Gays okay, say some heartlanders. But only if they stay away

Source: The New Paper
5 May 2007

THE GRAY AREA
Gays okay, say some heartlanders. But only if they stay away

05 May 2007

FRIDAY night, Tanjong Pagar. Thumping music. Hunks and babes, dressed to kill. Macho sauntering, come-hither looks.

Just another scene at a club? Watch a little closer.

At some Tanjong Pagar pubs, the hunks don’t check out the babes. They check out other hunks. And the babes check out other babes.

This corner of old Chinatown becomes the centre of Singapore’s gay scene when night falls and the neon lights flicker on.

‘Tanjong Pagar is to gays what Little India is to Indians, or what Chinatown is to the Chinese,’ said regular patron Issac Ritz, a 22-year-old NSman.

Most of the gay clubs in Singapore are here, he said.

In a country still grappling with the idea of homosexuality, Tanjong Pagar is Singapore’s fringe zone.

It’s where the ‘conservative majority’ brushes up against the ‘liberal minority’.

Where the singlet-clad uncle shares the same table with the guy with the right earring.

And it’s okay.

As Ms Gina Aw, 43, who owns a Chinese restaurant opposite a gay club, puts it with a shrug: ‘You like to drive car. He likes to ride a motorcycle. It’s as simple as that.’

The simplicity of logic works both ways. Security guard Joe Nathan, 30, doesn’t like ‘their attitude’.

‘I’ll be polite,’ he said. But draws a line there.

OF COWS AND PIGS

Does he believe that some people are born gay? He offers an old Indian saying: ‘If a cow follows a pig around long enough, it will stop eating grass and start eating like the pig.’

Or, in less colourful language: Group influence.

The gay debate often takes place at the highest levels of society, bringing in genetics and God.

But often, it’s street logic that prevails.

Ride a motorcycle. Follow a pig.

Dismiss it as ignorance? That might be too simplistic.

Homosexuality is an issue that has split the church, challenged medical science and changed laws in some countries.

Sometimes, it seems you need to be a doctor, priest or lawyer to answer the question.

But not everyone can dissect the issues wisely, although it’s becoming an increasingly relevant question.

Hawker Tan Beng Seng, 53, runs a drinks stall at Maxwell market.

‘I like them,’ he said. ‘They got standard, okay?’

They’re professionals and well-educated, he explained. They wear branded clothes and many are from rich families.

‘They’re a bunch that really knows how to let their hair down and have a good time,’ said Ms Aw.

Down the road, 37-year-old car jockey Remy A looked almost star-struck talking about the gay crowd that arrives on Friday and Saturday nights.

‘It’s a good crowd,’ he said with a veteran’s air. ‘You should see their bodies, man. Muscle!’

And he has never seen the crowds at gay clubs get into fights.

Mr Remy’s tone sounds accepting. But what would he do if his son should one day tell him that he is gay?

‘I’d smack him,’ he said.

The trend seems to be this: A decade ago, it was okay to be gay as long as you didn’t come out of the closet.

Now, it seems okay to step out of the closet. But just don’t step into my backyard.

Is it progress? Or just grudging resignation?

When gay customers give Mr Tan a friendly peck on the cheek, he doesn’t mind. ‘Kissing and hugging is the way Westerners greet each other,’ he said matter-of-factly, even though not all his gay customers are Westerners.

Where does he draw the line?

‘If a gay couple were to kiss openly in front of my stall, I’ll ask them, please, lah, don’t like that,’ he said.

‘NATURAL’

What if it’s a male-female couple?

His eyes widened in surprise. ‘Why would I need to do anything? That’s perfectly natural,’ he said.

The clubs or gay hangouts are subtle. A rainbow flag hangs outside one club, quite innocuously.

Only those in the know understand it’s a symbol for gay pride. You won’t find men smooching openly here.

It’s only late into the night that you might see a couple stroll past hand in hand.

There seems to be an unspoken code.

You do your thing and I’ll do mine.

Live and let live.

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