Tonight when I logged on to Fridae, I nearly fell off my chair. There, on the front page of the website was a familiar face. Evenmore startling was the headline under it: "Singapore teacher removes coming out blog under ministry pressure". For those who still don't know, Otto had started a blog with an open letter to Singaporeans pleading greater acceptance of gay people. In it, he said that he had always been gay and proud of it, that being in the closet all these years working as a teacher had stunted his personal growth as a living, loving human being, and that he hoped Singaporeans would see the current anti-gay crusade for what it is - a play for more political and moral influence by a small group of religious conservatives with hate in their hearts. I spent a good half hour reading the story and going to all the websites that had reproduced Otto's coming out letter. At the end of it, I was almost moved to tears - especially when I saw the many words of encouragement sent to Otto by his students.
"Dear Mr Fong, regardless of your sexuality, you'll still always be one of our greatest ever teachers," said one of the posts, penned by two of his students who hold leadership roles in school. "We as leaders under you for two years have seen how you set the foundation for us and pushed us forward. Where we are now, especially in our CCA leadership has come from you. We strongly believe that your teaching is too valuable to be compromised because of sexual orientation. RI can't lose this gem. We hope they don't."
I couldn't help but try to recall my impressions of Otto. I have only met him twice, at two BearProject movie outings. The first time I met him, he seemed reluctant to tell me what he did for a living and where he worked. There is a big gulf to traverse between that conversation(maybe two months ago) and his actions on Saturday, and this is why I find his public revelation doubly surprising and awe-inspiring.
There are two things I want to say about what Otto has done. The first is that his simple act of bravery stands in stark contrast to everything that the anti-gay movement is, and has been doing. People will bandy the most sophisticated-sounding scientific, legal, constitutional and moral arguments. They will cite all sorts of allegedly conclusive surveys and statistical studies. But these will always ring hollow against the honesty and sincerity of personal testimony. Let's not allow the moral bigots of the world to forget that. Gay people touch the lives of those around them in a very real way. We are open and direct, and give and receive love without prejudice or judgement. Like Otto, we should be proud of who we are and what we've done for ourselves, friends and family. Whether section 377A is repealed or not, they cannot take that away from us.
And we should strive to do even better each day to prove small-minded critics wrong.
The second thing I wanted to say was that after reading Otto's letter, I asked myself whether I would be brave enough to do the same thing. Can I even be bothered to do the same thing? I know the answer in my heart and I last felt that sort of discomfort as I watched Alfian Saat's last play "Asian Boys III". For it is somewhat true that as long as I have my partner with me, and we live happily with our friends going on holiday to Taipei and Tokyo, gymming at California Fitness and having loud, raucous dinners in HDB flats that we have either rented or bought after we turned 35, that there isn't any need to hanker after more acceptance in society. What can it achieve in the larger scheme of things? What about the hurt we might cause to our parents and those who love us, as well as our careers?
I don't know the answer to those questions. I think everyone's answer will necessarily be different and very few will be goaded into action like Otto was. I myself am out to my family, friends and colleagues, but I have stopped short of going public. Maybe one day I will, and I will draw my courage and inspiration from someone like Otto. For whatever happens next, he has made an indelible mark on the ongoing struggle for gay acceptance here in Singapore. We are moving slow, but every millimetre must surely count for something. And I have every hope in my heart that someday, we will get there.
P.S. I am writing to Bob Koh (firstname.lastname@example.org), headmaster of Raffles Institution, tomorrow morning. And the next time I see you Otto, I am definitely buying you a drink!
(Rookcub spoke & emailed me his reactions from the recent series of events that happened to our friend Otto. I think Otto deserves more than a pat on the back... So Otto, you too will have my utmost relentless support no matter what. - Asimov_22)
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