A Heterosexual Cisgender’s Journey To LGBT Allyship
The progress that has been made in the past decade or so towards acceptance and inclusivity for LGBT individuals is something young me would’ve struggled to fathom.
Here’s how each stage of my life opened my eyes to the hardships faced by members of the LGBT community and shaped me into the LGBT ally I am today.
Chapter 1: Growing up with a homophobic relative
When we hear horror stories about hateful homophobes, the last thing we’d want is to imagine them as one of our loved ones.
As a little girl, my image of this particular aunt was that she cooked super good curry. She also allowed me to have more candy and fizzy drinks than my mum did, which solidified her hero status.
In my pre-teen years, I began overhearing conversations whenever my family went to this aunt’s house during Chinese New Year. Derogatory terms like “ah gua” were thrown around a lot to criticise men on TV who were behaving especially effeminately.
An incident remains seared into my mind. Once, we caught a glimpse of a male cross-dresser while trying to hail a cab to attend a family dinner. My aunt was so devastated that she sprinted over to herd my sister and I as far away from the man as possible. With sheer panic and disgust in her voice, she told us, “Don’t look at him, he is shen jing bing (mentally ill)!”
Looking back now, her words were hideous and unnecessary. But I guess that was my first-ever exposure to the beautiful art of drag; hooray!
Because I grew up having a close relationship with her 2 sons, I also remember fearing how true her words would ring when she warned that if any of her children turned out to be gay, she would throw them out the HDB window.
Chapter 2: Getting bullied as a foreign student
I studied primary school in Australia, and stuck out like a sore thumb. Not only was I not one of the sporty Asians who kept up with all the pop culture trends, I was that book-smart but unfit Asian nerd.
Besides getting ostracised as a misfit, one more thing still haunts me to this day. I was mercilessly taunted for being on the hairier side. My arm and leg hair could not be concealed by the school uniform, but I could not remove it without incurring the wrath of my strict mother.
I was also bullied for having a moustache (!), which annoyed me to no end as the bullies themselves had peach fuzz. Mine just stuck out way more ’cause the hair was black instead of blonde.
I’m fully aware that all this pales greatly in comparison to LGBT kids around the world who are tormented and discriminated against daily for their sexual identity, something they cannot control. That said, having just that slight taste of being bullied made me realise at a young age that I never want someone else to feel attacked for who they are.
Chapter 3: Struggling with mental health and suicide
Shortly after hitting puberty, I was faced with a tidal wave of life events that led to the onset of clinically diagnosed acute depression.
After struggling in silence for way too long and teetering on the edge of numerous suicide attempts, I decided to take the terrifying step of speaking to the school counsellor.
As I ambled out of the classroom with my close friend, I told him I wouldn’t be walking to the bus stop with him like I always do.
Me: “I’ve decided to go see the counsellor.”
Him: “Wow, it’s that bad huh?”
Part of me was dumbfounded that he associated seeking help in handling mental health conditions with being utterly hopeless and pity-inducing. Looking back, I’m glad I took that leap. Counselling has improved my state of mind tremendously.
That said, the lack of discretion when students seeking help swing the doors open on the counsellor’s office—which is situated right by the foyer where throngs of schoolmates stroll past with judging eyes BTW—makes me wonder…what if someone is trying to get counselled over their sexual identity woes?
Wouldn’t the public journey into the counselling room scream “Look at me! I have ISSUES!” to their peers? Doesn’t it border on coming out before they’re even ready to?
It’s been close to a decade since my secondary schooling years and I’m heartened to see that society’s perception of mental health has improved. Also, thank goodness local helplines and support communities like Oogachaga and The Purple Alliance exist for struggling LGBT people to talk to those who understand what they’re going through.
Chapter 4: Emerging into a world made colourful by LGBT characters
Venturing into communication studies in my poly and uni years, my social circle expanded to include more openly LGBT people. Apart from sexual orientation and identification, it was refreshing to be surrounded by men who were in tune with their feminine side and women who didn’t feel the need to conform to typical “girly-girl” archetypes.
A huge leap from the toxic culture of secondary school, I would say; where all dudes in choir are automatically labelled “gay”.
I then entered the media industry, getting the pleasure of working alongside many talented individuals who happen to be LGBT. I’ve been fortunate to call a culture of respect and equal opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation, the norm and an expected way of life.
Chapter 5: Standing in solidarity with the LGBT community as an LGBT ally
More often than not, members of the LGBT community are brimming with empathy for one another. They’re all privy to the kind of discrimination dealt upon them over who they love and are attracted to.
Amidst the emotional exhaustion they endure while dealing with constant negativity and judgement, I’ve seen with my own eyes the world of difference it makes to my LGBT mates just knowing that there’s somebody backing them up against haters and proudly declaring their unwavering love and support for them.
As a cisgender and heterosexual ally, I’ve learnt that demonstrating my support for my LGBT companions can be as simple as self-regulating my language and abstaining from slurs such as “tranny” or phrases like “that’s so gay”.
When these nasty terms do get thrown around as a joke or because “everyone else does it”, it proves to me what sort of company I should be keeping, and what close-minded folk I need to kick to the curb.
Becoming An LGBT Ally
It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of allyship while going through the motions of life as a member of the heterosexual persuasion.
We don’t get scrutinised and harassed for our behaviour. We can engage in public displays of affection without fear of getting attacked. There isn’t a literal law that criminalises our marriage to someone whom we wholeheartedly love.
Every now and then, we catch wind of an incident regarding discrimination towards our fellow man who just happens to be LGBT. Only then, are we reminded all over again of how crucial it is to fight hate with love.
As we celebrate Pink Dot this year, let us remember that standing in firm solidarity with the LGBT people around us should be a 24/7, 365 affair.
Cover image by Yannis Papanastasopoulos/Unsplash