Here in Singapore, we’ve heard a lot about gay parents. We’ve watched them in movies like The Kids Are All Right and in (illegally downloaded) TV shows likeModern Family. On the Net, we’ve clicked through photos of out-and-proud celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell, Ricky Martin and Elton John, walking proudly with their partners and the children they’ve raised.
The trouble is, virtually all these examples of LGBT parenting are drawn from the West: Europe, North America and Australasia. We don’t hear much about same-sex couples with kids in Asia, and there’s many reasons behind this: our gay scenes are less established, our laws are problematic, our people are a little more discreet about their family lives.
But gay parents do exist in Singapore. I’ve met them. Some are locals and some are expats; some conceived their kids and some adopted them. (Surprisingly, it’s possible to get a licence to adopt here even if you’re openly gay.) Most of them are reluctant to speak to the press. But, the two who’ve agreed to be interviewed – K and P – have important stories to tell.
You see: these two interviewees aren’t like the poster-boys and girls of gay parenting. They’ve gone through messy breakups, and neither one conceived their kids while in a same-sex relationship.
But that doesn’t change a thing about how much they love their children, nor how they try to do the best for them. That’s simply what parents do.
K, 34: a mother’s story
I visited K’s family on Hari Raya Aidilfitri. This was where I met her daughter: a charming, confident eight-year-old in a white dress and pink-framed glasses. She sat me down over beef rendang and explained to me her version of the tale of Frankenstein.
K told me their story a week later. She isn’t technically a gay parent: she actually identifies as bisexual. She’s dated men since she was 15, and women since she was 21.
About a decade ago, she married the wrong guy. “It was honestly the easiest thing to do at the time. I’m not proud of it,” she confessed. She was Malay and he was Japanese, but he’d converted to Islam. Her mother was all for the match, because she thought marriage would help her settle down.
They broke up on their fifth wedding anniversary. She sent him a text message saying, “It’s over, I’m leaving you,” and left the flat with their daughter, who’d been conceived just three weeks after the wedding.
Naturally, there was a custody battle. Luckily, she’d never revealed her orientation to her husband. It was irrelevant to the breakup anyhow, she says. They were just the wrong people for each other.
K’s coped pretty well as a single mother since then. She’s been lucky enough to have a pretty good job as a wedding planner, plus the full support of her family in bringing up her daughter. She’s been able to bring her kid on all sorts of business trips and holidays abroad – the Maldives, Japan, Bali, even Hawaii.
In Singapore, they often go to grown-up events together. In fact, that was how K met her M, her partner. “I was with my child, attending an AWARE function, and I fell for her immediately,” she told me. “I walked into the auditorium and that was it. I didn’t know what hit me. And I have to mention, the first time my daughter saw her, she went straight to her. It’s as if she fell in love with her first, and I followed.”
Ultimately, she said, it was her daughter’s acceptance that gave her the courage to come out. “We went out on a picnic. The rest of the group walked forward, M and I were behind. And for some reason we held hands. And then my daughter turned and saw us, and we let go. And she said, ‘Mama if you love her, just hold her hand.’ That was an incredible moment, realising that my daughter recognised love.”
The three of them often spend weekends together now. They go for outings at East Coast Park or the Night Safari. Or else they simply stay at M’s place, reading on the sofa.
Right now, K’s biggest challenge as a mother has been coming to terms with her daughter’s girlishness. She’d been hoping to raise a young woman who defied gender stereotypes, and even went to the extent of buying black dresses for classmates’ birthday parties. But her kid hasn’t taken to that whole goth chick aesthetic – instead, she’s in love with pink socks and floral dresses and princess stories. “It’s something that she chose for herself, and I have to be okay with that,” K lamented.
But it’s not just party dresses that cause disagreements in the family. K’s mother refuses to recognise the fact that she’s dating a woman. She’s threatened to disown her, and has made her promise not to tell her father. She even tried to set her up with an ex-boyfriend based on the fact that they were both divorcees with children.
“You have a girl, he has a boy, why don’t you get married?” she said. K and her ex looked at each other and replied, “If only life was so simple.”
P, no age given: a father’s story
P is an expat, but he’s lived in Singapore on and off for 15 years. He’s asked me not to reveal his age, race, or profession. He can’t risk of losing custody of his son.
Over coffee at TCC, he gave me a run-down of his past. He grew up as an Evangelical Christian, so when he realised his attraction to men, he believed it was a sin. Luckily, he wasn’t tortured by guilt. Instead, he made a conscious decision not to sleep with men, and stuck with it.
He was even upfront with his wife about his inclinations – on their very first date, he told her, “I like guys.” It wasn’t a problem for her, or for him. He considered himself a bisexual who’d be happy to devote himself to one person for the rest of his life.
He’d always wanted to be a father, he told me. He still has fond memories of the early years of his son’s life. “What stays with me is getting to know someone while they’re emerging. When people talk about parenting, the focus is too much on how you’re molding them. Don’t give yourself so much credit. You’re watching them emerge: seeing what comes out of your child. For me, this is the magic of parenting.”
Once again, his breakup wasn’t caused by his sexuality. It was caused by the fact that he was deeply unhappy, and that his wife “treated [him] like shit.” According to him, “it was a horrible relationship that was it was emotionally and physically and spiritually unsatisfying, and for me damaging and distressing. It was leading me to really want to kill myself. I also thought it was going to get really bad for my child to be around it.”
Since moving out, he’s come to a fairly amicable agreement with his wife about bringing up their son. Basically, he stays with his mother, and she has the right to raise him in her religious tradition. Still, P gets to take him out on weekends and selected holidays, They spend most of these precious hours playing: building things, acting out stories, pretending to be policemen and pirates.
Sometimes they’ll go cycling or swimming, or they’ll watch a children’s theatre production. (Singapore Repertory Theatre’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” was a particular favourite.) Playdates are important: that way P gets to see his son interacting with other kids. As far as he can tell, “He’s very sociable, playful, and utterly clear about what he wants and doesn’t want.”
Officially, P is still married to his wife. He’s three years into a four-year separation process, after which he’ll be filing for divorce. He’s worried that his being gay could have a profound effect on the court case – though it wouldn’t stand as evidence in court, his lawyer friends claim his wife could use it to sway the judge.
On the upside, now that his relationship is over, P finally feels ready to date men. In fact, he no longer thinks of himself as bi – “Because of the damage of the relationship I feel like I’ve been put off women. I don’t feel like I ever want to touch women again,” he said. He isn’t sure if he’s Christian, either. He still holds to the spirit of Christ, but can’t connect himself to any of the rituals.
I asked him what he hopes for in the future. “I would like a family,” he told me. “I would like to have a long-term partner and I would like for it not to become a tension for my child; for him not to choose, to feel torn. I’d like to think I’ll be clearer about what I believe and how my spirituality connects with my spiritual connections. I ‘d like to think I could be friends with my ex or at least not be traumatised by it.”
As for his son, he says, “I want him to feel as confident and liberated as he can be. I want him to be a man of principle and conviction and be loving, and educated. I want him to have as many choices as he can have.”
If you’re a gay parent and you live in Asia, we’d love to hear your stories. Get in contact with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org