Gay in Singapore and Sweden

During the lecture about gender and sexuality, I thought quite a lot about cultural differences between Singapore and my home country Sweden regarding sexuality. And more specifically, about homosexuality, since I see myself as gay. What are the cultural differences when it comes to sexual orientation between the two countries, and why are there differences?

Back at home, I imagine I will marry one day, as it is perfectly legal. I might adopt kids and have a family, but right now it feels like taking care of kids would take up a bit too much of my precious time. We’ll see. In any case, I would not be able to do any of this in Singapore. More importantly, back at home my sexual orientation does not have to be a secret. I’ve talked to many gay guys in Singapore, who are surprised when I tell them my parents know. Or that it is not a secret at work. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not saying that this is the situation for every gay person in Singapore, but for far too many. Four guys that I have talked to wanted to move abroad, to the US, Germany, Germany once again, and Australia, because of the cultural differences.

Cultural practices regarding marriage and family are, as stated above, two differences between Sweden and Singapore. Also, the fear and insecurity that many LGBT-persons feel in Singapore must have a reason for it – perhaps different views on homosexuality – even though it is important to stress that the majority of Singaporeans are not opposed to homosexuality (Tan & Jin, 2007). Male same-sex sexual activity is not legal according to the law, albeit the law is seldom enforced. Thus, you would have to assume that such activities do not take place in Singapore – a huge cultural difference indeed. (Just kidding.)

So why are there differences? The law that indirectly criminalizes homosexuality was passed by the British during colonial times. However, the situation in the United Kingdom is similar to the one in Sweden today. Why has so little changed in Singapore? According to some, so called Asian family values sustains the criminalization and the many examples of censorship that the government is responsible for. Homosexuality is also often seen as unnatural, indecent, and even Western. Another reason is the censorship and fear itself – gay people are not as visible in Singapore as in Western countries, and thus others are not as used to the idea of homosexuality. (Tan & Jin, 2007.)

I would argue that practices of the state itself are another reason not only for different laws, but different views amongst the populations of Sweden and Singapore as well. Laws can change both customs and values over time (Ekelöf, 1996), and improving the situation for sexual minorities have not been important for the PAP. Even though the situation actually has improved, the government has at many times tried to silence the LGBT-movement in Singapore. For instance, as recently as 2003, a scene in a theatrical play where gay people would “come out” as homosexuals was not allowed, as this could encourage gay “social activism” (Tan & Jin, 2007). There probably have been instances where homosexuals actually have tried to live in celibacy because of the laws, and there are numerous examples of Singaporeans trying to “convert” (Tan & Jin, 2007). This happens even though it is highly uncertain if converting actually works, and even though it is often seen to be mentally hurtful (Pan American Health Organization, 2012). It has been argued that the reason for criminalization is because the Singaporean government does not want to go against the conservative majority in Singapore, when it could in fact be a conservative minority (Tan & Jin, 2007).

To conclude, cultural differences between Sweden and Singapore regarding sexual orientations are quite big. Families look different, marriages too, and the very act of so called male same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Singapore. Some homosexuals cope with this through for instance trying to change their orientation, or moving to other countries and cultures. Values may be more conservative in Singapore, but values and cultures can evolve, either by the hands of the state, the LGBT-community, or ordinary Singaporean citizens. It is of course important to stress the fact that most gay Singaporeans live their lives just as well as anybody else, but I have tried to point out some cultural differences that in any case exists.

And finally, some propaganda:


Ekelöf, P. O. Rättegång, andra häftet, 8th edition. Stockholm: Norstedts Juridik, 1996

Tan, K. P., & Jin, G. L. J. ”Imagining the Gay Community in Singapore” Critical Asian Studies Vol. 39:2 (2007): 179-204

“’Therapies’ to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health”, Pan American Health Organization, (accessed October 29, 2012)

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