HAUS GUEST: ANDEE CHUA
As much as we are figures online, we are also so much more than that.
Feature photos provided by Andee Chua
It’s Sunday, 13th June — nearly twenty-four hours after Pink Dot 2021, the annual (and now virtual) Pride celebration in Singapore. Among its attendees-- Andee Chua, one of the leading faces in the LGBTQ+ community here in Singapore.
But Andee Chua is more than just a face. He’s a community builder, former model, choreographer, and lovely human being with whom I had the chance to virtually meet:
“I was always a very private person — I kept my life to myself, and whatever’s on social media may have been separate from Andee in reality. I only officially ‘came out’ to the social media world [relatively recently] — around four and a half years ago. That’s actually the duration where I met my now-partner.”
“I felt so comfortable (with him).” The first picture that he posted of the two of them was on Facebook, and featured Andee and his partner looking lovingly at one another. “My first photo with him was obviously of [us as] a couple.” He pauses, relishing the memory before saying with a smile, “I just did it without consequences. I posted the picture without thinking of the backlash, of anything. And the thing is I never felt different, psychologically. I just feel like I’m just sharing my life, like how people just share their wedding photos, their staycation photos. I’m doing the same.” His relatives and parents’ friends saw the post. For the record, his post did well — we’re talking over eight hundred likes.
But “well” is not measured by likes, but by the people in our real, lived lives. There were still questions — from people around him, from people who followed him from his modelling days — and then there was the overarching question embedded within broader strokes of Singapore’s conservative societal patterns: Should he have posted it?
It’s a ‘yes’ from Andee. He starts off cheekily, “It was a blessing in disguise. I always felt that Chinese New Year was an occasion that I hated a lot because I would get a lot of questions, along the lines of ‘when are you going to get a girlfriend,’ and I would have to lie and stuff. Now, the news was out — that I was out — and while the post was pretty ambiguous, like I didn’t mention ‘boyfriend’ or whatever, I guess people knew.
I felt like I didn’t have to put up a front, and people stopped asking me that question.”
However, there was more than that. Sharing his anniversary moment online had created a positive precedent for other LGBTQ+ individuals in the community to feel confident and at ease about conveying their own similar stories online. “I started to receive a lot of private messages from people about how much strength I’d given them, how brave I’d made them feel — and I thought to myself: ‘Okay, look, I never had that. I never had that person to look up to, and there was a notable lack of positive portrayal in the media of our types of romances. I thought, let me be that one extra couple out there, that could give positive strength and hope to younger folks in the community’.”
Having acknowledged the need for both a more “public” and private profile in his professional career, Andee’s move to share something so personal is admirable. “It took me a while to get there, but everything you see online (on my profile) now is one hundred per cent Andee.” When he declares this, I can’t help but feel a grin settle on my own lips, because having the ability to break away from a front and embody who you’d want to be, and who you love and what you respect online, is something so empowering in this social media age.
Of course, Andee’s no stranger to empowering and uplifting others. Andee is a community builder to his core. This term may not be familiar to laymen, so he breaks it down for me. “Community builders are not problem-solvers. We’re more like facilitators, there to encourage and help growth in people. Like how a coach would help you to get somewhere, to the point where you want to be, uplifting and empowering you along the way so that you can achieve what you want through your own efforts.”
He co-founded Kampung Collective, a community that educates and gathers other community creators across Asia. Having trained and led many community builders under Kampung Collective, Andee offers his perspective on what value much of community building rests upon.
“The first word I think of is the word empathy”, he shares. “I feel like empathy is not something taught in schools — like we’re taught to be remarkable, a little more adaptable. But empathy is something that starts when you stop talking and start listening.”
“We’re not problem-solvers”, he elaborates. “Community builders do not provide people with solutions. Rather, we help them get to where they want to be by [helping them] realise their own strength.”
But ‘community’ can also feel so large and daunting. Where do we even start to place the building blocks for a community’s pillars, and where do we even get the formula for a good foundation? How do we work with a community when nothing is static — always changing, breathing and living as humans naturally do, both alone and together?
With a glimmer in his eyes, Andee begins to take me through his own tale of confronting the concept of building community: “When I first started building, I too saw it very differently from how I see it now. I initially saw it like, we are a group of people who have the same beliefs — we all share the same struggle, because we are all part of one community.
For example, the LGBTQ+ community — I used to think, we all belong to the same circle, we all share the same struggle and beliefs because we are from one community. But along the way, I realised that every alphabet has its own struggles, and we should not group them all together — it’s kind of dismissing individual struggles. We have subgroups within subgroups. Like people who are black and lesbian or transgender. These are [perspectives and experiences] that are less heard, when compared to hearing about stories of struggle from being gay or being lesbian. Listening to these stories requires empathy, to be aware that there are differences and acknowledge that this community could evolve.”
For him, being part of a community — of something bigger than himself — is definitely important. “Modelling was honestly more individual”, he says with a smile that affirms his appreciation for that experience. “When I first started modelling, I knew it was going to be fun and I just wanted to try to see how far I could go.
But at a certain point in time, I did feel lonely. I felt like I was not creating as much impact on other people, because the career (of modelling) was always about me, and being the centre of attention.” Andee grew up dancing in polytechnic and even returned as a choreographer when he went to university. “In dance I felt like I was part of a crew — you can teach and learn together, and then dance together. You became part of a team with collective moments.” His best “I did it” moment in his life would be when he choreographed a piece for his juniors at the polytechnic he graduated from. “50 students signed up to be a part of that piece. When the curtains came down and the performance was over, everyone was just crying. They were feeling the emotion.
And that was amazing. Because I had choreographed the dance with a story, and then these performers came and made it a part of their story as well.”
In a way, Andee’s love for people shaped the next part of his story, because he decided that modelling in New York City just wasn’t for him. “I left after six months there. I came back to Singapore.”
“I wanted to start all the way from the bottom somewhere else, so I went to the tech start-up ecosystem. I was from Arts Management, not even in the field of tech, but all I told myself was: just do it.” He joined to build community within the start up, and became Head of Community. “I really enjoyed being around people — because I’m someone who just enjoys facilitating connections, keeping things going — I’m the party planner of sorts, and I enjoy listening to stories.
I think if I have a platform that could push people for growth or just get people to do good things together, that’s something that I would always dream of.”