#3EIGHTHConversations with Jean Goh & Xener Gill
#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 hope to bring these heartfelt stories of strong, independent individuals who are living out their own beliefs and 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 third instalment, we go pink in the name of celebrating love as Pink Dot happens on the 29th, and speak with lovebirds Jean and Xener who have been together for over a year now.
Starring Jean Goh (@jeanseizure) & Xener Gill (@xenergill)
Photos by Sherman Seetho (@mrseetho), assisted by Nigel Tan (@nigeltanmusic)
Make up by Atiqah Ho (@beautywithoutfilter) | Outfits customized specially by 3EIGHTH
Taking a stand and choosing the road less travelled is never easy — and that has always been what both singer and actor, Jean Goh "Seizure", 28 and her girlfriend, Xener Gill, 22 who's a Communications student completing her last year in NTU and an internship in journalism, chose to do for most of their relationship.
Most of you may recognize Jean, who started out her career in acting as a young child actor. She now works on independent film projects and most recently acted in the Toggle series "Paddles Up". She's also a videographer on the side and is actively singing with acapella group "The Apex Project". Jean’s recent debut solo single release, "Night", was released together with a music video where Xener, who also has a knack for acting, starred alongside her.
Despite the differences in their focus on career and phase of life — there are no airs, no dominance, no insistence of sticking to traditional "feminine" and "masculine" roles — just two people who respect each other and are learning to grow together. We had a ball speaking to them and understanding more about their perspectives, ethos, life and relationship.
Behind the scenes while shooting for #3EIGHTHConversations
Jean wears a Custom Black Shirting, paired with a Silk Velvet Suit (Cropped Trousers) in Purple Haze &
Xener wears Custom Koshibo Shirting in Cream with Black Trimmings and
Custom Two-toned Striped Suiting (Bell Trousers) in Navy Blue.
—> So the two of you have been together for over a year now and you both seem so sure of each other - which is really lovely! How did both of you meet?
XENER: I was working part-time at this cafe selling acai bowls, and noticed her because of her "inconsiderate behaviour" (laughs). She was occupying so much space just by herself but my boss actually told me to let her be. But I ended up checking her out that day and that was it.
Fast forward to 6 months later I actually received a follow and then a message from her on my Insta stories - she slid into my DMs hahah and things kind of just followed through from there.
JEAN: In my defence, I knew the place was crowded and I actually did ask the people, who were also friends from church, if they would like to share the space but they politely declined as they were leaving. I was actually waiting for my ex-girlfriend but she took a different table when she arrived because she was afraid of being seen with me, henceforth!
I noticed Xener months later after my ex-girlfriend said she was hot and we were then introduced briefly through a mutual friend who was also working the same shift at the said café. My relationship was tumultuous back then as we were going through a vicious cycle of breaking up and getting back together and then at some point, I decided to follow Xener on Instagram as an act of rebellion, and the rest was history.
—> How was it like when you guys first started out - especially since I understand this is one of Xener's first official relationship with another female and that you both have made efforts to introduce each other to your families. Did everything go smoothly? And did people look at you both differently?
XENER: Technically this is my first official relationship with another female. I've always known that I am more fluid in terms of my sexuality and most of my close friends are aware of that. I had a rough start trying to explaining this to my parents, and they were definitely angry and were trying to talk me out of it, but the important turning point was when they met her and realized how supportive she was of me.
At the end of the day, there's so much normalcy and also uniqueness in how our relationship is like — and my Mom especially has started to recognize that. In fact she's only hoping I still spend more face time with her and that's pretty much it. It is comforting and nice knowing there's no other judgement than keeping the principles of family intact.
JEAN: Yeah the start of our relationship was quite a mess. So many questions and doubts about whether this was going to be a fleeting thing. But I'm glad we helped each other through the process and try to grow by improving our responses towards each other too. Thankfully my family also doesn't impose societal standards on me or expect me to be someone else which is really nice.
XENER: Family aside, I've also had a fair share of male friends who responded badly to this and I received some insensitive comments. They were mixing up the pronouns, calling Jean my "boyfriend", or referring to her as "he" on purpose as if trying to fit us into their heteronormative ideals. It is disappointing to see how people you regard as your friends act out like this, but I think I'm learning to not let it affect me negatively.
—> So Jean, most of the people know you through your work in mainstream media, and we're sure there's some pressure to meet expectations for your "public image" - how have you been managing that? Did you find that coming out and being more open towards your identity could jeopardize your career? How do you feel about that?
JEAN: I’ve definitely had some pressure to keep to a more conservative image if I wanted to continue the pathway back into key mainstream media. It's been an issue that has been on my mind for years. I've considered "being under the radar" and not being "open" but I don't think I want to hide a big part of myself because of work. That's just not me at all.
On the other hand, if there's a need for me to cut down on featuring my personal relationship as a form of protection towards my partner, then I’m ok with that. Seeing someone like Ellen Page also come out and be able to love openly, that's also extremely inspiring and I hope we'll be able to get there at some point too.
You were both acting in Jean's solo Music Video, "Night" and you both made it look effortless. It seemed like it was a love story that went south. I suppose this was also Xener's first screen appearance was it? How was that experience?
JEAN: It was my idea to have Xener on screen because she has a bit of theatre experience. I also once workshopped a scene with her for her school project and noticed that she reacted very well to my emotional cues. Since then, I was convinced she would be able to take on the role. But I think it was definitely an emotional process for her as the song was based on my previous difficult toxic relationship.
My production team Jed and Tim worked through most of the parts together with us during the production and when it came to Xener’s lone parts, we gave her space too so she could express her emotions fully.
XENER: Yeah definitely, it really involved a lot of work for me to get my personal emotions in check and then sorting out my feelings for acting too. It was my first time being in front of the camera since I was previously always doing more stage work, so it was certainly stressful trying to portray the range of emotions, but I'm glad we got through it. I would consider acting as a possible career at some point if I can.
“NIGHT” - by Jean Seizure, starring both Jean and Xener
—> I'm sure people tend to ask if there's a more domineering personality between the two of you — but it seems like you guys give each other room to just be. What sort of dynamic do the both of you share and how does that play out?
JEAN: I actually wouldn't say there is, but if I had to choose between the two of us I would think Xener has the more domineering personality? (laughs!)
XENER: Well, technically there's no domineering personality between us two, but yes we work through all our disagreements and then find good compromise points between each other and understand that everyone has different limits and capacities, and that's OK.
JEAN: Yeah I would definitely say we balance each other out quite well, which is great. I don't need more drama in my life!
—> On the topic of toxic masculinity in society — how do you think this has affected you both as women, and as members of the LGBTQIA+ community? Do you think people enforce these judgements on you, for example having one of you to take on a "masculine" and "feminine" role based on your look?
JEAN: As I got more comfortable with myself and understood my fluidity better over the years, I’ve realized how difficult it is to be making up for people's expectations. In fact, sometimes we end up fulfilling these "roles" anyway.
In heteronormative relationships - there already are issues between the expectations of male and female. Men in relationships are expected to prove that "they are the bigger person”, either to other people or their partner, for example, by taking on the financial burden or bearing the bulk of the responsibility during arguments with their partners regardless of their own emotional capacity.
Because I outwardly look more masculine, people tend to assume that I take on the role of a "man" in the relationship. I've been given the advice before to build myself into "a good man", by being financially stable, able to protect my loved ones, or be the one to apologise first during an argument. But in hindsight, I think these are good qualities for anybody to work towards regardless of the gender dynamics of a relationship.
Xener has given me a lot of space to shamelessly explore my gender identity and understand why I think the way that I think. It’s important for both parties to learn to be comfortable with being vulnerable with each other and to be able to have healthy, progressive conversations with each other without gender roles influencing the way they respond to each other. I think it’s not about who the “man” or “woman” is in the relationship. Instead, it’s just two people working things out together.
(Continued from above)
XENER: I'm good with Jean being herself and vulnerable at times so we get to be in touch with each others' emotional well-being and what the other is going through while respecting that we are two different individuals.
Many people haven't fully grasped that most relationships don't actually need hard defining roles, but just comfortable dynamics that work for two. To me it's all about working towards a compromise, because I'm sure everyone will have times where they are more domineering and times when they are more nurturing towards each other. These things are not hard and fast rules and I believe this applies across all sorts of relationships whether heterosexual or on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
—> What do you guys think of going towards a genderless / non-gendered society then?
XENER: I've never really thought about this - because I rarely feel limited or define things through one's gender. Plus I've also come from a girls' school and never thought girls couldn't do anything if they wanted.
JEAN: I feel like gender is deeply rooted in society and this concept of having two very distinct genders has been around for so long, it’s really quite hard to escape it. While I admit that changing people’s perspectives takes time because we’re completely uprooting their beliefs and telling them that “hey there’s more to this” but we have to start somewhere. We need to slowly and carefully move towards a more empathic and understanding society.
It will be cool if people of privilege (cis gendered individuals) could be more open-minded and aware of the existence of individuals who don’t relate to gender the same way as they do. Someone not conforming to society’s construct of gender doesn’t make them less of a human being than everyone else. As a society, I think we can afford to show more love to those around them. There are many things that those of privilege might not understand but the first step is to try.
Xener wears our Custom Koshibo Shirting with Black Trimming, styled with a Satin Bow
—> Do you both feel like there will be a time people will be ready to accept a gay character in mainstream media on Singapore TV and would either of you want to play that? Where do you see your acting progressing - will it be mixed in with your political/ personal ideologies?
JEAN: If there is a gay character to play, I would most definitely love to but I don't want my sexuality to pigeonhole my character opportunities because I don’t have to be gay to portray a gay character well. There are traits people can pick out about straight actors like he or she is funny, animated or suave, instead of focusing on their sexuality. I don't want to be recognized as "just gay" because there’s so much more to me than just my sexuality.
There are so many gay people who play straight characters and as an actor I think it's nice we get opportunities to portray that. I see acting as a chance to "not be yourself" and instead be in someone else's shoes.
XENER: If I had to play a gay character - I would be for it. I agree that Singapore is not ready for gay character on screen. But there needs to be some sort of progression or introduction of other elements of what being gay means. Even if they do introduce characters in mainstream media, it tends to be an extremely backward representation of the gay community. Being gay doesn't stop at just being "sissy" or an "ah gua", it's 2019! We need bigger diversity!
JEAN: At this point, I don't think Singapore is ready to see a gay character due to censorship but I have hopes that we will slowly get there with so many international sitcoms headed that way. I really think there are many other ways to ease in the concept of relationships in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum in the media and diversity is truly key.
We thank Jean and Xener for sharing a piece of their story with us.
For more of them, do follow Jean (@jeanseizure) and Xener (@xenergill) via their Instagram.
Do check out Jean’s latest music release via Spotify:
Thank you for reading and supporting us, this is a project and initiative by 3EIGHTH.
Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming instalments as we bring you more conversations.