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3 May 2005

bryan choong

Bryan Choong of Oogachaga, a gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency in Singapore, shares why he became a facilitator of the group and his x-rated fantasies involving motorcycles.

Oogachaga-Looking Glass will be presenting regular personal development and growth workshops for lesbians, gays and their friends on the first Tuesday of every month in 2005. Their second workshop in 2005 titled "Coming Home To Our Families - To Tell or Not to Tell?" will be held on Tuesday, May 3, 7.30pm at Utterly Art, 208 South Bridge Rd, #02-01. Admission is free. Oogachaga is also launching a new men's support group on May 6, 2005. Visit www.oogachaga.com for more details.

Bryan Choong of Oogachaga
æ: ASOL (Age, Sex, Occupation, Location)
Bryan: I am a 28-year-old male civil servant but will be leaving in end of June as my contract comes to an end; have lived in Singapore all these years.

æ: What's your "look"?
Bryan: Your usual jeans and T-shirt gay man with average look though I am pretty happy with how I look. I am also often mistaken as a top and gotten used to it.

æ: What are you currently occupied with?
Bryan: Currently, I am busy with the Loving Myself workshop organised by Oogachaga (OC). I am coordinating the registration and I have just attended the first session as well as understudying. The response to this workshop is so good that we are actually in the midst of planning for the second and third runs.

I am also busy coordinating with my other facilitators on Oogachaga's OC Groups, which are support groups for gay people. We have got very good responses so far and the first session of our ninth group will start in early May. Apart from coordinating Oogachaga support programs, I am undergoing training for the AFA anonymous test clinic.

As a typical Gemini, I love to pack my daily life with lots of different things but I do spend enough time with my boyfriend. We have been together for almost half a year and he is very supportive. In fact, I just got back from a short Bintan trip with him and we usually spend our weekends together with our friends. Lastly, I am also looking for a new job since I am leaving my civil service job soon. Can I shamelessly ask if there is any vacancy anywhere?

æ: What are the aims of the Loving Myself workshops?
Bryan: The Loving Myself workshops is a series of experiential workshops focused on teaching tools for lesbians and gay men on building authentic relationships with themselves and their loved ones such as family. It also aimed to equip counselors who work with lesbian and gay clients with a deeper understanding of the personal and interpersonal challenges faced by lesbians, gay men and their family and loved ones.

æ: How and when did you become involved with Oogachaga?
Bryan: I joined the Oogachaga through the OC support groups as a member in 2004. I liked the freedom and space to talk freely about my sexuality and gay issues affecting my life. I enjoyed the support and the friendship that grew from that group. I learnt that the many of the issues I had to deal with painfully when I was much younger are actually very common in gay lives. In fact, I wished I knew of a support group earlier.

When Daniel, Oogachaga's Program Director, asked me if I am willing to be more involved in the OC groups, I agreed almost immediately. It means a lot to me to contribute back to the LGBT community. I also enjoyed the interaction with my other OC facilitators as well. Contrary to what many will think, volunteerism benefits me more than others benefiting from me. It helps me to understand my strengths and my weaknesses more.

æ: What does Oogachaga mean and what does it hope to achieve?
Bryan: Actually Oogachaga is named after the dancing baby in the hit sitcom Ally McBeal. It was a part of Ally that she kept trying to suppress but yet the dancing baby kept popping out all the time in her life. Being a sexual minority can be very much like that. Often people try to suppress their identities but it just keeps popping out one way or another. On the one hand it is a frightening thing and yet on the other hand, it's a dancing baby telling us perhaps we will discover something good and liberating if only we will open up to that part of ourselves.

So that is Oogchaga's mission - to help us celebrate that suppressed dancing baby in each of us. We are a charitable pro people pro family sexuality affirming counseling and personal development agency (a mouthful isn't it?). We specialise in providing counseling and support group services to LGBT individuals and communities. Our goal is to work with sexual minorities to strengthen and enhance their lives and relationships with their loved ones and families. The OC Groups is a support group service for gay men who are coming to terms with their homosexuality and want to achieve a healthy integration of their lives and their sexual identity. It was started in June 1999 and aims to give gay men a space in that they can develop greater self-awareness and confidence to be who they are. We are hoping to start groups for other sexual minorities like lesbians and transgenders this year. Go visit our website: www.oogachaga.com

æ: What advice would you give to gays and lesbians who are homophobic themselves and how they can come out of it?
Bryan: I believe that each and every one of us has our inner strengths. There are so many issues that a gay or lesbian needs to deal with in addition to their usual life problems. At times, we may feel weak emotionally or fearful about our sexuality but it really is natural. Talk to someone, go to a gay support group or call a counseling hotline, you will realise that you are not alone. What you need is to draw from that inner strength within you. There is really nothing to lose but everything to gain.

æ: What inspires you?
Bryan: I do not need to look very far for inspiration. My mom inspires me for most of the things I do in my life. She has little education and did not actually grow up with a good life. But she takes small steps, learning skills that enabled her to bring up my elder sister and myself all by herself. I always wondered where she finds all that strength and determination to endure so much hardship. Till today, I remain very grateful for all the things she has done. I always tell her that the most valuable thing she will leave when she goes one day is the education I have received.

æ: What is the achievement you are most proud of?
Bryan: At the present moment, I should say it is my humble 3-room flat I co-own with mom which I had bought when I was just 20. It might sound really insignificant but nothing beats the feeling that you are able to provide for your family.
æ: If you could do it all over again, what would you change?
Bryan: Well, that is really a tough question to answer. I do not believe in 'what-ifs,' I am contented with what I have. I know I am capable of more, so I will plan to achieve that eventually. Whatever has happened are wonderful lessons learnt, the benefits are intangible but real.

Oogachaga, a project of Spaces, is a support group for gay men who are coming to terms with their homosexuality and want to achieve a healthy integration of their lives and their sexual identity. Started in June 1999, Oogachaga has since given dozens of Singaporean gay men a space in which to develop greater self-awareness and confidence to be who they are.
æ: How are you misunderstood?
Bryan: I typically come across as someone who might be rather cold or reserved. It is good that this interview is done by email as I just take too long to warm up to someone.

Actually, I am also aware that I am sometimes too work focused but I try to balance things out. All the training I received in Oogachaga really taught me to listen. We often take for granted that we know how to listen. That is so not true. Listening requires much training and discipline.

æ: How do you spend your Sundays?
Sunday mornings - I will be at Maxwell market till 4am most of the time with my boyfriend and my close friends. Clubbing is my usual Saturday program. In case some of you are wondering if volunteers or counselors are boring people, we are not. We socialise like most people. And my boyfriend and I recognise that friends are equally important even when we are in a relationship.

The rest of the Sunday will be in my bed recuperating for Monday. I am also a closet National Geographic or Discovery Channel fan, so I always catch cable television that I have missed on weekdays.

æ: Tell us one of your fantasies?
Bryan: If my boyfriend reads this, he is going to laugh his head off. Ok my biggest fantasy is eloping with my boyfriend on a motorbike. Motorbikes have this strange effect on me and I see them as sex objects (*wink*). I think I am a closet ah beng (Singapore slang to mean an unsophisticated man) gay as well. I would just love spending a night on the beach with the bike around. The rest of my fantasy is too XXX for this interview.

æ: What about yourself would you like to change the most?
Bryan: My teeth I used to simply hate them. Though I didn't go for bracing. Too much work, too costly and bound to make me irritated. But I have got used to my funny teeth so it doesn't matter now.

æ: What was the most important thing that happened to you in the last 12 months?
Bryan: The most important thing that happened to me must be my boyfriend. We knew each other since last August but we did not start dating immediately. It took another four months then we finally got together with a lot of ups and downs. Some of our close friends said we might want to sell our story to a scriptwriter. Anyway, this is our 5th month together and we are still learning to love and live with each other.

æ: What do you think is important in a relationship?
Bryan: Fun. I am not just talking about sex, though I see it as a very important component in a relationship but pure clean fun is very important. A good relationship with each other's close friends is equally important. How you treat your partner's close friends indicates how much you love him. Ample space for each other. He allows me to be actively involved in social work while I respect the time he needs for his recent short film productions as well as his stage plays. We are good friends and sometimes play the role of a critic as well.

æ: What (or who) turns you on?
Bryan: My boyfriend turns me on a lot. Some of you must be yawning aloud by now but I love his brain and heart as much as I love him. Nothing turns me on more than watching him work quietly away on his film production. Of course, he finds me distracting when I watch him work.

æ: What's your biggest guilty pleasure?
Bryan: Buffets - I love to eat. The amount of fats and carbohydrates I take daily surprises most people. Not that I am particularly concerned but I do gym regularly to maintain my market value.

æ: What is your vision for the gay community?
Bryan: Apart from gaining full legal rights and equal recognition for the gay community one day soon, I also hope to see a socially responsible gay community. LGBT communities should enjoy a wide diversity but still work towards that common goal. We are marginalised but I really hope to see more people can come forward to do a small part for all communities. Everyone matters and gay life should be more than clubbing, sex, love relationship etc

æ: Who would your dream date be if you were straight for a day?
Bryan: Er Singapore singer Tanya Chua. She is very much my type - an independent woman who knows what she wants in life. She is goal orientated and brilliant but yet can be demure. Of course the fact she is an excellent performer does attract me a lot.

æ: Tell us something even your mother doesn't know.
Bryan: Eight years ago, I actually wanted to find a cheap alternative to owning a car and I secretly signed up for a motorbike course with my friend. I was so nervous at my first lesson and perspired so much that my jeans got soaked. Tried too hard to balance myself and failed badly. So I left the driving centre with a huge illuminated "L" over my head and never returned again. No one knows except the friend who enrolled with me. He completed the lessons and got his licence.

Oogachaga-Looking Glass will be presenting regular personal development and growth workshops for lesbians, gays and their friends on the first Tuesday of every month in 2005. Their second workshop in 2005 titled "Coming Home To Our Families - To Tell or Not to Tell?" will be held on Tuesday, May 3, 7.30pm at Utterly Art, 208 South Bridge Rd, #02-01. Admission is free. Oogachaga is also launching a new men's support group on May 6, 2005. Visit www.oogachaga.com for more details.

Singapore

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