Being Gay in Society
First pulished in publichouse.sg in October 2011
In the first part of Reverend Miak Siew’s interview with publichouse.sg, he talked about faith and sexuality, and why it is ok to be gay. Miak continues to spill his views. Over coffee and with the afternoon sun streaming through the windows of the restaurant we were in, he looks at what it means to be a gay man in society. The issues you have to contend with; the prejudices and the assumptions you face; the barriers that exist; the things that others take for granted which you cannot—that people who have not experienced may find hard to understand or even empathise with.
“Once you are labelled ‘gay’ people jump to sex straightaway,” he says, almost amusedly. “And assume you live a ‘gay lifestyle.’ Let me ask them, which part of my lifestyle is ‘gay?’ I live my life just like any other human being. If you are just thinking about the sex bit, then you are thinking that I am having more sex than I am actually having. And why should that one thing define who I am? Just like with every other human being, sex is not the key thing in my life. And to judge me based on this thing that is strange.”
Indeed, Miak and his counterparts have been doing much to dismantle this negative perception of the gay people, and they have been doing it through projects in the very community that also struggles with homosexuality—their Christian community. To do this is subvert the belief that homosexuality is a ‘sin’ and live a very radical and empowering form of acceptance.
“We started a church project to help rid flats of bed bugs,” Miak explains, giving an example. “We listed our project in the newspapers, not as a church venture but just as a social project, and invited people to join us. We had people from all walks of life come, and when they realised that we were a bunch of gay men it was transformative. Were we only interested in drugs, sex, clubbing and alcohol, like people say? Or was there more to our community? By walking with us, they saw there was so much more.”
HIV/AIDS is another area where negative perceptions about the gay community has led to serious flaws. “HIV/AIDS has always been seen as a gay disease and that view remains,” he says, without missing a beat. “But this detracts us from dealing with a lot of the other people who live with this illness. For instance, middle aged women are testing positive, infected by their husbands. It’s hard enough to break the news to anyone that they are HIV+, and its even more heartbreaking to tell someone who is like your aunty or your mum that it’s happened to them. It’s an issue of justice and of life and death, and we are still wrestling with that. How do we start being more open about these issues?”
By talking about them, which a frank discussion about homosexuality inviarably brings about. “We raise the issue of sex,” says Miak straighforwardly. “This makes many people feel hugely uncomfortable. But we enter into the conversation to help people think more openly about sex and to recognise its issues inherent in our lives and in our society; issues that we face, even if they are not directly about homosexuality, like sexual violence or gender roles.”
And he points out that it’s not all about them; and that the gay community also has a lot to contribute to society and family. “A lot of LGBT kids, like me, live with their parents because we’re not married,” Miak explains. “We end up being the ones looking after mum and dad because we are the only ones who are single and have no children. So when people say we are anti-family or we are destroying families, please let me say that I am part of family. A friend wrote an article that said instead of coming ‘out,’ think of it as coming ‘home.’ And that resonates a lot in Asian culture because so many LGBT people live their adult lives at home, with family.”
Ultimately, he wants to reach out and issues an invitation to all who care to listen. “Get to know me first,” he asks. “Meet up with me, spend some time with me, walk with me and then we can talk. We do not have to agree a hundred percent of the time. Yet we still can live together harmoniously, we can still love one another as a society. And that’s what I want to help build—a society where people can strive together for something we have in common even if we don’t always agree. I am sure that if we dig deep, we will realise that we have more things in common than we don’t.”
Our first coffee is done and we order a second.
Part 3 of this series sees Miak talk about other ways in which he wants to make this world a better place.
For all Miak’s passionate drive behind this cause, he is hardly militant. In fact, he is sensitive to the fact that not everyone is ready to embrace his sexuality or his opinions. And he is tolerant of those who don’t, although he is concerned about the impact their objections might have on LGBT people who haven’t yet built up enough confidence in their identity to hold their own.
“I don’t come out every time,” he declares. “I make choices because I understand I live in a constellation of relationships that is impacted by my actions, and that I need to be mindful of my relationships and be gentle with them.”
“I have met a lot of people who think being gay is not ok and who feel very convicted about it, and that’s fine. A lot of them are very nice people. I respect their views, but I worry about what their views could end up doing. In the US, for example, it’s clear that LGBT teens are more susceptible to suicide because of the lack of acceptance they face. They are persecuted in their schools, they are bullied and their parents don’t accept them. Their lives are miserable. An integral part of them is rejected, and either you suppress it or you try to pray it away or do whatever it takes to fit in; or you reach a point where it’s not tenable to half a life and they choose not to live at all. How can we help people who are against homosexuality to see that some of their ideas can be harmful? I want them to know this not to stop them from thinking this, but to see the potential outcome of their thoughts and ideas.”
He himself has seen some of the harmful outcomes of this—in gay men who marry women. “Some gay men end up married because they are persuaded by the Ex-Gay movement that they can change,” he says. “Then three, five, ten years into a marriage the men realise they have been living a lie and cannot go on anymore. Do you know how painful it is for them to tell the woman they have been living with the truth, and betray her and leave their children behind? It is not easy. A lot of the time people just see the final act, where the husband is breaking up with the wife, but they don’t see the years of torture and wrestling and internal struggle and the pain. And the men are always painted as the bad guys. But who convinced them that they could change in the first place? It’s the Ex-Gay movement that is breaking up marriages, not homosexuality.”