Making a splash

Singaporean deejay out to make a pitch for the gay community in Thailand

Johnson Ong can be described as anything from "complete package" and "good catch" to "boyfriend material". Start with his body and brain to his infectious smile and a talent for spinning music, Ong is famously known as "DJ Big Kid" who is much admired in gay circles in the region and elsewhere as the creator of tribal, progressive music.

Hailing from neighbouring Singapore, where the issue of gender diversity is a hush-hush, Ong is an out-and-proud gay who lends his fame to support the LGBT community in his country.

Arriving here for a spin and a cause, Ong will be a special guest deejay at the upcoming Sundance Asia 2012, a charity event in support of the B Change Foundation which is an HIV/Aids advocacy, scheduled Dec 30 at the Water Club, Sofitel So Hotel.

How did you become a deejay? Where did the passion come from?

I've loved music all my life. Some people grow out of that phase when reality sets in and you figure that a desk job was the only way to pay the bills. I never grew out of that phase and was pretty adamant about just going for it 100%.

Like most music lovers, I started out wanting to be a singer-songwriter, and enrolled in a music school in Los Angeles after college. I spent 2 years there and learnt a whole lot about music and songwriting and music production. Being in a creative environment with people like you is really inspiring and at the same time I was also going to all these circuit parties in the US and getting inspired too by these amazing superstar DJs. They opened up my eyes to a whole new world of electronic and dance music.

Can you recall your first gig?

My very first gig was in Singapore, in 2006, at a club called Taboo, which is an institution on the Singapore gay clubbing scene. The owner, whom I knew, agreed to let me play for one night. I remember arriving for sound check and the resident DJ then had to teach me how to mix the songs in and at which point. It was pretty embarrassing, because obviously I didn't know anything then. But I managed to pull it off and we had an amazing night!

What is your most impressive show?

There are so many really great gigs and it's really hard to pick one. I have been playing quite a bit in the US lately, mainly in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I enjoy those parties best, because it's a more mature clubbing scene and many of the patrons actually know their music and really do appreciate good dance music when they hear it. But having said that, I enjoy playing in Asia too because Asian boys know how to have fun, and to them, having fun is a serious business!

Tell us about your upcoming show in Bangkok? Is it going to be your first time here?

We have a whole bunch of boys coming to Bangkok for New Year's Eve, so my friend Patrick Walsh, took it upon himself to organise a pool party at the Sofitel, Water Club, which has a really nice pool on the 10th floor. Originally, just for friends, the response has been so overwhelming that he had to turn it into a ticketed event.

Part of the reason is to offset the cost of putting the party together, but the more important reason is that he wanted to raise funds for the B-Change Foundation, which does amazing work for HIV/Aids awareness, education and advocacy throughout Asia.

You are very outspoken with your sexuality, how is the LGBT scene in Singapore?

Sadly, Singapore is way behind the curve in terms of gay rights for the LGBT community. There is still a law in our country that criminalises sex between men. It is a grossly unjust law that trespasses on basic human rights of Singaporean gay men to love and to fall in love. Unfortunately, the Singapore government lacks the moral courage to remove that law and justifies their position by promulgating the "Asian Value" argument, which ironically, Thailand doesn't have, and neither does China and many other Asian countries. So it is a false argument and it is misleading.

Singapore is a first-world country in terms of economy and infrastructure, but we are third world when it comes to respecting basic human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

Recently, there has been a constitutional challenge in the high court by a very brave gay couple, who want the courts to strike down the law as being unconstitutional. I'm eager to see what comes out of that.

You are also a gay rights advocate and an ambassador of Singapore's LGBT movement PinkDot. How did you get involved with the project?

I was asked by one of the Pink Dot organisers to be an ambassador back in 2009. I remember I had to think very carefully about it, as even though I was by all accounts Out & Proud, making it "official" was still a huge step for me. Pink Dot is brilliant in that it is able to bring the message of love and acceptance of the gay community to the larger Singaporean community in a very non-combative or in-your-face manner. That is the reason it has achieved so much success and is replicated in cities not only in Asia but in the US.

What do you think about the perception towards LGBT today in Singapore? Has it been improved?

It definitely has improved because of initiatives like Pink Dot that foster understanding between gay Singaporeans and the larger Singaporean society, it has also demystified a lot of what it means to be gay and the struggles gay Singaporeans go through living in a straight Singapore. I am just happy to see, especially among my friends, more of them not being too concerned to hide their "gayness" at work or with their families. If all of us were afraid to come out in our communities and work places, then we will always be a marginalised and misunderstood group.

The best way to "cure" homophobia is really for a prejudiced person to have a friend who is gay. People are usually only afraid of what they don't know about, but once it's demystified, everyone just gets on with their lives. So the more visible we are, soon being gay would be a non-issue.

The most important question of all, what qualities do you look for in a partner?

My friends tell me I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to dating. So I guess someone who is thoughtful, sweet and attentive. He also has to be very confident of himself and able to stand up to me when necessary. It wouldn't hurt for him to be handsome and sexy as well.

Sundance Asia 2012 charity pool party is scheduled Dec 30 from 1-9 pm at Sofitel So Hotel, Sathon Road. Tickets are priced at 400 baht.

About the author

Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer