When Alvin came out during his first days into National Service (NS), hoping that his colleagues would accept his identity, his optimism was crushed when his peers threatened to ‘report’ him to the superiors for being gay.
“Sometimes, my peers even threatened to report me for sexual harassment,” added Alvin (not his real name).
The threats, along with the stress of dealing with army regimentation and physical demands made him feel depressed. But not all who came out during their NS days were regretful. Some were open to being gay and were comfortable with their identity.
Full-time National Serviceman Muhammad Ali Imran said: “Most of the gay men in NS whom I know are comfortable with who they are.”
Before bedtime and during lunch, my friend who is gay would share about his life and seek dating advice from the rest of us, added the 22-year-old. Almost all National Servicemen Popspoken spoke to said every person’s decision to come out or hide in the closet during NS is subjective. “For instance, someone who has already come out in secondary school would be more comfortable in declaring their sexuality. It’s a very personal thing and subjective to each individual,” said Adam Wong (not his real name), 19, a full-time National Serviceman.
We should not treat gay NSFs as outcasts
Similarly, most of the National Serviceman Popspoken interviewed said the complaints made by users of the EnergyOne gym at SAFRA Mount Faber against poet Jee Leong Koh were unacceptable.
Koh had worn a tank top with the words “gay but not yet equal” to the gym and received complaints from gymgoers but SAFRA later said that his attire did not contravene the gym’s rules and regulations.
Koh also pointed out that he had completed his National Service in-camp training, graduating his training with the Captain rank, as reported by TODAY.
“The Armed Forces require all self-declared gay men to serve National Service, and so it would be wrong to deny these gay servicemen, self-declared or otherwise, any of the benefits afterwards,” said Koh in his Facebook page, referring to the benefits of the SAFRA facility, including gym access.
NSFs Popspoken spoke to added that they personally would not feel uncomfortable by the words on Koh’s tank top.
“It doesn’t mean we should treat them like an outcast,” said Imran, when asked about gay men serving in the armed forces.
Regardless of their sexuality, they are still serving the nation, added another full-time National Serviceman who wished to remain anonymous.
Furthermore, they add that although homosexuality is still classified as a mental disorder in the armed forces, they have yet to spot institutional discrimination of National Servicemen of any type.
“In my experience during my training and as a leader, no one is discriminated based on their education, sexuality or Physical Employment Status,” said Adam.
“The commanders put in effort to understand the circumstances of their recruits, and give them opportunities to declare any medical conditions or troubles that they face.”
Does masculinity in National Service add to discrimination?
Another talking point brought up by the interviewees was on whether masculinity, a virtue associated with National Service, fuels homophobia or makes gay men feel uncomfortable or insecure.
The value of masculinity could also be a subtle source of discrimination towards National Servicemen who are gay.
Adam, who disagrees that masculinity fuels homophobia, said nobody is discriminated or compelled to act a certain way to be perceived to be more ‘manly’.
“In the camps that I’ve been to, there are those who enjoy sports and working out, those who watch videos and movies, and those who read or study.”
However, Ang Ming Wei, 21, thinks that the focus on masculinity can be overwhelming for members of the LGBT community and it may make them feel insecure about their true identities.
The Operationally-Ready National Serviceman said a lot of regimentation and the building of male camaraderie within the NS structure has its foundation in an obsession with masculinity.
“So I don’t think that gay people will feel comfortable in camp, and it’s even worse for transgender or non-binary people,” he added.
Supporters of Koh have begun taking photos of themselves wearing LGBT-affirming clothing in public spaces using the hashtag #IAmWithJeeLeongKoh.