Friday, November 30, 2007

It's I who build (Singaporean) community; It's me who build (Singaporean) episteme.

Here is a very lame riddle: What is more reactive than a nuclear process?

Answer: The Singaporean.

Ok that is lame, bordering on irrelevance. But I believe we are truly a reactive society.

By "reactive", I say it with respect to "active" and "pro-active". And "active"-ness (such activity) is defined with respect to the civic domain, which includes civic responsibility, consciousness and ideology.

We act when people complain, when people get injured, when people lose something dear to them, when people die. You are free to insert "important" before the word "people".

Things must happen in order for change to effect.

I always believe in two ways of learning, which is divided into two tiers of explanation.
1. There are two ways of learning: instruction or experience.
2. There are two ways of learning: you live to learn, or you die learning.

Instruction often comes in peaceful times, wherein we take the comfort, safety and security for granted. Hence, instruction too is taken for granted and not treated seriously, until a horrid/life-changing experience is encountered will the person/people learn.

You are encourage not to smoke near while you are pregnant because of some possible ill effects on your child. You continue to smoke and your child may not be born healthy or "normal". Here, instruction is ignored, while experience takes over. In the end, you learn, the hard way.

The same thing goes for the placement of shelves and items along the five-foot walkway at the groundfloor of a shop/flat, not too far from where I am living. These pose a threat to fire safety (fire safety sounds like an oxymoron). There have been warnings given to the shopowner. Two persons died in a fire. The town council and the shopowner are both responsible.

Another attitude most of us possess, which I find utterly disgusting, is the almost "holier-than-thou" reliance on hindsight. 20-20 hindsight is the vision. "We/they should have ...". "If only we/they could have ...".

People begin talking like experts. Then change is effected upon the experience of losses and costs.

Why can't change be effect upon the experience of gain, in peaceful times?

Why must lives be lost and blood be shed for things to change? Are we truly too numb and dumb to anticipate trouble/loss/cost in peaceful times?

Maybe the government has a good mechanism for the anticipiation of trouble/loss/cost in these times of peace. After all, their political power and legitimacy have to be sustained at all times. Hence, there are laws that regulate the constitution, wherein the Singapore citizen has to obtain a license to exercise his/her constitutional right (of peaceful assembly and free speech). There are also controls on the media, which is viewed as inherently evil and thus require the guidance of the wise and righteous state (compare this with the American press system where the government is viewed as inherently evil and thus require the watchdog that is the media, which acts on behalf of the people).

How does the establishment of mechanisms which favour the sustenance and (maybe) growth of the government's political legitimacy, affect the balance of rights and obligations of the citizens? Do citizens have fare more obligations to state and society, outweighing the rights they are accorded in the first place?

Five dragon-boaters died. With or without life-vests, fingers will still be pointed and "should/could have"s will be iterated. Everyone becomes an expert or an analyst. Now, change will be in effect, socially and institutionally. But we need not go overboard with change to the point it affects logic and defies rationality.

For example, I have heard that one medical/science student injected a subject without accurately/sufficiently informing the subject the content of the injection. The ethics review board in the National University of Singapore came in full swing. Now they want everyone to be accountable for their research, namely involving human contact.

It is where Arts and Social Sciences students like myself are affected. The definitions of "sensitive" and "risky" are determined centrally by a 12-man board, who will act like the "reasonable man" on the street. I guess no woman is reasonable then. More unfortunate is the lack of transparency with how they would define the measure of a "reasonable man", netiher defined are the out-of-bound markers and topics which are deemed "sensitive" and "risky" to the professional, physiological and psychological well-being of an ordinary human being.

I am given the impression the thick layers of bureaucracy only exist because of something that previously happened. The implementation is not purposefully nor meaningfully done, but done so mechanically, to clock the hours, meet the quota and expectations set by another higher-up and the higher-up's higher-up. This thus borders on, if not trangresses, logic, reasonability and rationality. The purpose of leaving no stone unturned seems to have a mechanical motivation, wherein the idea of thoughtfulness is questionable. All because we suffered the embarrassment of a malpractice/unethical practice of a medical/science student.

Pro-active or active proposals for changes may fall on deaf ears. When something happens, change will be effected. Can we do something about this?

Well, it is not entirely wrong if change is effected after an incident. But let us not mechanically apply change just to "cover the backside". Do it meaningfully and purposefully, while holding a healthy degree of respect for rationality and reason.

Moreover, an incident may not also necessitate a change, nor signal an inadequacy in the existing structure. But most unfortunately, people are hard to please, and they complain, demanding changes. Are these meaningful?

I am not encouraging Singaporeans to be less reactive, more (pro-)active, but we should just think a little bit more about what we are demanding before we actually demand it.

I leave you with the malapropistic statement (and quoted out of context):

"Lead the way, and we'll precede."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What's up with the forum?

Is there something wrong with the Straits Times forum?

How newsworthy are the letters? People supporting/praising the establishment, not that that is a bad thing. A man recounting his bad experience with acupuncture. Another talk about choosey young HDB flat owners.

Does the dip in quality of letters have any correlation with the time of the year? Is there nothing much to talk about in the last couple of months of the year?

I may be wrong, but I think that as the year reaches an end, most of the regular writers to the Straits Times forum are no longer published, given if the myth of maximum 3 publications per person per year holds true.

The Straits Times has no obligation to any letter-writer and I guess even if there is a quota, a quota is still necessary, because people will think the frequent publishment of letters by particular writers informs of some bias. To eliminate any suspicion, a quota is thus justified.

Unfortunately, it will always be a mysterious organisation, just like some/many/most/all (pick one) government organisations. The media agency acts on public interest and for nation-building, yet it is not transparent with its journalistic protocol, guidelines and editorial policy.

You represent the public, yet you do not provide the public with these information. You want to be socially responsible, yet you do not serve society with the information of your dealings and policies. You do not mention what are the OB markers. Public interest primarily revolves about transparency. Is there transparency?

Has the definition of "public interest" been perverted by this newspaper?

Has the definition of "truth" been perverted by this newspaper? Who's truth are we following?

I would love to know the entire written, unwritten, spoken and unspoken editorial policy of the Straits Times and Singapore Press Holdings. I am a member of the public. This is my interest. What is going to happen?

It is a paper we all see/read everyday, yet we know so little about what goes on behind it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

New Media Regulation

There's this open call for bloggers who are interested in submitting a bottom/ground-up report to influence policy on new/internet media content regulation. That is a good move. It is good that people from the ground are actively in dialogue with the higher-ups.

One mentality that most of us can play down, or perhaps do away with, is treating the government like the enemy. Discourse becomes skewed and in the interest of fairness, why not treat the government as a friend? Maybe I'll discuss that in future entries.

I believe the main question is: How should internet media be regulated?

Beneath this question is a host of other questions:

1) To what extent should internet media content be regulated?

2) To what extent should the difference between regulation of mainstream media and internet media be?

3) Should regulation strive to strike a balance between rights and obligations? And who is best to decide what constitutes a balance?

4) What kind of regulation is best for an environment/space that consists of various interests from various domains?

I for one, argue against the centralisation of media regulation to encompass both "old" and new media. Although centralised regulation may unequivocally establish a common set of regulatory codes for all media domains, and the implementation of which is straightforward and easily understood with minimal confusion, how does this affect the larger range of interests that exist in new media?

In mainstream media in Singapore, there are certain interests that exist. Nation-building is one. Social responsibilities and civic consciousness, leading to peace and harmony, are another (which necessitates the occasional reporting of "good news" for various demographics in the population). Political legitimacy may be another, although some people will not think so. Economic and commercial sustenance is of course an important reason too, and of course, to sustain, you have to be a "good boy" (pardon the gender bias).

In new media, where the ordinary person is the content creator, there are a lot more interests out there other than the ones I have mentioned. Civil causes for example. Citizen journalism, as some netizens would like to call it. People like myself who like to share our opinions are also part of this space - the self-interested. So what kind of regulation is best to accomodate these diverse interests?

Notice I use the word "accomodate". I do not say "discipline", "punish" or "control". The existing mainstream media content regulation tends towards this end. What will happen to civil rights and diverse interests of society if media regulation is centralised? Should we then have a different set of regulatory codes for new media?

I believe we should have a different set of regulatory codes for new media, namely internet media. The law should always keep its finger on the pulse of society and technology. Instead of trying to broadly cover as many aspects of society and life under one common code or statute, regulation of media content for example should be multi-tiered and separately developed to accomodate the changes in technology and the different domains of media and emerging new media.

Horses for courses. The approach should be a horses for courses one. You need to have specific regulatory codes to cater to different domains of media, each consisting differing interests from different segments of society. You may ask, how can we then accomodate differing interests and social responsibility? What if these interests are not considered socially responsible interests? Any way, who is going to decide this?

When you are "given" more rights in the form of being a content creator on a blog, what are the obligations expected of you? Since the ordinary folk does not have the privilege/right to voice his/her opinions on a daily basis through the Straits Times, there are not many obligations expected of him/her. But eliminate the gatekeeper and you have now direct access to audiences and consumers of media. The content creator now directly faces the market of differing interests.

I may not push for a centralised regulatory system, but neither do I push for self-regulation. If the market handled itself, the internet media will be ruled and decided by the educated elite, the technologically savvy and the eloquent. It will become what it was principally against should there be self-regulation. Self-regulation may not be entirely for social responsibility, depending on which side you are looking from.

In the short run, self-regulation may work, because people from the ground should have a say in establishing some preliminary framework for how cyberspace content can (not) be regulated. In the long run, a fluid regulatory system is required, something that can change to accomodate changes in technology. If we are going to have tele-hologram conferencing and advertising as part of new media in the future, we should create a new set of regulatory codes for this particular medium and refrain from trying to broaden the definitions and jurisdiction of existing media regulatory codes.

It is kind of ironic that we are not "taking the pragmatic approach" to this issue. I thought that is the mantra of Singaporean leaders. If you want to take the pragmatic approach, use the horses for courses approach.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ethics Review Board

I have to write this.

One thing that irks me the most is paperwork. We spend most of our lives trying to meet the criteria, expectations, limitations and measures set by people and institutions that do not ultimately treat us the way we want to be treated.

I am doing my research on sexual minority representation in the Straits Times. Research involves the usual literature review, content analysis of the Straits Times and some interviews to get some insight and expert opinion. The application for ethics review (exemption) I have submitted was deemed to have insufficient information. I claim to be "insufficiently" informed.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has this research ethics review board that ensures all research are ethically conducted, without harm to human subjects. There has to be minimal risk, which is defined as “the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater in and of themselves than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests”.

I am only doing a handful of interviews, with the help of audio-tape recording. Is getting opinion of other people and having the consent to publish them risky or harmful? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, aren’t they?

There are apparently a series of procedures to store, secure and dispose the data (wherever appropriate). If anonymity is requested, the contact details of the interviewee will be recorded separately on a different paper/source and later disposed. That is how it is supposed to go.

You see, I have been informed my application for exemption from review (I am extracting any blood or fluid, nor injecting anything into my interviewees, hence the application for exemption) is incomplete and lacks the details required by the board. I am at a lost here because the words in the forms are either too broad or too scientific. I believe the board should include a more customisable application form to incorporate social science research methods, such as interviews and ethnography, and their relevant protocols. For example, if interviews are going to be done, a checklist should be prepared for researchers to follow. At least details that are required by the board can be iterated in this checklist. If they want “everything”, what is “everything”?

“I keep the interview tapes in a 10 by 5 inch wooden box, locked up and kept under my bed in my room in a flat in Hougang.” Does that constitute “everything”?

On top of my dislike for form-filling, I would like to declare my dislike of ethics review boards. It is a good thing to ensure that human beings are firstly not physically or psychologically harmed. Next, their jobs and reputation should not be affected too. After that, they deserve the degree of confidentiality they demand. Academia, and especially so in the arts and social sciences, is about finding out the “truth”, whether the “truth” comes from the ordinary folk or the expert.

I have been told my topic is potentially sensitive, because it deals with sexual minorities and I am seeking opinions from interviewees on this. I see no harm in having an opinion. If you wish to express it and want to be anonymous, it is up to the researcher to ensure that anonymity. If the interviewee is thoroughly briefed and later consents to being quoted, the research is ethical. Why should the researcher abide by a “research ethics” guideline inspired by the hard sciences?

It is in my honest opinion, that the ethics review board in NUS does not treat arts and social science research as seriously as the hard sciences, and we hence have either vague demands or too science-oriented checklists and protocols. Vague questions with vague words. There are no checklists/protocols for surveys, interviews, ethnographic work and so on, yet these are demanded on the researcher by the board. Details of the demands are also not clearly articulated.

Here are my questions:

1) What do you think of GLBTQ representation/reports/news in the Straits Times?

2) Do you believe there is a conscious/deliberate effort by the Straits Times to present such news/reports in a certain manner?

3) Do you believe alternative media has any effect on the Straits Times reporting on GLBTQ issues?

4) [If applicable] What are your personal beliefs towards GLBTQ people and issues?

5) [If applicable] In your best judgement, what is the percentage of homosexual people, and women in the newsroom?

6) [GLBTQ person/rights activist] How is your relationship with the Straits Times?

The data I intend to gather will consist of opinions, perceptions and experiences. If having an opinion, a perception or an experience is so dangerous, risky and harmful, it might not be articulated or expressed in the first place by the interviewee (after the interviewee is briefed, of course).

Ethics review boards kill academia and research in arts and social science. It is not about the researchers who apply and go through the reviews; it is about those who got fed up with the bureaucracy and rigidity and walked away from the research. To remedy this, since Singapore is a place where solutions are preferred over criticism, we should have a specialised ethics review board for arts and social sciences, instead of a centralised committee which is rather science-oriented, although they probably may not want to admit that.

I am completely and utterly disgusted and incensed.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The rap, the smoke, the island and the PSLE

These are the following issues that I have strong intentions to write to the Straits Times forum. But since they have been rejecting every letter I have sent them after October 17, I guess Straits Times has put a stop to Ho Chi Sam's letters. Perhaps it is true the quota of 3 print publications is not really a myth, but then again, is there a quota for the online forum?

1. The MDA rap is creative. You cannot take that away from them. But if you think doing rap and using a certain sub-culture to reach out to youths are a good idea, think again. If you want to reach out to youths, just talk to them not talk down to them. Not every youth likes hip-hop and rap any way.

2. Congratulations that smoking is down. But the health promotion board shouldn't be patting the backs of campaigners. Ads and campaigns, being the "pull" factors, should not be considered the top reasons why smoking is down among youths. Cigarettes are costlier and harder to obtain these days thanks to law enforcement on sellers. Access, or the lack of, is a strong "push" factor. Let us not just pick one correlate and assume it's the mother of all determiners/causality.

3. Pedra Branca reveals something about Singapore that its neighbours find not exactly appealing. The little "brother" in the ASEAN family may be one of the most advanced, but following by the book, cold and clinical, doesn't endear you to your neighbourhoods. It is not wrong. What Singapore does is NEVER wrong. We stand for the "truth", we keep to our word most of the time. Maybe being "not wrong" all the time can be a wrong in other people's eyes. International relations are choppy waters. As for Singapore wanting to be loved, yet wanting to do things like we don't owe any one a living, there should be some negotiation between the two. Let's hope the issue is resolved and both countries are still the friends they'd like to think they are.

4. The Singapore Dream starts with the PSLE, but it doesn't end there. Examination certificates are just passports to take to the next destination, but that destination is not the final destination. Some take limousines, while others take the non-airconditioned bus. What matters is that the vehicle continues moving and takes you to the desired destination. Even if you do not get to your destination, that very destination may just be another journey to another destination and so on.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A (Part 7)

Straight Thoughts on 377A: Straight-Gay Alliance

I learnt about this term, the Straight-Gay Alliance, SGA or GSA, from one sociology module earlier in the year. The term was further reiterated by the story of Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, a person invited to speak during the course.

Khoo is a mother of two gay sons. She said her two sons coming out of the closet had initially put her into her own closet. She had to come to terms with them being gay.

Her story aside, Khoo is also being a little GSA in the Faculty of Medicine in the National University of Singapore. Well, this alliance is probably just a support group to integrate sexual minorities into the environment.

Thing is, why is it so difficult to have GSAs elsewhere in Singapore? They may be both formal and informal. Even for someone like myself, taking a stand and making public my thoughts, constitutes a GSA.

In more formal GSAs, members share stories and provide support for one another, in the hope of increasing awareness and empathy (not sympathy) for sexual minority folk.

The greatest strength in GSAs is straight participation and representation. Straight people will have access to certain communities and peoples that gay persons do not, because of heterosexist socio-cultural/religious gatekeeping. The message of accepting sexual minorities is not merely spread and upheld by gay persons alone but by straight people too.

The greatest strength in the GSA is also its greatest weakness. Straight people do not and will probably never understand gay people and tend to sympathise more than empathise. Straight men in GSAs too may have the tendency to overemphasize their heterosexuality, in order to combat the stigmatism of aligning oneself with the advocacy for gay rights. Well, we see that most straight supporters of gay rights are often women; just look at SAFE Singapore, a community set up by Khoo, to “support, affirm, and empower” gay persons.

What makes men less willing to support gay rights? Men are egoistic, and more so in a patriarchal spaces, like that of Singapore’s, or are they not? Straightness is incorporated in the masculine identity, and so is heterosexism. And perhaps “deviant” sexual identities pose a threat to heterosexist male dominance.

Does that make women more willing to support gay rights? I believe women are more able to empathise with sexual minorities than men. Women know what it like is to be oppressed and be subjugated to male dominance, and they have history to back that. Anything that challenges the dominance of the traditional male patriarchal ideology and image has to be dealt with. Patriarchal institutional mechanisms will have to be set in place to ensure this dominance continues.

Then what makes women unwilling to support gay rights? I believe there are many reasons, and most of them could be explored in further detail in other discourses. A woman who subscribes to traditional gender roles and behaviours, will be less gay-accepting. Such an ideological subscription informs of the woman’s subscription to patriarchy, for patriarchy is one prime determiner and gatekeeper of these tradition gender roles and behaviours.

Here’s another link to consider, are religion and religious institutions the perpetrators of patriarchal norms? Just look at how sexuality is being taught and disciplined according to religious doctrine. Are the sexuality of women and children less pronounced/present than that of men?

Actually, why are monotheistic religions so concerned about sexuality when there are famines, wars, poverty and other socio-political issues out there in the world that could be addressed with greater gusto? My guess is that sexuality, being a very personal trait, is also vulnerable to ideological manipulation and the inculcation of guilt into the individual. When the individual feels guilt, he/she is more willing to submit to the institution, for the sake of acceptance and integration.

When the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individual feels guilt, after hearing “you are immoral, wrong, sinful…” from someone else, he/she will seek ways to integrate himself/herself into the group. This is of course assuming he/she desires social acceptance.

In some communities, little or no social acceptance can have impact on the financial, psychological and physiological well-being of the individual. Social mechanisms such as excommunication and ostracism can cause great distress.

Religion, again, is not wrong, but neither is it universally right. So don’t go around hating religion. Religion is upheld by faith and you cannot dispute another person’s faith, because it goes beyond rationalisation. But having a faith does not mean it puts you on higher ground than others; having a faith does not give you the right to conquer the minds of people around you.

Faith is to believe. If you believe in unity, you will subscribe to a religious institution, with its ideologies, that preaches unity. In the same social space that is Singapore, we have gay-rejecting churches as well as gay-accepting churches. The gay-accepting churches are symbolic of the GSA.

A GSA may not need to actively seek to promote or push the “gay agenda”, but may continue to attempt to integrate persons and peoples of diverse identities. This is not for the sake of tokenism in the politics of representation, and neither is it a passive-aggressive reaction to the rigid structures of its less gay-affirming counterparts.

A straight man aligning himself with the advocacy of equal rights for sexual minorities, does not represent a clash of interests, for interests themselves in a society are inherently clashing. What you see as a clash of interests, I see as a co-existence of diverse interests. Now give that man a religion, and you may still think it will be a clash of interests. But is rigid and uncompromising coherence with ideology the only way to live?

“Think about the children!” most will say. A couple of centuries ago, we weren’t thinking about the children. Children were just little adults. With industrialisation and modernisation, division and specialisation of labour, the notion of “children” has become what we come to know today.

Are children easily swayed? Are they impressionable? If you treat an adult like a child, restrict him of the “adult” privileges, consent, decision-making rights, will he/she behave like how we will perceive children to behave? I believe we have a lot of mechanisms to discipline and restrict children, just to abide by the current notion of “children” we innately subscribe to.

In that sense, are we trying to say children have no identity? Do children have less of an identity than us adults? Are they truly incapable of being responsible until they are finally 16, 18 or 21, or are we just ascribing that to them?

It seems that our understanding of children is dominated by certain ideologies, which in turn increases homophobia. True enough, children deserve protection from assault and non-consensual acts/exchanges, but that is no different from any one else. What makes it look “worse” informs of how we see children in modernity. We see them as innocent. Does that mean society goes by the mantra “you are innocent until you are socialised”?

Is a child’s right to know less valid than an adult’s right to know? By preaching homophobia and making hate speech against sexual minorities to children, are adults/parents spinning the wheel of misinformation?

Let’s talk about youngsters who are trying to understand or come to terms with their sexual identity. Well, you could simply tell them, “This is wrong, immoral and sinful!” because it’s either very convenient to do so, or you cite the ideology you subscribe to. Either way, are you actually being responsible for what you are saying? Or are you letting ideology take the responsibility instead?

Being well-adjusted does not mean you tolerate anything and everything. There is a logical base for your tolerance and acceptance of aspects of your social environment. I believe gay men and lesbian women should not only have equal rights, but also be allowed to marry and adopt children. This is based on the reason that since they abide by the law like I do, I do not see why they cannot enjoy the same rights as I possess.

Sure, their existence and identities pose a threat to some rigid ideological systems and structures, but not all, whose claims to universality are contestable and thus questionable. But what other harm do these human beings do to us?

Let’s now embrace the psyche of a homophobe. One harm a homophobe will see is the identity corruption of youngsters by gay people, luring them into homosexual or deviant sexual experimentation. Before we confront this, we need to first note how human beings are. For phenomena deemed harmful and threatening to status quo, people will subscribe to ideas in line with the powerful effects theory, where all phenomena are highly influential, and thus corrupting. For harmful phenomena that are believed to be controllable, faith is placed in the right-thinking agent/person.

Don’t show Elvis below the waist because he is corrupting the morals of our youths.

Don’t show the (woman’s) ankles because women should not be loose.

Don’t show the woman’s ears because men are easily tempted by this erogenous body part.

Revealing the (woman’s) shoulders is unnatural, just like putting a straw in your nose.

The most well-adjusted people are people existing in a homogenous society, simply because there is nothing to adjust to, no difference or tension to reconcile or negotiate with. But bad news for you, society is diverse and people who cannot accept that will continue with their tribalistic tendencies and lean on the pillars of their own moral communities. The more you lean on it, the more unwilling you are to accept the fact there exist other peoples and other moral pillars.

If I’m a dad, I wouldn’t want my child to be gay not because I do not accept homosexuality (I do, actually), but because society does not accept homosexuality. I do not want to see my child suffer emotionally thanks to society and there’s nothing one parent or two can do about it. Society/people makes you responsible, but you cannot make society/people responsible. Every human being, according to some supposedly universal code called fundamental human rights, does not deserve to suffer, and more so suffer for something not within his/her control.

“Well, let’s repair and straighten the gay!” the homophobe will say. My response to that, if there is no bit of guilt impregnated into the individual, go ahead. But I believe that the situation is a rather of the Shakespearean Merchant of Venice kind, wherein if Shylock could get one pound of flesh from some Italian guy, but without a drop of blood being spilled.

Imagine telling a gay person “gay is wrong”. For those who don’t tell you to “fuck off”, there are some who feel hurt and guilty by what you say. When I was told “You are Chinese, speak Chinese (actually it’s Mandarin, one of many Chinese dialects, my dear Chinese supremist)”, I feel hurt and guilty too. I wanted to try hard to assimilate and fundamentally, to pass my exams. Now I learnt something important, it’s not what people think of you that matters. It is how you grow up and develop an identity you can be proud of, no matter what disincentives and snide remarks your environment throws at you. They don’t bother you any more because you have accepted them for who they are, and it is their own business to figure out themselves if they have accepted you for you cannot change how they think. Such a reflection does not merely require a mirror, but also a pair of eyes to see. You can be the Chinese authority and show the endangered panda bears television clips of other panda bears procreating, but all the panda bear sees is white noise and lines. “That’s so straw-up-the-nose, bro!”

To be the S in the GSA, all you have to do is to stand up against the hate speech and misinformation. You resist spreading it because it stops at you. You need not actively spread other ideologies. Your parents told you something, it may stop at you and you may not tell the same thing to your children. Not saying anything does not make you less responsible.

Singaporeans have too many reasons to hate, to find fault, to grumble. If the reasons already existed, why not use them? What’s worse is that we do not actively seek reasons to stop these. We see ourselves as incapable. The government sees us as incapable, thus irresponsible, hence the need for a nanny or a guiding hand.

Does 377A make you comfortable? Does the absence of 377A make you comfortable? If you are intent on ideological/moral dominance over others, perhaps you would like to maintain some apparatuses and mechanisms to make yourself look good. Any change to this will upset you because you lose a little bit of control. But the thing is, why control others?

Do making sexual minorities more acceptable make you less acceptable? It’s not a zero sum game. Does being part of a GSA “otherise” you, making you less of who you are? Think about it and start doing something about homophobia in our society. We do not need this disease. “Homophobia is wrong, immoral and is a perversion”. What you think about that?

Woman, Caucasian man and two students

I think the storm came and went, pertaining to the incident involving the woman, her caucasion companion and two young women.

Singaporeans are very highly strung. One bump and a host of issues will crop up. We have so much stress and aggression in us that any little engagement may constitutes instigation. There are also other predispositions that will surface - racism and xenophobia.

It does not help our xenophobia much in light of increased immigration and the presence of foreign talents. Moreover, the common (though not entirely true) belief that foreigners will steal our jobs and lovers are sure to raise more negative sentiments against them.

Singaporean Chinese, now being the majority, are more vocally racist and xenophobic. Thing is, what are they/we trying to defend themselves/ourselves from? There is still a lot of intolerance in most of us, but again, in a space like Singapore, people do not tolerate intolerance, and if you do, you get left behind.

Intolerance leads to isolation, but it's the intolerant who actually gets isolated.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

CMIO system CMI (cannot make it)

I have a few posts lining up, but have yet to publish them.

Here's a quick one.

The PSLE results were out today. The press has reported it. But what has continually caught my attention is the use of "best Chinese", "best Malay", "best Indian" and "best Eurasian" students. Same goes for Ordinary Levels too.

Why do we want to reinforce racial differences? Are we trying to appease major segments of the population with good news? There are Malay-Indian, Chinese-Malay, Chinese-Eurasian children out there. Do they get represented?

I do hope this pigeonhole-ing of children and performance can be reduced in the future. This to me is communal politics, identity politics, singling out and using role models from each ethnic community to bring good news. I am sure, among the "Malays", there are people of Arab and Javanese descent. Why not break down the dialect groups of the Chinese and say "best Hokkien" or "best Haka" student? And the Indians too have a large diversity of dialect groups. Do we have "best Sikh" student?

How do we draw the line for racial good news? The more we are reminded about our ethnic identity, the more we are aware of it and this is a double-edged sword. Will it help racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia? I doubt so. This system still upholds the CMIO system of classifying our fellow Singaporeans. We can do without it. We can be happy together without it.

As for ethnic "quotas" in public housing, it will then seem that wherever an ethnic minorities resides, they will still be a numerical minority, which translate to a voting minority. Are they ultimately truly represented? Enough said about that.

The majority Chinese-dominated population should not treat ethnic minorities like minorities, but like their own. But the reinforcement of ethnic identity via the press and such CMIO-classification apparatuses, does little service to this. The publishment of good news and achievements in the Malay or Indian (with emphasis on the race) community seems to me like a ploy by the media to appease the minorities. Yes, the media has a social responsibility to maintain peace and harmony, but are they doing it with purposefulness and meaningfully so, or are they doing it for the sake of doing it? When a Chinese Singaporean achieves something, he/she becomes just a Singaporean, no race. Individuals of whichever ethnic group they choose to affiliate themselves with, administratively or culturally, should not only identify with their ethnic group, they should do so themselves, without being reminded by the government; they should also be able to identify themselves as a Singaporean.

It is good to maintain one's own culture and practice it, whether for nostalgia, heritage, or superstition. Mixing with people from other cultures and ethnicities will not necessarily dilute one's one culture. Responsibility to maintain one's culture has nothing to do with the influence external forces and globalisation, but the individual and his/her family.

If the CMIO-classification was removed, it will not signal an end to C, M, I, and O identities. It just signals an end to the government's institutional mechanisms of segmenting/pigeonhole-ing society and more automony of cultural heritage and maintenance is placed in the hands of the respective communities. An ethnic Chinese man will not be more/less of a Chinese if CMIO was scrapped.

Our sense of belonging should be to this little island (if you grew up in it) and in my honest opinion, race is just fragmenting it. Furthermore, although skin colour is permanent, cultures practised are not. If this system remains, people's minds will only be a rigid as the system, and may be vulnerable to being intolerant of diversity, for example criticising a young Chinese man speaking fluent Malay, but unable to speak Mandarin well.

We already have spaces to practice our cultures and other ethnicities with other cultures have also joined in the mix. That is what matters, not some system of segmentation. Singapore is growing up. Is race and ethnicity as newsworthy today as it was in the 1960s? I've seen the Straits Times continuing to report "good news" and achievements of ethnic minorities, but when they report "good news" and achievements of an ethnic Chinese, his/her race is not played up significantly.

Leave the celebration of differences to the people, but please stop reminding the people of their differences.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No religion in my politics please, I'm Singaporean

(Unpublished - Nov 16, 2007)

No religion in my politics please, I'm Singaporean

Dear Editor,

I refer to Chua Mui Hoong's article "Rules of engagement for God and politics" (ST, Nov 16).

I believe that religion will have a role to play in society, provided everyone is of the same religion. In that sense, religion's contribution to society will be a constructive one.

Given a diverse society like that of Singapore's, where there are many religions co-existing, along with the non-religious, there are conflicting interests and opinions. We should also be critical of some religious institutions that strive to discover a common set of beliefs among other institutions to justify a political cause, for example, the call to collectively condemn homosexuality. While it may be true most religions share certain values, such rallies have ethical implications.

Though the non-religious, including free-thinkers and atheists, may not actively form communities, be as organised as most religious institutions, or even receive funding and allocated space to 'practise' their beliefs, we cannot come to the conclusion their contributions to law and politics are invalid. In fact, the non-religious are the ones who have to put up with all the religiously-charged debates and opinions based on faith. The non-religious people are under-represented and should receive equal amount of protection as the religious people.

Chua and Tan Seow Hon have cited John Rawls in discussing the desirable situation for Singapore society. Let me cite John Rawls too.

Rawls believes that social allocation rules should not "injure" the most disadvantaged in society, that inequalities in distributive justice are permissible so long as they benefit the least well-off. Unfortunately, we have an inequality that underprivileges sexual minorities and neither does it benefit them. Benefitted instead is the heterosexist and homophobic dominance of a majority people, or at least those who claim to be the majority. That in my opinion constitutes greater harm to the under-represented and the minorities, but not many, given their privileged positions, will consider it to be "harm" at all.

Is it fair to nationally decide what is right and wrong based on a religious value? What about the non-religious? If so, are the non-religious less moral? Is the non-religious person's conceptualisation of "harm" less valid in contrast with that of a religious person's?

I believe there are a lot more issues we have to examine and we cannot take diversity in Singapore for granted.

Ho Chi Sam

Homophobia and Heterosexism

(Unpublished - Nov 16, 2007)

Homophobia and Heterosexism: The difference between homosexuality and abortion/capital punishment

Dear Editor,

I refer to Alex Tan Tuan Loy's letter "The difference between homosexuality and abortion/capital punishment" (ST, Nov 16)

While I agree that homosexuality should not be lumped with abortion or capital punishment, I feel that more attention should be turned towards why our society is generally homophobic and heterosexist.

Why are Singaporeans unable to accept homosexual people? Are homosexual people dangerous animals?

I believe the acceptance of the homosexual identity is a challenge to the pride of the moral crusaders, and an impediment to the shifting and growing moral boundaries homophobic communities are drawing. Instead, the rhetoric of "moral decay" and "harm to children" are being used to suppress the rally for equal rights for sexual minorities.

People within their respective moral boundaries need to recognise the fact that they live in a heterogeneous space that is Singapore which is occupied by many other moral communities, with peoples who hold different beliefs and values. What gives the right of one moral community to impinge on the space of another? Does it mean that if one moral community is large translate legitimises its dominance over other communities?

If society could ever bring itself to disassociate homosexuality from paedophelia, sexual perversion, sexually transmitted diseases, crime and other stereotypes, we will find it a lot more difficult to hold homophobic views.

Some people see sexual minorities as less human and I think this perception is very revolting. Furthermore, what you do not see as human would be incapable of being a community, and therefore incapable of being seen as a minority. This results in lack of visibility and not only marginalisation ensues, but also lack of understanding and knowledge of the marginalised.
We all have a social responsibility to integrating people in our society, not alienate them.

Ho Chi Sam

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Media friends

When I am not busy writing/fighting for sexual minority rights, I worry about other things that directly affect me.

Before starting this blog, I realised I could be just one of them, one of those "voices" of "democratic Singapore". I am different and I want to be different.

Egos fill these voices in these "sites of resistance" that exist in cyberspace. They argue and they confront. They may have a point, but more often than not, instead of proving their point, they are out disproving other points. That is what I deem, destructive.

And when they are challenged, they become defensive and passive-aggressive, and this is magnified by communications technology, i.e. the internet.

First and foremost, we are too predisposed to treating the government and all other related institutions and mechanisms as the enemy. Discourse is oriented towards the perception and attitude that authority is bad. Why can't discourse be oriented towards the view that the government and the media are our friends?

The different, the alternative, are all being (cyber-)mainstreamed themselves, becoming self-indulgent and detached from other realities and experiences. Most vocal netizens have become the monsters they have initially intended to confront. Perhaps the approach will be a lot more different if we viewed the government and the media as our friends, rather than enemy. As I've mentioned in previous post, you don't have to be opposing to be different; at the same time, you don't have to be different to be opposing.

If you want the democratic voices of cyberspace to be treated with respect and on equal footing with mainstream media, you have to adopt some of the approaches by the mainstream media. You put a name, you put a face, you try to use fair and civil language.

Even as a watchdog, you need not bark too loudly nor foam at the mouth. All you have to do is continue to point out the ironies and paradoxes, point out alternative realities and experiences, give alternative views, all in the manner in which news and reports are presented in the mainstream media.

Media and alternative media are all about representation - of views, identities and interests. Alternative media though providing alternative representations, but their messages and approach need not be alternative to the point of being subversive or confrontational.

Singapore burning: Need for media literacy

(Unpublished - Nov 14, 2007)

Singapore burning: Need for media literacy

Dear Editor,

I refer to the letter by Chan Kheng Ann 'London Burning raises burning issues' and the subsequent responses by Pierre Perrett and Siraj Timothy Aholiab Joseph.

This issue informs of the need for greater media and information literacy, to match the advances in information and communication technology (ICT).

With an adequate level of media and information literacy, one is more empowered to distinguish between reality and simulation, truth and propaganda or scams, and appreciate or critique the context in which the message is created and transmitted. Media literacy is more than just media savviness and should be encouraged and developed in our society.

ICTs may empower us to achieving convenience and efficiency in our daily tasks. However, they should not be implemented solely based on their functional capabilities and economic potential, giving little consideration for its social implications. It is important that infrastructure for media and information literacy be established along with ICT implementation. If not, our society may experience the effects of an information divide we were not fully prepared for.

Media literacy is not the be-all and end-all, but neither is it a static entity. The ordinary citizen or receiver of information has as much a responsibility to be sufficiently media literate, as much as the government has the responsibility to purposefully lay the foundations not only for life-long learning, but also media literacy.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

There are gays, and there are gays...

(Unpublished - Nov 10, 2007)

There are gays, and there are gays... and there are non-gays who are sick of other non-gays hating the gays...

Dear Editor,

I refer to Andy Ho’s article ‘There are gays, and there are gays...’ (ST, Nov 10).

Identity politics, a tactic Ho associates with the gay lobby here, is required to break the heteronormative hegemony in Singapore. We have a rigid and deep-rooted structure which not only under-privileges sexual minorities, but also legitimises homophobia and stigmatism. The domains involved are that of the social, political and the media, all of which are hesitant to exercising any form of social responsibility in accomodating sexual minorities.

Invisibility is a problem for the marginalised here, and this is exacerbated by poor coordination and mobilisation within the sexual minority community. This is also not helped by the rejected attempts to register the group People Like Us.

It is too early to link the uncivil threats to Thio Li-Ann to the militant turn of identity politics. In every community, there are black sheep who may inadvertently undo the hard work done. Furthermore, we cannot be fully sure if the threat came from within the gay community or not.

Singaporeans still have not learnt much from the 377A debate. The media portrayal of and perceptions toward sexual minorities have still not changed. Most still believe that the interest in gay rights only exists within the gay community; that the agenda is confined to a specific group. Ho’s article confirms this. There are a lot more straight people out there who support gay rights than we can imagine, but they lack visibility and are shackled by socio-heteronormative stigmatism. Structure impinges on their freedom of expression and what is worse is that they internalise the hegemonic ideology, because for one, they have too much to lose as a Singaporean.

What we should equally be wary of are the militant moral crusaders, who attempt to champion public and sexual minority as one singular and universal virtue. This is based on the assumption that society is and should be homogenous, a truly malicious threat to the diversity we have fought so hard to uphold. Moral crusaders are more of a minefield for the government than gay people.

The stumbling block for gay rights in Singapore is the vicious cycle of homophobic (mis)information, hardline religiosity and uncompromising hetero-essentialist supremacy, causing sexual minorities to have lesser amount of rights compared with the rest of the population, despite having to have the same amount of obligations. There is no social justice in a land where there are rights-obligations imbalances across communities. The first step of society is to start viewing sexual minority persons as human beings and cease the politically and religiously-charged dehumanising labelling of gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and queer persons.

Ho Chi Sam

Response from ST:
Thank you for writing to us. We do appreciate your making the effort.
We receive up to 70 letters each day. Limited space means we can publish only about a dozen every weekday. This means having to make often-difficult editorial judgments on which letters to publish.
We regret we are unable to publish your letter.
If your letter relates to a matter under the purview of a government department, you may want to visit www.sgdi.gov.sg for a list of officials to contact.

Yours sincerely
Ms Noor Aiza
for Forum Editor
The Straits Times

My thoughts:
Though it may be a standardised response, at least they made the effort to give me some direction. To be honest, I really need the direction. Which "official" should my letter address? MYCS? MDA? MICA? Law Ministry? Home Affairs? Can someone provide me with some guidance?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A (part 6)

Straight Thoughts on 377A: Rights

Ideally, the law of the land should achieve the philosophically permissible balance of rights (accorded to citizens) and obligations (expected of citizens). Sexual minorities have the same amount of societal obligations as we do, but they are not accorded the same amount of rights.

How to 'make' a minority? Simple, you be borned as one. Or if you tried harder, you could turn into one. If you'd like to leave it in the hands of the political and educated elite, you could be turned into one and continue to remain as one. Most are minorities not by choice, while some choose to minorities.

Minorities can be created and maintained by social, political, religious and legal institutions. That is, you remain a minority because that is the way society is, that is the way the structure labels you. In modern times, the state will make attempts to integrate minorities into society, either through imprisonment or re-institutionalisation. But this fails upon the civil/civic rejection of minorities, given their predispositions and biases.

The societal inertia to integrate sexual minorities informs of the political presence of what I will call, moral communities, in Singapore. The constant defensive use of the "moral decay" rhetoric is a guise for these communities' fear of ideological decay/dilution.

What sustains the bonds within moral communities is the subscription to homogeneity, in the form of homogeneous values and an effective internal moral policing system, wherein what is deemed as deviant conduct or thoughts will be immediately be treated with the apparatuses and mechanisms provided by the moral community.

The stronger moral communities have often encountered threats to their legitimacy, experiences of which have provided an innoculation, with each threat strengthening the community. Inevitably, the creation of barriers around the moral community serves to demarcate its territory, literally maintaining a boundary/line for its members to keep within, and for them to be subjected to the internal moral policing.

What has happened now is that some moral communities are attempting to expand their boundaries. They need more lebensraum. This comes at the expense of minorities who are attempting to even have their own space. In fact, the rhetoric of sexual minorities polluting the space of the 'moral majority' is an effective diversion from the actual invasion of the said moral communities into the spaces of sexual minorities. Worse still, laws like 377A allows this to happen. The invasion/attack is 2-prong - one external as explained and the other, internal, involving the internalisation of guilt and stigmatism.

The walls erected by moral communities protect them from the valid points made by outsiders, making them seemingly impervious to these "attacks". Sexual minorities on the other hand have no wall, because they do not even have space. The fundamental difference here is the unequal accordance of rights, of which sexual minorities have far less.

So why do you fight for rights? You do so not because others in the same space have more rights than you, you do so because you want your rights to match the obligations expected of you. When rights are accorded to you by the state, you have some obligations to the state. To give is to empower, but simultaneously, to oppress. I choose not to think of oppression here, and use the word "obligation". It depends on what you think of it. For most of us privileged bunch, rights equal obligations, but for sexual minorities, rights do not equal obligations; in fact, sexual minorities have the same amount of obligations as us, as I have mentioned, but fewer rights, because what gay men do in private are considered criminal. Their love is criminal, while our love isn't. That is unequal rights to me.

So how do you fight for rights? You fight because you want to uphold a system that is intended to balance rights given to people and obligations expected of people. The law should be unequivocal, or at least purposefully strive to be. You provide sexual minorities with space to live and breathe, just like any other folk, yet you take away some fundamental liberties. You mock consent between them. Is consent between 2 gay men any less meaningful a man and a woman?

To be recognised by the law, you have to be visible. If you are invisible, you are less of a citizen than your visible counterparts. It is time we put a stop to the invisibilisation and poor representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer persons and communities. They are people too, but there are powerful opinion leaders out there who dehumanise them and consider them not as people, not as communities, not as minorities. Is that fair?

Times have changed. I do not condone what was done to Thio Li-Ann. A truly calculated yet cowardly act was committed in the form of a letter addressed to her and threatening her. There is no place in our society for such uncivil and barbaric behaviour. Thio is not wrong to express her beliefs and speak her mind. This is something most straight people who support gay rights do not do in the first place. If you believe in equality for sexual minorities, in form of equal treatment and equal opportunity, you should speak up and put a face and name to it, because Thio has already done so for her side.

It is not wrong to say "I think gay people deserve fairer treatment", or "I think there is injustice to gay people and I don't like that". Singapore is not built on people who sit down and shut up, but people who stand up and do something about it. Do you want Singapore to be built by people like Thio alone, on the virtue that she is standing up and speaking? If you stand up and speak, even though you are not the respected lawyer/academic that she is, your perspectives and views are still valid. You do not and should not seek to displace people like Thio, but work alongside them and provide that balance, or that counter, to make sure that there is meaningful debate, nevermind if they made crude remarks to discredit or disparage you.

It is because of the silence of straight people who support gay rights, that society thinks gay rights is confined to the gay community. Gay rights is the gay agenda held by gay people alone. You don't need to be gay to support gay rights. Gay rights is underlined by the same common principles shared by other rights advocates. If a system or an institution promises to be fair, it has to hold itself accountable for implementing fairness. At the moment, there is unfairness. How I see it is that the current system is not being responsible for what it is intended, using the majority, democratic vote to justify the maintenance of unfairness. The notion of fairness hinges on subjective understandings and bias predispositions toward sexual minorities. The homophobic or the non-gay-affirmative folk will think this "unfairness" is fair, that this "injustice" is just.

The fighter for gay rights should now not attempt to remove that thought, but to add more information to balance things. The langauge of the rights advocate should change to one that is concerned with contribution rather than condescendence.

We should reduce the usage of phrases such as:
1) You are misinformed, unenlightened, uneducated.
2) You don't know the truth.
3) You are bigoted.

Saying such statements will only make one no better than the other side one is challenging, hence necessitating a different approach. No need for "holier-than-thou" approaches, as that tactic can be left for others. Be humble, yet assertive. Be gracious, yet firm.

A different approach will more greatly expose the differences between both sides, assuming there are 2 sides to the discussion. It is okay to bring in emotion, anecdotes and so on, but efforts should be put into the refrain from making aggressive or passive-aggressive comments and mockery.

Like I have said and will continue to reiterate:
You fight, without fighting.
You persuade, without persuading.
You argue, without arguing.

You convince with constructive efforts, words and delivery, not destructive language. The people in the middle will then decide for themselves what is civil and rational, and what is crude and disparaging. Singaporeans, even those who shut up, or sit down and whisper, are not blind.

Everyone has a right to have his/her dignity and some respect. I not only speak up for sexual minorities, but also people with physical and special needs. If you cannot treat your own fellow human beings with dignity and respect, you cannot do the same for the environment and animals. Do not blame technological modernisation, urbanisation, globalisation and capitalism, for graciousness and some basic levels of conscientiousness can still co-exist with the said phenomena.

Singapore may be a representative democracy, but we are not a participatory democracy, because people are often either not standing up, or just shutting up. Some of us are lucky enough to "participate" every 5-6 years, while others never get to participate at all. If there is a family consisting father, mother and children saying gay people are undesirable, we should show society that there is also a family consisting father, mother and children that say gay people are not undesirable. If there is a christian who is not accepting of gay people, we should show society that there is also a christian who accepts gays. Showing that diversity exists is not a wrong thing and is way less misleading than stating homogeneity as a given reality.

I write to the Straits Times because I want to participate. I want to show that there are things and realities we should not take for granted. The Straits Times exercises its own brand of democracy, allowing different segments of society to speak up, but has a quota for such persons. I have reached my quota. I will not be published by the Straits Times again until the year 2008. Does that mean that I do not belong to society for the next 7-8 weeks? People, straight or gay, have to stand up and be seen, be heard. If you do not speak, it is assumed you consent to the manner by which affairs are being handled.

Speaking up is not to oppose. You do not oppose for the sake of opposing. You do not oppose for the sake of proving others wrong or exposing their inadequacies. You oppose because you want to represent a view that was previously un-/under-represented or thought not to exist. Your opposition is protected by the state. It is not against public interest or national security, so you cannot be detained by the secret police under the Ministry of Home Affairs. You are not protesting or demonstrating, so you cannot be subdued by the riot police. You do not lose your job because you serving society, not harming it.

Diversity in opinion or in people is not immoral or harmful. It may be difficult for some to accept diversity because of the comfort zones they have established for themselves, but it is their responsibility to adapt. If they choose to reject diversity, let them do so. They will soon realise they exist in an ever-changing space, consisting a plethora of views and opinions that will continue to be compared with their beliefs. Singapore is diverse and co-existence depends on the social and intellectual capital and gracious values derived from our integration and interconnectivity.

As for the harrassment of Thio, I believe Thio has the right not to be harrassed. At the same time, we should be open to the fact that the threatening letter may not come from a sexual minority person, or any one supporting the 377A repeal. In essence, rights advocates in Singapore should adopt a different approach from those in Europe and the United States. But I am not trying to polarise nor contrast the Western and Eastern values like what we are often prone to doing. Being different does not mean being the opposite.

Fighting for equal rights is the duty of most educated persons. The empowerment of education is not merely to obtain material possessions and comforts but also to give back to society. After all, taxes fund your education, among many other things. We "majorities" are just extremely fortunate at this point in time not to possess a salient minority identity which results in some form of hurtful discrimination. I believe we are all minorities in some way or another, but most aspects of which do not sufficiently hurt us emotionally and physically to warrant our diagnosis of marginalisation. But to conform to our individual moral communities, the values to which we subscribe, these minority identity traits are suppressed or ignored, and we forget what diversity is and what it truly means.

Diversity in Singapore is not only about differing skin colours. Protecting diversity is hence not only about protecting skin colour, but fundamentally protecting differing peoples with differing identities. At the same time, efforts should be made to show that the sexual minority identity is not harmful to society, as what many people will choose to think. Straight people, opinion leaders and the media have a responsibility to ensure fair representation of sexual minorities. Then, all these will provide another step towards equal rights for sexual minorities in Singapore. Think about it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Appreciate Diversity

(Unpublished - Nov 7, 2007)

Appreciate Diversity

Dear Editor,

I refer to ‘Families and gays must keep an open mind’ and ‘Homosexuals should know that change is possible’, letters respectively written by Kelvin Lu Zixian and Shawn Tay Liam Yaw.

Both suggest the option of reparative theory to ‘straighten’ the sexual orientation of individuals. However, the generalisability of reparative therapy for all ‘confused’ persons is problematised by the fact that sexual orientation cannot be validly explained by science and that reparative therapy has a history of strong religious support.

To ‘re-orientate’ the sexuality of a person poses ethical implications, as well as possible averse consequences on the person’s psychological well-being. Societal attitudes and most religious teachings have already instilled a fair amount of guilt into the psyche of sexual minorities, causing most to have identity dissonance and psychological distress. Sexual minority youth are a lot more vulnerable to these problems.

We must understand that science and religion can be political, in the way they determine how society creates labels for different peoples. Sexuality, at the same time, should be understood as diverse and heterogeneous. Most successful reparative therapies may claim they have ‘straightened’ homosexual people, but how can we be sure that these therapies did not merely emphasized one component of bisexual identity, suppressing the other?

What exacerbates the problems brought about by the unseen agenda of and political relationship between science and religion, is that lack of visibility of various sexual identities. The invisibilisation process of minorities is only hastened by the socio-religious and political legitimisation of heteronormality, perpetuating an endless cycle of guilt and disonnance in sexual minorities. Furthermore, most of us conflate sexual minorities into criminals, drug addicts, paedophelia, bestiality and other social ills, diminishing their citizenship and humanity.

To be civil and socially responsible, we have to appreciate diversity and complexities, and not resort to discarding what the majority of people define as “different”, for the social definition of “different” changes in time. Diversity may threaten internal moral communities given conflicting values, but the very essence of survival in the modern world is coexistence and not ostracism, excommunication, disincentivisation, criminalisation, discrimination and prejudice.

Onus is on moral communities to remove the barricades and stop drawing lines, processes of which will only create more minorities. This will probably lead to ideological dilution of the community, but the rhetoric of “moral decay” is often used instead. Furthermore, we must question the rationale of policing sexual morality and the need to control people belonging to other moral communities.

It is ultimately not a question of who is, what is, or why is it. The reality is that there are minorities and there are people and institutions that maintain this. What are we going to do about it?

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How to help marginalised communities

(Unpublished - Nov 4, 2007)

How to help marginalised communities

Dear Editor,

I refer to Alex Tan Tuan Loy's letter 'Polarisation beginning to surface after S377A debate' (ST, Nov 1).

Debates on homosexuality and its criminalisation have always been very social divisive. Primarily, both camps have different conceptions of social space. The anti-repeal camp sees homosexuality as infringing on its space, while the pro-repeal camp sees itself as fighting for equal space, and not at the expense of straight people.

There is sufficient fear and suspicion of homosexuality in our society to warrant the lack of critical awareness of the moral rhetoric spun by the conservative educated elite and opinion leaders. We have seen the continual use of vague terms such as"moral majority", "Asian values", and "endorsement of gay lifestyle" without actually understanding what the meaning and political and socio-religious of these terms.

The problem is very simple. Firstly, there are differences in how people perceive sexual morality, some perceptions are championed and maintained by larger institutions and communities, other perceptions exist in smaller communities. For the larger groups, a battle of ideologies is waged to weed out what they consider deviant. Society and people are easier controlled if they are homogenous.

Secondly, we should now stop discussing the nature-nurture aspects of homosexuality, because science itself is highly politicised but many deem it to be objective. We should be asking ourselves what we can do for marginalised people and communities in Singapore, what we can do to socially integrate them and make them feel equal.

This is the least we can do as a pragmatic nation. Pragmatism is immediacy in the addressing of problems. We have a problem here: How to help?

Ho Chi Sam

Leadership and Teambuilding

(Unpublished - Nov 4, 2007)

Leadership and Teambuilding

Dear Editor,

I refer to Low Xiang Jun's letter 'Allowing SMU students to launch booklet, event on gays sends wrong message' (ST, Nov 3).

Contrary to what Low perceives, such a student-coordinated activity is testimony of good education. A good education is not only the mere mechanical process of application of knowledge gained from learning, but also the holistic understanding of one's privileged position and the awareness of 'invisibles' in society. In this sense, education contributes to social justice.

We should refrain from using the politically-charged rhetoric of "endorsing alternative lifestyles" just to criticise such activities, which ultimately leads to the invisibilisation of minority communities in Singapore.

The students in this teambuilding and leadership course are actually taking the lead, making the first step and coordinating a team to raise awareness on social issues that majority of Singaporeans will often overlook. Coordinated efforts for increasing awareness are a cause for social change. That is leadership. That is team building. That is social responsibility.

It will be a shame if we only considered activities which aim to reinforce gaps and divides in society as "leadership", "teambuilding" and "socially responsible".

Ho Chi Sam

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A (part 5)

Straight Thoughts on 377A: Rights

I am now doing a term paper on the theoretical analysis of the distribution of knowledge in society. Well, think of it as knowledge as a resource. Some people have more, some people have less. This depends on access to resources, as well as the centralised distribution system, which is governed by an authority acting on behalf of the diverse and conflicting interests that exist in society.

There are different modes of distribution, such as the utilitarian mode and egalitarian mode of distribution. One writer, by the name of Don Fallis, uses the epistemic value theory to discern the most/more epistemically ideal mode of knowledge distribution. Theoretically, everyone having all knowledge is the most ideal outcome. Unfortunately, that is impossible.

The utilitarian distribution strives to maximise the average amount of knowledge in society, but some people will be required to know very little for this to happen. The egalitarian distribution strives to eliminate any divide, wherein everyone will possess the same amount of knowledge, but some people will end up having lesser knowledge than they could have had.

Fallis proposes the Rawlsian distribution, where inequalities are tolerated so long as it is to the advantage of the least well-off.

Now, let us talk about the distribution of rights. When it comes to having rights, us straight folk have all the rights accorded to us, so long as we abide by the law. Sexual minorities on the other hand, may have the right to live, breathe and patronise the same yong tao foo stall as most of us, but do not have the same right to private and consensual sex. Are they underprivileged?

Yes. They are impoverished of the rights that we straight people are accorded. They are born with the same rights as us, but as they grow up and develop a sexual identity, manifesting in consensual social relationships with which the straight majority is often uncomfortable, some rights are taken away from them.

You can grow up and adopt a religious identity, your rights will still be same, no more, no less. Of course, our government is extremely cautious with religious institutions, because socio-religious integration and harmony is one determiner of peace and progress in our society. In that sense, having a religious identity may allow you to have ‘more’ rights than others, perhaps not on paper, but in practice.

The law of land strives to treat every Singaporean as equal, tending towards an egalitarian distribution of rights. Section 377A of the penal code is inconsistent with this.

What is contributing to the unnatural longevity of 377A is, as I have been arguing, the perception of homosexuality and its conflation into other social undesirables such as crime, sexual perversion, drugs, paedophelia, disease, moral and religious corruption, Western and liberalist decadence. Invisibilised are the healthy monogamous gay couples, celibate gay persons, working class and non-English-speaking sexual minorities, ordinary people, simply because there are influential gay-hating educated elite and opinion leaders in our society who are against the visibilisation of these ordinary people. They use the language of “mainstreaming/endorsing alternative lifestyles”, fearing the normalising and integration of the gay identity in our society.

Ideology is equally as empowering as it is crippling. You are crippled by guilt when you consider trying to be empathetic towards sexual minorities, because the ideology to which you subscribe does not permit you think so. This is even worse for sexual minorities stuck within particularly crippling ideologies, cultural or religious. They experience identity dissonance. How can they reconcile their identity?

The use of guilt is a very powerful way to discipline individuals and persons into becoming a people and a community. Ideology champions homogeneity as a viable mode of contribution to the development of society. What can’t heterogeneity and diversity contribute? Is diversity not worthy of contributing to the success, progress, peace and happiness in Singaporean society?

A worse aspect of ideology I observe is the wrong use of guilt, signified by its absence in the process of thinking and manifesting expressions of hate. You internalise and express hate, without feeling guilty. That is the monster ideology can turn you into.

Minorities exist, because we created them, through social and institutional mechanisms of labelling and control; because we failed to integrate them.

Macroscopically, a place like Singapore is an arena of ideologies, battling for dominance and superiority. The most dominant groups will decide what is best for the nation, and this will be reflected in the laws of the land. Their ideologies may or may not synthesize, but will contribute to how we feel and not feel guilt in making certain decisions and expressions.

This problem can be addressed with fairer representation of and for sexual minorities. Sexual minorities in Singapore, as such, deserve equal rights before they can be fairly represented. Representation in Singapore is not only about interests, but identity too, for interest and identity are often not symbiotically and homogenously affiliated.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A (part 4)

Straight Thoughts on 377A: Spaces

I have had the last few letters to the Straits Times forum rejected. It seems I have exhausted this 3-published-letters-a-year policy. Well, these letters do not even get published online too. Perhaps it is an exhaustion the Straits Times is experiencing from seeing my name. Perhaps my letters are always the same.

Perhaps the editors are saying, “Let’s move on.”

I do not know how the Straits Times work. They have guidelines, which are not meant for public knowledge. As a paper that is responsible to public interest and national security, shouldn’t it be obliged to divulge these guidelines, editorial policies and social obligation codes to the general public? After all, the organisation is a private news media organisation, so the divulging of information and practices will have no bearing on national security.

Enough of my laments of the Straits Times. I enjoy reading the Straits Times. I like the “Get Fuzzy” and “Garfield” comics, as well as the sports news (see ‘syndicated’).

My discussions and thoughts on sexual minorities in Singapore will continue, because I have a lot more to talk about it, even if they border on being trite to some readers.

Thio Li-Ann and her ex-student, Angela Thiang, have criticised the use of “sexual minorities” in public discourse, with Thiang robustly replying and addressing my use of the term in Straits Times forum. I did not address her concern, but dealt with another issue I felt was more important.

Identity. In my original letter, I said I was a straight man. Thiang, in her reply, said that mentioning it was irrelevant. In my response, I wrote:

Dear Editor,

I refer to Angela Thiang Pei Yun's Aug 10 response to my Aug 8 letter on public interest.

I would like to specifically address the last point she made on identity of the letter writer and the relevance of it. This is to show that there are people of diverse identities and voices in the public. Many a time we would witness individuals claiming to be fathers, mothers, profess to be of a certain faith or even give the suggestion of it, sharing with views in the media.

In July 15 2003, George Lim Heng Chye, in a letter to the forum, came out as a "heterosexual man, married to a heterosexual woman and (we) have four heterosexual children". He reasoned based on morality that the government should rethink hiring gays.

I want to show that there is such thing as a heterosexual man, who has a happy relationship with a heterosexual woman, and believes that something should be done about the discrimination and homophobia toward sexual minorities in Singapore. At the same time, there are also religious people who share this belief.

What I find risky is that writers and speakers sometimes do not reveal their background, beliefs, predispositions and religiosity, and proceed to share their views on issues that may be potentially divisive. When it comes to views, it is difficult for one's to be objective or absolute. Hence, it would not hurt to be humble and open when attempting to present 'objective' facts. This is for readers to understand from where these views and 'facts' have come. We should not take for granted that people of a specific identity or demography will share homogeneous views and values.

At the same time, such diversity need not be subject to overestimation and be seen as a threat to society, because society itself is made up of many different sets of views and values. Not everyone worships the same God or deity. And not everyone, who worships the same God or deity, shares uniform views of family and society. That is identity, for it makes you who you are, before what you are part of.

Not everyone stands in line and some cannot help standing out of line. We may seek to punish, discipline and discriminate against them, but it will do little for the growth of a diverse society and the recognition and respect of the different identities that form it.

Identity is relevant to rational and informed debates. Without identity, there will be no recognition. Without recognition, you become invisible. No Singaporean should be left behind, should they not?

Ho Chi Sam

Guess what? The “George Lim Heng Chye” part was edited out! That was the most important substantiation. But this man is truly remarkable. He has a sharp eye for erect penises in swimming pool changing room. He has a sharp eye for depictions of penises in art and media too. I wonder if he wrote in to the Straits Times expressing his utter disgust at the morally corrupting scene in the recent Channel 5 feature “Men in Black II”, wherein scrotum (with testicles) are revealed to be on the chin of an alien being Tommy Lee Jones’ character was fighting. Maybe the object was not phallic enough to get Lim’s attention.

Part of homophobia is about the discomfort of being in the company of homosexual persons. As such, we will want to “sanitise” our exhaustive and limited spaces from the depravity and moral decay that are sexual minorities. By sexual minorities, I mean GLBTQ people, in case you find the term too politically arousing for your conscience.

I have argued that the creation, growth and sustenance of spaces for sexual minorities do not come at the expense of the conservative folk. After all, conservative folk have their spaces in Singapore. The beautiful thing about Singapore and cyberspace in Singapore, is that there are spaces for everyone. Falun Gong’s in Singapore and in cyberspace too. Conservative and religious fundamentalist people have a place in Singapore too. In their private congregations, they can spread messages of love and of course, the occasional hate-speech leveled at sexual minorities, and perhaps even talk about the knowledge gap (see “ignorance”) in other faiths ( and perhaps too “pray for their ignorance”).

There is a place and space for everyone in Singapore. Even ex-convicts. We make the effort to support and facilitate the social and professional integration of ex-convicts in our society. As for drug traffickers, we integrate them their necks into the noose. Still there’s a place for community and identity in Singapore.

The notion of sharing spaces only applies when different individual spaces intersect. For example, an outed gay man in an office of Roman Catholics may represent the sharing of professional space; or George Lim Heng Chye in a gay bar, which represents the sharing of social spaces.

When it comes to the “law of the land”, everyone shares the same space. The provision of physical/geographical, social, political and economic spaces for sexual minorities is ultimately and greatly limited by the restriction of rights of gay people. This has implications. We respect a gay couple enough to give them the space to allow them to live, eat, enrich themselves and pay their taxes. The presence of 377A symbolically labels this gay couple as criminals. Criminals in a society are duly punished, with fines, caning, imprisonment and death sentences. The idea of giving space of these unpoliced criminals will translate to the sub/un/conscious restriction of the space we actually intended to provide the gay couple with.

Gay people will forever be viewed differently so long as this provision stands. It is as simple as that. If the provision is repealed, it is not as if society will crumble. How can a society which has unequivocal laws crumble that easily? A society with discrimination may still develop, but never reach its potential. A society with hate will crumble. Are sexual minorities hateful? Do sexual minorities hate? At the end of the day, their actions are reactions to the hate and discrimination they face, but they are not out to hate, but want to be loved and accepted. Sexual minorities do not have the power to singularly redefine socio-religious and moral boundaries in Singapore, so they cannot institutionalise discrimination and hate like us majority folk.

The sad thing about our society is that we have a warped definition of hate. We think that certain words and speeches we make are void of hate, and thus permissible to make. This is, as I’ve mentioned countless times, due to stereotypical perceptions, preconceptions, predispositions and misinformation. Of course, many will argue that I base this on my definition of what is “information” and what is “knowledge”. The only thing I can do, is the assholic method of countering, “But based on what ‘knowledge’ are you questioning my perception on ‘knowledge’?”

I learnt that homosexuality does not exist. It only exists because we call it homosexuality. Yes, there have been many homosexual practices in ancient times, in Asia too. That’s yours and my “Asian values”. People who engaged in homosexual acts and behaviour do not identify themselves as homosexuals. Society is the one that calls them homosexuals and create mechanisms to ensure the “laws of religion” and “laws of science” are obeyed. Deviance is not defined without defining the other. Religion sanctifies sex. Religion deals with birth and death. Religion deals with marriage, because of its role in creating life. Therefore sex has to be sanctified too, and marriage is created as a ritual/rite to socially qualify the couple to fornicate/procreate. Religion is a symbol. Religion is a language. Language and symbols help us understand our realities better for they are simulations/representations of bits of reality we experience. Experiences are codified in static depictions that are symbols and languages which others can later use to express themselves. It is a template.

Homosexuality is now a reality, maybe an urban reality, given the “rise/identity of the gay man” is associated with urbanisation. We have chosen to ascribe a language to describe homosexuality. This language is informed by heteronormality and situatedness of a homophobic elite. It is up to us to interpret it and recommend changes.

It is a huge blow, very jarring, to let others know that their language is flawed and inconsistent. It is like Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker about his paternity. The conservative folk will scream “Nooooooooo!!!” and will continue harping on the ill effects of gay people in straight spaces. The thing is, gay people just want gay spaces and are not out to convert straight spaces into gay spaces. It is not as if the straight male teacher who teaches in an all-girls school will want to deflower every girl in the class. And even if he does so, society will say “he’s just a black sheep”, but are unable to apply it consistently to gay people. Well, this is where the language is flawed and inconsistent. Are all gay people black sheep?

Straight people need to reconcile with their heterosexuality first. That is the most important step. When you are comfortable with your heterosexuality, you don’t have a thing to worry about with homosexuality. You will be less worried about ‘otherising’ the gay person. If you have a gay son or daughter, you feel sad not because he/she is gay and you hate gays, but because that he/she will be discriminated by a society to which you have been contributing. A lot of people feel sad for the wrong reasons any way.