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24 Aug 2012

Singaporean LGBTs share their stories at Our Very Own Stories exhibition

Inspired by the “Its Gets Better” project in the US, Nicholas Deroose, who had recently returned to Singapore from the US, speaks to Fridae about Our Very Own Stories which will feature 12 Singaporean LGBT individuals.

Melissa, a 19-year-old student, accidentally let slip that she is gay when she referred to the gay community as "we" in a conversation with her “religious fundamentalist” sister. Fortunately for Melissa, her sister said she will not judge nor will she tell their mother. But for many others, coming to terms with being gay or transgender and/or coming out to family and friends is a process fraught with anxiety or terror.

Nicholas Deroose

Held in conjunction with IndigNation: Singapore's gay pride festival, Our Very Own Stories will feature 12 Singaporean LGBT individuals who will share their stories of “struggles and triumph against the challenges of self-worth, self-image, discrimination and bullying.” Curator of the exhibition, Nicholas Deroose, 27, says he hopes the collaboration between five community photographers will “inspire hope in youths to show them a future beyond the adversities that they face today.”

Fridae speaks with Nicholas, who had recently returned to Singapore from the US where he was a student, to find out how the project came about. Nicholas was also the producer of Queercast, an Internet gay radio show that run in 2006-2007.

æ: Tell us more about the project. 

Nicholas: Our Very Own Stories will showcase Singaporean LGBT individuals and their stories of struggle and triumph; not only around struggles with sexuality but also gender, depression and the stigma of being HIV positive. 

I am working with five other photographers, and the idea behind it was not only showcase the diversity of the LGBT community but also the artistic diversity of our community photographers. The final presentation and composition of the portrait will be left to the individual photographers but what will be consistent is the theme of empowerment. So people can expect diversity in representation but also diversity in artistic expression. 

æ: How did the project come about?

Nicholas: The idea for the project started when I encountered the “Its Gets Better” project in the US, which was a project that was done in response to the highly covered LGBT suicides that were occurring. We wanted people to submit self made videos to tell LGBT youths that it does get better and that there is a tomorrow beyond the adversity of today. 

I was very inspired and moved by some of the videos and I thought to myself why can’t we have something like that here in Singapore? Why isn’t there already something like that here? 

So Our Very Own Stories was born out of silence. The silence around LGBT issues, the silent response to positive LGBT role models and the silence around empowering LGBT youth. 

The project hopes to give voice to the silence around the issues that we are facing and that by doing so the community would able to pass on the lessons that we have learned to the ones that will come after us. I think more work needs to be done in the LGBT community to build intergenerational relationships of mentorship and guidance. 

The hope is that this is a beginning and that the project will continue to grow and that people will begin to tell their own stories to tell other that may be facing similar problems that they are not alone. 

æ: Were there any stories that surprised or shocked you? 

Nicholas: I am really impressed with the quality of stories from the individuals that have come forward. It is not easy to speak up on issues like being HIV positive or transitioning from one gender to another because of the kind of stigma attached to these issues. 

What has really inspired me so far during this project is the courage of the people who have so willingly open up and allowed themselves to become vulnerable in order to share their personal lives with others. 

Our Very Own Stories (Facebook) runs from Aug 24 - Sep 2 at The Factory, 22 Lim Tua Tow Road, Singapore. ContraDiction 8: Our Very Own Literature (Facebook) will be held Sat 25 Aug, 7.30pm, The Reading Room (21 Tanjong Pagar Road, #04-01, former Mox Bar) 

Melissa, 19, lesbian

 “My sister is a very weird story because one time we were going swimming and on the way back home we were talking about the gay community and she has always known that I was a huge ally of the gay community even before I myself knew that I was gay and I accidentally referred to the community as 'we' and she was like, did you say we? And I was like , no... I didn't. And then she was like is there something you are not telling me?

"And I just told her I guess. And I was really scared because I always thought that my sister was a religious fundamentalist which she is but I was really surprised when she said that I don't want to judge or anything and I still love you very much and I am not going to tell mom.”

Mr X, 27, gay

“It was two weeks after I seroconverted and I didn't even know that I have seroconverted after I found out about my status. Which is good in a way that I detected my status early. I have heard about people lived for years without knowing it and when it was time for treatment, there was no time to readjust, no time to think about their lives. It happened during the month of May 2012.

I don’t blame anyone for getting this disease or this aliment, all it takes is a moment’s folly. I didn’t beat myself up because anyone could have gotten it, it just happened to be me. Perhaps there is a reason that it happened to me. Maybe it is meant to change me and for me to be the change in the world.

Maresh, 21, FTM

“On the 27th of January, 2011, I came in close contact with someone who has since drastically changed my life. She is a transsexual, whom I now refer to as "Amma" (Tamil for 'mother'). She is a prominent figure in Singapore's Indian media. She is an Indian classical dancer whom I came into contact with for the purpose of interviewing her for a school project.

Although I did not gather much information for my project, what began as a impersonal relationship through Facebook has now become a beautiful "mother and son" relationship. She runs a dance school of her own – I attend all of her performances and visit her every now and then. Although she is an extremely busy woman, I know that when she says she loves me, she means it. Us having found each other, in my opinion, is the course of fate's doing. I believe it was destined for us to meet and make such an impact on each other's lives. She has given me so much of strength to embrace my "difference" and to go on and achieve many remarkable feats in life. The parents of her young dance students have never discriminated against her and have only placed importance on her talent in dance, and nothing else. I, too, hope that people will recognize me for my writing abilities someday and not for my physical form.”


Reader's Comments

1. 2012-08-26 19:17  
Nicholas Deroose:

thank you for telling us about stories...I'm a reader from BKK and also continue to follow up your projects. Sometimes, to be a gay is not simple in some countries but if the local people UNDERSTAND what gay is, i think they can live together happily. However, i would like to ask for gays to concern about monogamy relationship to prevent the coming problems such as sexual diseases and family problems as they are a big issue of our society. Anyway, i like your pic :)
2. 2012-08-26 23:20  
yes even in western countries its not easy to come out !
myself i didnt have the courage to come out to my family in scotland until i was 60 yrs old althought i immigrated to canada since 22 yrs of age at that time homosexuality was frowned upon u see so of course it traumatised me most of my life that type of upbringing!

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