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29 Jun 2009

Gay pride

It's a term much bandied about and as the pride season draws to a close in the US and elsewhere, San Francisco-based Tan Chong Kee takes closer look at what it means to feel “pride”.

I went to school in Nanyang Primary and Chinese High – both are Chinese schools in Singapore. Practically everyone around me at that time was Chinese - my family members, my friends in schools, and my teachers. So, before going to England to study, I had very little sense of pride about being Chinese. It was like being proud of having a nose. Everyone had a nose, what is there to be proud about?

Then all of a sudden, everyone else around me was different. They looked different and spoke a different language. But of course, from their point of view, I was the one who was different. And young boys being boys, I got ragged, big time. They called me names, and they put sand in my bed. They made fun me. For a while, I didn’t have any friends.

I knew I could never be like them. I could try to speak like them, but my skin and nose and eyes and hair would give me away before I opened my mouth. I could dress like them, but my English cardigan could not conceal my Chinese culture. Instead I became very proud of my Chinese-ness. The pride didn’t come about because China had a longer history than England. I was after all from Singapore, a country with very little history. And China was a communist country then steeped in turmoil. In fact, there was no rational reason why I should be proud of being Chinese then. I could have been proud of many other things instead, such as being top of my class, or being the best pianist in school. But I was most proud of being Chinese.

Looking back, it was obvious why that particular pride came about. It was because my Chinese-ness was at that time a stigmatised identity.

I could have dealt with the stigma in two ways. I could have rejected my Chinese heritage and tried my best to assimilate. For example, I have seen Chinese people dye their hair, get a nose job, and become obsessive about lightening their skin tone. I met one such person while in graduate school in the United States. She even had a Caucasian husband and refused to speak Mandarin with me. In fact, she didn’t like that I identified her as a Chinese person at all. It was as if I sniffed out her deep dark secret. Some days, we could be walking towards each other in a corridor, she would realise it was me, and immediately turn around just to avoid having to walk pass me.

There was no way I was going to deal with being stigmatised like she did. Instead, I chose to embrace my Chinese heritage even more, and insisted that my English schoolmates acknowledge fully who I was. I developed a very simple system to do it. People who bother to learn my name properly and called me “Chong Kee” will be my friends. Those who said to me “this is too hard, can I call you CK instead?” would call me CK anyway, with or without my acquiescence, and they would only be my acquaintances. And those who called me “Chink” or “Wog” I would ignore or occasionally, when they were calling it out from a moving vehicle, I would give them the finger.

It was very easy back then. People did not hide what they thought of me as a foreigner. They were much more straight forward; no such bullshit like: “We love you as a person, we just don’t like how you choose to be so in-your-face about your culture. Can’t you tone it down?” And looking back, I realise I actually like every single Englishman and woman I encountered, even those folks who called me “Chink”, because they were honest about it. Yes, I like my enemies crisp and clean, not dank and slimy. Enemies who behave with honesty and integrity I will respect. Because when there is integrity, I find that we can usually arrive at a common ground, and even become friends while respecting each other’s differences. But enemies who are slimy are like wet dog pooh that got stuck under your shoes. It stinks up the everything it touches, and after a while, you can’t even see it is there because it has insinuated itself into little nooks and crannies in your sole.

Fast forward to now. I am damn proud of being gay for exactly the same reasons.

Dr Tan Chong Kee holds a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Stanford University in the United States and is widely regarded as a pioneer in civil society activism in Singapore - having founded Sintercom (Singapore Internet Community) in 1994.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-06-29 18:23  
Seems like Dr Tan has encountered all the racist and childish people..
2. 2009-06-29 21:06  
The analogy is a good one, in either case it only becomes an issue when someone else makes it one; but...

"She even had a Caucasian husband .."

Well how very dare she!

And I bet you referred to him as an Ang Moh.

3. 2009-06-29 23:30  
Love your article. Especially the name calling part. Very real but surprised me as it is written by a person of great knowledge. Cool !
4. 2009-06-30 09:38  
Like Friedrich Nietzsche always said:


What doesn't break me makes me stronger!
5. 2009-06-30 17:29  
How these words bring back some memories. Oh what a society we live/lived in.

I remember when I was a teenager in high school, and the taunts and bullying flew thick and fast towards the minorities ( ie: chinks & wogs")

How I wanted to stand up and help defend the victims, say something, join in their defence.

But unfortunately, I was preoccupied in deflecting the taunts, bashings ( verbally & physical ) and bullying myself, for being different.

I was different because I was gay.

Sometimes I lay in bed and remember that hellish time, grateful that I passed through it relatively unscathed..... but I feel a pang of horror of what young persons are still going through today, many of them without support, nobody to turn to. Living in a secret torment.

My prayers are that those experiencing these horrors now, will pass through, and become stronger, more compassionate, and free of predjudices and hatreds themselves.

6. 2009-06-30 20:13  
I'm sorry but dying one's hair/get a nose job/double eyelid surgery and skin bleaching have nothing to do with keeping one's heritage or denying Asian heritage, or in your word, to reject your Chinese heritage. It's all about physical appearances after all, and keeping the cultural heritage is more important I reckon.

I probably crossed the line by saying this but If I dyed my hair blond, would I say I did it because I hated my Asian look & desired to be a more Caucasian look and shameful of being an Asian in a western country? NO!
You should know that the overall standards of beauty both men/women in Asian countries have been changing rapidly, thanks to the infiltration of Western media(particularly the U.S., it's evil & BEING so powerful I know, but addictive). So, people do those stuff because it makes feel more attractive and without thinking 'I'M-GONNA-F'-DENY-MY-ASIANS'-HERITAGE-BY-DOING-THIS'.

And since you brought it up, why are you so being DAMN proud of being a gay man? the same as no rational reason why you should be proud of being Chinese?

Got pride? Am I damn proud of being gay? NO and NO

Do straight people got pride of being straight because they are being straight? I guess not, then why on earth gay people have to be DAMN proud of being gay about? Do gay people have special abilities to perform certain things that other straight fellas dont have or cant do? and vice-versa.

I dont want to be treated differently because I'm gay
& I don't feel superior to others because of my sexual orientation(that would be silly) and Im neither silly enough to be damn proud of simply because I'm a gay man nor shameful of being a gay man.

Can someone fill me in what's the reason Dr. Kee is damn proud of being gay?
7. 2009-06-30 20:42  
i guess argument by analogy failed in the case of the above post.
8. 2009-07-01 06:07  
i love it.!!
9. 2009-07-01 14:58  
No matter how progressive we can claim to be, we are still prejudiced in terms of looks, skin colour, materialism and even sexuality. How many of us can honestly say we have gay friends of different shapes and sizes or are close with lesbians or bisexual people? Or better yet, how many of us have close friends of different colours?

Sure, some of you can raise your hands and say yes to all the questions I ask but are we all that honest when making friends with these people? Our own internal prejudice will always eat at us. So, what is PRIDE?
Comment #10 was deleted by its author
11. 2009-07-01 22:04  
pride analogies are more stories about milestones along the way to finding ones inner sence of self, how one gets there is of no ones business aside from the person who travels it, there is no one way to find ones being comfortable with ones sexuality just as in finding ones connection to the divine Mother...if your a pagan as I am... being gay and needing to be proud of it ceased to be an issue for me once I became a more multidimensional being, once I left my childish preoccupation with sexuality behind and instead integrated it into the totality of who I am, I became a stronger more focused well rounded individual by going past being 'gay', being a prefessional queer is a sad way to live it is a one dimensional, limiting and often very dogmatic path, one day it will all be over no issue any more, in life we evolve and we will evolve past all this..in time...believe, work for that possibility and it will come to pass it's all about inspired action.
12. 2009-07-02 08:28  
But one can't intergrate something that's not already there. So unless one has fully accepted one's gay identity without feeling shame or in denial, trying to dress it up or sidestepping the issue is just that - and is evident in some of the comments found here
13. 2009-07-02 08:28  
But one can't intergrate something that's not already there. So unless one has fully accepted one's gay identity without feeling shame or in denial, trying to dress it up or sidestepping the issue is just that - and is evident in some of the comments found here
14. 2009-07-03 12:04  

No, we don't special treatment. But we deserve equal treatment. If heterosexual can get married, so can homomsexual people. If heterosexual people can bring their gfs/bfs/partners into work and declare it so, so can homosexual people. If heterosexual people can claim medical and dental benefits and paternity/maternity leave, so can homosexual people.

When the day comes when people no longer assume my chosen partner is of a different sex, there is equality. That day, we won't need pride anymore. Cos we are equal.

For as long as we are denied rights and opportunities because of our sexual orientation, we need pride, specifically gay pride. Because this patriachal and heterocentric world do not see us. We are invisible.

There are 2 ways to react to oppression - to yield or to resist. To yield means, to have no pride. We are as the heterosexuals say we are - perverted, dirty, sinful, deprived. To resist takes more effort than to sit there and do nothing. Because more is needed to overcome prejudice and discrimination.

And yes, I am proud I am gay, that I love someone of the same sex. Yes, that straight woman and man loves someone in their lives the same way and they don't have to shout it out loud. But I do. Cos their right to love is publicly acknowledged and affirmed. Mine isn't. it is invisible. When mine is publicly acknowledged and affirmed, that day, I don't need pride, I don't need to shout it to the world. Cos my pride is already reflected in society legally and socially.

Until then, my brothers and sisters, PRIDE!

Pity those who who do not understand, closeted and denied within their gay selves.
15. 2009-07-03 13:51  
I think the parallel drawn between gay-ness and Chinese-ness is an interesting one, a bit generic and definitely less than accurate, but nevertheless interesting. It gives us an opportunity to view homosexuality issues (not homosexuality per se, since i believe that sexuality is categorically unique) in another perspective - in terms of the social repercussions of being homosexual, prejudice and well, minority pride.

I think Dr. Tan watered down the academic references in his article. I think his entire experience is one of forthcoming and unashamed Self-Orientalization. This cultural phenomenen is, to be put simply, the conscious and motivated self-recognition (and evincement) of one's own culture (in this case, Chinese roots) when thrown into a context where one's identity is, as a cultural whole, being undermined. It sounds wrong but its not, its simply just a suggestion to why Chinese people might turn to cheongsam in the US when they didn't even wear it in Shanghai. The catch? By doing so, you are simply still subscribing to Western standards. So the West still "wins". In short, in the school of Orientalism , the East never wins. Think of it as, say, when your ex ditched you and then asks u out a year later- if you go, you sound desperate ; if you don't, you sound spiteful.

Now lets go back to the gay context : Some of us think gay pride is unnecessary, because by doing so, we have alienated ourselves. Like lotsofcoffee has pointed out in #6. Which fits the whole i-win-if-i-don't-care. The other camp is one that believes gay pride is necessary, for now. Read #15. But what does Dr. Tan think? (since we ARE commenting on HIS article).

He says he is "damn proud" of being gay for the same reasons why he was proud of being chinese - because he was stigmatized. Sure, the silly people who try to "make" themselves caucasian are downright repugnant. But to judge a person because he can't pronounce "Chong Kee" and having a ranking system for friends really doesn't seem like the way out for us. Because we are assuming that everyone is acting as a result of an informed decision. My girl friend told me once jokingly "hey don't flirt with my boyfriend okay? " after I came out to her. If i were to pull off a Dr. Tan on her, I would be saying goodbye to a friend who was there for 6 years. People stereotype. Even people who claim to be all-embracing. Its a way of bonding and self-recognition. As long as its harmless, why not work on the perpetuator. Educate and not blow people off at every remark they make.

#12 makes a very good point. Viewing ourselves in totality. Lets not start dissecting ourselves and standing up for every individual facet of our identity. Its not that simple. Should I love that pro-Chinese but homophobic friend? Or that gay-friendly one who cheats with the whole world?

Gay pride is necessary only because :
1) as #15 said, our pride is not yet reflected in terms of legislative rights and social recognition.
2) too many of our people suffer from self-homophobia and an ego deficit which was the result of our oppressive surroundings. Think of gay pride as not a +, but what we need to make our negativity reach a neutral "0".

Maybe "pride" reminds of self-aggrandization and glorification and strutting out in heels and makeup, screaming, "IM GAY and IM HERE TO STAY!" . But i would like to think of the "pride" in the term "gay pride" as something profound, something which doesn't (only) thrive on outward exertions but inward reflection and soul-searching. Pride, as in, self-acceptance and love for one as a whole. Not pride as in blaming people for your own problems and refusal to admit that we, as a person and as a community, have our flaws.

The article is a little bit loosely written. Can't quite grasp the core message. But Dr. Tan sorta brought up another interesting topic that didn't quite get the attention of us readers : "Enemies" (why this bipolarization again) that lurk in the darkness. I wouldn't say that all people who can't accept gays are enemies. I would have to kill my parents then. But I get his point, that there are people who are subconsciously anti-gay but take on the liberal bias for one reason or another. I know a few girls who LOVE the gays and cannot stop talking bout their gay adventures but unwittingly let the cat out of their bag, when they say things like "Its okay. Everyone has their own perversions." To this buncha St. Neutrals, I say, we tread cautiously around them.

16. 2009-07-22 22:30  
I'd say it is really very brave of you..to acknowledge who you really are. You have guts. AND a backbone. Bravo to you. :-)

p.s: I completely agree on the slimy-enemy part...rather a shameless-jerk... than a shameless hypocrite. LOL

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