Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A

Straight Thoughts on 377A by a University Student (Oct 10, 2007)
(initially published on Yawning Bread, http://www.yawningbread.org/guest_2007/guw-144.htm)

“Sam, why are you so pro-gay?”

My classmate asked me this on Friday, as I was asking around to see if people were interested in signing the 377A repeal petition. I had been too busy to reply him then, but here’s my answer:

I’m not pro-gay. I’m anti-injustice.

I think we all encounter injustice in our lives. For example, I am Chinese by ethnicity, but can’t speak Mandarin well. I don’t look very Chinese either. I was frequently mocked in my childhood. “You are Chinese, so you should speak Chinese!” Coming from a neighbourhood school, Mandarin was the predominant language, so I’ve heard that from almost everyone. I felt discriminated against; an injustice to me.

Still, I made the effort to get some Mandarin into my system so that I could pass my exams and get that passport to the local university. (Maybe I was lucky too.)

It was in University that I finally learnt more meaningful things. I admit that initially, I was just there to get a degree, with which I could land myself a well-paying job, and happily leave behind everything I learnt. But I realise that university education has empowered me and made me more confident in expressing my thoughts. It would indeed be a waste if I left all that behind upon graduation.

Another thing I realised, is that thinking alone is useless when those thoughts are not expressed when it comes to standing up for what you believe in.

Maybe it’s a character trait. When I was 17, I read in the newspapers about an audition call for some English drama. I had always been a harsh critic of local television and actors, but it was only then that I realised that it was only too easy to sit on the sofa, point my finger, and open a critical mouth. So I decided to try acting for myself. It turned out to be really tough.

This was probably my own little rite of passage to holding myself accountable for my beliefs, and putting my money where my mouth is. It is for the very same reason that I continually write to the Straits Times Forum, even though my letters are usually rejected or else subjected to a fair amount of editing. The important thing is, I feel like I’m actually doing something that could make a difference, no matter how small, rather than just sitting around and complaining.

So what does a straight guy have to do with sexual minorities? Why even bother?

I believe in respecting spaces; that everyone should have his/her own space and not intrude into other people’s spaces. Perhaps a fair bunch of straight folks have had their ‘horrifying’ experiences with homosexual men, where they felt their personal spaces had been invaded. Then again, there are also many schoolgirls who also have had their ‘horrifying’ experiences with ‘cheekopeks’. There are black sheep in every society and community.

I used to be a homophobe because I did not see how “human” homosexual people were. When I became better able to understand their humanly pains, I started to see the discrimination, ostracism and hatred levelled against them. It’s like telling Chinese-looking kids that they ought to speak Mandarin. Although that may be a poor analogy, I think it’s still meaningful.

Homosexuality: It is an identity. Why are we trying to discipline and punish homosexuals; to “straighten” and institutionalise them according to our privileged predispositions? Why do we want to tell them who, and how, to love? Why do we want to invade their spaces?

Why are straight people so homophobic? Does homophobia justify discrimination, prejudice, and hatred, and do these manifestations justify institutional and legal disciplining and marginalisation of sexual minorities?

I think straight people are very lucky. We don’t realise that we are privileged, being in the position or side that is societally-condoned (at this point in history), and we take that comfort for granted. Straight people already occupy and live in a very big space, yet we continue to deprive sexual minorities of having their own spaces, thinking that it will come at the expense of our space, which is far from the case.

I thought to myself, “Imagine if one day, the community pointed its finger at me and deemed my identity, beliefs and self as wrong, immoral, sinful and illegal…” That would be a very horrible situation. I would experience a lot of dissonance. Would I do the good ol’ Singaporean thing and conform; cause no trouble?

There are people with special needs around us. There are also the poor, the aged and the ill. We don’t bat an eyelid to help them. But when it comes to sexual minorities - who are after all human beings as well - we whip out holy books, we talk about tradition, we talk about gender roles, behaviours and expectations, we even talk about medicine, we talk about our own moral and values system, but for all the ‘expert talk’, we end up not doing anything. Are our compassion and graciousness only limited to certain peoples?

When I went around asking classmates if they were interested in signing the 377A repeal petition, most declined.

“Lack of information”. “I already signed the online one.” (which was just an open letter; not a petition.) “I don’t want trouble.”

We are University students. We’re supposed to be educated, right? We are so vocal in class - we can criticise the government in the classroom, we can engage passionately in discussions - but when it comes to putting names down, when it comes to participating in the democracy, nothing happens. Words aplenty, action so scarce. If you believe in a cause, you have the right to be silent as much as you have the obligation to do something about it. It’s not as if by signing the petition, we are being rude to the authorities or anything. Education empowers you to make a better and informed decision.

Well, there were some legitimate reasons. “It’s my religious belief, sorry.” “I don’t support the idea, sorry.” I just thanked them and apologised at the same time. These people had their beliefs, and clearly stated them. That was fine.

I believe that it takes a lot of guts for straight men to support gay equality. Siew Kum Hong has the guts to stand up, represent and speak up on behalf of sexual minorities in Singapore. That is representative democracy. That is quite “manly” too, to appropriate societal conceptions and stereotypical depictions of the “manly man”. They say if a man can stand up for and defend his wife against a gang of robbers, he’s a “real man”. What about a straight man standing up for gay men? Siew does not stand alone because he has earned the respect of many persons out there. Perhaps this is his rite of passage.

So what does 377A mean to me? I’m not gay, so I admit I can’t fully empathise, but what I see is institutional discrimination. The law doesn’t really care about what straight couples do in the bedroom, but it still “cares” about what gay people do in private. Not only is what they do private, it is most importantly consensual. Why should we punish consensual acts? Minors and persons who don’t give consent, should be protected. That is after all what the law should do. The law should protect; not marginalise communities or even worse, legitimise persistent discrimination. If I were shut up on 377A, I would be allowing discrimination to carry on under my nose. The 70% government subsidy of my university education would be put to shame. If there are other ways I can contribute to society aside from paying taxes, this is just one little thing I can do. I want to say that there are straight men in Singapore who support gay equality. Sexual minorities deserve equal recognition, fair representation, proper respect and similar rights.

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