Growing up with my Sister
I grew up very close to my sister when I was young. Despite our age gap of seven years, she took great care of me and took me out all the time. Our parents both worked during the day, so she would pick me up after school ever since I was 7, and we’d go home together.
At that point in time, it felt like she was the best sister anyone could’ve asked for. She bought me ice popsicles. She paid for my tamagotchi. She brought me along to meet her friends and play basketball when I didn’t want to do my homework. We played monopoly together till late. I told her everything.
Except one thing.
I Wasn’t Straight
When I turned about 15, I had the sensing that I was no straight man. I knew I definitely wasn’t gay, and was in fact dating a female junior at that point in time. I just knew I was similarly attracted to men. I found their bodies admirable, I liked that they were masculine, I enjoyed looking at them during PE lessons.
But I held all of that to myself because I knew it wasn’t right. Growing up in Singapore, seeing heterosexual couples all around you, having conservative and traditional parents (and grandparents) – all point toward keeping it to myself. I did not see a point in complicating our relationships.
But a pivotal point was when I turned 17. I was in polytechnic, pursuing a Mass Communications Diploma, where everyone was vibrant and sexuality was celebrated. People were all open around me. And I did gradually feel like in the span of a year, I slowly tore down the walls I’ve built around me, grew more open and accepted myself internally – myself for who I am as a queer person.
I just knew likewise, that I wasn’t going to tell my family. All but my sister – who I was still close to. Who grew up with me, spent my after-school hours with me, gaming, who had gay friends!
“She had gay friends.” – I thought. That was exactly why of all people, I reckoned she’d be the one who understood.
She cried when I told her. We were in the bedroom we shared ever since we were kids, and I was sitting on her bed. I vividly remember she stood up and asked me, “are you sure?” I felt optimistic, almost as if she only wanted me to be okay. I’ve told her that I’m not straight, but I’m not 100% certain if I’m gay or bisexual yet. That I’m still figuring it out, and that I wanted her to keep it to herself, because I wasn’t ready and she was the one person I trusted the most in the world.
“You need to tell our parents, this is not right,” she replied in mandarin. And it broke me.
I remembered a lot of crying, closing the door so that my family would not hear me do so, and begging her to not force me into it. But she was adamant that I needed their input to correct what was “wrong”. That I have “chosen” a path I would regret later in life, and that this was beyond her.
I eventually ran out of tears and I was forced to agree that I’ll come out to them on my own terms soon. I needed to somehow find courage, and for that I needed time.
She told them.
I came home after school a day later and saw my parents sitting by my bed. They’ve taken the day off. With the seriousness they held on their faces, I just knew. My older sister wasn’t home but she clearly told them the moment I told her. And I’m now forced to come out to them when I wasn’t at all ready.
It was a difficult conversation. Actually, it was a pretty f**ked conversation. They told me my older sister spoke to them, and I said I knew. There was an uncomfortable silence for about fifteen seconds.
I have begun tearing up at this point, and had to rearrange my words but picked the right ones on my third try. “I don’t only like girls,” I said – what I felt was accurate yet not the most representative of being bisexual, a buffer. I couldn’t say how they looked or reacted exactly, because I remember I couldn’t bear to make eye contact when I said it.
My dad stood up and left the room.
My mom visibly sat back. And I sobbed harder.
Another painful fifteen seconds.
“Why?” she asked. I wanted to give her a reason but I couldn’t. Her single question made me doubt the acceptance I’ve provided myself with, the walls I’ve let down, and whether it was all a choice. I don’t remember making a decision. I never “chose” to also like men. Why would I knowingly make my life difficult?
But I failed to put these thoughts into words. My dad stormed back in and was evidently furious. He always had anger management issues, and this seemed like one of the extremes. In a fit of anger, he thumped parts of the metal bed frame, as he questioned me on who I’ve been hanging out with, why I’ve chosen to disappoint my family, and what they’ve done wrong to raise me.
They warned me that if I don’t “change”, they’ll kick me out of the family. That I’ll be a disappointment to them, my grandparents, siblings and all our relatives. That I would never be successful, and will end up on the streets and die alone.
As a teen, I could only agree to “try to change”. And I never did.
Love can be conditional
The hardest lesson I had to learn at 17, was coming to terms with myself that my family, in their own way, still loves me. They do care for me, they do want me to be successful, they want me to grow up with little hardship, land a great job, and live out a beautiful life. They want all that that benefits me, and that is their way of showing love.
But they also want me to not like men. They want me to abstain from sex forever, and find a future wife. They want me to stay closeted and lock my attraction to men in a box forever.
You see, at the end of the day – they do want me to be happy, on their condition. They love me if I play to their expectations of me; if I found a girlfriend, if I brought home one, intend to marry one. As much as I just wanted to explore my sexuality and celebrate my identity, I couldn’t.
At the age of 17, I learnt that love can be conditional. Even if the love we harbour for our biological families isn’t, it might not be reciprocated.
Our “Chosen” Families
In queer culture, we have what we call our “chosen” families. Because society isn’t ready. Our family isn’t ready. And in the process of coming out, we sometimes lose the families we were born into. But likewise, we find new ones that accept and celebrate us for who we are.
These rocks in my life, my “chosen” family, have been consistent in the ways they love me through the ups and downs. My best friend, J, was there when I cried and broke up with my ex of four years – we rode on gin and tonic as we binged Friends into the night. My other rock, T, stayed true to me throughout our friendship – objectively lecturing me for my f**k ups whenever I needed it, and most recently celebrated a career achievement I attained just last week.
And I thank all of you (you know who you are), for staying and becoming some of my biggest, favourite confidants. You all meant the absolute world to me when it felt like it was all falling apart and I’ll never forget that.
For the rest of the LGBTQIA+ folks, I want you to remember that even if your sexuality has strained your relationship with your family, it’s okay. It takes time for things to come around, and it takes time for you to know better. Take some time to identify, then cherish your safe spaces with all your heart. Because for the longest time, they’ll be the ones you call home, and that’s okay. With mine, I’ve never been happier.
Are you close to your family, or do you find comfort in your “chosen” ones? Share your story with us.