#3EIGHTHCONVERSATIONS WITH FISHY TOH
#3EIGHTHConversations was started as a little project to celebrate people who dare, and support the brewing communities of women and everyone else in between. We are honoured to bring you our second installation and bring these heartfelt stories of strong, independent individuals who are living towards their own beliefs, never backing down in challenging situations. After all, everyone loves an underdog; and at 3EIGHTH, we’re all about people who try, and give themselves an allowance to be.
In this part, we speak with Fishy Toh, Creative Director of Scenestealer Events.
Words by Sheryl Yeo | Photos by Sherman Seetho, assisted by Nigel Tan
Just 10 years ago, hearing about the success of a female entrepreneur was not as commonplace as it seemed now; and even more so for women and people of the gay community. What seemed like taboo before, is now more culturally accepted than before, and here, we work to share these stories of love and strength to remind one another that everyone's successes should not be defined by their genders or sexualities.
In the climate of new political change, more people are willing to live openly and be themselves, whether they are at work or off-duty. It's a proud moment as we celebrate these little wins and support each other no matter. Even though no key changes have been made to Singapore's laws on union, it is our little hope that we see the same rights for all citizens of our country.
This time, we've had the chance of speaking to Fishy Toh (as referred to by all her friends and loved ones), 30, Creative Director and Co-founder of events agency, Scenestealer who has worked with the likes of Netflix and malls like 313 Somerset and more. Fishy shares with us on her journey from operating a small photo booth business to running an events planning arm, as well as her story on coming out, and settling down with her female partner, against all odds even with differences in race and religion.
Upclose and personal - on Fishy, Custom-tailored Camp Collar Shirt in Stretch Denim,
finished with double pockets and contrasting buttons and buttonholes
So Fishy, we heard you're a DIY sort of person - could you share on how you evolved from just getting into the dirt doing all the design work for photo booth props and then growing it into an actual events company?
FISHY: We've been running Scenestealer for about 3 years now from a side gig to a full-time job now. Yes I was a graphic-designer for years before I took the plunge to start this business as a side-stint because I thought it would be nice to work on something that utilizes my strengths. But over time we went with the flow and evolved with the needs of the different clients that came along and naturally running a photo booth business helps you get your foot in the door. I still work on the design most of the time, but that doesn't drain me too much - I still enjoy my work and have also learnt a lot during my journey. Of course there are so many considerations, monetarily and also stability issues that both my business partner and I were worried about but I'm glad we did it. And thankfully, a lot of things on the creative levels keep me engaged - I get really inspired when I do see a great well-thought campaign and this gives me new ideas.
Scenestaler and their range of events
Was there a lot of struggle and pressure working as a female business owner?
F: As a female business owner in the events industry, we have to work with vendors and contractors which is a male-dominated industry - especially so since there are a lot of logistical support required; I find that people are generally helpful when they see that we require some and also I've met wonderful people who've offered me valuable advice during my time. Of course, I'm speaking from my own experience and have not faced any huge reactions so I guess it's a combination of pleasant working experiences and meeting great people.
Apart from work and your creative endeavours - what else do you enjoy?
F: I enjoy the outdoors a lot, simply because I think it's great to see things beyond the city. It's nice being close to nature and also getting away from the hustle and bustle. It resets my perspective of life and gives me an opportunity to be mindful.
Fishy pairs our Custom-tailored Stretch Denim Camp-collar shirt with Custom Wide-legged trousers and wore it with her Adidas Continental shoes
So you're a Singaporean female, business owner and also living openly as a gay person at home and in society. I'm sure it was not an easy journey coming out with so much social pressure across several aspects - could you share with us what was yours like?
F: The funny thing is I never had the chance to really come out because I was technically outed by my Mom *laughs*.
My Mom made some realizations, and it was a really hard time for the both of us - her coming to terms that I was "different" and that I probably needed help from a psychiatrist and then there was me struggling to accept myself and making sense of how she and my family felt. In retrospect, we have came a long way. From tearful conversations to small subtle ways of telling me she cares and respects choices that me and my partner make.
I've always realized I was different from my younger time. It was probably in like primary school when I realized I had an unknown affection towards people of the same gender. Nothing romantic (I was 10, and didn’t know what romance was!) - I just wanted to be friends with them and enjoyed the company. Only later did I realize what I was going through with the coming of age, some exposure to the media and meeting people in my teens who are made me understand that this is who I am, and that's perfectly okay.
Did your family finally accept you? How did you overcome it?
F: Thankfully yes. It definitely look us awhile - and as time passes, my mom especially, she started to understand and supported me for as long as I was happy. Every year during my birthday, my family has the tradition of writing birthday cards and my mom will pen the same message "as long as you're happy, I'm happy for you too."
In fact, my family are supportive of all my decisions, even things like moving out with my partner recently as well.
Congrats! So you're in the midst of moving into a new home with your partner. It must have been a lot of planning and getting things together. How was this process considering there are no laws in place that favour same-sex union at this point?
F: There are definitely a lot of things to consider. As with any couple, there were things like finances, legal decisions and other factors like our families to consider. I've been together with my partner for about 3 years now and it was definitely a natural progression for us. I'm lucky I found someone whom I can communicate so easily and truthfully with.
Things were a little tougher because Singapore's laws aren't entirely inclusive - we were happy to find a house, but the reality of how non-inclusive our HDB policies were to non-heterosexual couples really hit us hard. Of course, there are other alternate clauses like buying houses at the age of 35, but I find that for couples looking for immediate solutions and cannot afford to buy a private property, it can get a little stifling. Even going to the bank to set up a joint account was a little setback for us, they were questioning us and didn't give us the green light until we produced the documents that we were going to purchase a property together. And I really think as Singaporean citizens we should all be able to entitled the right to love and make decisions just as our other counterparts do.
Close detailing of our Stretch Denim on Fishy
We also understand that your partner, S* (not named to protect her identity), is from another race and religion - does it affect you that she is not able to live openly?
F: Being together with her has really made me see the world through her lens, and understand a lot more about her considerations as she has to factor in the sensitivities of her religion as she is from the Muslim community. I know that being in the majority race has its privileges, and being with her has helped me be hyper-aware of what can be fundamentally different in our point of views.
We spoke a lot about this - I don't think I can entirely speak for her or fully articulate how she feels towards this, but thankfully there's nothing that really has formed obstacles for us because we just appreciate each other's characters and personalities.
As for living openly, I respect all her decisions no matter and understand that due to her work environment, it may be hard for her to come out openly and feel comfortable about it. It's not a huge deal, and we are both happy together - it doesn't really impede us because we still have our life together at the end of the day in a place we can call home.
Close up on buckle detailing on Fishy
What do you hope to see change in society then?
F: My wish is to see the repeal of penal code 377A. It's such a shame that we've made so many steps forward with more people are starting to accept the LGBTQIA+ community and yet this backdated law still prevails in this country
Speaking from a female stand point as well, I think males from the community have it worst because the imagery of two women together are projected to be "less repulsive" than that is of two men together. How is it fair that there's a possibility that they can be criminalized? It's arguable where the policy stands but its repeal would show real progression for people to come out without feeling the pressure of a law. For as long as we respect and compromise towards each other, we truly can live happily together.
We thank Fishy for sharing a piece of her story with us.
Thank you for reading and supporting us, this is a project and initiative by 3EIGHTH.
We are working hard to keep this burning as a permanent project.