Being comfortable in your own skin takes tremendous courage and strength, especially if you do not quite fit into society’s narrow definitions of “normal” or “regular”. This Pride Month, we’re celebrating the courage of people who’ve found the strength to be unapologetically themselves and proudly own their identities.
We’re shining the rainbow-coloured spotlight on Marissa, Antasha, Mary and Badrika, 4 members of the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore, to talk about what Pride means to them in a county like Singapore, the advice they have for the generations to come and much more.
Tell us about yourselves!
Marissa a.k.a Mars: I’m 28 and I used to be a video producer at The Smart Local, but I’ve recently shifted gears my career and I’m now a firefighter!
Antasha: I’m 21 and I am a transgender woman. Apart from my day job, I consider myself a content creator, and I’m going to represent Singapore in Miss Equality World 2022 happening in Bali this year!
Mary: I am a makeup artist, and have done makeup for almost all of Rawbought’s shoots! I’m also a makeup coach and the founder of a body-neutrality movement called ‘thebodywithin”.
Badrika: I’m Badrika, Mary’s partner for the past 6 years. I used to work in the PR industry in Singapore but now I want to pursue my dreams in construction so I’m working on making it to Canada for a course there.
What does Pride mean to you, especially in a society like Singapore’s?
Mars: Pride is love, simply put. To love someone or to love yourself is to have full acceptance.
Antasha: Pride to me, besides freedom to love, as a transgender woman, it means freedom to be who you want to be, regardless of your gender identity, or whatever else you want to identify as. Just freely being able to identify as who you want to be, without any fear.
Badrika: To me it’s about being comfortable in your skin. We’re taught certain social norms since young, a certain way of life. The moment you realise that it doesn’t fit you, you lose your self-confidence. So once you come to terms with, and accept yourself, you gain it back. That’s what pride is to me.
Mary: To me, it’s always about freedom to love. This is a part of myself that I’m able to express freely, and show that it’s okay to love whoever I want. I shouldn’t be uncomfortable with who I love.
What was your journey towards finding pride and comfort in your identity?
Mary: I identify as bisexual. When I was growing up, I always thought I had to be either gay or straight. I was very confused, and found it very difficult to ask anyone my age because everyone was also discovering themselves as well. As an Indian, it wasn’t an easy thing to talk about with your family either. So I did have a lot of difficulty trying to figure out who I was, and finding comfort within myself. I did a lot of research, like watching videos of people just coming out and understanding that okay, this is how it feels like. Eventually, I was 16 when I finally discovered what bisexuality was and that I could be bisexual. I finally felt comfortable in that realisation.
Badrika: I came to Singapore when I was 18, which helped me be a lot more myself. Because I’m Sri Lankan, so if it’s taboo here, it’s extremely taboo there *laughs*. There was a time I was trying to “fit in” – I used date guys, had long hair, girly dresses, the whole shebang. Gradually I came to realise who I really was, and now i am comfortable in my own skin.
Mars: My journey is a little different from the typical coming out stories of struggle. It was a little more effortless, because being bisexual means that you can present as society’s version of “normal”, to a certain extent. I can be in a “normal” heterosexual relationship and people will just write it off as me being straight and my bisexuality being just a phase. So the acceptance only had to come within. I studied in an all-girls’ school for 10 years, and when you’re 15 or 16, liking someone from the same gender was pretty common, because we were all experimenting with our sexuality. But that kind of stuck throughout my teens to when I became an adult. So that was when I knew that this is not a phase, and that I still am attracted to both men and women. It also helps that my family isn’t very judgemental. My mum is pretty open. She’s straight, but I think she has experimented in the past as well. Something she shared with me really gave me a lot of confidence – she said that she definitely knows that being gay is not a choice because she tried, she tried really hard to choose to be gay but she couldn’t. *laughs*. That was when I knew that if it felt natural and effortless, then that’s just who I was. I asked her, what if I just liked women. And she was just like if you really like women, then you like women. That’s it.
Badrika: Can i borrow your mum? *laughs*
Mars: Of course! *laughs*
Mars: That being said, we may not have a lot of conversations about being bisexual or anything. But just knowing that she isn’t against the LGBTQ+ community helps a lot in the acceptance within myself. I think I’ve just been very lucky and I’m very grateful for that.
So just as an aside, did all of you have to sit your parents and “confess” to them? What was your experience like?
Mary: That was how I told my mum. My mum is very religious, but also homophobic to a degree. So when I told her, I initially thought she accepted it but now I’m starting to see that she didn’t, not really. But that’s okay. I’m learning the boundaries that i can have with the people who don’t accept me and i find love with people who accept me. So it was definitely a struggle coming out to her, about 1 year into my relationship with Badrika. It was pretty scary, I was literally crying on the phone as I did it.
You did on the phone?!
Mary: I did it on the phone because i had no guts to do it face to face! *laughs* I just felt that i had to tell her, because i thought wea could build a relationship and bond through that. She’s my mum, you know? So i really expected that. But unfortunately, I can see that she’s not quite there yet, because of her culture and how she was brought up, so I had to accept that as well.
Antasha: Before I started transitioning, I identified as gay. I attended counselling sessions in secondary school and basically came out to my mum as gay, through my counsellor. But I’m really thankful that my mum is quite supportive of me, despite what society’s view on the LGBTQ+ community. My mum also has a lot of friends from the community, so I think that made it easier for her to accept me. The way i came out to her as trans, well that’s a whole different story!
I used to make short videos on social media, and a few of them went viral, and my mum and stepfather happened to see them. Just like Mary, I spoke to my mum over the phone. At the end of it, she reminded me that no matter what, i will always be her child, and for me to always remember my roots, values and my morals in life. Though it was pretty horrible in secondary school for me, to the point i wanted to quit school because it was affecting my mental state. I love the performing arts and I’ve always taken part in school performances. But it came to the point where my school mates used to shout names at me whenever i stepped onto stage to perform. Though I had a great group of friends that supported me and kept me going, secondary school was hell. But ITE was amazing. I was all prepared to go through the same nonsense over again. But everyone there was really supportive! I started to grow out my hair and put on more makeup when I was in ITE, and I’m really thankful to find a bunch of people that supports me in whatever i do.
What advice do you have for others who are still struggling with defining who they are?
Mary: It’s the same advice that I’ve been following myself throughout the years. Find acceptance within yourself, and find boundaries among others. You don’t have to come out if you’re not comfortable doing it. If anyone makes you feel otherwise, then just know that they’re not the type of people that deserve to be in your life.
Mars: I would say, everyone has their own journey, at their own time. Some of us may feel the pressure to define themselves very quickly, or wonder why they are slow in accepting themselves. It’s important to know that we all go through different struggles, or rather, our struggles maybe similar but the way they affect us can be different. So how and how long we take to accept ourselves will also look different. Just because someone is ahead doesn’t mean that you’re lagging behind. You’re just on a different path, and you need to go through other things in your journey before you get there in the end.
Practical advice would be that if you’re going to come out to family members, make sure that you’re ready for them not to accept you. If you go in with the expectation that they will embrace you, and if/when they don’t, it’ll hit you really hard. It’s a way to protect yourself, especially at this stage where the entire society is not where there is full acceptance, we just need to prepare ourselves for the worst to happen.
So you start off with pessimism?
Mars: *laughs* No, not pessimism, but just being realistic. I’ve had friends who came out to their parents at a really young age and got kicked out of the house. Coming out then might not have the best time, because they didn’t have the resources to look after themselves after. I’ve also had friends who came out when they were older, which gave their family time to accept them. It’s not the most ideal state, but it’s important to protect yourself.
Antasha: For the younger trans teens out there, who are still on their journey, I would say, take your time. It’s not a race. You should take your own time to discover who you really are, who you really want to be. Being trans is definitely not easy and takes a lot of knowledge and resources. I watched a lot of content from YouTubers like Gigi Gorgeous, Nikita Dragon, Bretman Rock, Barbie Gutz, Julie Vu when I was growing up. I still look up to them now, because they’ve inspired me to be who I want to be and put myself out there. Don’t be too harsh on yourself and don’t give up on yourself. I believe one day we will all get to celebrate the freedom to love, the freedom to be who you want to be, no matter your race, or gender or sexuality.
Do you feel the pressure to behave in certain way, because you’re representing your community wherever you are?
Antasha: Yes, I am part of the community and do represent it in a way, but that’s how I feel and what makes me happy. In a way, yes I do feel some pressure from society and from my own community as well, since I do represent it in a way, if it’s how I feel and it’s what makes me happy, that’s who I am going to be – my true authentic self!
Mary: There is a lot of pressure, especially when you get interviewed. You answer these questions and you have to make sure that you’re not affecting anybody else. But I eventually realised even if I make a mistake in saying something, it’s okay. Because nobody is perfect! Just because you’re part of the community, it doesn’t mean that you need to know everything.
Antasha: Also, its’ your own story to share. Each of us has been through different things in life.
Mars: It does take a little bit of courage to put yourself out there. For me, one of the things i was struggling with, was whether I was truly bi enough. I felt like I hadn’t dated enough women to claim that my experiences were truly representative of bisexual people. So initially i wondered if i should identify as straight, but that was weird because that’s not who i truly was! I know I like women and I know that I like men too. So as long as you’re attracted to both genders, you can identify as bisexual. Dating experience doesn’t matter. My experiences as a bisexual woman may not be the same as the next person, but I think that’s the whole point. We are a community of diverse people coming together and resonating with something. So that took off the pressure of being a good representation of a model bisexual. As long as you’re not saying anything harmful towards the community, then i don’t think anyone can find fault with that. They might not agree, but i think it’s okay to have different opinions within the community
This year’s Pink Dot 2022 theme is The Change We Want to See. What changes do you hope to see in our society?
Mary: I’d like to see brands representing the community properly. It frustrates when I see a brand talk about representation and inclusivity and they just have one person on the team who they think is enough to represent the whole community. If you want to be inclusive and diverse, and include people in the community, then please do your research. Are you doing something that is performative, or are you really standing behind the meaning of a movement? I think brands need to step up.
Badrika: There’s lot that still needs to be changed. For a start, representation in mainstream media. The magazines that you buy, the TV shows you watch, we should be represented fairly so it becomes normalised and accepted.
Antasha: We don’t expect you to accept us fully now. We understand, it’s hard. Just show us a little bit more kindness and love from one human to another. I would also like cis-gendered people to be more thoughtful about the questions you ask us trans folks. They can be over the limit and very insensitive sometimes. You’re lucky that you’re dealing with me, my other trans sisters might not have the same patience *laughs*
Mary: i think it’s important to educate them when they do something like that.
Antasha: Yes, definitely. It’s good to have people from the LGBTQ+ community sharing their stories publicly, because not many know what transgenderism is, what HRT is etc. So if you’re not sure, ask. It’s not wrong to ask, but there is a wrong way to ask *laughs* Just be polite, and tactful and you’ll be fine.
Mars: I’d like for us as a society to have a lot more open conversations and empathy towards one another. That’s how the conversations we have can be little more thoughtful, the questions we ask and get asked are a little more tactful as well. I feel like the lack of empathy for us is what encourages rudeness and insensitivity because people haven’t really thought about how someone will feel receiving that question or comment. So mutual empathy, love and acceptance is what I’d like to see in our society hopefully in the near future!
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, we really appreciate everyone’s honesty in opening up about your experiences and perspectives. We hope that this has inspired others, whether to be an ally or to find the strength within themselves to start their journey towards finding pride and comfort in their own skins. Happy Pride Month!