Homosexuality in Singapore
- 1 Definition
- 2 Historical background
- 3 Singapore gay culture
- 4 Singapore gay personalities
- 5 Singapore gay venues
- 6 Singapore gay terminology
- 7 External links
Main article: Sexual orientation
The term "homosexual" in this article is defined as "having a greater sexual or romantic attraction for the same sex than for the opposite sex". Thus, a person happily married to a spouse of the opposite sex may still be homosexual even though he or she consciously refrains from or has never indulged in homosexual acts. The term "gay" denotes someone who self-identifies as a homosexual.
The articles in this category have been intentionally prefixed "Singapore gay..." instead of the ideally accurate "Singaporean LGBTI..." so as to render them more accessible to the lay reader who may not be familiar with technical gender terms, and to increase the likelihood of their getting higher-ranking hits when users of search engines type "gay" and "Singapore".
See the articles:
- IndigNation 2006, Singapore's second gay pride season
Singapore gay culture
See the articles:
The first Singaporean AIDS victim to publicly declare his HIV-positive status, thus giving a face to a hitherto anonymous affliction which mainstream society considered remote from possible encounter. He came out on 12 Dec 1998 during the First National AIDS Conference in Singapore. He identified his orientation as bisexual.
His plight was dramatised in a play called "Completely With/Out Character" produced by The Necessary Stage, directed by Alvin Tan and written by Haresh Sharma, staged from 10-17 May 1999. He passed away on 21 Aug 1999, shortly after the play's run ended. (For more information, see the article Paddy Chew)
Yap was arguably Singapore's finest poet, enormously influential amongst the later generations of Singaporean writers. He died of naso-pharyngeal carcinoma on 19 June 2006.
- Alex Au (see concise autobiography,website) - Singapore's most widely-respected gay activist, regarded by many as being the founding father of the Singapore gay movement.
- Kelvin Wong (see Yahoo! profile, blog, photo album) - The main activist who spearheaded local gay Buddhist and sports organisations. Wong also holds the post of secretary of the pro-tem committee of People Like Us 3.
- Eileena Lee (see Fridae interview,Yahoo! profile) - Singapore's most well-known lesbian activist. Lee was the founder of RedQueen!, Singapore's first and main lesbian mailing list. She was instrumental in the setting up of Looking Glass, a counselling service for lesbians in emotional distress, and Pelangi Pride Centre, Singapore's first LGBT community centre. She relinquished her appointment as president of the pro-tem committee of People Like Us 3 in 2006 but continues to build a bridge between the lesbian and gay communities. She currently devotes most of her energy to moderating RedQueen! and organising activities at Pelangi Pride Centre.
- Charles Tan - PLU3's effectively-bilingual, diplomatic, affable and unflappable spokesman. Tan was the second male gay activist to be interviewed on Singapore television and is an ardent advocate of democracy.
- Jean Chong (see Fridae Interview, blog) - one of the founders of Sayoni, a discussion forum for queer women. Chong was also active for 7 years in organising women's activities for Safehaven and the Free Community Church. She is currently the only woman serving in the core committee of People Like Us. She played an instrumental role in organising all the women's functions for IndigNation 2006 and was the chief liaison personnel for many of the other events. She forms a strong link between the lesbian and gay communities.
- Charmaine Tan - one of the three founders of Pelangi Pride Centre, together with Eileena Lee and Dinesh Naidu. Tan was also one of the founders of Women's Nite, an event for women held on every last Saturday of the month at a location in Singapore.
- Edward Chew - Singapore's first "pink" entrepreneur. Publisher of the world's first glossy Asian gayrotic periodical, OG, which was produced in Singapore, printed in Hong Kong, and widely distributed around the world through the 1980s and 1990s. Many Singaporean gay photographers and graphic artists worked underground to produce OG semi-annually over two decades.
- Max Lim - Singapore's first gay impresario to be known by a wide swathe of the local LGBT community. He was the first to organise outdoor gay parties in the early 1990s at such venues as the East Coast Lagoon and Big Splash, and non-Sunday gay disco nights at various mainstream clubs like Dancers - the Club in Clarke Quay and at Far East Shopping Centre. He opened Spartacus, Singapore's first gay sauna with a daily gay disco on the ground floor, and later, Stroke and Raw saunas along Ann Siang Road. Lim was the first to experiment with such novel concepts as a 24- hour sauna that never closes, a totally gay restaurant, a transwoman pride march down Ann Siang Road and Club Street, a drag artiste cabaret-disco, swimming trunk fashion shows, erotic film screenings, overnight lodgings for gay men, and offering patrons the option to buys shares in gay enterprises.
- Dr. Stuart Koe - Singaporean academic and entrepreneur, the founder of fridae.com, Asia's largest English-language LGBT web-portal.
- Vincent Tnay  - Founder of Vincent's lounge / Vincenz, Singapore's first dedicated East-meets-West gay bar where Caucasian patrons could socialise with their local aficionados.
- Tan Peng - Singapore's first openly gay artist and also one of the first Singaporeans to come out to the general public. His homoerotic charcoal sketches were featured in the Straits Times in the 1980s, the first for a local artist.
- Martin Loh (see Fridae profile) - Singaporean artist, well-known for his Peranakan-themed, as well as homoerotic paintings. Loh's exhibition, entitled Cerita Budak-Budak was the first event of IndigNation (see Singapore gay art).
- Cyril Wong (see website) - The only openly-gay poet to win the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award for Literature, Wong is at the forefront in canvassing greater public support for the arts in general, and poetry in particular.
- Ng Yi-sheng (see career blog, video of IndigNation lecture) - author of SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century and Last Boy, a collection of personally written poems including gay-themed ones. Ng also contributes articles to Fridae.com on a regular basis (see bibliography) and is currently working on several plays.
- Dominic Chua (see Yawning Bread article) - Singaporean poet who organised Contra/Diction, Singapore's first gay poetry-reading session, held during IndigNation, Singapore's first month-long gay pride celebration in August 2005.
- Royston Tan (see Fridae profile) - the highly acclaimed and award-winning enfant terrible of Singaporean cinema.
- Dr. Russell Heng (see Fridae interview) - Singaporean academic, playwright, psychologist and former Straits Times journalist. The most senior of all the gay activists, Heng was the first local academic to write research papers on homosexuality in Singapore and also one of the founding members of People Like Us.
- Dr. Tan Chong Kee (see Fridae interview, website) - the impressively bilingual and academically-qualified founder of Sintercom (Singapore Internet Community), Tan has been a guest on several television panel discussions and documentaries, and the subject of newspaper articles on socio-political activists. He delivered the first lecture of IndigNation entitled "Same Sex Love in Classical Chinese Literature", in Mandarin.
- Sylvia Tan (see bibliography) - the first Singaporean journalist to write exclusively about local, as well as international, LGBT culture. Tan holds a degree in communications science and is presently working as the principal reporter and news editor of Fridae.com, Asia's largest English-language LGBT web portal.
- Roy Tan - healthcare professional passionately interested in documenting local LGBT history. Tan started all the Singapore LGBT-related articles in Wikipedia in 2005 and ported every article removed by deletionists to SgWiki. He has also recorded and amassed the most comprehensive collection of local LGBT videos on YouTube. Tan intended to organise Singapore's first gay pride parade at Hong Lim Park in 2008 after the government legalised protests there. This later morphed into Pink Dot SG, an event which supported the "freedom of LGBT people to love" and which later spread worldwide. Together with fellow citizen Tien Kim Chuan, Tan marched in Singapore's first and only gay Chingay contingent when the public were allowed to form their own marching group in 2010.
- Leow Yangfa, a professional social worker and editor of the book, I Will Survive: Personal gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender stories in Singapore.
Other prominent personalities
- All the individuals in the book SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century, including Nicholas Deroose, producer of queercast, Singapore's first gay, radio talk show-style podcast.
- Patrick Lee (see Yawning Bread article) - controversial ex-gay ministry survivor with a dramatic biography.
Straight allies of the LGBT community
- Reverend Yap Kim Hao - Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, in his retirement from full-time Christian ministry, serves as Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church, a role he regards as a calling of God. Even as this ministry affirms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people in opposition to the stance of the institutional church, he is convinced this is a ministry he cannot evade, a responsibility he cannot avoid -- to declare Christ’s inclusive love to those who have been ostracized and neglected for far too long by the Church.
Rev Dr Yap was the first Asian Bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysian and Singapore. Subsequently he served as General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, an ecumenical organization of over a hundred churches and national council of churches in Asia. He holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees from Boston University and was honoured by them with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988.
In addition to his ministry with FCC, Dr Rev Yap continues to serve on the Council of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) in Singapore and is committed to the promotion of inter-faith dialogue and understanding.
- Sam Ho- one of the founders of SinQSA. Ho is a happily married man who aims to lead a debt-free life. He feels SinQSA is meaningful for straight people who feel they do not belong to part of a majority which perceives itself as homogeneous in values and beliefs and that there is diversity even within a community.
Singapore gay venues
(For a discussion of places no longer extant where homosexuals used to socialise or cruise such as Le Bistro, Pebbles Bar, Treetops Bar, Vincent's lounge, Niche, Marmota/Legend/Shadows, Spartacus, Rairua, Boat Quay and Esplanade Park, see the article Singapore gay venues: historical).
Formerly located at #04-02/04, Yangtze Building, 100A Eu Tong Sen Road, not to be confused with the same unit number at Pearls Centre with which it is intimately linked. It is now located at 56 Geylang Lor 23 Level 3, Century Technology Building.
A Singaporean Christian church which welcomes all people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or economic status. It conducts Sunday services at 10:30 am.
Set up by activists to inculcate pride in being gay and in staying HIV negative, it was formerly located at 22a Rowell Road, above the AFA headquarters, in the Serangoon or Little India area and at Bianco - 21 Tanjong Pagar Road, #04-01, Singapore 088444 (above Mox Bar & Cafe) and operates every Saturday from 4-8pm. From April 2008, it will be operating out of 54 Rowell Road, back in the Serangoon or Little India area.
Its main features are the extensive library of local and international gay literature as well as non-fiction books whose catalogue can be searched online on its website, and an archive of Singapore gay history and culture. Events are held every 2nd Saturday of the month. For this and other information, please email [email protected] or see www.pelangipridecentre.org
The following list consists of exhibition and performance venues where many works dealing with LGBT themes or by LGBT arts practitioners have been held. However, they are not exclusively used for such purposes.
45 Armenian Street. Founded in 1990 by the late Kuo Pao Kun, it is Singapore's first independent contemporary arts centre, centrally located in the civic district. Its sub-sections include a black box theatre, a gallery, a dance studio, the Blue Room and two multi-function classrooms. It was the venue for the nascent PLU Sunday meetings in the early 90s. The historic PLU 2 pre-registration discussion was also held in the Blue Room in 2003.
- The building at 21 Tanjong Pagar Road
A growing arts, entertainment and lifestyle block managed by Guan Seng Kee Pte Ltd, just next to Ya Kun Kaya Toast. The lift serving the upper floors has a modern interior but is rickety and painfully slow. The building houses the following establishments:
- 1) Space 21
An unrenovated 1950-sq ft art space and multi-function hall situated on level 3, the second home of Utterly Art.
- 3) Bianco (formerly known as The Attic)
The topmost floor is a vault-like loft under the same management as MOX Bar & Café. It has a seating capacity of up to 150 people and is suitable for exhibitions, fashion shows and performances. It was the former location of the Sunday services of the Free Community Church (from 2002 to 2004) and Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble (from 2004 to 2005). Currently, it houses Bianco which contains a small bar and has an all-white decor from which it derives its name. Dr. Russell Heng's talk When Queens Ruled! A History of Gay Venues in Singapore was held here on 16 Aug 05 as part of IndigNation, Singapore's first gay pride month. It has been the home of Pelangi Pride Centre since mid-2007.
It provides exhibition space and management services to local and Asian artists, and photographers. The most active gallery on the Singapore art scene, it is a leading showcase of works by established painters like Martin Loh and Chng Seok Tin, as well as popular young artists like Trina Poon.
It was the venue for the very first event of IndigNation, Singapore's historic, inaugural, government-approved gay pride month celebration in August 2005. This was an exhibition of paintings by artist Martin Loh entitled Cerita Budak-Budak, meaning 'children's stories' in Peranakan Malay. The event was followed up with Contra/Diction - A Night with Gay Poets held on 4 Aug 05, Singapore's first public gay poetry reading session which was attended by over 70 people, with standing room only.
Entertainment and cruising venues
- See the article Singapore gay venues: contemporary
Singapore gay terminology
The following list consists of formally accepted words, as well as slang in Singapore's 4 official and other minority languages, used to refer to gay men and lesbians. Terms for transgender and intersex people, while not strictly applicable to gay people, are also included in this section.
PLU - acronym for People Like Us, the first Singaporean organisation involved in the struggle for gay equality. It is also used as a slang word for LGBT people, especially amongst the younger internet-savvy generation. It has only been in fashion since the late 1990s, but has rapidly become the most popular, even spreading to neighbouring Malaysia.
Muffadet - Singlish corruption of 'hermaphrodite', used not with the proper meaning of a person with genitalia from both sexes, but as a synonym for an effeminate male. Formerly popular with especially Eurasians of the older generation.
A.Q. or A.K. - acronym for Ah Kua or Ah Qua, the Hokkien word for transvestite (see below).
A.J. - a popular term probably derived from the Pig Latin word for "gay", i.e. "aygay", with the guttural "g" softened to a "j" to further disguise its form. It was initially used by English-educated schoolboys but later spread to and is currently mainly used by the younger generation of local Chinese-educated gays. The term is often used as code, in situations where the speakers do not wish to allow outsiders to understand the conversation. Example: "Is he AJ or straight?", "My classmate is also AJ."
G - abbreviation of 'gay'. Example: "Is he a G?"
On - slang meaning 'gay'. Example: 'Is he on?'
Poon - little known code word for "gay" used in some circles of English-educated Singaporeans in the 1980s and 1990s.
Prawn - code word applied to men who have attractive bodies but not handsome faces, i.e. good only from the neck down, like prawns. This term was concocted by Alfian Sa'at in his play "Asian Boys Vol. 3". It has unfortunately been used by Taiwanese gays when referring to their Singaporean counterparts.
Anak ikan - Literally, "child fish", a slang term used to describe cute young boys. It corresponds to "twink" in English.
Homoseksual - derived from the English word homosexual.
Mak nyah - Transwoman. "Mak" is a colloquial contraction of "emak", meaning "mother" and "nyah" referring to ladylike/feminine behavior.,. The term "mak nyah" was coined by the Malaysian male transsexual community (in 1987 when they tried to set up a society but was denied by the Malaysian Registrar of Societies) as a preferred substitute for "pondan" or "bapok" which generally refers to men who are effeminate homosexual (and cisgender) males.
Abang - literally 'older brother', but used as slang for transmen.
Waria - an Indonesian contraction of 'wanita' meaning woman and 'pria' meaning man, thus coining a word for a third sex, usually meaning transgender people. The Warias were the subject of a documentary by Kathy Huang entitled "Tales of the Waria".
Cunta - uncommonly used word for 'hermaphrodite'.
Mukhannis - an Arabic-derived term for a pre-operative transwomen; used by the Islamic Religious Department in Malaysia which forbids such a person from undergoing sex-reassignment surgery, cross-dress, wear make-up or even act effeminately.
Mukhannas - an Arabic-derived term for an effeminate male who does not want to change his physical sex; used by the Islamic Religious Department in Malaysia which forbids such a person to cross-dress, wear make-up or even act effeminately.
Kes cermin - literally means "mirror case"; prison slang for an inmate convicted for a homosexual crime.
Main pedang - literally "to play with swords"; slang word used by Mak Nyahs to refer to gay men.
ICI - slang word used by Mak Nyahs to refer to lesbians, evoking imagery that they mutually paint each other with multicoloured saliva.
Tóng xìng lìan (同性恋): "homosexual love".
Tóng xìng lìan zhe (同性恋者) - "proper" or "scientific" term for a homosexual. The suffix 者 zhe ('person' or 'one who') is frequently dropped—incorrectly according to many grammarians—in colloquial Mandarin usage in Singaporean (as well as in China).
Tóng xìng aì (同性爱) - homosexuality (lit. "homosexual love"); a more respectful term than 'tóng xìng lìan' (同性恋).
Bō li (玻璃) - (lit. "glass") slang for male homosexual. It draws an analogy between the opening or mouth of a glass bottle and the male anus.
Xiǎo bái tù (小白兔) - (lit. "little white rabbit") code word for "gay man". Used initially by students in Singapore's Chinese junior colleges, it is probably derived from the legend of the Chinese rabbit god, Tu Er Shen (兔儿神), who was originally a man called Hu Tianbao (胡天保),,,,. Another plausible etymology is the similarity between the rabbit's forward-bending position with its back arched and the one adopted by a "bottom" during anal sex, or the rabbit's flexed paws and the stereotypical limp writs of gay men. Therefore, it also has a derogatory connotation.
Yī hào/líng hào (一号/0号) - (lit. one/zero) "top/bottom", the active/passive partner in gay male anal sex.
Jǐe mèi (姐妹) - literally meaning "sisters"; a term of endearment used between transwomen, or even effeminate gay men, to address each other.
Yīn yáng rén (陰陽人) - an intersex person; literally meaning "a person with feminine and masculine qualities".
Rén yāo (人妖) - a term for transgender people who usually perform on stage; literally meaning "human monster" or more euphemistically, "enchanting person". It is the Mandarin version of the Hokkien A-kua. This term is regarded as offensive amongst Chinese speakers and is mainly applied to Southeast Asian transgender people, especially Thai kathoey or ladyboys. Ethnic-Chinese transgender people themselves almost universally avoid the term, favoring less deprecatory descriptions.
Bàn zhūang húang hòu (扮裝皇后) - cross-dressing queen; drag queen.
Yì zhūang pì (異裝癖) - literally meaning "obsession with the opposite (sex's) attire"; cross-dressing.
Zhōng xìng rén (中性人) - an intersex person; lit. "neutral" or "middle sex person".
Kùa xìng rén (跨性人) - recently coined term for a transgender individual; it has a somewhat scientific/technical ring.
Â Qûa (commonly spelt phonetically as "Ah Kua") - a transvestite, or more recently, with sex reassignment surgery becoming more available, also a transsexual woman. Used in the past to refer to male cross-dressers who perform in Chinese operas or 'wayangs' as they are locally called.
Or Â - literally meaning 'black crow', it is used as a covert form of Â Qûa , referring to the cackle that crows make, which sounds like a contracted form of Â Qûa . Not widespread.
Â Pong - 'pong' is the Hokkien translation of 'pump'; used to refer to a straight man who enjoys being the passive partner in anal intercourse, i.e. getting 'pumped'.
Mo·-Tau-Hu - literally 'to knead soyabean/tofu'; lesbian sex. By extension, it may also refer to sex between two 'bottoms' or effeminate/passive gay men, where their soft, limp penises do not respond to each other's fondling, and sex is an exercise in futility.
Bō lei (玻璃) - Cantonese version of the Mandarin "bō li" (see above); a gay man. Uncommon in Cantonese.
Gēi (基) - Cantonese transliteration of the English word 'gay'.
Gēi lóu (基佬) - a gay person/fellow.
Gáau gēi (搞基)- to indulge in homosexuality.
Sí fāt gwái (屎忽鬼) - literally meaning "bottom devil"; derogatory and offensive term for a gay man.
Tùhng seng lihn (同性戀) - Cantonese version of the Mandarin "tóng xìng lìan zhe".
கிட்டி (kidi) - Singapore Tamil slang word for a transvestite or effeminate male. The analogous Malay word "kedi" is derived from it (see above).
9 (onbathu) - Singapore Tamil code word for a gay man.
சுத்தடி (sutthadi) - male prostitute. It literally means "to beat the anus".
அக்கா (akkaa) - literally meaning "elder sister", it is a Singaporean slang word for a male-to-female transgender person or cross-dresser.
நம்பி (thambi) - literally meaning "brother", it is more used in India than in Singapore as a code word for a gay man.
நங்கை (thangai) - literally meaning "younger sister" it is more used in India than in Singapore as a code word for "lesbian".
திருநம்பி (thirunambi) - polite and official word for a female-to-male transgender person.
மாற்றுடை அணிபவர் (maatrudai annibavar) - cross-dresser.
திருநர் (thirangar) - all-inclusive name for transgender people.
பால் (paal) - sex.
பாலீர்ப்பு (paaliirppu) - sexuality.
பாலுணர்வு நடத்தை (paalunnarvu nadatthai) - sexual behavior.
பாலுணர்வு அடையாளம் (paalunnarvu adaiyaallam) - sexual identity.
ஓரினப்புணர்ச்சியாளர் (ohrinappunartchiyaalar) - homosexual, used most often by the Singapore media .
தன்பாலீர்ப்பு/ஒருபாலீர்ப்பு (thanpaaliirppu/ohrupaaliirppu) - homosexuality.
எதிர்பாலீர்ப்பு (ethirpaaliirppu) - heterosexuality.
ஈரர் (iirar) - bisexual.
இருபாலீர்ப்பு (irupaaliirppu) - bisexuality.
வெளியே வருதல் (velliyae varuthal) - coming out.
மாறுபட்ட பால் அடையாளம் (maatrupadtu paal adaiyaalam) - alternate gender identity.
மாறுபட்ட பாலீர்ப்பு (maatrubadta paaliirppu) - alternate sexuality.
Swawarga bhogi - scientific word for homosexual; "swa" meaning "self", "warga" meaning "type" and "bhogi" meaning "a person who has sex".
Flute - one who likes oral sex.
Vadanasuratham - oral sex.
Amraprasand - scientific word for homosexual.
Maasti- sexual play between men who are not necessarily homosexual, mainly to relieve sexual tension.
Samlaingik- scientific word for homosexual.
- The Yawning Bread website: 
- Fridae.com: 
- Utopia's Singapore listings: 
- Trevvy/SgBoy: 
- An archive of local and international LGBT-related video and newsclips shown on Singapore television on YouTube:  and Google Video: , and video recordings of LGBT events held in Singapore: .