“As a gay person, every new environment you go into, you have a choice whether you want to tell people you’re gay or not. It doesn't happen with a straight person.”
As Andee Chua recounts his past, he tells me: “It was a phase of my life trying to be ‘normal’, like everyone else. I just wanted to be the same.” Fast forward to now: Andee is many things, and he confidently stands out from the crowd. He’s an international model, a social media influencer, a dancer, a community builder, the co-founder of Kampung Collective and a proud gay man.
Curious to find out about his queer journey, I sat down with the 31-year-old Singaporean over a video call to talk about what it was like growing up gay in Singapore, his personal struggles, how he came out to his family and his life now.
A quick scroll on the multi-hyphenate’s Instagram profile, which has a following of more than 138k, shows pictures of him living his best life with his partner. Just like any other heterosexual couple, I might add. But that wasn’t always the case for Andee, who once struggled with his sexuality.
Reliving his childhood
Andee knew he was different from other boys when he was in upper primary school. The feeling only grew in secondary school. Back then, he had no vernacular to explain what he was feeling. In order to fit in, he dated girls.
“It’s more of peer pressure,” he explains. “[That’s] the narrative I was taught. Even today, we still hear that narrative. Boy and girl get married – in Singapore, at least.”
But that didn’t spare him from being bullied. “The teachers didn’t respond in a way that made me feel safe,” he says. Instead, he was told not to act feminine. It was the same tune at home when he confided in his family.
Being the only son in the family pushed him further into the closet. “As a kid, in your teenage years, the only place you feel safe is either your school or home. And I didn’t exactly have that. There was nowhere I could feel safe. No one to talk to and share my troubles. I was confused and it was all about solving it on my own,” he recalls.
Finding solace in dance
Things started to look up in polytechnic. While he was still in the closet, Andee found a safe space to express himself. He joined the dance club in school, where he met LGBTQ+ individuals who were open about their sexuality and identity. “That was the moment… that I had a vocabulary and language to [being queer].”
Through street dance, he was able to explore himself – both the masculine and feminine side. Unlike in secondary school, he wasn’t teased for being in the arts. “It wasn’t an either-or situation, [like] if you’re straight, you can’t do this dance style. This formula didn’t exist in [that] environment,” he explains.
With an outlet to showcase his expression, Andee slowly gained back the confidence he lost in his secondary school years. However, he was still apprehensive about being labelled as a gay man.
“Even though I was able to express myself on stage and surrounded by LGBTQ+ people, I wasn’t familiar with it. I couldn’t come to terms with me being gay. I was in a phase of wanting to be seen as normal,” he muses.
Taking the first step
At 19, the first person he came out to was his then-girlfriend. “I wasn’t entirely sure what happened but I remembered telling her ‘I also like guys’,” he says. To that, she asked if he was bisexual. Wanting to come to terms with his sexual identity, he replied yes.
“The word I will say is ‘liberating’. I felt a sense of freedom to be able to talk about it to people and tell them how I really feel”, Andee recalls the moment with a smile on his face.
Coming out to your friends is one thing. But when it involves family, the stakes are higher. Andee came out to his sister soon after, but only did so with his parents years later when the opportunity presented itself.
Journeying with his parents
It all started when he shared Pink Dot’s posts on his social media platforms. His mum questioned why he shared that content and mentioned it made his dad feel uncomfortable. After weeks of pestering, he finally ripped off the band-aid on a car ride and told her she needed to accept some things. When she asked whether he was ‘one of them’, he answered yes.
“She wasn’t expecting that. She didn’t want to talk about it for a while. I sent her a text, telling her about my childhood and she replied saying she’d try to accept it because I’m her son,” Andee explains.
However, she didn’t want anyone else in the family to know – not his dad nor their relatives. So Andee respected her decision, giving her time to process it all.
Andee told me coming out to his dad was unanticipated. He was in Thailand for a modelling gig and it all played out through texts. What started out as a conversation about his career soon turned into a question that stopped Andee dead in his tracks.
The message read: “I am not worried about your career or work. I am more worried about your sexuality.”
“At that point, I had a boyfriend and he came to my graduation ceremony when [my dad] was around. I kinda knew that he knew and we just didn’t talk about it. So when he said that, I thought it was now or never,” Andee recounts.
He replied: “Your worry is right. I am gay and I like guys.”
His father replied two days later, saying that they’d talk about it when Andee returned to Singapore. During their sit-down conversation, Andee recalls his dad blaming himself and becoming emotional. “He thought it must be psychological because he didn’t give me enough love as a dad when I was young. That was his idea why someone [would be] gay.”
As time went on, both parents gradually came to terms with it. Meanwhile, Andee gave them space and continued to be the son they knew and loved. “Nothing changes – that’s what I wanted to deliver. Maybe even a better version of myself, now [that] I’m comfortable in my own skin,” he explains.
Just this year, his dad invited Andee’s partner to the family’s Chinese New Year reunion gathering with his extended family. “Small things like that, it’s a sign of approval – not just in words,” Andee says with a faint smile on his face.
Facing the world as an openly gay man
After stepping out of the closet in his personal life, Andee still had to navigate through society cautiously. While the perception of the LGBTQ+ community is moving in the right direction, he shares that there are still some areas of disconnect.
During his modelling career, he was told to hide his sexual identity. “They suggested that clients in Singapore were conservative and would not engage me in jobs if they knew I was gay. They wanted male models to be more masculine as that would ‘sell better’,” he reflects.
Another example that comes to mind? The Instagram post by W Singapore – Sentosa Cove that went viral last year. For context, the picture depicted Andee and his partner on a staycation at the hotel, and it attracted a lot of eyeballs. From homophobic individuals to straight allies to fellow LGBTQ+ peers, the post was flooded with polarising comments.
Looking back, Andee remembers feeling heart-warmed by the number of straight allies standing up to naysayers in the comment thread. “The comments were very backwards, but there will always be keyboard warriors.” To him, it’s more about focusing on the big picture, as brands are stepping out as allies for the queer community.
Still, he feels it’s a long road to LGBTQ+ equality in Singapore. It comes down to something as simple as marriage or legal protection in cases of emergency. Even a monumental life decision such as buying a home as a queer couple isn’t that straightforward.
“Why do we have to wait till we’re 35 before we can get an HDB? Why can’t we get married now and get a BTO?” Andee laments. “What we’re fighting for isn’t an alternative path; we want equality. We want what straight people have.”
I can’t help but wonder if Andee considers himself an activist for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore. To that end, he says, “I don’t see myself as an activist. That word is very strong.”
But the simple act of him being his true self freely and openly is something I’d regard as the equivalent of standing on the streets with a colourful pro-queer sign. Especially in a city that walks on eggshells around LGBTQ+ issues.
Coming out is a journey, not a destination
Andee shares his life on social media in the hopes of normalising the queer experience. “I spent a lot of [my] teenage years thinking this was not normal. At that time, there was no one on social media or mainstream media to look up to.”
He wishes to be that person for someone who’s still in the closet. To be a queer person who has a day job and a stable relationship — or simply put, happy. It’s a narrative that’s rarely shown in local media.
The road may be a winding one when it comes to a queer individual accepting or exploring their sexual orientation and identity, but Andee is proof that it truly gets better.
Before we end our interview, I ask him: what would you say to your 13-year-old self?
“Be brave. Hold your head high even if you face nasty people because they’re there to make you stronger. You may have to go through a lot of tough times alone and feel lost along the way, but don’t forget to be kinder to yourself and know your worth. Yes, you’re worth more than you think!” Andee declares. “Stay excited about the future. I bet it’s going to be an exciting journey. I love you so much!”