Richie Jen (任贤齐), popular singer from Taiwan shot to fame with the song Too Soft Hearted (心太软). He had always given the image of a tough motorbike riding kind of guy. Even when he moved his career to Hong Kong and became an actor, he steamed up the screen in romantic comedies as an uncouth mechanic in Marry a Rich Man – 嫁個有錢人 (2002) or as a baddie who gets killed in police crossfires in Breaking News – 大事件 (2004). And of course, he is the current face of California Fitness.
So it came as a surprise when he appeared in Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (明天記得愛上我) 2013 as a nerdy closeted gay optician who gets married and even has a child. He finally comes out when he meets a handsome flight steward from Hong Kong. This is, of course, in true silver screen fashion, discovered by his clueless wife, played by another popular Taiwanese singer Mavis Fan (范曉萱), who duly divorces him. Familiar on-screen tragedy? Yes but it was presented more as a comedy than a melodramatic weepie. Guess that’s why it was really quite enjoyable to watch – no tiresome hysteria-drama.
The movie on top of being entertaining introduced in light hearted fashion a truly serious familial issue found in conservative Chinese societies where young men are expected to get married and procreate a family as it is their responsibility as so aptly said by a mother in another movie about gay love, The Wedding Banquet (喜宴) 1993: “the purpose of life is to produce children” (loosely quoted). And so the tragic situation of the gay widow (wife of a gay man).
In Singapore society, the situation is familiar especially for our gay men who are post war babies, the ones who grew up in the dark ages of 1960s to 1980s. I used to think that there are not so many such cases but in recent years, I realised that there are so many out there. I even have good friends who are gay and married with children. In my discussions about the topic with gay friends, I found out that they also know of many such men.
On the other hand, it is also an eye opener to know that such men are in demand in the gay community as sex partners and some even as boyfriends. In fact, I overheard a conversation during an outing with a large group of gay friends. One of them actually declared quite audibly that he found married gay men quite irresistible. A look at online chat portals would also reveal that being married is an attractive asset, some chatters even using the nickname ‘married’ while others actively sought out married men in the main chatroom.
This Closet Has No Doors
Post-war babies grew up in the 60s to the 80s when Singaporean society was still very conservative.
No one talks about being gay basically because the word only came into existence here much later. At that time, gay men were called Ah Kua (阿官), a derogatory term in Chinese meaning a transsexual or Pondan or Bapok, both derogatory Malay terms meaning effeminate men. They were all said with a sneer with an aim to humiliate and belittle.
Then there was religion. This was especially true of the Christian faith where pastors and priests condemned homosexuality on their pulpits, some more often than others, some more strongly than others but all equally opposed to it.
And remember that all this took place during a time when there was no internet.
Gay young men growing up at that time were subjected to these pressures on top of feeling that somehow they were different from their classmates and friends. Many kept their tortured lives to themselves; others coped by self-denial.
Coming out to parents were almost unheard of. The brave ones who did faced the prospect of being thrown out of their homes by their fathers, and tears and threats of suicide from their mothers.
When the gay men came to the marriageable age, they were subjected to pressure from parents, relatives and even friends and colleagues. These gained intensity during festivals when extended families got together and the conversation inevitably drifts to “when is it your turn to get married?” Match-making was not uncommon when relatives with the best of intentions would introduce nice girls.
Under such societal pressures, it is little wonder that many gay men caved in especially the ones who were already in self-denial. As a result, many got married and even had children, going deeper into the closet without doors.
Has this situation changed in Singapore? In many cases, maybe not. But most gay men who have lived through those years would agree that society here has changed. With the advent of the internet, better education and the changing mind set of the political leaders, things which would not have been possible in the past would now be. There are many stories of coming out to parents, and stories of parents actually accepting their gay children are not unheard of today. The more relaxed attitudes towards the gay community, although 377A* still remains, should surely be an encouragement to us. And of course Pink Dot – the exponential growth in attendance and support from the straight community even among the religious surely must be the sign of the times. But there is still a long way to go in this journey to a better tomorrow.
Meanwhile, our gay baby boomers are stuck in a situation which they have deal with.
The Best Among the Worst?
Three options are open to the married gay men. The first is to just grit their teeth and carry on with life, burn with unfulfilled desire but suppress it. Many would say this is the best option because they have made their bed so they should lie in it.
The second option is to find sexual gratification elsewhere. Some find this in paid sex, others in gay saunas and yet others getting a boyfriend on the side which most probably was the case in ancient China where after fulfilling their familial obligations of procreation, they had male bosom friends that they spend more time with than with their wives.
Of course there is the third option: get a divorce and move on. This, to many, is the best option but it may not be open to all. It may not be open to married gay men who have children because it affects more than just 2 lives. There may also be other reasons why they choose to remain married.
This is a really controversial issue and many people would have lots of opinions on it. The complexity of the issue really means that no matter what decisions are made, someone is bound to get hurt in the process.
It is not my intention to condemn or to suggest a solution to such a tragic situation. I seek merely to look at a problem which most likely has no real solution, examine how it ended up like this and perhaps warn others who have not yet fallen into the same trap to avoid it like the plague.
I do not feel that it is my place to judge another person. It is just my sincere wish that all our married gay men will somehow be able to find their own solutions to their problems.
The ending of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is a divorce and moving on. But no matter what, it is still just reel life. In real life, is it so easy?
*377A – Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men.
Call Oogachaga Hotline (6226-2002 – Tuesdays to Thursdays 6 to 10 pm and Saturdays 2 to 5 pm) if you need someone to talk to about your issues.
Look out for next week’s article on an interview with a Singaporean married gay mature man.