university for women called the Asian Women’s Leadership University.
As I reflect on the different paths my life has taken after learning that my two sons are gay, I realize how my life has changed. By my own “coming out”, I have found communities of people whom I have grown to admire and love as dear friends. Without my two gay sons trusting me enough to come out to me and my decision to be openly supportive of them, my life would not have been so enriched. Do I think of them as my two “gay” sons? Occasionally. More often, I reflect on how fortunate I am to be the mother of these two young men who are making important contributions to the societies and communities in which they live.
I am proud of them and proud to be their mother.
BEN As a gay man of Malaysian Chinese background, I often feel like a minority within minorities.
My journey has been that of the pursuit for peace. Not a silencing, oppressive and repressive peace, but one which is a liberating peace: Peace with justice. This search for peace has led me to various crossroads and to come to terms with my own multilayered identity, be it religious, cultural, social or gender/sexuality. To reclaim one’s own rightful dignity amongst fellow humankind, one needs to take hopeful pride in that humbling and enlightening pilgrimage, one that is of the search for that positive peace.
It is a strange position to be that of the ‘minority’, the ‘marginalized’, the ‘persecuted’. It is a providential opportunity when reflected upon, a blessed chance to gain insight into one’s own humanity like no other. When we draw upon the opportunity to bring enlightenment to our very own journey, and that of our fellow human beings, it becomes something that transforms, transcends... enlightens.
Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
YUJIN Spirituality and Equanimity are important parts of my life. I do daily practices from a Tantric Buddhist background.
I want to challenge the stereotype of gay people not being spiritual. There is no shame about being a spiritual person. This is why I am wearing my mala beads and my prayer shawl. I was brought up as a Buddhist but did not really delve deeper into the teachings until I turned 16. Of course it was also my sexuality which drives me to investigate what the Buddha said about homosexuality. Does Buddhism condemn it? Through my practice and findings, I discover that in Buddhism, a person’s moral conduct matters more than his/her sexuality. In other words, sexuality is just an orientation. Most importantly, one must practise how to eradicate the greed, Image by EDMUND EDWARDS
anger, delusion and other bad habits that are so deeply rooted in our minds and also to purify our negative karma that have followed us through countless lifetime. I find it extremely illogical and absurd that there are so called “religious” people who claim that it is one’s sexuality that determines his/her afterlife. Does someone who do good, avoid evil, purifies the mind, but gay still condemned to hell compared to a straight criminal who cheats, robs, rapes, kills? Although there are Buddhist monks/masters who are against homosexuality (an irony considering the Buddha did not mention that homosexuality is forbidden), I am glad that my Guru has voiced his support for GLBTIQ people because to him, all sentient beings are equal. Hence, if a gay couple requests for wedding blessings from him, he would happily do so.
The same goes to someone who is gay but wants to be ordained as a monk, he would happily accept it. Having said that, going into monkhood is also my future plan. So again, as Hilary Clinton said in her recent speech:
“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.”
So why the discrimination?
BED OF FLOWERS by Visakesa Chandrasekaram
If somebody asks a question about identity, one of the first things that comes to mind is that Iâ€™m Sri Lankan born Australian. The gay identity is equally important. My mother is Sinhalese and my father is Tamil. So I also have a mixed ethnic heritage. My faith is also a strong part of my identity. Sri Lankan, Sinhalese, Tamil, Gay, Buddhist.
There are many things that drive me. I work in human resources equity and diversity in the public sector. I ensure that people from marginal groups are given a level playing field when it comes to employment. I am trained as a lawyer both here and in Sri Lanka. I used to go to court a lot, appearing for political prisoners in Sri Lanka. Probably thatâ€™s where my activism comes from. You have to be really strong and brave, and take a lot of challenges in order to defend the rights of marginalised groups. In my workplace, for the first time I was able to implement disability and gay and lesbian equity programs. Now I see more people with disabilities in the workplace, and more equity for gay and lesbian employees. I am interested in the meaning of life, the reasons we exist, and what is beyond that, so I am inspired by both Hinduism and Buddhism. Remarkably, there are a lot of similarities between them. Image by Edrenalin
It is very hard for people who have come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds, because they are monotheistic, and there may be little flexibility in interpreting the scriptures. In Hinduism, on the other hand, gender can be fluid. There are warrior gods that turn into women. For example Vishnu turns into Mohini, a goddess, in order to win a war. In that sense, at least in Hinduism, it is a very pluralistic religion when it comes to gender. Also, I am very fortunate to have learned Buddhism. It does not have any authority to condemn homosexuality. There is no notion of it being a sin. One of the very well-known teachings in Buddhism is that “Everything is impermanent.” Every living being, everything in this known universe is impermanent. So when I lose things, when I am hurt, that’s the first thing I think. How can I expect things to be permanent, whether my relationships, my job, etc. Recognising the impermanence of all things is how I manage to go through a number of challenges in my life. That’s what stays with me. That faith. I try to make a distinction between religion and faith. Religion has an institutional
aspect. As for faith, you create your own, you pick things about what’s suitable for you, and you practice that. I had a beautiful childhood, unlike many gay men. I was in a boy’s school while a civil war was happening between the Sinhalese and Tamils. I had a boyfriend who was Sinhalese. There was still a naive homosocial environment at the time. I don’t know if this is the same anymore.
Things are changing, and we are appropriating a whole new set of terms from Western culture, such as “faggot.” We did not necessarily have the same words to describe things. “Coming out” is really a bit of Western concept, either you don’t have to come out in an Eastern culture, or it happens in a different way. But here, there is the sort of individualistic, “my name is so and so, and I have the right to be who I am.” Still, coming to terms with my sexuality was a very easy transitional process for me. My mother is Buddhist. And my father passed away before. As a result, I didn’t even think that it was something that I had to worry about. I was a bit naive, I think,
about this whole process. And I didn’t try to hide it, after I came to terms with the fact. I have written a novel,“Tigers Don’t Confess” and a few plays. One thing that I can be really proud of, is a Sinhalese-language play that I did in Sri Lanka, the English translation is “Bed of Nettles.” It was the first gay play in Sri Lanka. It was done in a number of different venues, in ‘proper theatres’ as well as in makeshift performance places. People in the village and in the towns alike came to watch that. There is a part of the play when the wife sings:
“When the flowers of stars are shining in the night sky You are on a bed of flowers But when the cicadas are mourning I am alone by myself on a bed of nettles” The play is about gay men. It is about the constant struggle around marriage that Sri Lankan men have, and other South Asian men as well, broadly speaking. But it is also about his wife, the woman who is left at home. Every man and woman has to marry in that culture, but marriage is particularly
problematic for women.” The men can go out, meet other people, have sex and then come home. But there is no social support structure for women. She is seen as the guilty party when there is a divorce. A lot of gay men came to me after the play and said, “How brave you are to do that!” And of course, I am proud of that. It was banned by the Public Performance Board, and I performed it violating the civil laws. But nobody said, “You are talking about some unnatural thing, or something disgusting” or whatever. They all got the message. There are so many people who are trying to have these discussions in mainstream arts, but unfortunately, there has been no play that has been done in Sri Lanka of this nature since 2003. Reflecting on my life, it is such a privilege to be someone who has such a mixed background. It may not be easy, but you have to negotiate different paradigms – constantly with my German-born partner and my Aussie friends and work colleagues.
If we feel secure enough, we have to mention who we are.
Image by SHINEN WONG
MODEl: SakshaM Image: SAM LIM
FINDING MY MUSE When I think about how best to express what drives me, I am often reminded of a story my Ammamah (grandmother) told me as a child - the story of Peter Pan, by novelist J. M. Barrie:
“Come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land.” So why begin with a fairytale? One of my earliest memories is lying in bed with my Ammamah, as she told me stories of distant places amazing characters. In making me long for Never Never Land, the story of Peter Pan taught me about the importance of having dreams and being vulnerable to the world. While growing up, trying to preserve these hopes was difficult; particularly when it came to sustaining the imagination and creativity that they had inspired. Unlike the freedom of fairytales and nursery rhymes that animated me as a child, the maturing expectations to be dutiful, successful, and hardworking began to shape a much more “normal” vision of the future. Negotiating my bourgeoning sexuality as an adolescent with these expectations began with a little curious questioning. Why did I like to pretend I was Xena, Warrior Princess? Why was I attracted to boys? Was it normal? What did this mean for my future? Did it even matter? Rather than run from or repress such questions, I started asking more. I soon came to realise how little I knew about being attracted to persons of the same-sex. But I chose not to obsess about it: whether it was what I thought I knew, or ought to know, I allowed myself the personal space to be open to something different.
by Senthorun Sunil Raj
In a society that continues to naturalise heterosexuality, or at the very least assume it as the norm, disclosing that you are gay is both a personal and political struggle. Despite accepting my sexual and intimate orientation, the public demand to “come out” and label my sexual identity became increasingly burdensome. Like an anxious object to be claimed. My family had no openly out gay or lesbian people. In fact, the issue was never even mentioned.
I began to wonder if the term “gay” even existed in Tamil. With this in mind, I felt I had a duty to be honest, and to express my sexuality with pride. Coming out, though, was anticlimactic. I distinctly remember the mix of relief and trepidation embedding into my skin numbing me to the consequences of disclosure. Any preconceptions I had about how my parents would react were dissipated in the moment of saying, “Yes, I am gay.” By uttering a small, but infinitely complex phrase, I was no longer in control of my desires. They had become dispossessed, something for others to gaze upon and judge. When I reflect on this moment, I am reminded how as a young Sri Lankan Tamil-Australian teenager growing up in Sydney, I could never isolate my sexuality from the other parts of my identity. I was not simply different because of who I was attracted to, but the colour of my skin also marked me as “Other” in many conversations about Australian nationhood and citizenship.
Could I be Tamil, Australian and gay? Did I have to choose? Where could I belong?
communicate to diverse communities was a most welcome gift.
While the feeling of invisibility gradually began to grate on me, like the shallow cuts of a razor, I slowly began to question why it was so important to be to “fit in” and be like everybody else?
However, no matter how much visibility I was able to claim, I was never really finished “coming out.”
Challenging the illusion of normalcy was difficult, but oddly relieving. Once I left school, I confronted some of these unanswered personal and political frictions. In a fated last minute subject change at university, I found myself immersed in a world of gender studies, politics and law. I soon came to realise that you do not need magic to change the world. Reading the words of Audre Lorde and Michel Foucault, I became entranced by theories of emotion, power and politics. Queer words became queer worlds – and my mind began to inhabit new spaces of thought I had never been compelled to reach. One quote by Audre Lorde from her book Sister Outsider, in particular, continues to resonate with me:
“How do you deal with things you believe, live them not as theory, not even as emotion, but right on the line of action and effect and change?” Captivated by the power and poetry of such words, I began to realise the importance of speaking up and following your passions. I joined Amnesty International, and began to nurture the passion I had for the future I had imagined. From voluntary activism, to professional lobbying, discovering new capacities to engage in social justice and
Despite working in an area where my professional and personal life is indexed around my intimacies and politics, the constant demand for sexual visibility means I place both my sexual and cultural orientations on the proverbial table. In doing so, I have become consistently preoccupied with finding ways to enable them to coexist. Undeniably, such emotional labour is taxing. However, I continue to persevere: optimistic about the possibilities for both personal and political transformation. I want to close my reflections by returning to where I began, using words of one of my favourite fairies, the sassy Tinkerbell: “You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you... That’s where I’ll be waiting.” From the spaces of dreaming to social action, realising my passions, both political and personal, began by embracing curiosity.
Like the inimitable Tinkerbell, I too am committed to pursuing my passions for future where difference is celebrated, not homogenised or hated. We just need to find our muses to do it.
We Are… …Asian men looking at Asian men Looking at Asian men Looking back.
At first we came in droves, as Chinese mining gold… Til we angered enough of the White majority That a series of policies known as the White Australia Policy Came into being, from the early 1900s Until 1973… Effectively barring all “Asiatics” or “coloureds” from coming in… In 1975, the Whitlam Government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, Making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race For the purposes of immigration and naturalization of citizenship Into the country of Australia.
We are Model, artist, photographer Loner, student, staff at 7/11 Illegal lingam-worshippers in public toilets “Beats” Fearing being caught and beaten by bogans… …as Gay? As Asian? As an immigrant? Slanty-eyed, cocksucker, poofter Yes. Yes. And Yes… We are Dancer, doctor, Journalist, lawyer, businessman Father of 3, brother of 4 A homemaker, or homewrecker Migrant, citizen, temporary worker Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Agnostic, Atheist Sometimes in that order Sometimes in some other… Born and bred overseas, or born and raised Australian, ‘a minority in a minority’ Sweet-lipped and our cocks bleeped out by Other gay men’s thoughts…
We are Here. Small dicked and Huge. Sweet, sanguine Bottoms and Hard, stubborn Tops. Light-skinned and dark… Dusted with all manner of ochre, umber, auburn and midnight hues… Passive and subservient, and Active and assertive. And some of us, through this, are fraught… And some of us, through this, are not… Neither is better than the other, Except that some of us are still caught Thinking about it.
(I ate congee when I was 12 And semen when I was 16 And then I left my country)
And we are intellectuals, movers and shakers Politicians? Or maybe not: just the one famous Malaysian lesbian And. We. Are. Refugees and permanent residents In Cabramatta, Hornsby, Paramatta and Campsie… We are wealthy yuppies And nouveau riche of Chatswood Living lives of quiet dignity and keeping mum about new arrivals Or we are the embodiment of survival! Descendants of recent wars Fresh off of boats or Boeing 747s Running from persecution to persecution
(Buddhism arrives in Tibet Through India and China While Hinduism spreads through Sri Lanka And blankets Cambodia Before the Thai arrive, then the French who Take on Vietnam, bombed by America, blasting out refugees who make Pho for White hipsters in Marrickville…)
I want a tattoo of the Tantric Vajrayana Buddha with Male consort straddling his lap Symbolizing the union of wisdom and compassion Gay, with small symbol of a bear paw Etched onto his back. If you have no idea what I am talking about Then you are too Secular.
And also: We are Lovers, boyfriends, husbands and we Peruse saunas and suck candy made of coconut sugar And pandan And we are Tamarama lifesavers (well… not too many of us… but at least the one hottie)
We exchange phone numbers with one another Names in myriad tongues We touch base with touching intentions And we touch, taste and tend one another In our thoughts and haughty dreams of lives better than our parents’ And all of us Are learning a new language of how to be “GAM”s and not shams; … Men with integrity
Poem by Shinen Wong Images by Min Teh
by Miguel Rivera
I’ve been on this planet for over 29 years now and it’s difficult for me to recall an even greater milestone than reaching that crucial independence stage. It’s not merely about moving out and doing things on my own –it’s more about having that thoroughly satisfying feeling of knowing that I am completely liable for my life and in achieving my own happiness and peace. Knowing that my efforts and the guidance, love and support from my family and friends have been greatly rewarded. A significant part of this milestone for me was telling my loved ones of my sexuality. I can still vividly remember the number of times I had thought about delivering this brutal and perhaps, surprising truth to my family and friends. The small opportunities I had from when I was a teenager and beyond. It may have been a heart to heart chat, a deep and meaningful moment, a silent wait. Each one came and quickly went, and whether it was to my mind filled with concern and anxiety, or my lack of courage that failed me, I couldn’t tell. Telling my friends was reasonably easy. I knew that my true friends would gradually accept me for who I am. Those individuals who knew me well and have spent time with me over the years will say that even though I have grown and changed in some way I am essentially the same person before I had told them I was a homosexual. My real worry was disclosing it to my family and relatives. I come from a relatively conservative and religious (Catholic) background so being a homosexual was not readily accepted. In fact, it is often viewed as immoral or sinful, or at the very least, distasteful or shameful. It was not Image by Edrenalin
surprising then that the entire period from just before I had told my family and the following months after, was the most challenging period in my life. My family reacted initially with a combination of sadness, pity and anger, followed by denial and resentment. As the years have gone by, this progressed into something more positive.
Fortunately, most of my family have now become tolerant and accepting of me. In truth, what I have with my family is by no means perfection. I believe that all relationships are dynamic and forever are works in progress. Change in a person, and adjusting to change does not usually occur immediately or can be achieved via forceful means. It sounds basic, I know. But it took me some time to realise this. When I look back now, I have absolutely no regret with regards to telling my loved ones of my sexuality. I knew that deep down inside I had a huge yearning to let the truth set me free. I needed to tell my loved ones of who I am. Yes, I knew that this would cause damage to some relationships but I also knew that once I was able to tell my loved ones, my independence would take another leap. With a lot of faith and hope, I anticipated the changes that would eventually come. Sure, it was not an easy ride but in the end I am very glad that I did.
Coming out has allowed me to live freely and fearlessly in truth and love – the way I believe we are all meant to live.
KIEN This pendant was given to me by my parents who are Buddhists. Even though I’m an atheist, I still wear it everyday. Out of respect to my parents, who see it as a symbol of protection for me. Also, it’s a symbol of my Asian background. I am not close to my family. It wasn’t easy to speak to them about my problems. Although I speak Chinese to my parents, I couldn’t fully convey what I felt, or trust that they fully understood what I was saying. This makes some issues very hard to deal with. For example, I haven’t told my family about my depression which I’m currently dealing with. And also that I’m gay. I’m not a person who likes to keep things from people, let alone my family. I first came out to my colleague. She was very supportive, which made the process pleasant. This was not the case with my childhood friends. I came out to my closest friend whom I went to primary school and high school with, whom I have travelled the world with. I thought our bond could overcome any false notions about gays. I was sadly mistaken. Coming out to my friend went from “that’s not funny, don’t joke around like that” to “I don’t believe you, you’re just confused.” After some awkward silence, he told me we could still be friends, but there were some conditions. I was no longer allowed to enter the house or go past the front yard to the backyard where we used to hang out with other friends. He told me he was worried for his brothers. At first, I did not know what
that meant. Then, I realised that he thought that I would try to sleep with them. He also said that if our other friends found out I was gay they would most likely bash me. At this time I shut down and saw this as the end of our friendship. I concluded our conversation and went home. From the next day, all communication stopped. It’s been 3 years, and I haven’t seen or heard from them since. I feared for my safety and decided to move out of my family home. During this time I had no friends to speak to and I feared the worst, like being disowned if I came out. I also fear for my family’s sake around what others in our community would say or do to my family if they found out I am gay. My mother works 7 days a week to support the family, along with my brother and sister who work fulltime. My dad is ill and can’t work. I strongly feel that if I came out to my family now, my mother will not take the news too well. I fear she might shut down. It would cause a lot of problems in the family. I’m stuck between these hurdles that stop me from coming out, and my need to not keep things from my family.
I want them to know that I’m gay and am now living happily with friends (gay and straight) who accept me for who I am. I want them to know I am in a better place.
MODEL: KIEN. Image by SAM LIM
BREAKING THE SILENCE: A CONVERSATION With aunty ratri Aunty Ratri is originally from Phuket, but she has been here in Sydney, Australia since 1969. She came here as a student, studying English. In the early 1980s, she founded ThaiOz, the first Thai-language community newspaper in Australia. This was a big move at the time, her effort to “give Thai people a voice... something we could be proud of.”
Aunty Ratri with Lek, late
I met Aunty Ratri on Friday afternoon, 3rd Feb 2012, in Fairfield. I had been invited over by my Thai Project volunteer, Mithree, to meet his mum at her place. I was really looking forward to this opportunity, because I had not previously spoken to another parent of Asian heritage (besides my own) about their experiences with their gay children. This would be my first time, so I had no expectations. I just wanted to get to know a supportive Aunty. When I arrived in Fairfield that afternoon, Aunty Ratri had prepared some vegetarian Penang laksa for the occasion. Throughout the day, we chatted amidst chores; We took a trip to Cabramatta and Fairfield to shop. It was like following mum grocery shopping. We talked about various things. It was not just a sit down for a deep and meaningful. We spoke a bit about heritage: She identifies as Peranakan, of Straits Chinese heritage. My grandma is also Peranakan, so we were able to bond on this issue. (Peranakan is a distinct, localised identity of the descendants of early Chinese diaspora in the Straits of Malacca). She spoke to me about her Taoist-Buddhist beliefs and practices... and of course our mutual love of food! A very Asian thing... Asam laksa, curry fish head. Yum.
She was interested in the Thai Project that I have been working on with my intern Pisit, and Mithree, as part of my work at ACON. I knew from Mithree that she is a very supportive parent. She helped Mithree kickstart a sexual health organisation for the Thai community in Sydney. I wanted to speak to her more about her being a parent of a gay son. I wanted to know how she felt about the coming out process of her son, as well as her relationships with the gay friends in her life. The day had felt more like a bonding session, like being with family. It hadn’t felt proper to bring up more sensitive issues around identity, sexuality and HIV prior to arriving back in her home after the day out shopping. It was in the evening that we began these conversations. Mithree first broached the subject. We sat down in the living room, and I asked Aunty Ratri, “I wonder how you feel when your son came out? “Just like any parent would feel,” she responded. “It was hard... I was disappointed. We all have the hopes of our son having family, career, happiness... someone to follow what society knows. But then, come to think of it, what can I do? He’s still my son, and I still love him. As long as he’s a good person, that’s all that matters.”
“What do you mean by good person?”, I asked. “Someone who helps other people. Someone who makes the world a better place. Someone who is of service to society.” She spoke about her Taoist beliefs, and about being of service to humanity.
That is how she defines a good person. I went on to ask her, “How did Mithree’s coming out impact you?” She said, “Well, as a mum, I still love my son. I know that he’s a good person, and that’s enough. I was worried that Mithree’s dad was not accepting, so we could not approach this issue. “I think it’s sad that parents could not accept it.” “Mithree also told me that you had friends who are gay, back in the 70s.” “Ahh, those were wonderful times!” She explained that in the 1970s, she had an Asian grocery shop on Bourke Street in Darlinghurst (next to current day Kinselas). It was one of the first few Asian grocers in the area. There, she met Lek who had come into the shop back in 1977. He would become one of her first and closest gay friends.
“I really miss him... I feel really sad, when I think about it.” She had brought out photographs of her and her friends specially to show me. “I have another friend; his name is Chandee. They were all part of the same group, and they marched in the early days with Oriental Princess.” She showed me a picture of herself standing with her friends, and exclaimed, “He was very sexy!” She demonstrated how Lek would walk, sashaying down for Mardi Gras march... “I loved them very much.” I felt really bad that I was asking these stories of her. I could tell these memories also raised old emotions, some good, some difficult. But I was so grateful that she was willing to share this part of her life with me. “They passed away, more than 10 years ago. At that time, we could not say what of... so we said, ‘It’s cancer.’”
Aunty Ratri with Chandee, late 70’s
“Lek was a very nice person, a very humble person. He was a hairdresser.” We looked at the photos she presented of him, “My hair looked so nice back then!” He was one of the first people to start a group called ‘Oriental Princess’ in the early days of Sydney Mardi Gras. Lek was also a participant in the pro-gay demonstrations of 1978 which led to the formation of the Mardi Gras parade.
He was the first Thai, and indeed, the first Asian man that she knew of who took a stand.
Lek had not had the heart to tell her about his condition. She mentioned that she had felt something was up, but wasn’t sure what. “I remember he did not want to eat with us when we had dinner. He would take his food and just eat on the kitchen counter. I was angry at him. I said, ‘What’s wrong?!’ It was only after a long time that he told me.” She stressed, “Lek was a very good person. He would visit temple often. He would make donations. Whenever I was in trouble, Lek would be there for me. He was a true friend.” She smiled, reminiscing, “Lek would also do shows.... House parties... He was a lot of a fun!” I asked her if those experiences and friendships influenced her ideas of gay people... “Yes...” She was certain, “Most gay people I meet are very nice. When my son came out, I always knew he was a good person, and that’s what matters.”
by AJ Ronaldo
Scream! When I gave birth to my son Such pretty eyes Such jet black hair Ten toes, ten fingers My life is complete Scream! His school graduation What a speech he gave To the graduating class So much hard work, hours and sacrifice He must endure The fruit of his labour Scream! Why did you Have to endure all this pain alone Kept it inside The deadliest venom of them all Why didn’t you Confide in me – The one that offer you to this world Cruel, harsh, poetic world I would have embraced you Although I could probably never understand Is it too late? Is it too convoluted? For the stand of our tradition to embrace? Can my love stretch beyond the relevance Of this divided society? You are not alone Let’s revisit the place that we once were Rebuild our trust, rebuild our hearts, our future Though it is hard For my simple mind to accept To let go of my dreams My heart will understand and my soul will accept My son!
MODEL: ANOSA. Image by SAM LIM
by Marco Selda
“And I don’t want the world to see me/Cause I don’t think that they’d understand/When everything’s meant to be broken/I just want you to know who I am” “Iris” by the Goo-Goo Dolls “Iris” was arguably the Goo-Goo Dolls’ biggest hit in the 90s, written for the “City of Angels” movie soundtrack. The song describes the protagonist’s personal dilemmas of his world suddenly crashing down around him, with him trying to hold on in vain to his previous glory. Its title attracted a lot of confusion, as the word “Iris” was never used explicitly in the lyrics, leading to speculation of the band’s choice of title. Personally, I have always thought it was a reference to the iris of the eye, an allusion to the eyes being the windows to the soul. If the eyes are the window to the soul, would anyone want others to see the pain and sorrow of your world crashing down around you? The frustration and futility of holding onto your past glory and the memories of days gone past? How could you not resist the easy option of giving up when the values of self-respect and dignity which you try to live by are ridiculed and laughed at your face? I moved to Australia in 1987 from the Philippines as a 4 year old boy. One of my earliest memories as a child was the night my father left our house in Manila one stormy afternoon while I was asleep to leave for Darwin to begin our new life in Australia, and me waking up to find he was not home. I clearly remember standing outside the gate crying “Nasaan ang Daddy ko?” (Where is my Daddy?) It was everything straight out of a Hollywood cliché, buckets of rain falling down, my clothes absolutely drenched and me hysterically breaking down. And I especially remember my eyes: numb from all the tears. In retrospect, I knew that him not being there was a sign that something major was happening. In a way, I wish that 4 year old boy’s Daddy would have come home that night, told his son that he
wasn’t going anywhere, and tucked his relieved son back into bed, their lives continuing as if nothing happened. Our family moved to Australia to give my older brother and me a chance at a life which my parents thought we deserved to have. We had a very humble start in Australia. My mother, with her degree in Marine Biology, ended up working in the local Charcoal Chicken, and my father, with his degree in Aeronautical Engineering, was doing crazy shifts at the Travelodge making pastries. Even from a young age, we could tell from how Dad looked as he came back home from work or when we picked Mum up from the shop, the eyes said it all. Sure, they were smiling and so content to see their family, but their eyes hinted a sense of futility and inadequacy. Fast forward 25 years later, the same 4 year old boy is now a fully grown man in Sydney, but at times it feels like his small almond brown eyes are unexceptional in a place where “Asian eyes” are mocked. My parents did instil a strong sense of humility and modesty in me, I was taught that a heart filled with genuine intentions and a positive mentality would lead to acceptance and contentment. What that 4 year old boy should have been told was that those values don’t hold up to the often superficial and blatantly inconsiderate mentality living in Sydney at times. Eventually my parents decided to live the Great Australia Dream: they bought a house in Sydney’s Western Suburbs, Quakers Hill to be exact. Quakers Hill is a suburb within the city of Blacktown, which has arguably the largest concentration of people of Filipino background in Australia. Something in my parent’s eyes changed once we moved there, their eyes no longer reflected the previous futility and inadequacy, instead replaced with a sense of purpose and reason. They seemed to walk taller. And seeing that new found swagger in my parents, I too wanted to have that same
MODEL: MARCO. Image by SAM LIM
glimmer in their eyes. So I did that through what I thought was the most logical way: live in Australia as a bona fide Australian, complete with accent and mentality.
Surely if I was living in Australia, I should act like an Australian, so people would accept me as Australian? Looking back, I realised the glimmer in my parent’s eyes wasn’t from the fact that they felt like they were now accepted as Australians, it was because they are not in a place where they are no longer considered outsiders, they were around their fellow countrymen. Filipino families tend to be motivated by two principles: family and religion. However, the latter was in direct conflict with an emerging primal urge: the realisation that I was gay. My family will always love me for who I am and have always appreciated my honesty in my need to openly express myself, but they could not understand my determination to make a life that they believed would lead to only sin and sadness. Being gay impaired my relationship with my family. My mother cried like that 4 year old boy crying in the rain, wishing my Daddy would come and tell her that her son wasn’t going anywhere away, and tuck her back into bed and nothing ever happened. At times I wished that happened as well. So when a gay 20-something Filipino boy who had no connections with the religion that he was brought up with, nor with his family who are not willing to fully accept that one of their children is gay, he ends up blindly following the only other thing he could turn to: the “gay lifestyle,” with all the glamorous and seductive hedonism he was not accustomed to. Suddenly it was all about the sex, the drugs, the parties, the lifestyle. The gym was the new church, the clubbers my new family. It was sensory overload in every sense of the meaning.
I was made to believe that this was fabulous. My first ever serious relationship was with a Caucasian-Australian man, and at the time, I felt like everything was all right in the world when I was around him. Having that strong sense of humility, I never thought of myself as anything too extraordinary. In my eyes, I was a short, plain looking, slightly insecure and immature Asian guy, yet around him, I was beautiful, intelligent, and special. My eyes, which I thought was common, he complimented, telling me how wonderful it was to look deeply into my brown eyes. His hazel eyes looking into mine made all the troubles seem insignificant, and I felt like I truly found my place in the world.
I was finally comfortable being myself. Fortunately for me, my experience with homophobia in Sydney has been very limited, but nothing ever prepares you to the ignorance and malice spat at you based on something you can’t change. It offends me even more when it comes from the same community that has also endured ignorance and malice based on something they can’t change.
Shit, there are only Asians here No GAMs Sorry, not into rice Go back to your rice paddy Asian guys are all pussies Open your eyes, slanty eyes My relationship with my now-ex boyfriend ended after two and a half years, leaving me even more confused about my self-identity. His taste in men was eclectic, from smooth, slim and “exotic,” to rugged, hairy Caucasian Daddy types. I generally was more inclined to bottom, he enjoyed versatile sex. I wanted a monogamous relationship, he needed the thrill of being with
different men. I couldn’t be everything he was physically looking for in a man, somehow being of Asian background was not good enough for him. Apparently looking deeply into my brown eyes wasn’t enough. My conclusion was to try to be everything he found attractive in a man. Understandably, that didn’t work out. I came out of the relationship confused over my personal identity, my self-esteem taking a huge beating, and questioning my position in Sydney’s sometimes vicious and superficial gay community. It is quite ironic that my way of dealing with my problems was to immerse myself deeper into the scene. I felt ugly, inadequate, invisible. I needed validation, I needed an escape from my banal reality. Ecstasy and GHB at least made me brazen. I relished the thrill of the highs, the sweaty throbbing at 3am made me feel alive and appreciated. The chemicals gave me a sense of belonging. I was at one with my fellow pill poppers, grinding shirtless to the pulse of bass and lasers. I was another bronzed, gym toned body in this collective rush. Everyone around me shared the same dilated pupils and glazed eyes. Like my parents finding acceptance in living wwith their fellow countrymen, I found the same feeling on the dance floor. It felt like I was no longer an outsider. Every high comes with a staggering crescendo, but the emotional nadirs that followed were devastating. If I was a God under the disco lights, then I felt sub-human under the harsh lights of reality. The self-doubt and hatred were overwhelming.
I hated being trapped in an Asian body yet having a conflicting “Australian” mentality. I hated that I lived in a society where “my look” did not subscribe to the standard notions of male physical beauty. I hated my ex for leaving me for another Caucasian guy, as if he was suggesting I wasn’t good enough/Asians weren’t good enough for him.
I hated this epicanthic fold under my eyes and the colour of my skin. I hated how I knew I was still that same intelligent, rational and considerate person, but now I judged myself on my exterior rather than my character. Fuck, I hated myself. “The anger swells in my guts/And I won’t feel these slices and cuts/I want so much to open your eyes/Cause I need you to look into mine/Tell me that you’ll open your eyes” “Open Your Eyes” by Snow Patrol “Open Your Eyes,” like “Iris,” was another lyrically ambiguous song. Some debate that is a confrontation between two lovers facing their differences, others believe it describes the protagonist experiencing sudden loss and the immense pain that follows. My personal interpretation is a message of support from friend to somebody who is in a dark state in their life, extending their hand to somebody in need. My personal world came crashing down and I hated the real world for it. What saved me was the love and support of genuine friends who value, appreciate and cherish my presence in their lives. I heard that you can see true beauty in a person through their eyes, it shines through no matter what they appear physically. The eyes certainly are the window to the soul. A truly beautiful person sees the world for what it is in all its colour, and accepts and appreciates everything without prejudice.
I now look at myself with a renewed sense of pride, I no longer see myself in that pathetic superficial light. Sometimes you need some tears to wash those windows to the soul so you can see properly again.
On sexual racism
MODEL (L-R):KIEN, BONY, KIRK, TIM, LEO, KARL (JAROON), REI, PETER. ImageS by SIMON LE. UNDERWEAR & SWIMWEAR: MARCUSE.
“No Asians please” or “Racist, seeks same”
A Sydney Retrospective Chi-Kan Woo was featured in the 1997 documentary film “China Dolls” by Tony Ayres, which looked at the lives of Asian gay men in Australia. Now, 15 years later, we had the opportunity to speak to Chi-Kan about his thoughts about the Sydney gay scene, living with HIV, and being gay and Asian in Sydney today.
All through the early 90s, it became a cliché for people to say that becoming HIV+ was “the best thing that ever happened to me”, as if people were trying to take control of their situation. I found myself dabbling in every form of new age healing imaginable, from listening to Louise Hay tapes to rebirthing to trying all types of meditation. I was in a state of denial (which I think helped me) and that if 10% of people did not progress to AIDS, then, I was going to be part of that 10%. For years, the weekly death notices in the Sydney Star Observer filled 2 whole pages. There was even a book published on how one could “self-deliver” or self-euthanise. Living in Darlinghurst then was like living in a war zone. I have a theory about why Mardi Gras was so vibrant then - every year, when Mardi Gras came around, people partied like as if it was for the last time. Everyone got dressed up and marched down the parade in the biggest possible costume like as if there was no tomorrow. I will always remember the opening of one Mardi Gras party where they flashed the pictures of all the people who had died that year, one of whom was another boyfriend of mine. It took almost 20 minutes to get through all the pictures. In the mid 90s, I fell ill and almost died. My professor at the hospital still jokes that when she first came to see me, I was in the middle of arranging my funeral. I somehow managed to recover and then got on to the combination drug therapies. By 2000, I was able to start back at full time work.
Image COPYRIGHT: TONY AYERS
Q Can you tell us about your experiences living with HIV? I most probably got infected while I was living in a relationship. In those early days, it was still rather uncertain how one was to practise sex and everyone was frightened and confused. I was then very young, chronically depressed and unassertive. I was not in a monogamous relationship and so I cannot say for sure who infected me.
Sometimes I try to imagine what it would have been like if I was not HIV+. For many years, I felt a great sense of the loss of my youth. Now, I still think about HIV and the anti-viral medication I’m taking and how it may be affecting my body even though I have almost perfect health. In Sydney, I have never felt any stigma attached to being positive apart from the early days of HIV when it was hard for everyone; Asian or non-Asian. I count myself lucky to be living in Sydney where the response to HIV has been the best in the world.
How did your family respond?
I seroconverted* in the late 80s and told my brother and sisters about it the year after. They were sad about it but did not react badly. Two of them are in the medical profession and they were all Western educated so it wasn’t such a terrible shock to them. I told my parents, I think in a letter about 5 years later. I was keen to stress to them that I was at that time perfectly healthy and that I may never get sick. Because it was a letter, I’m not entirely sure and can’t remember how they reacted. I think I received a letter back from them saying how sad they were about the news. Nevertheless, it was like a second coming out which was emotionally worse than the first coming out as gay.
Q Tell us more about your coming out experiences. I have come out to my parents and friends. As for my parents, they are very old (mid 80s) and I believe are unable to accept my gayness. It is considered a shameful thing to them. They have not told anyone in the wider family community and have simply stored it somewhere in the recesses of their psyche. This is the best that it can be. Nevertheless, I am happy that they know. I do urge all gay Asian men to come out to their families wherever it is physically safe to do so and if it doesn’t cause too much grief. The more people come out, I believe the more confidence the Asian gay community can have as a common identity and that can only be a good thing. Dare I say it: Coming out, as Harvey Milk^ said, is the most effective and political action one can take for personal and social change.
Q You were on the cover of Campaign magazine in Sydney in 1991. We heard that you had an interesting experience regarding that. Can you tell us about it?
Cover of “Campaign Australia” magazine, featuring Chi-Kan, October 1991
I was put on the cover of Campaign magazine in Sydney in October 1991. It was the premier gay magazine in Sydney at that time. The next month, there was a racist letter to the editor published in the magazine complaining about there being an Asian man on the cover. It apparently turned out that the man who wrote the letter was a new migrant from an Eastern European country. I had an American ex-flatmate who had lived with me for several years who was very sensitive to the fact that racism was so acceptable in Sydney at that time. He was very angry about the publication of that letter and he went and sprayed graffiti on the offices of Campaign magazine and was promptly arrested. There was a proceeding court case of this matter. Meanwhile, a group, Gays and Lesbians Against Racism, or GLAR, got started because of this offending letter. All in all, it was a very interesting few months.
Q What are your thoughts today about “Rice Queen” and “Potato Queen”?
Q Any parting words for younger gay Asian men who are finding their footing in the world and the scene?
They seem to be rather old-fashioned and archaic terms nowadays. I don’t have a problem with racial sexual preferences because if 2 people are initially attracted to each other because of race, the ensuing relationship which develops will still be a human one with all its joys and foibles.
The world is your oyster. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here in Sydney, then travel and look for it elsewhere. Don’t leave it too late.
Q How has the Sydney gay scene changed in the past 15 years for gay Asian guys? The gay scene has changed generally due to the explosion of gay internet dating sites. For gay Asian men, I believe it has made picking up a lot easier. In the bad old pre-internet days, one was confined to who was actually physically at the bars, whereas now, one is exposed to a much larger pool of men. Also, on the internet, it’s much easier to approach people and rejections are far easier to take. In the bad old days, it took hours just to work up the courage to physically approach one person. True, there are always the profiles which say “no Asians”. However hurtful that may seem, I always feel a little bit sorry for that person who has to make a statement like that because it shows him to be rather small minded and sad. It seems too, that the gay scene now is much bigger and more segregated in terms of race and I think that is a good thing because you only need to deal with the people who are interested in you and don’t have to put up with people who are not. Also, generally, people have been exposed to Asian guys at a younger age at school and so the “Otherness” of Asian men is not as much of an issue as it used to be.
Q Can you tell us about getting older as a gay Asian man here? It is good being an older gay Asian man because I now have younger and older guys hit on me and therefore I don’t feel like they are hiitting on me because I’m the “powerless” gay Asian man. There will always be Sydney White and non-White guys who are prejudiced against Asian men. But as I said before, the gay scene is now large enough for Asian guys to not have to deal with this. Simply ignore them.
HIV Campaign poster by ACON and Positive Life NSW, featuring Chi-Kan, 1994
Q In China Dolls, you mentioned that there is a “sexual hierarchy” in the gay scene, related to race. Do you still believe that? As long as gay men want to have sex, there will be sexual hierarchies. One unconsciously makes the decision as to whether this person is hotter than that person. Invariably, a large proportion of people within a culture will think the same people are hotter than other people and, as it has been discussed ad nauseum, the media which exists within this culture shapes that. Having said that, this sexual hierarchy in the gay scene is not a static thing. It changes with time. Who knows? In 10 years time, what with the astronomic cultural rise of China, gay Asian men may be considered at the top of the sexual hierarchy. *Seroconverted – Became HIV positive. ^Harvey Milk – The first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, USA, in the 1970s.
Image by Edrenalin
MODEL: SAMEER. Image by SIMON LE
POWER WORDS ALL ImageS by EDRENALIN
ANIS CONGESted... Double Life I am from Bangladesh. I have been in Australia for 3 years. I am staying away from family, because they try to set me up to get married.
When I was in Bangladesh, I had to lead a double life. I donâ€™t want to think about it. Free Since coming to Australia, I feel free and away from my old situation. I have found acceptance and peace. I can be who I am, and I have my partner. I just want to have a house and a loving family, with my partner.
I feel God is not judgemental. God accepts His creations, I am one of His creations.
Image by Edrenalin
MITHOON Fear I am from Bangladesh. I am an only son, and I have another sister.
I have a huge pressure to get married. In Bangladesh, if you’re gay, they don’t accept you. They think you’re mad or crazy. You’re the worst person. You’re the devil.
I can’t possibly live openly. Bad Reputation... CONSERVATIVE I have this friend who was a bit girly. And he was exposed. His parents locked him up in the room. Just gave him food. Tried to force him to take hormones. And when all else failed, they prayed for him to die. It’s all about family respect, and family name.
But since coming to Australia, I found peace. I know I don’t want to spoil a girl’s life by getting married to her. I want to live my life as I am. Peace
I know I’m just one person, but I want to do something about this matter. I want to convince Bangladeshis to accept people like me. My wish is that my story can do that.
Image by Edrenalin
SYEED When I was growing up in Bangladesh, I had this early realisation that God made a mistake. I wondered why I felt different? I came from a strict Muslim family and being the eldest son, my family had big expectations for me. I didn’t really like talking too much to anyone, because I was always being teased for being girly. I was called ‘Hijra’ by my brother-in-law constantly. In my teenage years, I fell in love with a guy. We talked about having a sex change for me, as that was the only way we knew we could be accepted. We were planning to come to Australia together. He was killed in a car accident. My life fell apart. I cried so much that my mom asked me what was wrong but I couldn’t tell her. Curry Poofter I decided to come to Australia by myself to study. I was living with my relatives.They didn’t want me mixing with the Australian crowd. Four years ago, I ran away to Newcastle to live with my partner. I like to put makeup on. I carry a handbag and a mascara kit. Once when I walked around the mall in Newcastle,
I was called “Curry Poofter.” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. Transformation Back then, I never spoke about myself. I never speak up. I was always hiding and crying. Hiding from my real identity. But in recent years, I have felt a transformation. I don’t care what other people think. I am gay, I like being gay, and I like dressing up.
I feel stronger and I can fight for my rights now. My rights to be who I am. Image by Edrenalin
JAMIL Disrespected I was disrespected when I went to the club (people shove me, they push me, because they want to know my gorgeous friend).
At times, people make fun of my accent. Yes, I have faced a lot of disrespectful people along the way. But I have learnt I do not need their respect. I first respect myself for not being typical. I can change those negative thoughts about myself; that is the only way to gain respect from others. I have done good things to represent the good person that I am. Missing When I first came here, I was always trying to prove myself. I was living in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before I came to Sydney. In Australia, I was missing the Muslim part of me because I was enjoying the freedom of being different… which I didn’t miss back home as I was surrounded with familiar people and things. When I first came to Sydney I started to think, “Do I need to do that?” I felt more open about my sexuality. Deep down, I realise I was missing something. I was brought up as a Muslim, observing fasting month, celebrating Eid (Hari Raya) and prayers.
I realised that I had slowly lost my sense of belonging. After having a fabulous night out clubbing, when I go home, at times, I do feel an emptiness and loneliness inside me. Regardless of what your belief is, you need to have faith in yourself.
Image by Edrenalin
People over-analyse about being gay and being Muslim. It is not something I like to discuss often. God, my Creator, Most Merciful and Master of the Judgement Day.
People have to understand that being gay is not by choice, but it’s what I am. Islam is my faith, it does not discriminate, but I am also an individual. I need to be respected as an individual. I cannot speak on behalf of all gays, or all Muslims. I pray for guidance to the right path, God’s willing. My priorities are now about being comfortable in my own skin, no longer what society thinks of me. Faith in yourself When I have my faith back, I see things differently. It’s not about all the rituals, but it’s about the life experiences that I’ve reconnected with, along with the traditions and customs.
Connecting with my ethnic background makes me humble. Self-confidence means you must change yourself before you can change anyone else. Enjoy the beauty of this temporary life. If you make yourself happy, everybody will be celebrating with you.
PATRICK & CARYL Patrick Caryl is my rock. My hero. We met at the start of medical school nearly ten years ago, and pretty much instantly bonded. She’s been there with me through everything... the good, the bad, and the ugly. On top of that, she has accepted me for who I am and has helped me finally love the person that I am today. I cherish her and she cherishes me. Please don’t call her my “hag” - because she ain’t. And I’m not her “gay friend”.
We’re just best friends, pure and simple. CARYL Pattie is the sunshine in my life. He’s there for me when I need a shoulder to cry on, when I need someone to tell me off the way only real friends can or just if I need someone to be silly with. Most of all, he never fails to make me smile with his exuberance, sense of humour and natural good looks. We are able to truly be ourselves with one another without judgement.
Our friendship, love and respect for each other have never been defined by our sexuality, so why should anyone else’s?
ImageS by EDMUND EDWARDS
BEN & NAM Ben For me, our relationship is about the search for an authentic life. I
believe that we need to live as authentically as possible for ourselves. If in the end the price is to sacrifice our very own conscience, our own authentic self, we would be nothing more than living dead. NAM At the end of the day, it is the people who you love and those that truly care about you that matter.
For me, it was most important that my Loved Ones were the first to know and to share in this “hidden” part of my life; my family needed to know about my sexuality first – if not for them, I would not be who I am today. I was fortunate to be able to tell my family in my own time, and then my closest friends after that. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business what my sexuality is – if anyone else knows, and it’s a problem, it’s their problem, not mine. It is always difficult to come out to family, but to me, they are the most important people in my life, so I made the decision that they should be the first to know. It wasn’t easy though. Timing is everything, and for me, that meant that I had to be self-sustaining (at least economically) in case things got out of hand.
We love and care deeply for our family and are committed to building our communities; in some sense, each of us now have a much bigger family and one that is much more beautifully complex and diverse, interwoven together through our being together. We have now a bigger story to tell, our interwoven cultures and histories, i.e. Australian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Chinese; our Christian and Buddhist heritage and values are all breaking through new boundaries and building new bridges beyond that of gender and sexuality. Ben and Nam However, none of these can be achieved without risks or trepidations, intense emotions that we have both had to endure to come to where we are now. Even as we share our stories with you, these tensions remain. We always are aware of each other’s background, the “baggage” that we bring into the relationship, and through perseverance, love, communication and compassion, we always try to name our own truth to each other and work together to overcome our differences and to live authentically.
At this moment, the very telling of our stories here is something that is a culmination of a rough road travelled, of us as individuals, and that of us as a couple. In some sense, this is our first ‘coming out’ publically beyond our ‘Family’ - it is quite a vulnerable yet humbling step in our journey as human beings.
It was very hard at the start, but love did overcome fear and ignorance. For both Ben and I, our family is the most important thing to us, and that includes some of those we chose for ourselves - our friends. Ben & Nam with the backdrop of Chinese text from the Gospel of Matthew 5: 1-12
ImageS by EDMUND EDWARDS
Friends Take Care of Each Other
MODEL KIRk, KIM & KIEN. Image by SIMON LE
UnDERSTAND The Risks HIV is still a part of our community. Latex condoms are the most effective way to prevent getting or passing on HIV, and significantly reduce the risks of transmitting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Use water-based or silicone lube. Do NOT use oil-based lubes, as this can damage the condom. Did You Know? Oral sex is Low to No risk for HIV... Having cuts or sores in your mouth, having an STI in your throat or having had recent dental work increases the risk. For more information on HIV and other STIs, check out www.thedramadownunder.info
MODEL: MARVIN. Image by SAM LIM. UNDERWEAR: 2EROS.
Get Tested Do you have different sexual partners? The more partners you have, the more often you should get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Every 3 – 6 months is a good idea if you are having casual sex. By knowing your sexual health status, you and your partners can make informed choices about the sex you want. Did You Know? It is FREE to get tested for HIV and other STIs in NSW sexual health clinics if you are a gay man. For more information, look at our directory at the end of this book.
Know Your Status
MODEL: JOSé. Image by SAM LIM. UNDERWEAR: 2EROS
LETâ€™S TALK ABOUT IT Think ahead! Take care and look after yourself and your partners by communicating what you want and what your limits are. Respect yourself, your desires, and your limits. You have the right to say no.
You have the right to say yes!
MODEL: KEVIN & PETER. Image by SAM LIM. SWIMWEAR: 2EROS
MODEl: KARL (JAROON), BONY, TIM & PETER. Image by SIMON LE. UNDERWEAR: MARCUSE.
MODEl: PETER. ImageS by SIMON LE
MODEl: TONY, KIRK & KIM. ImageS by SIMON LE. UNDERWEAR: MARCUSE.
MODEl: KIEN, KIM & KIRK. ImageS by SIMON LE
MODEl: KIEN, SAMEER & YUI BEI. ImageS by SIMON LE. UNDERWEAR: MARCUSE.
MODEl: KIRK, KIM & KIEN. ImageS by SIMON LE
Image by SIMON LE
CONTRIBUTORS RODERICK NG Roderick is the director of couture, bridal and lifestyle brand Master/slave. Celebrities who have worn and bought his clothes include Delta Goodrem, Sam Sparro, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Tina Arena, Perez Hilton and Sam Neil. He was a guest judge of Miss Universe Australia 2010. Master/slave has donated time and gowns to help raise thousands of dollars every year for Sony Foundation, National Stroke Foundation, Sydney Children’s Hospital, McGrath Foundation and ACON (Asian Gay Men’s Project).
SIMON LE When it comes to Art always consider the 4 P’s: Patience, Perseverance, Positive Thinking and Passion. Simon Le has acquired this rare experience thanks to a life dedicated to Art. Taking photos offers the opportunity to recreate a feeling, share an experience and make a connection. Based in Sydney, Simon’s work is best known in fashion, fitness photography and especially capturing the beauty of the male form.
KEVIN BATHMAN Kevin is passionate about advocating social change and creating campaigns for non-profit organisations, green initiatives and visual art projects. Coalition of Mischief is his braindchild, a creative collective that aims to devise alternative ways of marketing through the arts. Together with his partner in crime, Zara Choy, they seek to create mischief and mayhem in our otherwise straight-laced world.
ED NG Ed Ng aka Edrenalin is a budding self-taught artist. With a Creative Arts Degree and Hons. English Literature under his belt, he has modelled since 2001 but explored photography in 2009 to document his travels. To date, Ed has worked in every continent except Antartica, organised and assisted community, youth advocacy and art initiatives. He is currently working on his projects ranging from photobooks, documentaries, blogs and mentoring new models.
EDMUND EDWARDS Formally trained photographer with a Degree from VCA Film & Television, Edmund Edwards’ practice encompasses interactive media and performing arts. He has won several awards as a director with storytelling that also plays a major role in his photography, mostly coming from his personal adventures and imagination. Edmund has been working commercially in advertising for 13 years and is currently developing a series on ‘perfection’ from a candid approach.
SAM LIM Sam Gatsby Lim is a self taught photographer and creative based in Sydney. Having worked as a fashion model and performer in London, Paris and across Asia, Sam jumped to the other side of the lens in 2005 and freelances as photojournalist and commercial photographer occasionally exhibiting. Sam is currently working on his first book of male nudes.
SHINEN WONG Shinen graduated with a B.A. in Gender Studies from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire USA, where he spent an inordinate amount of time climbing trees.He also has a Grad. Dip in Buddhist Studies from the University of Sydney. Shinen has international experience in HIV education, health promotion and community development. He has worked for ACON, and regulary blogs for various websites, including Fridae: Empowering Gay Asia. He loves bicycles,tattoos, and hot chocolate.
MARCO SELDA Marco Selda, contrary to popular belief, is a well adjusted and highly optimistic individual. He has lived in Sydney for almost 25 years and is currently the Creative Director of the Asian Marching Boys and Friends. You may have previously seen him perform at some of Sydney’s gay nightclubs. His greatest moment was briefly seeing Rihanna walking out of an Oxford Street sex shop. True story.
Senthorun Sunil Raj Senthorun (Sen) Raj is a social justice advocate and researcher with a passion for gender studies, law, politics, popular culture and social networking. Sen currently works as the Senior Policy Advisor for the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. In a governance capacity, Sen serves as the NSW President of Amnesty International Australia and is on the Board of ACON.
MIGUEL CARLO RIVERA Miguel is passionate about nature and all living things; both great and small, common and rare, straight and gay. Aside from bushwalking and aquarium fish, Miguel enjoys travelling, watching films, playing tennis and spending quality time with his partner, family and friends. Miguel has a BEnvSci (Hons.) from UNSW and has been working in the environmental and urban planning field for over six years. He is currently working in WA as an environmental advisor for a construction and mining firm.
AJ Ronaldo As a goldfish enthusiast and dedicated philanthropist, AJ discovers writing essays and poems to assuage his number-crunching skills as an accountant. With an unflinching determination to expose all kinds of social injustice and discrimination AJ began to write as a form of art and freedom of expression. Having lived in Asia, Australia, and the United States, AJ is also a supporter of social acceptance and multiculturalism in Australia.
KHOO HOON ENG Khoo Hoon Eng grew up in Penang. She studied at Smith College (U.S.A) and St. Mary’s Medical School (London) and returned to Malaysia for 10 years before re-locating to Singapore where she still teaches in a university. Her involvement in civil society has covered women’s advocacy, support for GLBT people and women’s education. Her current major project is with a group of Malaysian and international supporters, planning a new university for women in Malaysia.
VUONG NGUYEN Being an ex-refugee and having spent a decade inside a detention camp, Vuong spent most of his adult life assisting in the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. He also works against the trafficking of women and children in Vietnam and Cambodia. Now based in Sydney, he is finishing off his degree in International Studies and wishes to establish his own NGO in the Philippines and Vietnam working with street children. Visakesa Chandrasekaram Visakesa (Vissa) was born in Sri Lanka and worked as a human rights lawyer, a community peace worker and an independent theatre artist. He won the prestigious Gratiaen Prize (2001) for his play script, Forbidden Area. He has written and directed a number of plays including Bed of Nettles [2002, Colombo], which was banned by the Sri Lankan authorities due to its homosexual content. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Australian National University and an Equity & Diversity practitioner in the NSW Public Service.
Image by SHINEN WONG
Mithree Almond (DEN) Australian born of Thai background, Mithree is a chef and hospitality consultant, having worked in the field for more than 17 years. Mithree is passionate about social justice issues, in particular working with the Thai gay community. In 2010, Mithree started up Thaiâ€™d Together, a community organisation for Thai GLBTH (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual and Heterosexual) who live in Sydney, with an aim to empower them with life skills, social and health support in order to have a better quality of life.
SWIMWEAR BY MARCUSE. Image by SIMON LE
DIRECTORY ACON ACON is NSW’s and Australia’s largest communitybased gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) health and HIV/AIDS organisation. Our mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of the GLBT community and people with HIV, and reduce HIV transmission. ACON Sydney 414 Elizabeth Street Surry Hills, NSW 2010 T: (02) 9206 2000 Freecall: 1800 063 060 E: email@example.com www.acon.org.au ACON Asian Gay Men’s Project The ACON Asian Gay Men’s Project provides targeted information and support services to improve and maintain the health and wellbeing of gay Asian men in NSW. T: (02) 9206 2080 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.acon.org.au/asian ACON’s other Services Fun & Esteem Project The ACON Fun & Esteem Project runs workshops and groups for young gay and bisexual men, 26 and under to talk about sexual identity, coming out, sex and sexual health, HIV, relationships and the gay community. T: (02) 9206 2077 E: email@example.com www.acon.org.au/youth Gay Men’s Peer Education Project ACON provides fun and educational workshops and groups for gay and bisexual men of all ages: T: (02) 9206 2041 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.acon.org.au/workshops Mature Aged Gays (MAG) MAG is a peer support, social and educational group targeting mature age men forty and up who have sex with men, regardless of how they choose to identify themselves. T:  9358 1460 E: email@example.com www.magnsw.org
Western Sydney We help GLBT people and people with HIV in Western Sydney to improve their health and wellbeing by providing a range of information, resources, support groups and events. T: (02) 9206 2000 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.acon.org.au/communities/western-sydney Counselling ACON has a team of dedicated paid and volunteer professional counsellors helping people in our community deal with issues such as sexuality and identity, depression and anxiety, relationships, grief and loss. There is free, limited-term counselling for people who identify as GLBT and/or HIV positive. T: (02) 9206 2000 E: email@example.com www.acon.org.au/mental-health/What-We-Do Positive Services ACON helps people with HIV to maximise their health and minimise the effects of HIV by providing a diverse range of services and programs, including Genesis, a weekend-long workshop for guys newly diagnosed with HIV. T: (02) 9699 8756 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.acon.org.au/hiv Anti-Violence Project (AVP) The AVP helps people who have experienced homophobic violence by providing support, taking reports and working with police. T: (02) 9206 2116 E: email@example.com www.acon.org.au/anti-violence ACON Regional Centers ACON has regiona offices. Northern Rivers (Lismore) T: [02) 6622 1555 E: firstname.lastname@example.org Hunter (Newcastle) T: (02) 4927 6808 E: email@example.com Mid-North Coast (Port Macquarie) T: (02) 6584 0943 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mid-North Coast (Coffs Harbour) T: (02) 6651 6017 E: email@example.com www.acon.org.au/communities/regional-nsw
Sexual Health Information Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service (MHAHS) T: (02) 9515 5030 Freecall: 1800 108 098 (NSW Country) E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.multiculturalhivhepc.net.au Positive Life NSW Positive Life NSW works to promote a positive image of people living with and affected by HIV with the aim of eliminating prejudice, isolation, stigmatisation and discrimination. T: (02) 9361 6011 Freecall: 1800 245 677 E: HedimoS@positivelife.org.au www.positivelife.org.au HIV Information Line The New South Wales HIV Information Line is a service for the whole of NSW. The Service has operated from the Albion Street Centre since 1985, providing telephone information, support and referral about HIV and related issues. T: (02) 9332 9700 PEP Hotline T: 1800 737 669 www.sesiahs.health.nsw.gov.au/albionstcentre information/index.asp The Drama Down Under: HIV/STI information www.thedramadownunder.info Sexual Health Clinics You can get tested for HIV and other STIs at these clinics for FREE if you have been sexually active as a gay man. www.thedramadownunder.info/clinics/NSW CAMPERDOWN RPA Sexual Health Clinic Building 21 RPA Hospital 25 Lucas Street Camperdown NSW 2050 T: (02) 9515 3131
DARLINGHURST Kirketon Road Centre Above Darlinghurst Fire Station Victoria Street (entrance) Darlinghurst NSW 2010 T: (02) 9360 2766 KOGARAH Short St Centre Sexual Health Clinic St George Hospital, Ground Floor - Prichard Wing Short Street Kogarah NSW 2217 T: (02) 9113 2742 LIVERPOOL Liverpool Sexual Health Clinic Bigge Park Centre Elizabeth & Bigge Streets Liverpool NSW 2170 T: (02) 9827 8022 MT. DRUITT Mt Druitt Sexual Health Clinic Mt Druitt Community Health Centre Kelly Close Mt. Druitt NSW 2770 T: (02) 9881 1206 PARRAMATTA Parramatta Sexual Health Clinic Jeffrey House, 162 Marsden Street Parramatta NSW 2150 T: (02) 9843 3124 ST LEONARDS Clinic 16, Royal North Shore Hospital Block 3, Herbert Street St Leonards NSW 2065 T: (02) 9926 7414 SURRY HILLS Albion Street Centre 150-154 Albion Street Surry Hills NSW 2010 T: (02) 9332 9600 SUTHERLAND SHIRE SouthZone Sexual Health Centre Community Health Caringbah The Sutherland Hospital 430 Kingsway Caringbah NSW 2229 T: (02) 9522 1000 / (02) 9113 2742
SYDNEY Sydney Sexual Health Centre Sydney Hospital Macquarie Street Sydney NSW 2000 T: (02) 9382 7440
Legal Support Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) ICLC provides legal services and advice for GLBTI-related issues. T: (02) 9332 1966 www.iclc.org.au/iclc_services HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) HALC is a community legal centre that specialises in HIV related legal matters. T:  9206 2060 E: email@example.com www.halc.org.au Gay & Lesbian Immigration Task Force (GLITF) The primary aim of GLITF is to assist the foreign partners of Australian lesbians and gay men to migrate to Australia. T: (02) 9283 4031 www.glitf.org.au/ContactUs
Other Services & GROUPS City of Sydney: Pride in Colour Volunteer and working group of people from GLBTIQ and multicultural backgrounds. T: (02) 9265 9333 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/community/ servicesandprograms/PrideInColour.asp Ethnic Communities Council of NSW The peak body for all culturally and linguistically diverse communities in NSW. T: 02) 9319 0288 E: email@example.com www.eccnsw.org.au Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service Provides phone counselling and other support services for the lesbian and gay community in NSW. T: (02) 8594 9500 / (02) 8594 9506 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.glcsnsw.org.au
Gender Centre The Gender Centre is committed to developing and providing services and activities which enhance the ability of people with gender issues to make informed choices. T: (02) 9569 2366 E: email@example.com www.gendercentre.org.au Muslims Against Homophobia E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.facebook.com/pages/Muslims-AgainstHomophobia/167978176563049 Queer Muslims in Australia QMs (Queer Muslims in Australia) is a yahoogroup based in Australia for and by Muslims who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Queer or/and Qurious (LGBTIQ) and wish to engage in a safe space online. groups.yahoo.com/group/queermuslims Sexual Racism Sux This web page is aimed at confronting racist behaviour and speech in gay men, particularly those of us who use online personal services. www.sexualracismsux.com Trikone Australasia Founded in 2008, Trikone Australasia is affiliated with San Francisco-based Trikone and follows its mission to offer a supportive, empowering and non-judgmental environment, where GLBT South Asians can meet, make connections, bond together and proudly promote awareness and acceptance of their sexuality in society. E: email@example.com www.trikone.org.au Twenty10 Twenty10 is a community not-for-profit that supports and works with young people, communities and families of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities. T: (02) 8594 9555 E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.twenty10.org.au Gen-A (Brisbane, QLD) Social group for gay Asian men between the ages of approximately 18 – 45 years old in Brisbane. The primary reason for the group is to offer a comfortable environment where Asian men can socialise and be proud of their ethnic heritage. E: email@example.com
Project Asia (Brisbane/Gold Coast QLD) Project Asia is a free and confidential group for Asian guys and their friends who are gay, bi or curious, based out of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC). Project Asia is a social group that will also include Education Forums and a way to help make it easier to form friendships, social opportunities, gain access to health and community services and to provide safe space. T: (07) 3017 1777 Freecall: 1800 177 434 (outside Brisbane) E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.qahc.org.au/asian Gay Asian Proud (Melbourne, VIC) Gay Asian Proud (GAP) is a social support network for gay Asian men, their partners and friends. This is a great way for you to meet other Asian men and expand your social network. GAP is part of the Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Men’s Health Centre (VAC/GHMC). T: (03) 9865 6700 E: email@example.com www.vicaids.asn.au/gay-asian-proud
Media Fridae: Empowering Gay Asia Asia’s largest gay and lesbian community. Free gay personals, editorial and gay-friendly business directory. www.fridae.asia Gay News Network Australia’s largest online gay and lesbian news and entertainment source. Published in Sydney as SX. www.gaynewsnetwork.com.au SameSame The leading gay and lesbian community in Australia packed with news, features, forums, competitions, photos and more. www.samesame.com.au Star Observer Weekly newspaper providing news, views and entertainment for Sydney’s gay and lesbian community. www.starobserver.com.au Utopia Asia Asian gay and lesbian travel resources by Utopia Asia. www.utopia-asia.com MODEL: ANOSA. UNDERWEAR: 2EROS. Image by SAM LIM
MODEL: ANOSA. Image by SAM LIM
UNDERWEAR: MARCUSE. Image by SIMON LE