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28 Aug 2002

serving singapore as a gay man (part 1 of 3)

Coming out to the military - this is an issue all gay Singaporean men grapple with one time or other as all male Singaporeans must complete two to three years of full-time National Service. A young Singaporean man shares his experience of disclosing his homosexuality to the Singapore Armed Forces. This is the first of a three-part series.

Part One: The First Doctor

My name is Lim Chi-Sharn. I am 23 years old and I am a gay Singaporean man. I first entered the Singapore Armed Forces in 1998 and was in the middle of Officer Cadet School when I temporarily disrupted my National Service in mid-1998 to study in university. Four years have passed since then and I have returned this year, July 2002, in order to complete my National Service. Having disclosed my homosexuality, I have been instructed that my NS liability would be served out in the Ministry of Defence. My officer cadet training has thus been terminated.

What follows is an account of my experience disclosing my sexuality to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in July 2002.

Why Disclosure?

There are two major reasons why I disclosed my being gay to the SAF.

The first reason is personal: I have been "out of the closet" (i.e. been open about my sexual orientation) for a long time now. This Coming Out has been gradual and has come to encompass all areas of my life - my family, my work, my friends and even my mother's friends. I believe gay people, including myself, have the same rights and responsibilities to be as free and open about who they like as anyone else can be. I do not intend to go back into the closet on any grounds because I choose not to. It is a personal choice to Come Out and the decision to do so should be made with due consideration. This report does not claim to advise how this choice should be reached.

The second reason is that I wanted to find out more about SAF policy and procedure toward gay people in general. When I decided to go through with this act of disclosure, I tried to find out more about the possible challenges I would face within the SAF as a result of disclosure. The information I obtained was word-of-mouth and not first-hand and the information available online was mostly from discussion boards and sketchy at best. I wanted to partially fill this lack of publicly available information by documenting my own experience.

A Brief Description Of National Service (For The Unfamiliar)

In Singapore, all male citizens (or male immigrants applying for citizenship) must complete 2.5 years of full-time National Service (serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police Force or Civil Defence, see link below). It is currently not mandatory for women to serve NS, but they may volunteer to serve.Before enlisted persons are assigned, they must undergo a medical examination to ensure that they are healthy enough for physical training. The SAF conducts a standard procedure for medical examination. Most medical examinations are carried out at the Medical Classification Centre, a department of the Central Manpower Base (CMPB). The conclusion of this medical examination and classification is the assignment of a fitness status. For example, you may be classified as medically fit for all forms of service, or medically unfit for all forms of service.
Based on your medical classification, the NS man will be assigned various duties accordingly. Suffice it to say that if you are certified medically unfit, you won't be joining those running around with rifles.

My Experience

When I first enlisted for NS after my A Level examinations (at the end of the 12th year of public school), I said I was not homosexual. I was given a military medical classification (the Physical Employment Status, PES) that stated I was fit for most operational vocations. After Basic Military Training (it's like boot camp), I was posted to the Officer Cadet School.

After some 3 or 4 months of being in the army, I temporarily discontinued my training in Officer Cadet School to begin life as a university student. After graduating from university, I returned to Singapore in July 2002 and re-enlisted to complete the rest of my NS.

The first step in re-enlistment is scheduling a medical review at CMPB. This is the same as the medical review conducted before you first enlist at 18 (or 16 for voluntary early enlistees). The conclusion of this review is again the assignment of a Physical Employment Status (PES).

Before I met any doctor, I had to fill out a form with many common medical pre-consultation questions. Some of these questions asked whether any of my family members or I had heart disease, mental illness or whether I was allergic to any drugs.

Towards the bottom of the form, I was asked whether I had any "social problems (e.g. homosexuality)" which I wanted to privately inform the doctor. I ticked "yes", but wrote down: "I don't think it's a problem!"

Before visiting the doctor, I went through what everyone else goes through - I was herded from station to station where my teeth, eyesight and general health were checked. When a doctor finally saw me, I pointed out that I had something to tell him as I had ticked "yes".

"Doctor, I'm gay," I said. His response was of muted surprise. His movements skipped a beat and I suppose I was the first gay person who had 'outted' himself that day because he looked puzzled for awhile, then got up, went to another room and brought out a thick, dog-eared manual. He flipped to a page with both Homosexuality and Transsexuality listed and started to read it.

"Looks like I'm making you earn you keep doctor!" I remarked.

"Yes..." he quietly replied, still studying the procedures mentioned in the thick manual.

Writer's note: Please feel free to share my experience with anyone to whom it may be helpful. Please remember to reference my name, as this work and the views presented are mine. If you wish to place this information on a website or other broadcast media, please contact me at limchisharn@members.asce.org.








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