Michael Chan

It’s a dead giveaway. The floppy hair, the perfect English, the limp wrists and the sashay (read: yo-lai-yo-kee in Hokkien). It’s no surprise that I’ve been branded a sissy. Just my good manners and reserved nature alone gave the guys enough reason to make fun of me. It was a frightful experience to say the least, but the trauma of taunting was my definite turning point. Desperately wanting approval, I embarked on an intense mission to display all the qualities which would gain acceptance from the guys. Physical strength, a cocky attitude, vulgar languages. I quickly mastered them all. If anyone sees me today, they’ll never ever find any trace of femininity.

While I succeeded in changing the outer packaging, inside I remained pretty much the same. It wasn’t that I felt feminine or anything, but I didn’t know how true manhood was measured and therefore, couldn’t see the masculine in myself. It’s so inconsistent: what’s inside and what’s outside. Come to think of it, this reminds me a little of the popular “Ayam Brand” of canned food. The bright red label outside screams “ayam” (chicken in Malay), but it’s really sardine inside.

In school, the courageous and outgoing guys were my role models as I admired them and envied those who were their friends. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but with puberty, admiration turned to sexual longing lengthening of something quite sexual. Because these feelings came naturally, I did not find them wrong nor disturbing. What was more disturbing were these other guys in school who pretended to be chicks. They were the unnatural ones whose feminine wiles got all kinds of abusive attention from everyone. Served them right; they asked for it! As for me, effeminacy was so nauseating that I processed it out of my life to be canned forever.

While I often appeared confident and bold, I was terrified of being rejected should anyone find out about me, especially guys whom I secretly adored. I had no intention of becoming an object of scorn, so I chickened out of telling and kept the torment of my problem to myself. Sometimes when the going got tough, I would say a little here, a little there, but was deliberately vague and confusing. I was such a tease: all fluff and feathers, but no meat.

Eventually, I got involved with a guy but kept it a deep dark secret. Soon, my life spun out of control and the affair found its short-lived sordid end. I was so devastated that I avoided everyone I knew and hid away from sight, agonising in solitary silence. I was deadmeat by then and could not handle more rejection in any form, especially from friends and members of my family. One day, after numerous attempts, Tom managed to look me up. He was a friend of many years and noticed my absence from my usual haunts. He hadn’t seen me at the gym for many months and became very concerned about my disappearing act. He knew me well enough to know that I would never miss my dumbbells and bench press for a day, even when I was physically unwell. “You can tell me,” Tom said as we sat by the pool in the cool of the morning.

It was a one-sided conversation that lasted an eternity. Tom sat patiently and listened, and listened and listened. As I whined, I braced myself for his rejection as I didn’t expect him to understand nor be my friend any more. But after I was finally done with the cackling, Tom sat up and responded with just one sentence. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Do you want supper,” he asked. “Er yes, of course. Supper’s a good idea.” Stunned to find unconditional acceptance from a straight guy, I added in glee: “For today, to hell with my strict, weight-training diet. So, no counting of calories coz I’m eating meat, skin, rice, achar, soup and all.” Yummy, my all-time favourite grub, Chicken Rice.

[From the book, FOC: Freedom of Choice by Leslie Lung (Singapore: Aquanut Agencies, 2000). Used by permission. All rights reserved.]