Singapore's first newspaper articles on the lesbian community were published in the evening tabloid, New Nation, in a series on four consecutive days, from Monday, 16 October 1972 to Thursday, 19 October 1972.
- 1 Background
- 2 Scans of the articles
- 3 OCRed text of the articles
- 3.1 NEW NATION, Monday October 16, 1972
- 3.2 NEW NATION, Tuesday October 17, 1972
- 3.3 NEW NATION, Wednesday October 18, 1972
- 3.4 NEW NATION, Thursday October 19, 1972
- 4 See also
- 5 Acknowledgements
"We were unsuccessful in the time at our disposal in penetrating the world of female homosexuals, or lesbians. It Is believed that no gay society as such exists among them although groups of female homosexuals do gather. Also, they tend to be more secretive than male homosexuals. We had some measure of success with our survey on male homosexuals."
Undaunted by her initial lack of success in obtaining information about Singapore's lesbian community, Khoo persisted and single handedly produced a second eye-opening series entitled "The Outsiders", consisting of 4 articles 3 months later, in October 1972.
Scans of the articles
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OCRed text of the articles
NEW NATION, Monday October 16, 1972
NEW NATION TODAY BEGINS A FOUR-PART SERIES BY BETTY L. KHOO INTO THE LONELY WORLD OF SINGAPORE’S LESBIANS.
Lesbians who contacted New Nation gave the impression of an almost desperate need to talk about their lives. But while they were willing to talk over the telephone and write down their feelings in letters most were unwilling to make personal contact and talk face-to-face.
Those that were interviewed in person did so on the promise of complete anonymity.
The others said they were too shy, or refused saying that they would be running the risk of exposure even though anonymity was promised. Once they got to writing it down, most proved exceptionally frank and often expressed themselves with much feeling.
These following extracts have been taken from some of the letters and interviews. Names have been changed and in some cases personal details have been left out.
Lesbians: Facing up to the problem
Lesbians in Singapore are isolated and very much alone. As far as we can find out, there is no lesbian subculture and no hint of a lesbian movement.
Even the overt ones live very secret, private lives so much so that when we made a four-month study on homosexuals in Singapore, we failed to make any contact with female homosexuals.
It was only after the results of this study were published that a few lesbians came forward.
Most of them contacted us because they said they needed someone to talk to. They were also motivated by a need to explain to society what it means to be a lesbian.
We could sense the isolation that most of them fell. By coming forward they hoped that others of like inclinations would show themselves.
"In this way," one of them said, “we would feel that we are not so alone or so different.”
We encountered various types of lesbians in our research. There were those who lived in their own private hell, suffering the anguish of being different and burdened with keeping their secret to themselves.
They fear exposure not because of persecution by the law (no one mentioned this) but because they believe it will bring ridicule and shame.
They are desperately seeking the right partner, believing that this will bring them the happiness that has so far eluded them.
And, failure to make contact with other lesbians and to find a partner contributes immeasurably to their loneliness and suffering.
But there were others we came across who appeared well adjusted. They have accepted their lesbian tendencies calmly and without regret.
Despite this they also take care to ensure that their lesbianism is a well-kept secret. They would, however, like more communication with other lesbians.
Nearly all the lesbians we encountered stressed the importance of love in the lesbian relationship. One of the girls confided that, even though she wants to, so far she has not dared to venture into the sexual side of the relationship.
She does not form close attachments with her lesbian partners. It is all companionship.
She should be considered an exception because generally lesbians take themselves and their sexual preferences seriously.
None of the lesbians we talked to - even those who were depressed and confused - mentioned seeking psychiatric help.
In this sense they accept their homosexuality as something they have to come to terms with themselves.
The lesbian here does not seem to feel the hostility of condemnation as lesbians and male homosexuals in some countries do.
They do feel however that society would not approve of them and does not understand them. But one suspects that much of their ideas about how society views the homosexual is culled from books from the West.
There are a number of outwardly masculine females - commonly referred to as “butch” - around but they do not attract hostility or discrimination.
Society here tends to ignore homosexuals unless directly involved. Male homosexuals and transvestites in general arouse curiosity more than a great deal of distaste.
The white Protestant countries have had a long history of harassment and persecution of homosexuals, a legacy of Victorian morals and puritanism which only in recent years has begun to case.
The Latin countries of southern Europe, the middle Europeans and the French have never had objections to men showing open affection and emotion towards each other (Frenchmen kiss each other in greeting, the Italians and Greeks embrace and kiss with exuberant emotion). No one suggests this has homosexual overtones.
But the more northern European races regard physical contact - just plain hand-holding - between people of the same sex with suspicion and outright hostility.
Such feelings of strong hostility has in turn in recent years evoked a strong reaction among homosexuals in countries like Britain and the United States, who feel the injustice of being discriminated and persecuted simply because of their sexual preference.
They have surfaced in growing numbers, banding themselves in organisations. The more moderate groups try to educate the public to accept them, the more radical flout their homosexuality, sometimes incurring more hate.
In most Asian countries the homosexual has not been hounded or persecuted - certainly never the women.
Just a generation ago, people here were married off very young and therefore whatever homosexual tendencies they might have had were often suppressed. The women lived sheltered, cloistered lives before they got married and were hardly aware of their own sexuality.
The girls of today are definitely more aware 01 their sexuality and alive to their sexual and emotional needs.
However, as for generations there have been few overt homosexuals, society is still hardly conscious of their presence. This in turn has helped moderate any reaction towards them.
There is certainly more awareness of homosexuals today because of the mass media - in particular the Press and the cinema.
But, as homosexuals gain gradually increasing acceptance in the West, it is unlikely that it will become a social problem here.
Made a pact to love...
I am a nurse and a lesbian. My partner Jane and I have known each other since the days we were at nursing school.
Jane is two years my senior but we graduated the same year. Throughout our student days we were very close to one another.
We are living together in a comfortable and respectable hostel. But we do not work together, we are attached to separate private clinics.
Jane and I love each other very much. During our final year at the school we made a pact to love and be with each other always.
Our relationship is not just emotional, it is also sexual. We enjoy sex on an average of three times a week, sometimes more.
We lead a quiet life. After dinner we usually watch television together. We are in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 7 a.m.
We have friends who are lesbians. There is a couple in particular we are very friendly with. We were invited to their room one night. We danced together to the music of their record player and changed partners.
Our other friends do not know of Jane and my relationship. They just think we are very close.
We have no particular boyfriends, although sometimes we go to parties. I will now give you some details about my background. At the age of five I was orphaned and left in the care of an aunt.
She had other children so I was not very well treated. After school - I was in a convent school - I had to do a lot of housework.
There was not much love shown to me by my aunt's family although I am grateful for the education I received through her kindness.
When I left school I tried to look for a job. Then I decided to take up nursing as it would get me away from home.
Since finding Jane we have both been very happy. Neither of us intend to marry a man in the future.
We consider ourselves married to each other and are very happy.
We hope nothing will come between us to mar or destroy our love for each other.
I don’t in the least regret this association. I don’t think the world can condemn us for such friendship.
It concerns only us and. our own lives. We are not stealing away somebody’s love. We have promised to be true to each other just as when a man marries his girl friend and both have their lives and interests in common and are united “till death do us part."
We love each other, help each other and want to live together always. We share each other’s joys and sorrows.
We are giving to each other a love that has been nurtured for so long and which increases in strength and quality as the days go by.
‘I always fear detection’
I am a female homosexual, a student in my teens. During your investigations you must have realised that the problems lesbians face are as serious and common as those faced by our male counterparts.
In fact being a lesbian I can tell you we are an unluckier lot.
We cannot be recognised by our outward appearance.
Therefore it is hard for us tc make contact with other lesbians.
I was lucky the first time to And that my girlfriend shared the same tendencies as me but then that was the only time I was lucky.
Although I do not mind boys, I am aware of being more attracted towards members of my own sex.
Bot I have so far never been intimate with the girls I have shared experiences with. We have only kissed and necked.
I have really tried to make it with boys but disappointments and disillusions have all discouraged me. I even prefer to have girls for platonic friends.
My experiences with the opposite sex cannot compare with the joys I have shared with my girlfriends.
I feel that lesbianism is a problem for the lesbian herself more than for anyone else.
I am constantly afraid to approach girls for things other than friendship and, emotionally, I am a disappointment.
I always fear detection and criticism from others. I am a very lonely and sad person although I may appear to be otherwise. My social life is in a mess.
Please publish my letter in New Nation as I’m sure you will receive an encouraging response from other sad and lonely people who have no one to turn to.
Why can’t people stop laughing at lesbians and homosexuals? We are all human and our sexual inclinations just happen to differ from the rest.
If you do not publish this letter, then I suppose we will forget the whole thing. But I am sure you will help us, we need it badly.
‘Her image kept haunting me’
Husband knows and understands
I find it hard to write the word “lesbian” and describe myself as one. My hand shakes and I am much disturbed.
Am I a pervert? I’m so terribly upset but I can’t help myself. I need someone to talk to. Talk without shame. Yet I feel ashamed of myself.
I have always loved and respected people who are intelligent and creative. I am especially drawn to creative women.
My admiration for them will gradually turn to "worship” and finally love -love for the woman.
It is always an older woman I turn to. I remember as a Secondary 1 student how I developed a crush on a Senior Cambridge student.
When I saw her I was immediately drawn to her. I was so crazy about her I acted like a fan over a pop-star.
I befriended her and we got on extremely well. I used to follow her around.
It is the sort of friendship which sometimes develops between a senior and a junior. Yet within me I felt a strange sensation.
It was something that I couldn’t understand. I grew to like her so deeply, that I was physically upset when she completed school and left. I never saw her again.
After she left. I felt lonely and miserable. I cried practically, every night. I wanted to see her badly, to be near her Why, I do not know.
Nobody knew about it because I always appeared calm and cool in all situations. My friends describe me thus.
My misery continued. Then later, when I was in my late teens, I began the rounds of teenage parties.
It was not long after that that I met my first boyfriend. We clicked and started to go steady.
Probably I took, him as a boyfriend to fill the vacuum, the emptiness in me.
We went steady for four years and grew to become .very good friends. But I still thought of “her”.
Her image kept haunting me and I still cried sometimes. I thought I loved her and the very thought brought solace and love to my heart.
My boyfriend and I parted after we completed school. It was so casual.
We just ceased going out together and eventually stopped seeing each other.
That was nine years ago. Today I feel indifferent towards men though I have many men friends.
I was called a flirt because I never had a constant partner. I could not hold a boy friend for long, I failed miserably as lover.
I have a good career and I am now in my early twenties. I appear to have everything, I travel frequently, yet I feel so empty.
Something inside has stirred and I cannot control myself. I’ve had my share of love, physically and emotionally, with a man who was to be my future husband.
But I could not accept him fully because I know I cannot love him as much as I would have loved a woman.
I have never been physically involved with a woman because I am so scared of exposing myself. But I would if I find one who feels the same way I do.
I believe I am capable of loving a woman. I am getting very restless. Being gay and a pervert is a very painful thing. I am willing to live my whole life with a woman if she loves me. I am waiting for her.
I am an Asian girl in my twenties. I am married but I am bisexual and enjoy sexual relations with both sexes.
My husband knows and understands my lesbian tendencies.
It all started in school. I was 18 then and she was 19. Before I met her I had heard about lesbianism but did not relate it to myself. She already had several experiences.
We used to meet either at her house or mine, sometimes we went for a picnic. My mother never suspected.
After we finished school we lost touch because she went back to Malaysia. But I was not unhappy. I was dating boys at this time.
After leaving school I did not work for some time. Then I took up employment with a middle-aged American woman. She was married but her husband was away most of the time.
She was bi-sexual and a lesbian relationship grew between us. She was the only woman I was ever attached to. She was very fond of me and. I was fond of her. After her came several other housewives from the foreign community. But I never formed any close emotional ties with any of them.
It was just all for fun. I still prefer men.
These women have since left Singapore and I have no contact with any lesbian now. I am willing to take up with another woman if I can find one.
I can quite easily be heterosexual but my husband who is very liberal thinks it is bad to suppress one’s tendencies.
Tomorrow: Jan’s story
NEW NATION, Tuesday October 17, 1972
A lesbian contacted New Nation after our series on homosexuals. Jan (which is not her real name) was intelligent and articulate about her commitment to lesbianism. She said her motives in contacting New Nation was an attempt to bring some understanding on the genuine emotional relationships involved between lesbians. In this interview with Betty L. Khoo she revealed her personal feelings about being a lesbian.
Jan: A girl fully committed to the lesbian cause
QUESTION: What was your reaction when you read the New Nation series on homosexuality?
JAN: The series aroused a great deal of interest. It was the first time the subject had been brought out in the open and treated frankly in Singapore.
I found it well-covered generally. However, the transvestites and prostitutes seemed to stand out in the coverage. I suppose it is inevitable because they are more colourful.
People are prejudiced because they don’t understand. They associate homosexuals with the unsavoury aspects of prostitution, crime, etc.
Therefore, I was afraid your articles might have served to confirm some people’s false ideas of homosexuality.
I wish you had said more on the strong emotional ties which are often involved in such a relationship and how similar emotionally it can be to a heterosexual one, though in some Instances the homosexual relationship is of a strictly platonic nature.
I feel that if people knew of this strong emotional bond between the partners, people would be more sympathetic to the homosexual cause.
People should be made to realise that a homosexual relationship can be as rewarding and meaningful as a heterosexual one.
This was the reason which prompted me to contact you. I was not surprised when you mentioned that you were unable to penetrate the world of the lesbian in the four months at your disposal.
Lesbians are more discreet: they do not flaunt their homosexuality as transvestites do and I believe lesbians do not usually group together.
I called you on impulse - I was hesitant at first, shocked at my audacity. I have decided to commit myself because I feel strongly for the homosexual cause.
Q: Can you tell us what you know about lesbianism?
I am hardly an expert on the subject! From what I have read I think lesbians differ from male homosexuals in that, whereas male homosexuals are often transsexuals - psychologically female or partially female physically having the desire to project themselves as females - lesbians are usually psychologically women with the usual feminine tastes and manners.
Physically, it is impossible to tell a lesbian from other women (there are exceptions of course) simply because she Is every inch a woman, differing only in one respect: her sexual preference.
Sometimes I wonder if she is not one by accident: she falls in love with another human being who happens to be of the same sex.
I have a theory that human beings have a capacity to be bi-sexual because one can love another person of either sex. Love for parents, siblings, friends, lovers are, undeniably, different forms of love.
People should be made to realise that a homosexual relationship can be as meaningful as a heterosexual one.
Love in whatever form is essentially the same: one cares for the other deeply. It so happens that in romance, heterosexual love is more predominant than homosexual love though I believe the latter is not insubstantial.
Q: When did you first discover you had lesbian tendencies?
I can’t give you a specific date. It took quite some time before the truth dawned on me; before I could really be sure.
I was vaguely aware that I was different when I was in Secondary 3, when I was about 15. However, it was not until the beginning of this year, when my relationship with my partner had developed deep enough, that I could freely admit it to myself.
You will be surprised. My partner and I never discussed it. We just took, it for granted.
Q: How did the revelation hit you? Were you shocked and bewildered?
Hell, no! I read some good books - documentary and essays by American authors (they are very liberal) when I was in Secondary 3. So I already knew quite a lot about homosexuality before I even thought of relating it to myself.
I am grateful to my interest in reading which has put my mind in a perspective so that I was not put off by the discovery.
I am well-adjusted. But I must admit it did come as a surprise all right - an awakening. It knocked off my appetite for dinner. That takes some doing, I assure you.
But that was all.
Q: What are you like as a person - your personality and interests?
Nothing describes me better than “aggressive". Abrasive some may add. I always feel that competitive urge within to exert myself wherever I am.
I must always be on the go.
My Interests are general: philosophy, current affairs, literature, dogs, reading, writing, dressing up and, most of all, talking.
Q: You have a partner. How did you find one another?
I didn’t find her, she found me. You could call it a “he-chased-her-till-she-caught-him" kind of affair. The way she puts it makes it seem like love at first sight.
She says she just knew I was the one she had been looking for. She was too shy to approach me till almost the end of 6th form (end of our school career). It was now or never so she finally picked up enough courage to approach me.
I’m pretty much of a loner - I keep much to myself. She says I gave her the Impression of being aloof, cold and she was determined to break the shield.
Well, that “big pest” (she pestered me with questions on school work) did just that with all her cute, winsome ways.
At first I was vaguely aware, though I didn’t make much out of it at that time, that there was something much more sincere and deeper In her intentions.
She went to such great lengths to please me and was so free in confiding in me. I couldn't help it - I got hung up on her.
I have always been a loner, but I knew someday someone . . . She is my someone. She gives a new meaning to my life. It is a new & beginning.
I didn’t know she existed even then, but for her admiration this would never have happened.
Q: Tell us about your partner?
I could talk to you about her till the cows come home, so to speak. For the sake of being discreet, I can only give you a brief description.
She has a trim, boyish figure, always in shirts and pants because she looks better in them. She gets a lot of side glances when we go out.
She is, oh, so dashingly handsome, with a beautiful rose-petal complexion and the loveliest legs you ever did see! She’s a darling: so kind, gentle, loving and highly sensitive.
We are mentally compatible: sharing the same interests and tastes (we like watching pretty girls) but we are temperamentally opposite: . She is quiet and I am noisy.
She’s abroad now studying at a university.
Q: What is your relationship like? How close are you?
At first, we were friends, then close friends, then, well, it developed, in a space of one year, the most glorious period of my life.
Now, it wasn't all smooth and breezy, we had our share' of misunderstandings, quite frequently too. Each misunderstanding seems to have brought us even closer than before, But we had to work at the relationship.
Since we met, we have been together almost every hour of the day. We go out often, have meals together. Sometimes, we stay over at each other’s place.
We do nutty things sometimes - everything is fun. Every day is a special day.
It does not matter where we are. just being together is all we ask for.
I have always been a loner, but I knew someday, someone ... She is my “someone.” She gives a new meaning to my life. It is a new beginning.
I have grown emotionally dependent upon her so that when she went away a Jew months ago, I lost my bearings, I lost all sense of time. I think I must have cried more in one week than all my 18 years of life put together.
This one thing I know: I need her. If she should leave me for another, I will never be able to go on.
To me, love Is the Eternal Truth. I believe in love. But love demands its price.
Q: Do you miss her very much now that she is away?
I miss her very much, all the hours of a long day. I miss the love she gives me which is so warm and free.
I miss her loving touch. I feel her haunting presence wherever I go.
I feel I am so much a better being for having loved her. She opened my eyes to the inner beauty of another being, y
The one you love lives in your heart and in your mind. These are her very own words.
We were very clumsy in trying to make up before she left, trying to tell each other how we felt, the many times when we were so close together.
This parting has made us appreciate each other better and brought us even closer. It has forced us to be frank and admit many things to each other. We can sense what each other feels, even across 7000 miles.
She will be gone for two years. Two years is a very short time. It is not, when you love somebody.
I treat her absence as a transitional period till she comes home.
Q: Who is the more dominant partner?
That is a little hard to answer. I am, I guess. Being naturally aggressive, I am just being myself.
She is so sweet and appealing, I do not feel the need to exert myself. She generally let me get my way.
I do not wish to abuse this privilege. She would not let me, in any case. She has a strong character underneath that gentle exterior.
I use persuasion, wiles, and well, there Is always a woman’s tears. Seriously, there must be give and take. No problem really, because we have similar tastes and interests.
Actually she spoils me most terribly like my father did.
I admit, I tease her a lot. Sometimes I yell at her when I get mad but I only succeed in frustrating myself. She gives me the silent treatment which I do not know how to deal with.
You do not wish to dominate the one you love, not consciously at least. Love shifts one’s self-centredness to the other. One feels a desire to give of oneself.
Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing how to. Satisfaction comes from being able to give of oneself fully. This is to succeed as a human being.
In fact, her gentleness inspires protectiveness - she is so sensitive and easily hurt. She gives me a better balance. I feel I am so much a better being for having loved her. She opened my eyes to the inner beauty of another being. She is a beautiful person.
I feel that this relationship has made us more mature because It needs a certain maturity to sustain such a relationship.
It has brought us to realise the significance of another being and a. greater understanding of life itself.
Q: Do you plan to live with your partner?
That goes without saying, she Is the foundation of my future. I think of my future in terms of her. Where she is, means Love, Home and Security.
Our ideal home Is going to be a small apartment. There will be dogs and roses We also hope to complete our university education and see the world together.
Q: How do you foresee life as a lesbian? Are you happy?
We are very much in love. We are happy when we are together. We hope to be together for keeps: We will make it happen.
Life as a lesbian - what’s the difference? We are not obsessed or unduly concerned with our sexuality. Sex is a human need. To us, sex Is incidental - it’s only an extension and expression of our love.
Q: What Is your relationship with other girls and boys?
Our (I can speak for my partner too) relationship with other girls is normal. We have no interest in boys. We don’t think they are fascinating or mysterious creatures as some girls we know do.
I don’t know why we are inclined to regard males generally with some disdain, though we admire famous men and we do like some of the boys we come across. I had a crush on Andy Williams once.
I have always competed with boys. Sometimes I win. sometimes I lose. I don’t feel inferior. If a boy beats me. I will clap for him. He is better because he is better, not because he is a boy. That is why I am not a woman-libber. Such women need to be liberated from themselves - their own shackles.
Q: Have you dated boys before?
No, I was never interested You don’t know how awkard it can get when a boy is persistent. How do you tell a nice guy you are not in-interested without making him feel you dislike him?
Q: Would you ever consider marrying?
Yes, to my partner, if that is possible. I like the idea of marriage because it is part of the social scheme, an institution. Social approval takes the form of marriage. Once I asked my partner: Suppose I was a man, would you marry me?” She said: “No supposing.” She wouldn’t marry a male chauvinist.
If she was a man instead, I wonder if I would have fallen for her, bearing in mind that the person is still the same. Would one’s sex mean such a lot of difference? I don’t know.
To answer the point of your question: No. I cannot envisage my life with a man.
Q: Do you think there would be any parental pressure on you to marry?
No, my mother knows I am not the marrying kind (as they say I am too ambitious). Anyway, it is my decision. My mother is fond of my partner. She knows we are very close.
I do not think she would be upset if she discovers the truth. She is broadminded enough. We hope to tell her one day. My father’s dead. Oh, it would be the same with him. I was father’s pet.
Q: Do you feel your relationship is less secure without the ties of marriage?
On the contrary, we feel more secure, knowing that nothing is forcing us together-love keeps us together. Love, understanding, these are the basis of a stable relationship, not marriage.
Love is the strongest bond, more so than the legal bond of marriage. Does the marriage of heterosexual partners make their relationship more secure?
Q: Wouldn't you like to have children?
Yes, but it doesn’t matter. We can always have dogs. I mother my dog and my partner. I want to take care of her all the days of my life.
Q: How do you feel about society’s attitude towards homosexuality?
Society’s attitudes, more often than not, are not formed on the basis of facts but preconceptions. I do not think society is hostile
Love is the strongest bond, more so than marriage. Does the marriage of heterosexuaI partners make their relationship more secure?
I feel society has a capacity to be more sympathetic if people were better informed of the subject. I believe there will come a day when homosexuality will be accepted. I am optimistic, perhaps in our lifetime.
Our government should discard the century-old Indian Penal Code regarding homosexuals and allow homosexual relationships, at least between consenting adult homosexuals.
Homosexuality is not criminal is it? Nor is it. strictly speaking, unnatural because homosexuality exists In nature, among mammals, though it has not, been determined to what extent.
By the same token, many human characteristics could be deemed to be “unnatural”.
Q: Do you feel misunderstood, alienated and apart from straight people?
“Straight!” That is a dubious term. Are we deviants, crooked freaks? We are sensible, normal people in every way, except for our sexual preference. We are very much part of the human race, are we not?
Q: Do you or your partner fear discovery?
No, we do not fear discovery because we do not think our relationship is a sin. But some people’s attitude, being what it is, we have to be discreet and be constantly on our guard.
Love can't be right or wrong. We consider it a beautiful secret between ourselves. It is a “you-know-I-know” kind of thing. We do not wish to share it.
Q: Does anybody suspect or know about this relationship?
Perhaps one or two mutual and close friends. I hope, knowing us as well as they do. they will understand.
Q: Have you confided in anybody?
Not exactly confide. Because this has been the most wonderful thing which has happened in my life, well, perhaps I wanted to express myself.
I wanted to discuss the subject on an intellectual level with a teacher to see how she felt about it before I confided in her.
She is a highly intellectual sort and she knew what I was getting at. She recommended D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox. I don’t know why I wanted to confide in her. maybe because I hoped to convince myself that it is all right although I never doubted that. Certainly. I wish to know what she thinks.
We regarded her almost as a friend, we admire her.
Anyhow, I never got near to confiding in her.
One thing about giving your confidence, you don’t know where to stop. When I was at the point of confiding in her, I sensed she was a little impatient, perhaps because she was busy and in a bad mood that day.
Somehow, it hits you hard between the eyes. Perhaps she resents it because confidence places a burden upon her. Or perhaps she did not want me to tell her in case I may regret it afterwards.
We are not sick, or suffering from some mental disorder. My partner and I are, I hope, rational beings.
In any case, I am glad I did not. I am still learning, like all children must (I am so juvenile sometimes) that you can’t open yourself to just anybody, no matter how “comfortable” they may seem.
My partner learnt this lesson a long time ago. She feels she has been let down, many times before, especially by her parents.
Q: Do you feel you need to talk your problems over with a psychiatrist or social counsellor?
Goodness! Whatever for? We are not sick, or suffering from some mental disorder. My partner and I are, I hope, rational beings.
Sometimes, though, especially now that my partner is away, I do feel a need to talk to somebody, somebody intelligent, someone who understands, like you. for instance. Get it out of my system.
The burden of silence-secrecy does get one down, at times. I wish we could be freer to express ourselves.
Tomorrow - Lifting the veil
NEW NATION, Wednesday October 18, 1972
New Nation writer Betty L. Khoo today looks at lesbianism in its world context.
Lifting the veil of prejudice to seek an end to shackles
Lesbians all over the world have up to recent years led secretive, undercover lives. But now homosexual movements in the United States and Britain include lesbians who are anxious to cast off the shackles of prejudice and discrimination.
Where did it all start? From the dawn of civilisation, perhaps.
Lesbianism seems to have been occasionally practised by small bands of women as a cult in a number of cultures and civilisations.
The term lesbian originated from the Greek island of Lesbos (it is not a mythical island, its existence in the Aegean sea is very real).
On this island the Greek poetess Sappho in the 6th century BC made herself the leader of a group of women who were bound together by strong homosexual feeling.
But a homosexual relationship between women does not necessarily mean a sexual relationship. It has been acknowledged that two women can be deeply in love with one another without- there being any sexual play.
This is not the case with male homosexuals where the relationship is almost always sexual - though deep bonds of love can and do develop.
Richard Krafft-Ebing in his Psychopathia Sexualis explains this by saying that "woman, whether sexually inverted or not is by nature not so sensual or so aggressive in pursuit of her sexual needs as man.”
No one has any idea how many lesbians there are In Singapore - or indeed anywhere else. Up to recent years practically nothing was known about female homosexuality.
This is because women being softer and more vulnerable are less inclined to parade their homosexual inclinations than men.
It Is also because women who live together or demonstrate their affections m public are seldom suspected of being lesbians - unless one of them affects masculine attire.
But in the open, permissive cities where gay (homosexual) sub-cultures - including lesbian - have sprung up, sociologists, psychologists and others have the last few years been able to make studies of lesbianism.
So it is in the American west - California and in particular the city of San Francisco, dubbed the gay capital of the US - that researchers like author Jess Stearn and the organisation that drew up the Kinsey report have focused on trying to find out about the gay world and gay problems.
In 1969, it was estimated that there were about 100,000 male and female homosexuals In San Francisco, about 10 per cent of the population.
In Britain in 1965 - the year before the law permitting homosexual practices between consenting adults was passed - it was estimated that there were at least a million men who were wholly or predominantly homosexual.
No attempts were made then to assess how widespread lesbianism was - possibly indicating that lesbians then maintained a tight curtain of secrecy, but also because the British laws affecting homosexuals never specifically included female homosexuals.
These estimates were all made before homosexual sub-cultures flourished openly and the homosexual movement gained momentum.
Therefore it seems likely that in today’s more permissive and tolerant atmosphere. many more male and female homosexuals who have hitherto led repressed lives have surfaced.
It has, however, long been believed that there are many more male homosexuals than there are female.
Even the Encyclopedia Britannica quoting established. reliable sources says this. But in places where homosexuals - both male and female - have surfaced, lesbians have told researchers that, “for every one of THEM (male homosexual) there must be at least one of US."
This may sound logical but it is impossible to verify unless lesbians reveal themselves as openly as their male counterparts.
In relatively conservative cities like Singapore the number of overt lesbians is probably very small compared to the number of latent lesbians.
Lesbians are generally recognisable as “Butch” or "Dike” the masculine stereotype, and “Femme” or "Doll.” her feminine counterpart.
The butches are the lesbians who frankly proclaim their homosexuality by dressing up in male clothes and adopting mannish behaviour.
The femmes are indistinguishable from other women - In fact researchers say that many of them are beautiful and very feminine.
But the butches are by no means permanently type cast. Some lesbians when they first discover their homosexuality go through a rebel phase when they reject their women’s clothes and manner
Later on, some come to terms with their homosexuality and revert back to women’s clothes and more feminine ways.
A lesbian I interviewed, a petite feminine girl who obviously played the femme in the lesbian relationship, said that she was the more aggressive and domineering of the two.
Her partner who is very boyish and clearly recognisable as the butch in outward appearance. is more timid and docile.
It is generally believed that lesbian relationships are even closer than heterosexual relationships because lesbians, when they find one another, tend to cling together.
They feel that society is hostile, intolerant and this reinforces their need for one another's love and understanding.
But findings to the contrary have also been made.
Researchers in the more open, urban societies such as New York and in California have found that lesbian relationships are also subject to the same strains which occur in heterosexual relationships.
Lesbians may quarrel and break off because one partner has found someone more attractive. Some lesbians find it difficult, if not impossible to be faithful to one partner. At other times the possessiveness and jealousy of one partner may strain the relationship to breaking point.
It is particularly hard on the butch because she not only has to' compete with the attentions paid to her femme by other butches but heterosexual men as well.
Lesbians do date men and marry. Some marry before they realise that they have homosexual inclinations.
In this case, psychiatrists say, they often make frigid wives but they can still have a sexual relationship with their husbands and bear children.
In more permissive societies, such women after several years of unhappy married lives often break away and leave their husbands to live with another woman.
Quite often they bring up their children with their lesbian partner and maintain that they have a very close and happy home life.
But some overt lesbians also marry. They may do so because they cannot accept society's harsh attitudes to “people who are different” so they marry to subdue and turn their backs on their homosexuality.
Other lesbians can be considered bi-sexual, accepting and wanting sexual relations with both male and female partners.
Lesbians in Singapore do not form any sub-culture whatsoever and there does not appear to be any particular bars or places where lesbians may make contact. In the big cities of America and Western Europe there are bars which cater for a homosexual clientele.
Some are mixed gay bars, some just for males, others for female homosexuals. Here lesbians from the upper socio-economic strata may. rub shoulders with those from the lower - looking for a contact.
Or they may come with their partner to these bars for enjoyment and companionship in an atmosphere familiar and conducive to them.
The more well-heeled lesbian may take off for vacations in resorts known to be frequented by lesbians.
But even though they may holiday at these known lesbian haunts, they generally take care that they do not recklessly run the risk of being found out.
Even in the big cities many of the lesbians prefer to live quiet, unobtrusive lives avoiding the gay bars and the danger of exposure.
Exposure does not mean that they would be persecuted by the law.
In many European countries homosexual relationships between consenting adults is permitted.
In the united States, though a female homosexual may run foul of the law in different states, the police are very reluctant to prosecute them
However, exposure can still mean being ostracised by friends or family and often it means the loss of a job.
It is understandable, therefore, that few lesbians care to run the risk of being discovered.
Even those who join gay movements often do so under assumed names.
The Daughters of Bilitis is one such organisation where members meet at conventions and subscribe to the organisation’s magazine The Ladder. But few of its members are brave enough to use their real name.
And although many people know the Daughters of Bilitis to be a lesbian organisation, the founders prudently make no more claim than it is an organisation interested in the lesbian problem.
The time has still not come when a woman can proclaim herself a lesbian and not be subject to the contempt of intolerant people in society.
Institutions and problems of lesbianism...
Institutions where girls are thrown together in close proximity are conducive to the development of lesbian activities.
Hence lesbianism has been a problem In reform institutions for girls, women's prisons and schools- especially boarding schools - in many countries.
In Singapore the lesbians we made contact with all reported that their first homosexual experience (not necessarily sexual) was made in school.
None of the girls said that they were "seduced" by a teacher. Mutual feelings of love developed between classmates or between a girl in one class and a girl in another class.
As there are very few boarding schools in Singapore - and none of the girls we interviewed said that they were ever boarders - it shows that even in a day school there is opportunity for strong attachments to develop.
It seems a little unusual therefore that the correctional institutions here, including women’s prisons, report that there have been no known cases of lesbianism.
The prison authorities say that there may be a few cases now and again. But so far none has come to their attention.
According to the authorities the women know that lesbian practices are an offence under Singapore law and this possibly acts as a deterrent.
Moreover, the length of the prison sentences are generally not long.
So sexual frustrations, the authorities say, do not build up to a stage where relief Is sought by resorting to lesbian activity.
The authorities also feel that the prison environment here is not conducive to the development of lesbian activities.
There are more than two female prisoners to a room and there are night duty officers on patrol.
It may exist, the authorities admit. But the incidence is so small that it would be negligible.
The authorities in charge of correctional homes for girls here are absolutely confident that lesbian activities do not occur In their institutions.
The majority of the girls are very young, many of them below 16 years of age. So the authorities believe that they are too young to know about lesbianism.
Though the girls are young they can hardly be described as “innocent.” They are In the homes because they have been convicted of petty theft or their parents send them there because they are uncontrollable children.
Still, the authorities feel that the morality lectures given to the girls “will kill all sexual curiosity.” Keeping the girls busy is one way of keeping them out of mischief. They have a full programme every day with their lessons, vocational classes, sports and folk dancing.
By the time the lights go out at 9 p.m. the girls are expected to be too tired to think of anything but sleep.
Anyway, as a precautionary measure - not necessary against lesbian but other activities-night duty officers sleep in the same rooms as the girls.
It appears that lesbianism is not a problem in our correctional institutions -though it would be naive to believe that. it cannot happen.
Tomorrow: Society and lesbians
NEW NATION, Thursday October 19, 1972
The difficulties facing Singapore’s lesbians are compounded by their own isolation and lack of communication. Our investigations showed that while lesbians are apparently only a small minority they are still more widespread through all levels of the community than generally realised. There is no lesbian sub-culture in Singapore - just lonely individuals or couples.
Today in the final part of New Nation’s four-part series Betty L. Khoo looks at what lesbians can do to come to terms with the society they live in, and a young career girl relates her reactions to being sought out by a girl who found her sexually attractive.
Understanding just beginning
One of the career girls who contacted us highlighted with poignancy, the anguish and painful problems that confront a girl when she admits that she is a lesbian.
Expressing her feelings, she wrote: “I find it hard to *-ri:e the word 'lesbian’ and describe myself as one. My hand shakes and I am much disturbed.
"Am I a pervert? I’m so terribly upset, but I can’t help myself."
There were some, (like Jan whose case history was featured in part two) who quickly come to terms with themselves.
But for the majority, facing up to their sexual deviation is a difficult, traumatic experience.
And coming to terms with themselves is only the start of their problems.
They have to face up to family and friends and society at large.
cause they were lesbians but because they were upset after a quarrel with their partner.
Others he had seen were beset with a whole range of emotional traumas and lesbianism was only one of them.
It cannot be easy for the lesbian in Singapore. Though the law here has so far not been used to persecute or even prosecute lesbians, there is no lesbian sub-culture and little opportunity for lesbians to find one another.
From the lesbians we have spoken to so far, their first contact was made in school with a fellow student.
approval and acceptance that organisations like the American Daughters of Bilitis were formed.
It has as one of its main alms, the education of the lesbian “to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society in all Its social, civic and economic implications.”
then again, no man or woman is an island. The lesbian needs to reach out and communicate with similar orientated people to assuage her aloneness.
But who, how and where and how to do so without revealing her homosexuality to those who would condemn her?
So far most of the lesbians who have come to the attention of psychiatrists and social workers in Singapore are those who seem to have come to terms with their homosexuality.
A psychiatrist said that the few lesbians he has seen came to him not be-
But once out of the schoolroom, if the relationship breaks up, they seem to have great difficulty finding another partner.
Jan, whose partner has gone overseas, said she knows of no others in Singapore.
But she is emotionally stable and is not unduly upset or worried about being “alone,” confident she can wait out the period until her Partner’s return. Anna on the other hand, wrote that “she was getting more restless.”
She said: “Being eav and a pervert is a very painful thing. I am willing to live my whole life with a woman if she loves me just the same. I am waiting for her.”
By calling herself a pervert and saying that being one is a very painful thing, Anna reveals her inner aversion to being a lesbian.
It is to help girls like Anna and to win society's
That there are no such groups here leaves the lesbian to fend for herself.
Few lesbians have the courage to confide In family or friends. Besides it is not a problem others can understand or readily solve.
That leaves social workers and psychiatrists, but people here, particularly women, are more inhibited and reluctant to unburden themselves on such an Intimate subject to strangers.
At least there are now more books readily available on homosexuality. And reading about so many others elsewhere confronted with the same problems certainly helps.
Responsible homosexual organisations aim to help deviants understand themselves.
They also have a wider objective to educate society to accept homosexuals, thereby promoting their integration into society.
Many of the groups pursue these objectives with moderation and serious intent. They frown on the radical and strident groups like the Radical Feminists in Britain.
One such serious group in Britain recently brought out a fortnightly paper. Besides serious, thought-provoking articles it also provides a column where male and female homosexuals can advertise for partners.
These groups consider it necessary to educate the public because even in a country like Britain where the law now allows consenting adults to practise homosexuality, prejudice and discrimination still exists.
In an editorial, the organisation's paper said: “We know too that we must live with the imperfect present situation - one day, we won’t need to find each other through personal ads, but as things are now, this kind of contact is the only way for many gays.
“Another handicap we must fight is the different fears we all have of one kind or another. Some gays cannot tell their families; many fear police harassment, or victimisation at work,”
In America it is worse because despite a burgeoning homosexual subculture. homosexual practices are still an offence in most States.
In Singapore up to date there has been no real call to educate the public to accept lesbianism because they have kept very much to themselves, living cloistered, secret lives. However, understanding of the lesbians is needed for the sake of the lesbians themselves whose greatest problem is the repressive fear and shame they feel, not so much about being lesbians, as being discovered.
When a friendship almost became something more
It came as a shock and then surprise to hear an attractive young woman tell me that I was “beautiful” - in the same tone that most girls are used to hearing from men.
I had only just met her but we had immediately “clicked.” We found it easy to talk to each other about anything and everything. Before I knew it we’d been together for three pleasant hours.
But even in that short time, we had established a bond, based on similar emotional experiences - a sharing of values and impressions without any reservations. As total strangers, we talked our hearts out to one another. It is sometimes so easy to say just what you feel or think about something to someone who is neither acquainted with yourself nor your circle of friends.
We were about to leave her place for lunch when she decided to change into something more comfortable.
As she had been ill recently, she was still fairly weak and asked for my help to get dressed.
Helping her change reminded me of that familiar physical bond that girls living together share, so seeing her stark naked wasn’t embarrassing for me.
She didn’t have any panties under her trousers which she asked me to help zip up. I was struggling with the zip when she said, unexpectedly and teasingly: “I’m sorry, but I’m no lesbian really.”
I laughed that off and we had a pleasant lunch together, it was during lunch that she suddenly looked deep into my eyes and said, softly: “I think you’re a wonderful person - and so beautiful.”
All I could say in reply was ‘'thank you.”
I wasn’t uncomfortable then because I knew she liked men - there were three who I knew she was seeing currently.
Then she asked quietly: “Have you ever had affairs with girls? Have you? I’ve had three such affairs.”
Caught off guard this time I was really dumbfounded. I anally replied: “No I haven’t,” and realising how inadequate a reply that was compared to her open admission, I blurted: “I’ve been too busy ... with my job, with men.”
“It’s a wonderful experience, If you find the right girl,” she said. “You can be physically and emotionally intimate with men. But the emotional bond with another girl Is so much closer because there’s no need to explain the basics. As girls, you have similar basic characteristics.
“I don’t have any hangups about this because I know I am a woman and I need men. I can enjoy an affair with a girl because I know that I understand people the better for it.”
She then asked me to stay for a while after lunch. I couldn’t accept the invitation because I was committed to another appointment.
And I’m not too certain either whether my conventional morals had anything to do with the refusal.
Evaluating the position in Singapore
Sociologists have so far made no study of lesbianism in Singapore society.
They feel that it is not a social problem and there are more urgent tasks to tackle. But the observations they have made - through studies of other aspects of Singapore society - do help us to evaluate how prevalent lesbianism is In a place like Singapore and whether it could become a social problem.
They agree that homosexuality - including lesbianism - is more prevalent in Western countries.
The main reason for this is that homosexuals there have come forward to fight for their rights. They want to end discrimination.
Here in Singapore, people - in particular women - are more inhibited and do not conceive of “fighting’’ to be recognised as homosexuals.
Besides there is less open discrimination here and homosexuals are not hounded by the law.
The Asian extended family system is cited as one of the reasons why homosexuality is less prevalent here.
In an extended family, if a parent fails the child, he can turn to grandparents, aunts or uncles. There are nearly always other adult substitutes to take the place of a parent.
This is important because psychologists believe that the breakdown of a child-parent relationship can lead to the development of homosexual tendencies in the child.
Some Malays, Chinese and Indians still maintain a vigorous extended family system to this day. Others have only in the last generation moved away from It. Europeans on the other hand, have had nuclear (or small self-contained) families for 2000 years.
One sociologist interviewed, Dr. Aline Wong, believes that homosexuality, including lesbianism, was never prevalent in Chinese societies.
She bases her view not only on the extended family system but to the curious fact that there is no Chinese term for homosexuality.
There is a general term but this does not have any sexual play connotation. A love relationship is implied instead.
On the other hand in European and Malay culture, the concept of the word puts emphasis on a sex relationship.
Dr, Wong said affectionate lover relationships may have existed between women in ancient China. But whether any sexual relationship was prevalent was another matter.
The Cantonese amah groups have been suspected of lesbianism because they form such a strong sisterhood.
Dr. Wong said: “There is definitely an element of jealousy and possessiveness in the relationships.” “Whether these relationships are sexual is something no one has done any proper research into.”
An elderly Chinese woman with ties to these groups informed us that such relationships are definitely sexual.
She cited in particular the Seven Sisters Association which existed in the province of Kwantung. The members of this very close-knit association marry but tried their best not to consummate their marriages.
It was therefore an association of virgins. After marriage these girls arranged a second wife for their husbands, then returned to the association where they paired off.
They returned to their homes and their husbands on the first and 15th day of each month.
If one partner died, they staged an elaborate "divide the comb” ceremony after which the surviving partner became free to find another sister.
It is believed that the relationships were both emotional and sexual and sexual objects were used by the women for gratification.
Sociologists have also noted that in Singapore and other Asian countries girls and boys may hold hands - with members of their own sex. Their elders do not frown upon this - because they do not suspect or fear homosexuality.
In northern European societies, however, boys and girls are quickly made aware of homosexuality because parents discourage any display of affection or close physical contact between members of the same sex.
This in itself is likely to inculcate an awareness of homosexuality and possibly lead to its development.
So here, where there is considerably less awareness of homosexuality, there is as a consequence less homosexual activity.
- Singapore's first newspaper articles on the LGBT community
- Singapore lesbian history
- Singapore gay history
These articles were located via a search of the digitised archive of The New Nation at the Singapore National Library performed by Jun Zubillaga-Pow, who photocopied the microfilmed articles. The latter were scanned, stitched together and subjected to optical character recognition (OCR) by Roy Tan who uploaded all the information into this SgWiki article.