From struggle to strength, Kyle Malinda-White shares his experience of growing up gay in Singapore and finding his community.
A conversation with Kyle Malinda-White is like an adventure. He takes you on buoyant highs with his jokes and spirited personality, and he reveals insights about his life purpose and what he’s willing to fight for. The 29-year-old is out and proud. And it’s hard to imagine him as a Singaporean Malay kid who grew up self-conscious and bullied by others in school.
A product manager at an app-building company by day and an LGBTQ+ champion by night, Kyle has a sunny disposition, a sense of exuberance and a bubbly laugh that’s wonderfully infectious and irrepressible. The avid gym buff is also the co-founder of Singapore’s first LGBTQ+ social and support channel, Prout.
But first things first, we let’s dive into his story.
Coming out isn’t a one-time experience
“I have quite a colourful coming out story! When I was young, I always knew I was a bit different. But I never knew what it was until I was 13. This hot canoeist walked past me and I was like, what is happening!” Kyle chuckles. “What am I feeling? What’s going on?”
He thought he had a problem. Doubting himself, 14-year-old Kyle confided in the school counsellor. His mum was later brought into the session and cried when she heard what he had to say.
“She thought it was her problem,” Kyle explains. “Because she was a divorcee and there was no father figure in my life. At that point, I genuinely believed all this.”
After watching his mum spend the next few weeks crying at home, Kyle decided to fake it and tell her he was cured.
“That was the end of it. I left that part aside until a few years later when I found some queer friends and we ended up being part of this group called SG Rainbow,” Kyle reflects. “That was the first time I figured out, okay, I think this is who I really am.”
Kyle subsequently came out to his mum two more times. When he was 18, she chanced upon things she “shouldn’t have found” on his personal computer, and told him she always knew. She was supportive and even went with him to Pink Dot. But when she became more religious, her interactions with him turned unfriendly. Finally, at 22, he finally told her, “this is exactly who I am.”
Her reply? “As long as you’re a good person and you do good for other people, that’s all that matters.”
Kyle took her words to heart. That’s what grounds him in his endeavour to contribute positively to the world. Now, mother and son are on good terms.
“She’s very supportive and, despite contending with religion, she sees her love for her children as a separate entity. She’s like, I’ll love you regardless of what happens.” Kyle grins. “I consider myself quite lucky to have gotten that support.”
Bullied for being brown
Kyle speaks of his past brushes with bullying in school without a hint of anxiety. “That was quite normal for me growing up,” he shrugs, going on to say he found ways to get around that by beating his tormentors in their exams.
“Growing up, I was insecure about who I was and it affected my self-esteem. But I learned to find my own tribe,” he says, adding that he doesn’t have a problem calling people out for any negative comments now.
On the topic of prejudice, he brings up discrimination within the queer community.
“There’s this very toxic thing that happens when we take all of the bullying that happens outside into the community and bully each other to feel some sort of superiority,” he muses. “I always got it, being brown. I always got made fun of for my skin colour. I was told I wasn’t attractive enough because of my skin colour. But it’s slowly disappearing now.”
That being said, he emphasises that people in the LGBTQ+ community come from all walks of life, “just like you and me”.
“We all have the same wants and needs. We all want a place to call home. We all want family and friends that we care for and care for us. We want safety and security… and yes, we all want an MNC job!” he jokes, bursting into peals of laughter. “People think the queer community is the ‘other’ like it’s a separate thing. But there’s more in common between the queer and straight community than you think. We all just want to love and be loved at the end of the day.”
The fuel beneath his fire
Back in 2018, before Kyle and his co-founders launched Prout (a combination of the words ‘proud’ and ‘out’), he came to the realisation that his queer community was the one thing he was “willing to die on the hill for the next 10 years.”
The idea behind Prout’s mission to support LGBTQ+ individuals emerged from Kyle’s personal encounter with the ugly side of humanity.
“When I was 21 or 22, I was sexually assaulted. I didn’t know who to turn to. Support in the community was hard to find at the time. So the ultimate goal for Prout is to be that guide,” Kyle says. “What we’re doing is for the next generation. To give them hope, courage and support.”
Bringing together people from all ages and backgrounds, Prout uses its site and social channels to offer a safe space for anyone to make friends, find queer-friendly events, access resources from LGBTQ+ organisations, match housemates and more. Even those fresh off their move to Singapore have used the support and meet-up platform to connect with one another.
“Our goal is to be a conduit for people to know the LGBTQ+ scene in Singapore,” Kyle explains, expressing gratitude for volunteers who help make their work meaningful and beneficial. “That’s the power of the queer community. Even though we live in a system where help isn’t necessarily given to us, we break that cycle by helping each other.”
Acknowledging that things have changed through the years, Kyle conveys appreciation for Pink Dot being the “biggest show of support and solidarity.” There’s more visibility now, he says. “I’m grateful for all the small things and all the big changes we’ve made, but obviously we still need to do way more.”
Surfacing struggles of the community
When Kyle speaks of the queer community, you sense the zeal that echoes in his words. Housing is one issue he brings up – not just being unable to own a home together but also crossing paths with landlords who may not be queer-friendly while renting.
Finding shelter for LGBTQ+ youth is another topic he mentions. There’s The T Project for the trans community, but it has limited resources and a small space. And shelters in Singapore do take in LGBTQ+ people, but Kyle opines that queer youth need a place just for them.
“They need that counselling support, that support from the community,” he explains. “It’s always been a challenge of resources. I know of friends who were 15 or 16 when they came out. They didn’t come out voluntarily and they got kicked out of home – where can they go?”
Mental health is also a passion of his, especially with troubles emerging in light of the pandemic.
“Because of all the restrictions, sometimes queer people lead double lives and they have to navigate how they’re like at work, how they’re like at home, how they’re like with this or that friend,” he says. “All these pressures can take a toll. We may look like we’re smiling and waving our flags in the air every Pride, but there are mental health issues happening within the community.”
How about support channels? Kyle talks about counselling centres like Oogachaga and Brave Spaces, revealing that he, too, goes for therapy. In finding someone who was queer-friendly, he realised they were able to understand his problems and empathise more deeply.
“Growing up, I was insecure about who I was and I overcompensated in a lot of other things, like work. I see that happening in a few of my queer friends who try to be the best at work, because earning money is the ticket out to leading a good life and hopefully releasing some burdens around them,” Kyle divulges. “The therapist really helped me unblock some of these issues. Now, I think my purpose, especially for the next 10 years, is very clear. It’s to uplift and help the queer community as much as possible.”
What drives him is the positive response he gets about Prout and the knowledge that he’s making an impact, no matter how small.
On allies and advice
The key to being a good ally, Kyle believes, is understanding the why of it all to anchor you in your actions. Next, it’s simple: get to know what’s happening in the community and who the people are. And if you can, volunteer or donate. Finally, advocate for others.
“In any conversation you have, stand up for those who are queer because they may not have the power to do so in the situation,” he says. “You don’t know how your words can affect people who may need that help.”
Kyle ends with words of advice for others in the community who may be struggling.
“Don’t be pressured to come out… that’s a personal decision and you have to weigh the circumstances,” he says. “Come out at your own time and pace – you don’t owe anybody.”
Most importantly, community is precious. “Find a support group because that will truly help anchor you,” Kyle urges. “I know it’s hard because I felt I was alone. But know that you’re not alone. Know that there’s someone out there who’s going through a similar situation. And know that there’s a way out of it. You may not get the full freedom you crave, but there’s a way to make life a little better.”