With a jacket casually draped over a T-shirt and sporting stylishly cropped hair, 49-year-old Leslie Lung looks markedly different from his younger self.
"It's been a journey from that all the way to where I am today," the Singaporean advertising creative consultant said with a slight smile as he pointed to two photographs taken when he was 20.
The pictures show Lung made up as a woman in a form-fitting black tube top, long wavy hair tumbling over his shoulder and a glittering choker adorning his neck.
They are among the illustrations in a hardcover book written by Lung titled Freedom of Choice: Short Stories of Freedom from Sexual Bondage.
Describing himself as having spanned "the entire gamut" of relationships, Lung is now the executive director of Liberty League, a controversial Singapore support group which says it aims to help people who want to overcome "same-sex attractions".
"We think that it is something that can be managed, it can be something that can be overcome, and there are people who have successfully come out of it," said Lung, who considered sex-change surgery when he was younger.
Set up in 2004, Liberty League is staffed by 10 volunteers and financed by grants from the government and private donors.
Singapore gay rights activists object to Liberty League's activities.
"They present the idea that being gay is bad and therefore you should change to straight," said Alex Au, one of the founders of gay rights group People Like Us.
"But that already is creating stigma. Why do you even present the message?" Au said Liberty League's ideals were "suspiciously similar" to those of Exodus International, a US fundamentalist Christian ministry actively involved in reforming homosexuals.
Lung says Liberty League is secular and not against gays, bisexuals and transgender people, but he draws the line at men having sex with men.
"It is a biological impossibility. It is impossible for two people of the same gender to consummate physical relationship," he insisted.
Despite greater tolerance for gays in recent years Singapore has refused to rescind an old law making consensual sex between men a crime.
"Singapore is basically a conservative society. The family is the basic building block of this society. It has been so and by policy we have reinforced this and we want to keep it so," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told parliament in 2007.
"By 'family' in Singapore, we mean one man one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit."
Lung says Liberty League only caters to people who seek help.
"We're not here to go and convert people, we're not here to say 'oh you must not do this and do that,'" he said.
"Some people who want to continue with the lifestyle, that's fine with us. Some people who don't want to, I think that there should be opportunities for them to explore the other option."
Liberty League conducts weekly group sessions where participants speak about their sexual preferences and dilemmas, said Lung. It can also refer participants to professional counsellors.
Group members typically consist of people attracted to others of the same gender, but those grappling with other problems such as sex addiction are also allowed to take part, he said.
"We find that this has been very, very helpful in opening up people's minds," Lung said.
"So often when people come, they think, oh this is a male issue, this is a female issue, but when they hear different perspectives then they come to understand actually it's a very universal thing."
Lung refused to reveal client numbers, but said "there's more than enough to keep us occupied and busy."
December 31, 2010 - 3:49PM