TNP: His life now revolves around cartooning

Source: The New Paper

By Ng Tze Yong

ONCE a teacher in Raffles Institution (RI), he now wants to become a world-class cartoonist.

The life-changing move was a consequence of one decision that Mr Otto Fong made – to reveal that he is gay.

As a teacher, Mr Fong had done cartoons in his spare time and even won awards for his work.

But the outing incident that caused a mini-storm proved to be an awakening of sorts for him.

‘I had always asked my students to chase their passion,’ he told The New Paper, in his first interview since the controversy.

‘I loved teaching, but my real passion was cartooning. I realised that if I didn’t leave, I would not be true to what I said to my students.’

So he packed up and left.

COMIC BOOK SERIES

Since then, he has been working on a new book, the third in the popular Sir Fong comic series which he started in 2005.

The book, which will retail in bookstores nationwide next month, uses comics to teach students in their early teens about science.

Life after RI is busier than before, he says. He gives tuition part-time (‘Goodness, I miss teaching.’) and spends the rest of his time working on his cartoons and giving talks on cartooning.

But still fresh in his mind is the day he outed himself in his blog entry, almost a year ago.

He remembers the anxiety of returning to school the Monday morning after the news had spread.

He loved his job, his school and his students.

But that morning, the spring in his step was gone.

He stepped through the school gate feeling a sudden dread.

Three days before, his blog entry that he was gay had sparked a heated debate. Some supported his honesty. Others – especially parents – asked him to leave the job, fearing his influence on impressionable boys.

His 2,000-word blog entry brought even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong into the fold.

In Parliament a month after the incident, PM Lee made a call to Singaporeans to strive for an inclusive society with space for all.

But that morning, all Mr Fong was thinking of was: ‘I want to skip the morning assembly.’

He imagined everyone’s eyes on him, he said.

Then, out of nowhere, the head prefect appeared and asked to shake his hand.

‘Mr Fong, you have my support,’ the student said.

It almost brought tears to his eyes.

Until today, many find it hard to understand his reasons for ‘outing’ himself.

Mr Fong maintains, as he did then, that it was a letter intended only for his colleagues and old boys whom he was close to.

‘I had been at RI for several years. I went through ups and downs with my colleagues. They became like family to me,’ he said.

‘They invited me to their weddings and to their homes. But what could I do?

‘If I invited them to my home, I would have to hide pictures of my partner. They would see a single king-sized bed, four pillows, and think that I’m either living with an unmarried woman or a man.

‘I didn’t want to lie to them anymore.’

His childhood struggle with his sexuality left deep scars.

‘All that I had heard about gay people was negative.’

After mulling over it for months, Mr Fong finally took the leap of faith. He wrote an entry in his blog one Friday night and sent out a mass e-mail, asking friends to read his blog.

He says he still does not know how things got out of hand from there.

‘NAIVE’

He also thinks he was naive.

‘I had only started blogging two months before,’ he said.

‘I didn’t realise the power of blogs. Sometimes, I would write something and tell all my friends, ‘Come, read my blog’ and only something like 10 or 15 would actually visit.

‘So, for me, blogs were still something private.’

After his entry, Mr Fong watched with growing trepidation as the counter on his blog rocketed.

By Monday, it had garnered a staggering 15,000 hits.

That first day back in school was filled with crisis meetings.

In class, the students were unusually well-behaved, he remembered.

‘I broke down once when my principal asked me why I did that,’ he said.

The media approached him.

Some parents left nasty messages with the school.

Many of his students, however, stood by him.

‘I found out later that a few of my students had taken it upon themselves to watch out for me, if there was going to be any trouble or snide remarks,’ he said.

Things got heated between him and his parents, even though he had told them when he was 17 that he was gay.

‘Last time, they could keep it within the family. Now, they were reading about me in Lianhe Zaobao. It was tough for them,’ said Mr Fong.

SCHOOL WAS SUPPORTIVE

At the end of last year, Mr Fong left teaching. It was his choice, he said.

‘The school never once asked me to quit. They are very supportive of teachers if they see we have our hearts in the right place,’ he said.

Nowadays, he invites his ex-colleagues to his house regularly.

‘They are now part of my life. I feel like, finally, I have shown them how much I treasure their friendship,’ he said.

This article was first published in The New Paper on July 24, 2008.

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