Coming out ‘softly’

metapragmatic reflections of gay men in illiberal pragmatic Singapore


  • Vincent Pak King’s College London



homosexuality, queer linguistics, coming out, Singapore, metapragmatic reflection,, illiberal pragmatism


Given the social stigmatisation and legal disadvantages faced by gay men in Singapore, there is a general hesitance to be open about one’s gay identity for fear of discrimination and possible prosecution. The logic of illiberal pragmatism is taken up by the Singaporean government as a mode of governance that simultaneously constrains and frees its citizens, which forces its gay citizens to straddle the expression of their sexual identity and a sense of duty to their families. This same tension is found in gay men’s reflections on the coming out process. In ethnographic interviews conducted with 15 Singaporean gay men, concerns arise about the perceived strength and directness of coming out alongside the need to satisfy familial obligations. In response to these concerns, gay Singaporeans have adopted a ‘soft’ approach to coming out that aligns with national illiberal pragmatism.

Di Singapura, ada ramai yang rasa curiga untuk menyebarluaskan identiti gay mereka kerana takut dikejam dan didakwa. Ini diakibatkan penindasan dalam masyarakat dan kekurangan perlindungan dari segi hukum yang dihadapi oleh golongan gay. Pemerintah Singapura menggunakan logik pragmatisme yang tidak liberal (‘illiberal pragmatism’) sebagai alat pemerintahan yang saling mengekang dan membebas warganya. Penggunaan logik ini memaksa warga negara gaynya untuk memilih antara menyebarluaskan orientasi seksual mereka atau memenuhi kewajiban keluarga. Pilihan sukar ini sering dibentangkan oleh lelaki-lelaki gay dalam renungan mereka tentang proses melela (‘coming out’). Dalam wawancara etnografi dengan 15 lelaki gay Singapura, kebimbangan mengenai keberkesanan proses melela dan tekanan memenuhi tanggungjawab keluarga kerap timbul. Sebagai pembalasan terhadap kebingungan tersebut, warga negara gay Singapura melela menggunakan cetak biru yang ‘lembut’ dan selaras dengan logik pragmatisme Singapura.

Author Biography

Vincent Pak, King’s College London

A PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore and King’s College London, Vincent Pak works primarily in the field of language, gender and sexuality, with interests in linguistic anthropology and cultural studies. His previous work has been published in Language in Society, Social Semiotics and Journal of Language and Sexuality.


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How to Cite

Pak, V. (2021). Coming out ‘softly’: metapragmatic reflections of gay men in illiberal pragmatic Singapore. Gender and Language, 15(3), 301–323.