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14 Nov 2013

What are we afraid of?

Homophobia (and internalised homophobia) is perpetuated by non-gay as much as by gay people. Leow Yangfa, editor of I Will Survive, says for it to be rendered obsolete we need to recognise it in ourselves, and call it out for what it is.

While some people still hold the outdated view that homosexuality is a Western import into Asia, it cannot be further from the truth. For centuries, cultural depictions of same-sex relations have existed in art, literature and folklore across the world’s most populous continent.

From the classic ancient Hindu text Kama Sutra, to the well-documented history of romantic and sexual relationships between men across various Chinese dynasties; from the celebrated same-sex love between Japanese monks and samurais, to the Thai tradition of recognising the kathoey as a third gender. For the longest time, homosexuality has always been an integral part of Asian civilisations. It is only in recent centuries, with European colonial expansion and subsequent legislations, that homophobia and homophobic attitudes have become the norm in Asia.

Homophobia refers to one’s feelings of fear, hatred or disgust towards homosexuals, and the prejudiced view that gay men and lesbians are wrong, immoral, sick or sinful.

Here is a real-life example of homophobic bullying through name-calling:

‘I was walking out of the school one day towards the bus stop, when this guy screamed at me, “Hey faggot!”’

Homophobia can, and does, exist in every aspect of our lives. If you’re a gay man and someone asks you and your boyfriend the question, “Who is the ‘man’ and who is the ‘woman’ in your relationship?” That is homophobia. It shows that the person asking is ignorant, and the question itself is offensive in nature.

In a survey conducted in 2012 in Singapore by Oogachaga, a gay-affirmative counselling and personal development agency, 60.2% of the respondents indicated they have had experiences with sexual orientation and/or gender identity based abuse and discrimination. Gay males (62.5%) experienced the second highest incidence of such experiences after transgender females.

Yet ironically, it is not only non-gay people who are guilty of spreading homophobia. Most gay men in Asia grow up and live in homophobic, heteronormative environments, where the prevailing norm is to be heterosexual, be interested in the opposite sex, marry and have children. It is therefore not unusual for many of us to internalise this homophobia, and express it in our daily lives.

Internalised homophobia can take the form of a gay individual’s attitudes, language or behaviours. Examples of a gay man internalising homophobia include: being uncomfortable with public displays of affection between two men, but accepting of a man kissing a woman on the street; calling effeminate men insulting terms like “fag” or “sissy”, but not allowing others to use those terms on yourself; assuming that all gay men are sexually promiscuous and unfaithful; or making comments like, “I wish those guys wouldn’t be so obvious about being gay.”

It requires a high level of self-awareness to check our own internalised homophobia. And it means asking ourselves some difficult questions:

“Do I identify myself as gay, queer, bisexual or closeted? Or do I just have dates or sex with other guys, but I’m not ‘openly’ gay?”

“Am I comfortable with how I see myself? Or with how other people see me?”

“How comfortable am I to see other gay, queer, bisexual or closeted men? How do I feel about how I see and respond to them?”

“How do I think I might see myself differently in a few years’ time?”

These self-reflective questions are very personal in nature, and there are no right or wrong answers. But one thing for sure: Homophobia is rendered obsolete when we recognise it in ourselves, or when we call it out for what it is in other people.

Homophobic people become powerless when we identify them for who they are and what they represent. We can challenge their homophobic views as unacceptable, with reason and logic. We can dispel their fear-mongering with our personal life experiences. And we can end homophobia when we fight for equality before the law.

Leow Yangfa is the editor of I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender stories in Singapore. He is also deputy executive director of Oogachaga, an LGBT-affirming counselling and development agency in Singapore.

This article is originally published in Element magazine Vol.3. To purchase Element magazine, log onto www.elementmag.asia for more information.

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-11-14 21:24  
What exactly is "internalised" homophobia? Does it mean that all gay men need to swish and sashay otherwise they are not "free" about who and what they are within? Are we then making the assumption that for a gay man to be "liberated" or be "free" to acknowledge his sexual orientation means that a gay man must, so to speak, "camp" it out for the world to see?

I mean, we know of very masculine openly gay men like Orlando Cruz, the boxer, and other openly gay athletes. Is Yang Fa saying that, for these masculine gay role models, in order for them to be out and proud means that they must not frown upon effeminacy? But it's a known fact that the more masculine one is, the more appealing one is to other gay men and that, generally, apart from looks, gay men are somehow more inclined to choose "straight-acting" partners rather than effeminate ones. Why is that, I wonder?

The fact remains that masculinity is one of the more highly prized traits among gay men whether or not we like to admit it. Masculinity attracts most of us. And, what's wrong with that?
Comment edited on 2013-11-14 21:29:36
Comment #2 was deleted by its author on 2013-11-14 21:26
3. 2013-11-14 21:55  


Should make for interesting reading/listening.
4. 2013-11-15 00:29  
I'm a firm believer in being yourself. If you're generally effeminate, there's nothing wrong with that. If you're generally masculine, there is nothing wrong with that. And if you don't identify with either of those labels, there is nothing wrong with that either.

I've come across many profiles the use language like "I hate sissy" or "I hate effeminate". Why the hate? I never understood the hatred. I totally understand the sexual preference for a masculine guy, but why such strong "hate" for anyone or any group?

I personally don't judge friends who enter my life based on whether they're masculine or effeminate — as long as you're not an arrogant jerk or have a bitchy attitude, we could get along.

And what's with the "straight-acting" term people use to describe themselves? Why "act"? You're either masculine or not or don't give a f*ck either way. Basically, just be who you are guys.
5. 2013-11-15 01:07  
Gay people do seem to love labelling, but dislike being labeled themselves.

Look at the pro and anti arguments over Pride events. Look at all those labels we use...

Preppy, Jock, Daddy, Twink etc.....

Internalised homophobia is real. There's nothing more boring than a gay man who hates the thought of other gay men having a good time.

Yep, boring.
6. 2013-11-15 01:26  
I don't see a problem whether you choose to scream it out or keep closeted, and this doesn't just apply to being gay, it's in regards to everything which I guess the majority of people classify as deviating from the 'norm'.

As long as you're happy with what you choose and you don't force others to have the same beliefs as you do.
7. 2013-11-15 03:05  
Very good analysis!
8. 2013-11-15 04:45  
People like to feel special, to feel right, through comparison. Often using a gay insult is a way of affirming one's self-righteousness, attempting to wrongly affirm one's identity. When i was a kid i was insulted often with gay slang remarks simply because i was shy, and i'm sure those other kids didn't even know what being gay meant, but that's what they were taught by their wonderful progenitors.

Gay people themselves discriminate.I've heard countless people saying negative things on effeminate types. I learned that, if you're not ok with those who surround you, there's something wrong with you. Grow some balls, and fight for something more than yourself. Fight for the right of others of being exactly who they are, with pride.
9. 2013-11-15 08:14  
Opinions are like assholes; we've all got them and they usually stink. Different people do different things, different people like different things, what may well not be my cup of tea may well be someone else's champagne, you have what tickles your fancy, I'll have what tickles mine, that way we all get what we want without denying anybvody else what they want either. Everybody wins.
Interesting to note-
have any of you ever had to face the ''wrath" of a fem boy or a drag queen?
Let's see how much of a man you are when that happens.
10. 2013-11-15 13:40  
I don't agree that it is homophobic to inquire as to which one in the relationship is the man or the woman/top or the bottom. That's just role assignation by the parties involved, and unless their both fairly evenly "versatile", then one is more masculine/top than the other. OTOH, a woman can be the top if she beats her man into sub-mission or submission if she's on a mission of her own. Some men are more effeminate than their genetic/anatomic women. So, would it be heterophobia if a man and woman elicited hushed reactions on prime-time or daytime gossip shows? If a man drops his pants or lifts his shirt on stage and said, "My woman does this to me, and I LOVE my part in our bedly games?

In 1992, I attended a course called Human Sexuality, and our instructor was very open-minded, encouraging us all to say what we wanted to share, and we dissected, discussed, and learned. My own personal feeling tho, is it is not homophobic to ASK about a gay/lesbian couple's male/female/top/bottom preferrence/role. If, however, the enquirer physically grimaced, winced, and slinked away, and then spoke about God, or sins, or hell, or the like, even that, at best, that would be ignorance or myopia. Once the person spouts homophobic terms, and leaves the subject feeling condemned, fearful, or sub-human, then definitely, that crosses the bounds and into homophobia.
11. 2013-11-15 18:37  
It's interesting to note the parallel homophobia existing in the lesbian world too, where femmes are deemed the much sought after than butches or andros.

Whatever way, people will judge you one way or the other in life generally. So I think it's more an internal questioning of what one is really afraid of or need to grow courage to dare stand for really. Be happy, be authentic, be ALL you can and wanna be in one's short life on earth. Life is indeed too short to hide in ANY kind of closets.

Shutting or adding pressure to close ANYONE'S orientation doors is indeed cruel and speaks volume on the need to be righteous and controlling to me.
Comment edited on 2013-11-15 18:42:09
12. 2013-11-15 20:38  
i just sitting with an ugly, sissy, face and body are not interesting.
there are also another 3 boys around.chit-chat.
but Everybody with him, can be different proposal.

should make difference between Like/dislike, love, money, friend,sex.
love is about heart and soul.

like/sex is about taste
friend is about similarity, connectivity, care,etc

I will not explain all on how to evaluate all of these.

so, inside LGBT there is still no love because they forget why we are created.
13. 2013-11-16 00:14  
great post keep up
14. 2013-11-16 06:44  
All good comments..BUT I have to take exception with Heemale's comments above.

From the very start of your comment you ask.."What exactly is "internalised" homophobia? Does it mean that all gay men need to swish and sashay otherwise they are not "free" about who and what they are within?" Might I suggest that you do some reading on the subject before you make such fallacious statements...nobody is saying here that we all need to swish and sashy...suggesting such might be a god sign of your own internalized issues...and to use those words is at the very least, insulting to many people...especially those who might do so naturally. It is an example of gay-on-gay stereotyping and part of the problem.

As for.."...Is Yang Fa saying that, for these masculine gay role models, in order for them to be out and proud means that they must not frown upon effeminacy? YES...exactly...none of us should frown upon anyone else's mannerisms...straight, gay, effeminate or otherwise...

Finally.."...But it's a known fact that the more masculine one is, the more appealing one is to other gay men and that, generally, apart from looks, gay men are somehow more inclined to choose "straight-acting" partners rather than effeminate ones...The fact remains that masculinity is one of the more highly prized traits among gay men whether or not we like to admit it.. Please speak for yourself and refrain from stating "facts" where you have no evidence to back it up other than your personal preferences. Sorry, but such broad sweeping statements being stated as fact is simply incredulous at best. I don't "prize" masculinity any more than I prize black hair or green eyes...what on earth would I want a partner to "act" straight? This simply perpetuates the homophobia in our own community.

Take people and like or dislike them for who they are and not for how they act or appear...

15. 2013-11-16 07:19  
To Heemale...
If there were a young guy thinking about coming out, who just happened to be less than masculine or even effeminate...how would your comments make him feel about himself?...pretty shitty I would suspect!!

AS the song says.."I am what I am...and what I am needs NO EXCUSES!"

16. 2013-11-16 08:22  
Gays come in different "flavors" as do straights, ethnic groups, cultures, etc. And that my friends is a good thing. No labeling should be needed or required. We need to do less judging and more accepting.
I would hate to think everyone would have to be and/or act in a certain way to be within society's acceptable behavioral standards. What a dull world this would be. Me thinks they have a word for that kind of world and it doesn't include a freedom of choice.

Comment #17 was deleted by its author on 2013-11-17 13:05
Comment #18 was deleted by its author on 2013-11-16 14:35
19. 2013-11-16 18:29  
When I arrived to China, I thought I had arrived in "gay heaven". So many Chinese men are so effeminate in the way they act and dress. I soon realized that it is just the way Chinese men are. Flashy shirts unbuttoned to show their hairless chests, purses being carried by the men, hand gestures or how they hold a cigarette are all things I would find in America. Then again, the way many Chinese women dress in China reminded me od "street walkers" in America. It is just a cultural thing here.

We have to be who we are. I do not go around waving a rainbow flag to everyone. But, I would never deny who I am either. If a person asks me if I am gay, I first answer to myself why they are asking. If I think they should know, then I tell them? If not, I just reverse the question to them. I will ask them, "Why do you want to know? Are you gay? DO you find me attractive"? This seems to have them on offense and they will change the subject. If they ask the question again, I will tell them the truth. Gay is what I am. It is not who I am. That is a very important philosophy for me.
Comment #20 was deleted by its author on 2013-11-16 18:34
21. 2013-11-16 18:43  
Effeminate men act out their gayness because that is who they are and they have real balls. I love out there/in your face sissy guys because they are the real men. Don't you dare mess with them. They are the backbone of gay pride. All the straight acting ones are a bore and closetted. I don't prefer masculine men over sissy ones. I love to act up and rub it in their faces so that they can confront their own internal homophobia.
22. 2013-11-18 00:37  
I know of a gay friend who is slightly effeminate, W, who shakes his head in disgust whenever he sees an effeminate male. And he'd sometimes say "why must he be so openly gay/ sissy" about some other gay friends.

We took a psychology class about why we'd sometimes "instinctively" dislike someone as we meet. Sometimes it's because that person is a mirror of our selves.
And W admits that because "those people" tends to remind him of himself.

I do understand what the article is trying to convey... maybe a lot of this has to do with acceptance, of self and from others.
And sometimes, people "act straight" not only for themselves, but the person may just be considerate toward the other people.

But yes... a world where everyone can accept everyone for who they really are would be a lovely place to look forward too. And making people talk about it may be one step toward it ;)
23. 2013-11-18 02:13  
I think gay men who belittle others for being effeminate are usually just fearful that other people may see them that way. Effeminate men are really the only obvious gay men ( if in fact they are gay ) and therefore the target of homophobic straight people who don't understand that effeminate men are probably a rather small minority of the gay community. A powerful tool in fighting homophobia is to disabuse the public of this misconception by being 'out'. One doesn't need to tattoo a rainbow flag on his forehead. Just being out to family and close friends is a very good start.

Although I have no interest in show tunes or fashion I find that I like effeminate men. They are often much more interesting than the accountant who dresses in leather on Friday nite. And I am not afraid to be seen with an effeminate man in public. As long as a man is not bitchy and confrontational I will fight, if necessary, for his right to be who and what he is.

One other aspect of inter-gay discrimination that was not addressed is the matter of 'top' and 'bottom'. How often I have heard someone say, in a condescending manner, "He's just a big bottom.." or words to that effect. I don't like it. It is an integral and necessary part of the gay spectrum. What would 'tops' do without 'bottoms'? And really, unless you are contemplating sexual relations with someone, what difference does it make?
24. 2013-11-18 03:01  
hello everyone,

This is Yangfa, the writer of the above article on homophobia.

Although I don't have the answers to all your questions, I'm really glad to see that it has finally generated discussion about a topic that we rarely deal with within the gay & bisexual male communities.

If you're keen to find out more about homophobia & transphobia in Singapore, here's a study that was conducted recently:


best regards,
25. 2013-11-18 09:32  
Southie161, I am, like you, entitled to my own opinions. Scream all you want, southie161, but facts are facts and masculinity is, from my personal experience having lived in a few places around the world, a generally prized trait (apart from looks) among gay men. That's what makes us gay in the first place - the fact that we prefer the masculine over the feminine, otherwise we'd all be straight carpet-munchers.

Yes, I take pride in my masculinity but that does not mean that I impose the same exacting standard of behaviour on my prospective partners. If you truly believe that we should all accept each other for what we are, then you, southie161, should walk the talk yourself and stop being so defensive.

I happen to like being masculine and being a man's man. And, what's wrong with that?
Comment #26 was deleted by its author on 2013-11-18 14:29
27. 2013-11-18 14:33  
there are 2 shop attendants: a boy1 talking to another boy2.
Boy1 : I prefer to a girl working Here
Boss : Yes, I prefer to a girl too, so i will fire u, replaced by a girl.

here, we can see that sexual and working quality should not be mixed.
You work to do the job, not to see girl.
You work to do the job, not to see gender or sexual orientation. That is corruption.

If someone prefer to masculine gay. its probably about sexual.
You do corruption of job quality if you mix working quality with sexual orientation/ looks.

But if the job require "look" quality, it will not be a matter.
But Look quality can be temporary.
Because we have to take care and love all people. no matter what they look like.

Remember that Gay Pride is about acceptance of what God had created.

It is not only about LGBT but about all people including heterosexual.
LGBT just a symbol, Representative,just Icon about love, care and acceptance of Human being. As A tool for them.

It is contradictive with Religion because religion is looking for power using love and kindness as cosmetic to attract follower.
Religion is symbol of imperialism/invasion/snake.

You can see many bank, food , commercials,etc. using religion symbol.
that must be changed by Rainbow symbol.

You must be pride sitting with ugly, effeminate men
Showing that we accept what God had been created.
time for sex appeal can be in different situation.
you are not wrong when u like masculine.
But manage your time for not always thinking about sex in 24 hours.

28. 2013-11-19 23:59  
The point is not, and never has been, that gays "should" be more, or less, stereotypically masculine. The point is that judging people to be unworthy based on superficial traits is weak. Taking people as they are is better. We all judge based on surface qualities, but we also have the chance to question, why this judgment and not a different one? And ultimately, to see that judgment of the surface means nothing lasting.

If you don't swish around, fine. If you don't like to date or screw guys who swish around, fine. If you think guys who swish around deserve contempt, then ... no thanks.
29. 2013-11-21 07:11  
The negative response to effeminacy in males is closely linked to a general undervaluing of the feminine and an overvaluing of the masculine in societies, past and present. Masculine energy is often viewed as strong and powerful while feminine energy is considered passive and weak. One of the tragic outcomes of the undervaluing of the feminine can be seen in countries where gendercide – the killing of girl fetuses/babies – is widespread.

Homophobia is, in part, based on this mistaken assumption that “masculine is better”. Why would any male choose to behave socially or sexually in a “feminine” way, homophobes wonder. Whether the homophobia is external or internalized, the result is the same: effeminate males are teased, tormented, assaulted, and marginalized because feminine is perceived as “not good”. So-called “straight-acting gay men” (to them and their admirers I say: Wake up! The fact that you have sex with men automatically means you don’t play for the straight team) are rewarded for coming closer in superficial ways to the masculine “ideal”. We must understand that being effeminate is no more a choice than being gay is a choice, and neither should ever be viewed as undesirable or "bad".

The more society moves toward an acceptance of males and females as truly equal, the less “sting” there will be to homophobia.
30. 2013-12-01 12:24  
i dun get it

as long as we make love behind closed doors

its fine right ???

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