Adrian Tyler (born 1991) is the fourth person to come out in Singapore as a person living with HIV. He is currently a Youth Coordinator for Action for AIDS. He hopes to clear the air and shed light on what it is really like for people living with HIV and would like his story to raise awareness among gay youths and reduce stigma and discrimination faced by the community.
An ethnic Malay, Tyler first experienced same-sex attraction when he was 12 years old. He had a crush on his PE teacher and rugby coach. As such, he always looked forward to PE lessons and rugby training. Growing up, Tyler was frequently bullied for being effeminate. He did not have a lot of friends in school and eventually dropped out of school at the age of 14. He used to be called names such as "ah kua", “sissy” and “bapok” in school because of the way he talked, walked and just because he was always hanging around with the girls.
For the next few years, Tyler kept his sexuality from his family. Like most parents, Tyler's mother suspected his sexual orientation. Being in denial, she told him that it could be a phase and it would be over after consultations with specialists or psychologists. But everything came spilling out of the closet when his grandmother accidentally witnessed an affectionate scene between Tyler and his then boyfriend. His boyfriend had sent him home and given him a peck on the cheek. When he alighted from his boyfriend's car, he saw his grandmother standing there looking at him. She did not say anything and over the next few days, nobody in the family probed him about the incident. But just when Tyler thought that he was in the clear, his mother suddenly confronted him about the kiss.
His mother told him that his grandmother had recounted to her what had happened. It was then and there that he decided to tell his mother that he was gay. At first, she could not come to terms with the revelation and tried to explain to him that it was all just a phase. But as time went by, she came to accept his sexuality although she never explicitly acknowledged it. They did not really talk about it but she knew he would not be having any girlfriend or getting married to a girl in the future. In fact, his mother is on his Facebook and he tends to post a lot of LGBT-related articles on his timeline.
However, getting his family to accept his sexuality was not the most difficult part. The real test came when Tyler’s world turned upside down in March 2016. He accompanied a friend for a free anonymous HIV test conducted by AFA (Action for AIDS), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to fighting AIDS/HIV infection in Singapore. When he got his results, it felt as if the whole world had collapsed on him. He had never felt so depressed in his life before. Encouraged by a close friend working at AFA, Adrian decided to join a support group for people living with HIV helmed by AFA. It was there that he found himself a group of friends who knew exactly what he was going through. As for the person who passed him the disease, Tyler has long gotten over him. There was no anguish or hatred towards the man because what was done was done and nothing could be turned back. When Tyler told his family in 2016 that he had HIV, his stepfather's response was to tell him not to store his toothbrush in the bathroom shared by the rest of the family. His stepfather also wanted him to have a separate set of utensils. Apart from the fact that Tyler has to take medication every day, his life is not all that different from most other 25-year olds.
In his free time, he enjoys reading and running and has a particularly soft spot for dogs. His dream is to one day, become a social worker or a youth counsellor. He thinks he has been through a lot for his age and would like to use his experiences as an advantage to help youth in general. Nowadays, Tyler dedicates most of his time to SGRainbow, a non-profit community social group for GBQ men aged 18 to 35 years old where he is the Acting Programme Manager for Advocacy. He is tasked to conceptualise and plan advocacy-based programmes. He is also in charge of the offline marketing initiatives where he is required to build rapport with sponsors, stakeholders and community partners.
Tyler feels that the biggest challenges for him as a gay man in Singapore living with HIV/AIDS is the stigma and discrimination. What kills them is not the disease itself but the stigma and discrimination that the society have towards them. The public needs more education about HIV/AIDS - They are just like everyone else. Fortunately, he has not encountered any extreme negative reactions towards his HIV status. He is glad the people he knows are supportive and understanding. Even if there were, he is very sure he can deal with any negative reaction.
What made him decide to come out publicly as a HIV-positive gay man was his determination to let everyone know that it was really okay to be HIV-positive. He hopes his my story can be an inspiration for other HIV positive youth out there who are suffering in silence. They are never alone. The plan was for me to come out slowly in every SGRainbow programme. He would also like to create awareness amongst gay youth where stigma and discrimination is a huge concern.
His advice for people living with HIV/AIDS is that they are never alone in this world. There were organisations such as AfA who are more than willing to be there for them. Living with HIV was no longer a death sentence. If individuals got tested early and started treatment as soon as possible, they would be just like everyone else. They should never let HIV be an obstacle to what and whom they want be.
Tyler thinks that the biggest misconception that people have about HIV/AIDS is the modes of transmission. It seemed basic but throughout his stint with SGRainbow, he realised the need for HIV education catered specifically towards young people. Tyler feels that if he had not gone for testing, he would never have known about his status and it was very important to know one's status. If anybody needed someone to accompany him for testing, he would be more than happy to go with him.
- Joyce Lim, "HIV data leak: 'I'm not dirty even though I have HIV'", The Straits Times, 3 February 2019.
- Sean Foo, "Out Of The Closet: Adrian Shares His Story", Dear Straight People, 24 January 2017.
- Living with HIV, Razor TV, SPH, 2 February 2019.
This article was written by Roy Tan.