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5 Jul 2007

women who love women: conversations in singapore

Premiering this Saturday, WOMEN who LOVE WOMEN: Conversations in Singapore features three Singaporean lesbians who talk about their lives in the city state where same-sex acts are still illegal.

Produced by 33-year-old graduate student Ngiam Su-Lin and directed by Lim Mayling, the 65-minute film is one of few documentaries ever made about lesbians in Singapore.

According to the film's publicity material, it seeks to "capture the lives of lesbians who have chosen to live authentically and is a testament to the courage, tenacity and experiences of lesbians living in Singapore."

The three women - Amanda Lee, Sabrina Renee Chong and Gea Swee Jean - will share their coming out experiences, and their views on topics such as coming out and relationships.

WOMEN who LOVE WOMEN: Conversations in Singapore premieres on Saturday, Jul 7, at Pelangi Pride Centre, Bianco, 21 Tanjong Pagar Road, #04-01 at 4.30pm. There will be a Question & Answer session with the interviewees and filmmaker, May Ling following the screening. As the screening on Jul 7 has reached maximum capacity, a second screening + Question & Answer session has been organised on July 21. Free entry.

Fridae speaks to 27-year-old Mayling who is an event/project manager and the three interviewees, Sabrina, Amanda and Swee Jean about their involvement in the project.

æ: How did this project come about?

Mayling: I was approached by Su-Lin who wanted to produce a film; a snapshot of the lives of lesbians in Singapore. At that time I was looking to make a documentary and was exploring options in terms of subject matter. It is difficult if not impossible to find an honest portrayal of the lesbian community in Singapore. I was presented with the opportunity to fill that space through lesbians who were willing to be interviewed and share their lives and views onscreen. I felt it was the right time and what better way to put my skills to use since it will give a face to lesbians in Singapore and perhaps move on to serve as a platform for others to build upon.

æ: What drew you to this film? Why did you want to make a documentary about lesbians in Singapore?

Mayling: The common purpose underlying this documentary is to give an honest portrayal of the interviewees and in the process give a face to the lesbian community in Singapore. To shout out that we exist and provide a better understanding of issues concerning the lesbian community by allowing these individuals to express their different perspectives.

æ: How were the three subjects selected? What were you looking for?

Mayling: We were looking to feature lesbians from different age groups. They will have to be comfortable about revealing their stories to possibly a mass, international audience. Through email blasts, word of mouth, we met with the possible candidates. It was a tough ride since most lesbians are private people with many other things to worry about in their lives and most were concerned about the final representation of the documentary. In the end, we were fortunate to have gotten the three women. They cast their fears aside, trusted us with their story and opinions and were supportive throughout the whole process.

æ: What's your advice for budding filmmakers who are looking to document gay/lesbian life in their community?

Mayling: Steady hands and a good heart.

Next page: Sabrina, Amanda and Swee Jean on coming out, realising their attraction to women and if they feel any apprehension baring their heart and soul on celluloid.

Top to bottom: Sabrina Renee Chong, Amanda Lee and Gea Swee Jean
Sabrina Renee Chong, 39, photographer & events specialist

æ: When were you first aware of your attraction to women?

Sabrina: I was first aware that I was attracted to women/girls when I was eight years old. I was Primary 3 in a convent school and this other girl at school and I were "fighting" over this girl we both liked.

æ: Michael J Fox once said, "Film is forever." Did you feel any apprehension having your very personal experiences and thoughts on public record? What made you decide to do it?

Sabrina: I do feel apprehensive about how people will react to the film and what we've said in it. It is a coming out of sorts again to the world but in greater detail. But it is my hope that this film will:

1. help lesbians all over the world to understand and embrace their own sexuality and individuality,

2. pave the way for greater acceptance of the GLBT community in Singapore and Asia and

3. help families and friends understand their gay and lesbian child/friend and bridge the distance between them. It is my hope that gay and lesbians can have the invaluable source of support from their families and friends as they are growing up.

As I was growing up, I had no one to turn to for help and direction with regards to understanding and coming to terms with my sexuality. It was a bewildering time and I hope that this film will help those who are discovering and coming to terms with their gay sexuality.

æ: What's your vision for the gay/lesbian community in Singapore/Asia?

Sabrina: I hope that gays and lesbians can be assimilated and accepted by society at large and be recognised for the individuals that they are and the contributions that they make. There are so many talented gays and lesbians in our midst who do make contributions to the arts, social causes, etc, but in spite of that, the GLBT community in Singapore and Asia is still very marginalised. It's very strange but in some countries/places that are not as advanced or "forward" as Singapore, they seem to have greater acceptance of gays and lesbians. I hope that Singapore as progressive as it may seem will truly come of age and be in the rankings of first world countries where GLBT community are accepted in their own home countries.

Amanda Lee, 23, student

æ: When were you first aware of your attraction to women?

Amanda: I have always been aware and comfortable with the possibility of my attraction to women. I started my primary education in a convent school, where I nurtured strong female friendships that didn't center around boys. When I moved on to a co-ed environment in secondary school (which upset my father for a while because it wasn't a Catholic school), I was immediately alienated by the excessive, and often oppressive heterosexual energy. I always felt a little affronted by how differently the girls behaved in the presence of boys, and the whole experience strengthened my belief that boys were not my cup of tea! Add to that, I've always loved the female body. A friendly male classmate in secondary school would pass me notes with rather artistic anatomically accurate nudes that he had drawn, and I would always prefer looking at the females. So, when I experienced my first sexual attraction to a woman, albeit a little late at 21 but so intense it seemed to have made up for lost time, it was something that felt natural, almost like I'd been expecting it.

Michael J Fox once said, "Film is forever." Did you feel any apprehension having your very personal experiences and thoughts on public record? What made you decide to do it?

Amanda: I really appreciate how open and supportive this process of being in the documentary has been for me. We were consulted and affirmed every step of the way. Even when I had my doubts, I felt comfortable enough to raise them and discuss within the team as opposed to being obligated to just move along. It helped that Su-Lin, the producer, is a very persuasive person!

The decision to be showcased in this documentary was easy enough for me. I strongly believe in what it sets out to do. If someone sees me in it and wants to talk about it, I know I am ready to. What was more difficult was thinking through and dealing with the opinions of some people, well-meaning I'm sure, mostly on the possible repercussions on my future work. The job that I was holding then was no issue because I enjoyed a supportive environment where I was 'out and proud' in a cosy department of four. The company I was working at has a strong anti-discrimination policy and out of the gamut of corporate philanthropy work they do, they also back programs to advance the rights of gays and lesbians and champion civil unions. It makes a great difference to work in such a gay-affirmative, inclusive environment.

I was just talking to Swee Jean, one of the other girls on the documentary, and we compared our view on work with the mentality of an older generation. We are confident of our skills, we know that our youth, willingness to learn and to be mobile gives us a certain privilege to choose. While I call it our 'youthful arrogance', I believe that there is no reason for us to fear not having a job. I suppose we're pretty sure we don't ever want to enter politics, haha.

Ultimately, I don't believe in living my life in fear. By putting ourselves and our stories out there, we hope that it will give a face to the Singaporean lesbian community. We may be invisible to the law, and a minority in society, but we are here and our lives are as authentic and important as the next person on the street. We may not know how the future will pan out, but none of us ever do. The best we can, and must do, is follow the truth of our hearts, bravely.

Given that the interviews were done about a year ago, has there been any drastic change in views or opinions that you would like to share with those who have or are going to see it? Now is the time...

Many things have changed for me since filming for the documentary. I've moved on from a job I loved to being a student again. I am currently pursuing a degree in liberal arts in Canberra, Australia, and majoring in gender studies. In the documentary, I talk a fair bit about my relationship with my first girlfriend. That has since ended. It has been difficult for me, but in the healing process, I have learnt so much about myself and best of all, I have found myself an unlikely ally, my mother. She has been terribly supportive in her odd little ways during my breakup, and now, our relationship is the best it's ever been. I guess absence has made the heart fonder too.

I still believe in everything I said in the documentary. It really is my personal story, and the more I experience and learn, the more I am convinced of the importance of a documentary like this. And I think the timing of its release is perfect, following recent public debates on whether lesbian sex should be criminalised, and the furor created after Minister Mentor Lee mentioned the possible abolishing of laws with regards to homosexuality.

Another thing that hasn't changed- I still feel a little awkward seeing myself on film!

æ: What's your vision for the gay/lesbian community in Singapore/Asia?

Amanda: I hope that all of us can be a little braver in our little ways. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. I have had the privilege of living openly because of what other gay people have done ahead of me. I have seen how a little effort and sincerity in sharing one's life with another person has given them a reason to rethink their negative views of gay people. I experienced my first Mardi Gras in Sydney this year, and I was so proud I almost cried. It is important for us to reach out, both in our gay and heterosexual communities, and build honest and healthy networks for ourselves.

I don't think a perfect world for gay people is one where our sexuality is a non-issue, in fact, I see that there is so much for us to celebrate as gay people. We own the privileged view of an outsider; the opportunity to sift through the 'givens' in life to create our own paths. I guess I have plenty of pride as a gay person, and I hope every gay person would claim that same pride for themselves.

Gea Swee Jean, 24, Business Manager

æ: When and how did you come out?

Swee Jean: When I was about 19, I started feeling like I couldn't contain my being gay from my parents anymore. So much had been happening in my life on which they'd missed out on - way back from the time I was 15. I felt bad about this. I wanted to be able to be open with my parents as we are normally quite close. I remember several moments when I literally felt like I was bursting at the seams with this secret.

Still, I had not yet freed myself of the guilt I felt over being gay, and this spilled out the first time I tried to come out to my mom. I was crying as I told her, and it seemed more like a guilty confession than a healthy coming out - and naturally she didn't take it well. This ended up in me "taking back" what I just said. I eventually came out successfully to her on my second try, about a year later, when I had resolved some of my own issues over feeling guilty.

I came out to a few friends while in junior college, and then to a lot of friends while in university. All of them took it well, and for that I am both immensely grateful to and proud of them. All my friends have in some way or other witnessed first hand my difficulties - in coming out to my parents, in trying to have a healthy relationship with my girlfriend while she was still very closeted, and so on. I believe that although most of my friends are straight, it does not hinder them from understanding me, and understanding very fundamental things such as love and acceptance.

æ: Michael J Fox once said, "Film is forever." Did you feel any apprehension having your very personal experiences and thoughts on public record? What made you decide to do it?

Swee Jean: Do I feel apprehension? Of course I do. But I choose not to let the fear control me. I decided to do the interview when Su-Lin, the producer, asked me if I would do it. At that point, faced with the decision, I said yes - because I knew I would not be able to live with myself if I had chosen not to do it, which is, in effect, to hide. Why should I hide if I believe that being gay is absolutely normal? It was a decision made out of self-respect, and it is integral to my self-esteem.

æ: Tell us about a cause that you support?

Swee Jean: I feel a lot for people with disabilities in Singapore. I guess I can relate to them, because I know how it feels to live in a society that doesn't always see you as being normal. For my final year project, my teammates and I published a book on people with disabilities in Singapore. It's called We Are Family: Stories of People with Disabilities. I believe our good old National Library Board has stocked copies of it. If you'd like to buy if, please call the Spastic Children's Association of Singapore at (65) 6585-5600 - proceeds from book sales go directly to them.

æ: What's your vision for the gay/lesbian community in Singapore/Asia?

Swee Jean: My vision would be for gays and lesbians to live confidently - to be unafraid of being relatively open and honest about their sexual orientation, to be brave enough to stake their claim as being happy, productive, GLBTQ citizens who contribute to society.

WOMEN who LOVE WOMEN: Conversations in Singapore premieres on Saturday, Jul 7, at Pelangi Pride Centre, Bianco, 21 Tanjong Pagar Road, #04-01 at 4.30pm. There will be a Question & Answer session with the interviewees and filmmaker following the screening. As the screening on Jul 7 has reached maximum capacity, a second screening + Question & Answer session has been organised on July 21. Free entry. Please take note that this is a private event by registration only. To RSVP, email your name(s) to ngiamsulin@yahoo.com by July 18 to ensure a seat.



1. 2007-07-05 21:42  
i'm not a lesbian (i'm a gay man), but i just wanted to say that i really want to see/read/watch more about the non-gays in our GLBT community. there's so little out there. or maybe i just dunno where to look.

all the best with the project!
3. 2007-07-05 23:03  
good news indeed!

and i really hope that SG's les scene loosens up a bit and doesnt always live of stereotypes and labels! (short hair: must b les and must b butch, long hair: must b femme)...

good luck with the film!
4. 2007-07-06 00:00  
Loud cheers for Amanda!!! Way to go, girrrrrl!!! ;)

And I applaud everyone involved in this documentary for the courage and the faith you have in yourself and in one another, and not forgettin: the belief you all have in your cause!

May the local premiere be the beginning, heralding a string of successful premieres in different parts of the world!

5. 2007-07-06 08:59  
Brave move in a society like ours, however no matter what we do, as long this country is still under the lee dynasity, LGBT ppl will never be legal nor accepted widely as " surveyed ".
6. 2007-07-06 15:35  
It's a good thing though and I hope it will also stop the stereotyping from going on. I think it's rather pathetic to cast labels and judgments on people even before you get to know them better.
7. 2007-07-06 21:17  
Bravo to Su-Lin, Mayling, Amanda, Sabrina and Swee Lin. Its time for lesbians in Singapore to be heard or at least to give a face to the lesbian community. But why only screening in a not so public ("private") place? I do not know how many people can the Pelangi Pride Centre can pack in, well maybe 50, 100 in 2 screenings. And I can safely assume that 90% + of the people who will turn up will be from the LGBT community with the rest probably straights and curious. The LGBT community certainly knows of the existance of lesbians in Singapore. Of cos thru the screening of the documentary, it does help in certain ways for the community as a whole like in opening up etc. I am just wondering if there will be further screenings cos in order for the rest (general public?) to understand lesbians and be made more aware of their existance, trials and tribulations. Then again, maybe the organisers or producers have plans for it, i really hope so. Theres never a better time to start to be heard and now's the time. Once again, to all the people involved in this project, BRAVO!!! APPLAUSE!!! ENCORE (Hopefully) !!!
8. 2007-07-11 20:01  
Does anyone have Amanda's no.? ;)
10. 2007-07-20 09:19  

salute to you guys =)

an aspiration of mine that's yet to go anywhere ie. to expose the pride community to a wider crowd. We are deeper than just liking one of a kind.Much more than that.I always has this thing in mind that there's this artistic value in the pride people that the non-gays should value.

11. 2007-08-01 15:35  
Just a note on your subtitle. Not all same sex acts are illegal. Section 377A only applies to "male persons". It does not apply to women.

Arguably, lesbian acts can fall under section 377 (unnatural intercourse against the order of nature). However, this is unlikely as the test for intercourse is penetration, usually taken to mean penile penetration.

Another reason why section 377A should be repealed. It is not only homosexual discrimination, it is gender discrimination.
12. 2007-09-24 14:51  
hey guy... know how i can watch this film..??
msg me here..
13. 2008-01-21 02:10  
hihi..for mi i tink lesbian is nt wrong nor against e law..for mi i doncare wad other or hw other ppl c nor sae bout lesbian.jus be e way we r n tat lesbian is at least better.ger n ger kno better wad each other wans lo.jus stay e way we are we need nt be in fear or feel bad:P
14. 2008-10-13 03:15  
I've thought of having my story as a les down in a book to be publish but as i'm in Malaysia, i guess its not possible. People here look at us in a different way but i've never care. I go to gents toilet since i was 16 and i still do. I really wish you guys success!
15. 2009-10-04 18:35  
to sabrina renee

im an old freinds from KL. my id here flowertz.

we talk more there.




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