Singapore gay literature

Singapore gay literature

Singapore Gay Literature refers to writing that deals with LGBT themes in a Singapore context. It covers literary works of fiction, such as novels, short stories, plays and poems. It also includes non-fiction works, both scholarly and targeted at the general reader, such as dissertations, journal or magazine articles, books and even web-based content. Although Singapore lacks a dedicated gay book publisher or gay bookshop, it does have at least one dedicated gay library, Pelangi Pride Centre, which is open weekly to the public. Many of the works cited here may be found both in Pelangi Pride Centre, as well as the National Library or other academic libraries in Singapore, as well as in some commercial bookshops under 'gender studies' sections.


The increasing boldness of Singapore writers in sympathetically addressing LGBT themes is intertwined with the growth of English-language theatre from the mid-1980s. It was in theatre that writers first challenged the cultural taboo surrounding homosexuality. A fairly regular stream of gay plays were staged in Singapore throughout the 1990s, raising the public profile of sexual minorities.
*Lest the Demons Get To Me (1993) by Russell Heng depicts a dilemma in which a male-to-female transsexual resents having to dress up as a man to perform funeral rites as her dead father’s only son. The play highlights a society that is rather crushing on the protagonist’s desire to be true to herself. ['at] []
*Private Parts (1994), a comedy by Michael Chiang, addresses the theme of Singapore society’s capacity to come to terms with gender minorities in the form of transsexuals. The Straits Times reported that "Private Parts, with its remarkable performances and poignant message, is a special production that should not close until every person in this country has seen it". The play has also been performed in Mandarin. []
*Invitation to Treat Trilogy by Eleanor Wong tells the story of Ellen Toh, a law partner, coming to terms with her homosexuality. Mergers and Accusations (1995) and Wills and Secession (1996), the first two installations, tell the story of Ellen marrying a Jon, a fellow lawyer, then leaving him and falling in love with Lesley. In charting her protagonist's personal struggle to win acceptance from family and social circle, Wong pushes the 'coming out' message and moves closer to activism than seen in Heng or Chiang's more descriptive treatment of the subject. The final part, Jointly and Severably, sees Ellen struggling with forgetting Lesley and seeking courage to begin a new relationship with law professor Zee. A clever play wrought with legal puns and allusions, Invitation to Treat proves to be an insightful dramatical success. [] []
*Asian Boys Trilogy (2001-2007) features three disparate plays written by Alfian Sa'at and directed by Ivan Heng. The first installment Asian Boys Vol.1 was staged in 2001 to rave reviews, not only on its artistic merit but also its relevance to the incumbent societal concerns. Following this was premiered in 2004. A collection of eight short stories, this montage explores the myriad gay experiences of Singaporeans, albeit mostly clandestine. One of the stories, Katong Fugue, was later in 2006 made into a short film. Finally, the last of the trilogy recently started playing at Drama Centre, National Library @ Singapore; the run lasts from 11th to 29th July 2007.


Novels with LGBT-related themes began emerging in Singapore literature scene in the 1990s. Among the earliest work is Different Strokes (1993) by David Leo portraying victims of AIDS. []
*Peculiar Chris (1992) by Johann S. Lee (Cannon International, 1992 ISBN 981-00-3557-8), the only true "coming-out novel" written from a Singaporean point of view so far. Describes a young athlete and national serviceman's angst-filled struggles with boyfriends, discriminatory institutions and death, as well as his coming out into the gay and lesbian community. Described by The Straits Times in 2008 as a 'cult classic'. []
*Abraham’s Promise (1995) by Philip Jeyaretnam tells a story of a father’s rejection of and then coming to terms with his son’s homosexuality. This is no exploration of the world of a gay man, for the homosexual character hardly speaks. Its intellectual touchstone is the political culture of post-colonial Singapore where many feel marginalized with little promise of respite in personal or professional life. [] [] (ISBN 0-8248-1769-9)
*Glass Cathedral (1995) by Andrew Koh- a prize-winning novella, the winner of the Commendation Prize of the 1994 Singapore Literature Prize. [] (ISBN 9971-0-0670-7)
*New Moon Over San Francisco by Joash Moo.
*Asking for Trouble (2005) by Jason Hahn, an 8-days journalist, who based his humour book on his experiences with living with two high-maintenance women, with free advice from his 2 male friends, one gay, the other married. [] (ISBN 981-261-025-1)
*Bugis Street by Koh Buck Song. []
*What are You Doing in My Undies? (2002) by Jon Yi about a man's change into transvestism. []
*Different Strokes (1993) by David Leo. While David Leo wrote a homophobic short story in News at Nine, this book is based on an objective journalist's experience when he interviewed a gay AIDS patient. [] (ISBN 981-00-4755-X)
*The Narcissist (2004) by Edmund Wee (Times Editions, May 2004, ISBN 981-232-819-X) [] []
*Mouse Marathon by Ovidia Yu.
*To Know Where I'm Coming From (2007) by Johann S. Lee (Cannon International, 2007 ISBN 978-981-05-9472-5), Lee's indirect sequel to Peculiar Chris. About a gay emigrant returning to his homeland to heal from a broken heart. Rated 5 stars out of 6 by Time Out and 3 stars out of 5 by The Straits Times. Alex Au wrote in his Yawning Bread review: "It's a much more mature book than the first, but the talent for telling a story with honesty and enrapturement is still very much there… One day, I think it is safe to bet, this novel will be on the required reading list for Singapore students, even if some people might turn in their grave, or more likely in the Singapore context, stew in their urn. It will be on that list precisely because it is suspended in the tension between being gay and being Singaporean, being away and being connected; precisely because it captures a moment in our shared national history."

hort stories

LGBT-themed stories are found in different collections of short stories. Examples are:
* (1999) by Alfian Sa'at, (Raffles Editions ISBN 981-4032-40-9) contains a several stories with GLBT themes. 'Pillow' looks at a difficult inter-generational relationship. 'Cubicle' is about the physical intimacy two lesbian students often steal in a public toilet. A flamboyant transvestite character appears in 'Bugis'. Finally, 'Disco' deals with an older man who is staring to discover the youth-dominated gay club scene. This book won the 1998 Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award. []
*Cross-straits experiences by Alfian Sa'at, simply titled Bugis in a Singapore-Malaysia collection, The Merlion and the Hibiscus.
*Worlds Apart, written by J.C. Leahy, found in In the Shadow of the Merlion, an anthology of expatriates' experiences in Singapore
*Students' collections like Onewinged with stories like The Transformation and Extracts from Fairy Tale by Cheryl Lim and Sim Yee Chiang respectively
*Pte M, a short story by C.S. Chong in about an effeminate soldier who tries to be intimate with the protagonist who feels nothing but revulsion, despite not rejecting the unwanted advances until the last possible moment.
*Drum, a somewhat homophobic short story by David Leo in News at Nine which is modeled after Herman Melville's Billy Budd.
*Butch and Girl Talk, by Sabariah, a collection of short narrative pieces exclusively about the experiences of young lesbian and bisexual women (and FTM men) in Singapore. It is unclear if the stories are based on the experiences of actual women or primarily fictional. Published by VJ Times, the book is no longer widely available.


Cyril Wong came out into the scene in 2000 with poetry that was confessional in style but universal in scope. Completely "out" in newspaper and magazine interviews, he is the first and only openly-gay poet to win the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award for Literature and the Singapore Literature Prize. His books are published by Firstfruits in Singapore:
*Squatting Quietly
*The End of His Orbit
*Unmarked Treasure
*Like a Seed With its Singular Purpose
*Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light (Listed by The Straits Times as among the best five books of 2007)

(Read reviews of Wong's work archived on his website: [] )

Alvin Pang's "The Scent of the Real", which refers to Cyril Wong, is value-neutral and mentions Cyril Wong's sexuality as a fact, not as something disgusting or abject.

Toh Hsien Min and Yong Shu Hoong have written poems about friends coming out to them in "On a Good Friend's Admission that he is Gay" and "A Friend's Confession". Both were suspicious that their friends wanted sexual relations with them.

Gwee Li Sui in the eponymous book with the poem Who wants to buy a book of Poems refers to the stereotype of poets as limp-wristed and "ah kua". In the following poem, "Edward", he depicts the sad life of a cross-dresser past his prime.

Ng Yi-Sheng's poetry collection, last boy, contains many lyrical poems celebrating and reflecting on gay love and sexuality.


Academic works addressing various LGBT issues:
*The chapter "" (2001) by Dr. Russell Heng in (edited by Gerard Sullivan and Peter A. Jackson, Haworth, New York, 2001, pp. 81-97. Reprinted in the Journal of Homosexuality 40(3-4), pp. 81-98. Archived by Yawning Bread: []
*The chapter entitled "Singapore", written by NUS Sociology Department senior lecturer Dr. Laurence Leong Wai Teng [] , in "Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality- A Multi-Nation Comparison" (Edited by DJ West and R Green- Plenum Press, New York, 1997)- It examines sociological, historical, and philosophical trends in attitudes and laws relating to homosexuality in 20 countries, plus chapters on Islam and Europe.

There is also a medical reference regarding sex-reassignment.
*Cries from Within (1970) by S. Shan Ratnam; Victor H. H. Goh and Tsoi Wing Foo- an illustrated and user-friendly tome on sex-reassignment surgery and its attendant psychological considerations by two eminent gynaecologists and a psychiatrist. []

A few works on gender studies for both general readers and academic interests:
* (2004) (edited by Joseph Lo and Huang Guo Qin, published by Select Books)- a pioneering collection of essays by contributors such as Alex Au, Jason Wee, Desmond Sim, William Peterson and Laurence Leong. Its style is eclectic, ranging from the academic to the casual. (See The New Paper's report and Yawning Bread's comments: [] )
* by Ng King Kang published by KangCuBine Publishing Pte. Ltd.- read a review by Yawning Bread: []

The following are works mainly for general readers:
*Sisterhood by Leona Lo (Select Books, 2003, ISBN 981-04-7198-X)- an exposé of the local transvestite and transsexual community by a prominent male-to-female (MTF) transsexual Singaporean.
* by Leona Lo, photographs by Lance Lee (Viscom Editions) - a book on the lives of transsexuals. []
*"Boys in the Hood", chapter 6 of the book by Gerrie Lim, an international correspondent for porn network AVN Online. It explores the world of gay male escort services. (Read an excerpt of the chapter on [] )
* by Leslie Lung features 20 short stories about people struggling against their sexual orientation. A short commentary by Lung accompanies each story. The premise of the book is that individuals can choose and change their sexuality. It advocates gay people can and should become straight, but never advocates that they remain gay. []
*, ( [ official website] , [ Yawning Bread review] ) written by Ng Yi-Sheng and edited by Jason Wee (Oogachaga counselling & support, 2006, ISBN 981-05-6205-5)- the brainchild of counsellor Clarence Singam, this groundbreaking book was the first of its kind in Asia. It documents the coming-out stories of 13 GLB individuals and a mother of 2 gay sons, using real names and photographs.

LGBT writing on the Internet

*The Yawning Bread website [] -a high-quality, award-winning collection of essays on various topics, particularly Singapore LGBT issues. It was started in November 1996 by activist Alex Au and has grown to be the leading site for intellectual comment on gay issues in Singapore.
* [] and [] are web-based, gay-themed magazines that feature news and commentaries.
*Blogs of gay Singaporeans such as Kelvin Wong [] and Miak Siew [] have also contributed to the body of Singapore gay literature and make for engaging reading. Similar personal websites of local LGBT personalities such as transsexual writer Leona Lo [] provide glimpses of their individual experiences in various contexts.

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