Bursting with Pride!

Pam Oei is laying claim to the title of Singapore’s Number One Faghag in her self-penned one-woman cabaret. Find out more about what inspired her and what you can expect from her show in July!

What is a ‘faghag’ to you?

I’m not a fag and I’m not a hag, but I’m definitely a faghag! To me, that’s a woman who has a lot of gay friends. There was a time when the term used to be derogatory – referring to women who tag along or hang out with gay men because they can’t find a straight guy for themselves. But not anymore. And I’m proud to call myself a faghag! I am friends with so many fabulous and fantastic gay men, who inspire me and make me a better person. This show is dedicated to them!

How did you hit upon the idea to create this one-woman cabaret show? 

I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. Apart from being inspired by stand-up comedians like Margaret Cho and Pam Am, I have such fond memories of Happy, this amazing gay club in Tanjong Pagar. I practically lived there! I would sing, sometimes, and I performed stand-up on comedy nights that was tailored to the gay crowd. Which means I already have some material to work with.

So why now? 

As always, Ivan Heng [Artistic Director of WILD RICE and the Singapore Theatre Festival] was my final push! Ivan, of course, is one of my dearest friends and I am his #1 Faghag. Over the years, I’ve talked to him about wanting to create a show like this. Last year, he told me that I should just start writing because he was going to reserve a slot for me in the Singapore Theatre Festival.

I think it’s also fitting to be staging Faghag this year, because it coincides with the tenth anniversary of Pink Dot. I’ll be doing my annual duty as Pink Dot’s Grand Marshall before performing my show on Saturday, 21 July! Making it to ten years is a milestone for the gay community, but also a sad one. A decade on, and Section 377A [which criminalises homosexuality in Singapore] is still on the books. I’ll be exploring that and more in the show.

Pam at Pink Dot 2017 with ambassadors
Ebi Shankara, Nathan Hartono and Theresa Goh

Who was the first gay man in your life? 

I had a huge crush on a gay man when I was 13 years old. I became such a fangirl of Lim Siauw Chong after watching him perform with Jacintha Abisheganaden in Talentime! I even stalked him. [laughs] Back then, everyone’s name was in the phone book. So I called him up at his house on his birthday and sang him a birthday song. F**king scary, right?! I didn’t know he was gay then – I didn’t even understand that concept. We’re friends now, and he still remembers me doing this!  You’ll have to come to the show to find out more.

Any other close encounters with gay men you’d care to share?

I’ve had two boyfriends who turned out to be gay. One is still deep in the closet. The other is out, proud and happily married to his husband. When we were together, he was figuring out and fighting with his own sexuality. But he eventually came screaming out of the closet. Again, come watch the show! [laughs]

Tell us about the first gay wedding you attended.

It was the wedding of my second cousin in 2001. But he wasn’t fully out, you know? So he couldn’t invite all the relatives – just me and his sister, and we were the bridesmaids. It was so moving: two people exchanging vows in front of all their friends. The ceremony wasn’t legally binding, but it was very much a wedding. My cousin and his husband have since moved to Australia, and they’re going to legalise their marriage there.

What are some of the songs you’ll be performing in the show?

I’m still working with Julian on the song list – I can promise you that there’ll be at least one fabulous gay anthem! Julian brought to my attention Carefully Taught, a song from the Broadway musical South Pacific. It talks about how children have to be carefully taught to hate others. It’s not natural. It’s important for me, as a mother, that my son not see any difference between my gay friends and my straight friends. And he doesn’t.

Pam with her rockin’ band, Ugly In The Morning
(L-R) Clement Yang, Joseph Saleem, David Baptista, Noel Ong

Your theatre fans might not realise this, but you’re also a rock star with a brand-new album…

Yes! My band, Ugly In The Morning, released their new album, 3 Or More If You Can Afford It, earlier this month. It’s available on iTunes now. I’m really proud of it, and being in this rock band is such a joyous experience for me. It’s so different from what I do in the theatre. When I’m rocking out, we’re always right there in the moment, making music together. I even have opportunities on stage – during a guitar solo, for instance – when I can kick back and watch my fellow band members play. They’re such an expressive bunch of rockers; you can tell just how much they’re enjoying playing our music.

Other than Faghag, what else are you working on these days?

Pasar Glamour, which takes place on 12 and 13 May! It’s a fundraising pre-loved clothes drive that I started together with Janice Koh and Petrina Kow last year. We made $12,000 from clothes that people donated from their own wardrobes – including some gorgeous high-fashion pieces that went for a steal. That money benefited two charities, the Emma Yong Fund and Arc Children’s Centre. This year, we’re raising funds for Arc again, as well as WILD RICE’s Gift of Theatre programme and Daughters Of Tomorrow – an organisation dedicated to helping underprivileged women get back on their feet and into society.

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