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.


enji@o said...


Dear Sam,

I am a typical Singaporean student in the gripes of horrible, horrible A Levels right now. As I struggled on, I find myself growing disillusioned about my education, about THE education system and questioning what use do I have for a course in Physics and Chemistry except for getting myself in place in the much coveted ivory tower.

It was with much delight when I first came across your Straight Thoughts On 377A, while googling this little drama unfolding here in "conservative", "homogeneous" Singapore.

It is not within the capabilities of my linguistic abilities to truly express how much your article moved me. Ok, that sounded corny... Point being, it's just so good, so nice, so good, to see someone taking action with the education that he has received. REALLY.

Personally, I LOVE, I HEART, Philosophy and Economics like no other. They changed my world. I know that life will never be the same, I can never think the same way, ever again, since my first brushes with these 2 subjects. It is just so phenomenal and life-changing beyond belief, when I realised that all the reasoning and logic I thought I employed when debating to myself about issues of religion, homosexuality, the meaning of life, etc. etc. were utterly misled and intellectually deficient. In a remote corner of my heart [corniness again...], somehow, I've always wished to be able to show people, to tell people, my friends, strangers, neighbours, relatives, the general population the merits, the benefits of such practises, of such revolutions in thinking. It was simply such an amazing, even miraculous experience.

But, as I mentioned at the onset, I am just another typical Singaporean student. Despite all my extra knowledge, I was afraid of being different, for I imagined that what followed consequently would be being labeled as "weird" and socially-awkward. And we all understand how disastrous these labels can be in conservative, homogeneous, tiny Singapore.

But when I see someone like you standing up for a cause like that, it's just good good good good good. Uber good. Very good. Hopelessly good. You have been an inspiration.

And while I still see no point in dwelling in the horrors of Singaporean education just FOR THE SAKE of getting a job... I know what I want now, Economics and Philosophy, and I know that to walk the other way, the less-traveled path, will be pretty tough. But at least I am not alone.

In the midst of this controversy, even though I have not followed the entire episode really closely... I have witnessed feats of genuine courage, the power of reasoned belief, and the illogic, bias, and intolerance that should have no place in a modern 21-st century, forward-looking society.

Thank you for your courage.
Thank you for standing up.
Thank you for voicing out.

I'm not a gay,
I'm not a guy,
btw. [:

Dunno how to end off leh...
Eh, anyways, if it's not too harsh to ask... Have you thought about what you wanna do with your degree? Ever thought of going into Politics? Hehs.

This is going to sound pretty disgusting, but I do think Singapore politics could need more people like you if we are to move away from paternalism. [:

All in all,
keep doing what you're doing... You rock!!!

Sam Ho said...

hi enji@o,

thanks for the encouragement.

i have a different view about pre-tertiary education. they are just steps to another place, while the step after tertiary education, for all the lucky bunch, is the market place.

treat your A levels like a passport to a university, just like your O levels being a passport, and PSLE too.

one lecturer who inspires me, just by his sheer presence in the room, is an economist by training, who loves philosophy. i want to be like him not because he is intellectually brilliant, but because he loves what he does.

in a place like singapore, you need education papers. and beyond that, you need some heart. education and knowledge is not for the sake of being mightier, obtaining material or making people look stupid or feel they are wrong, but in my opinion, to do something about the things you feel for.

physics and chemistry can be very fun. it's not only about knowledge of what's what in science, but it's the whole process that matters. science is fundamentally about thinking.

i'm still a coward in my eyes, because i write on the internet. i write to the straits times occasionally and that's it. but for the little things i do, i feel passionate and proud of them, and that's why i do them.

when i get my degree, i'll be applying to pursue a masters degree in the same university, NUS. hopefully, if my passion takes me to further heights, i'll pursue a PhD. my dream is actually to make music. i'm just chasing other dreams now.

i don't think i can be a politician. at least not now. you need substantial numbers of people to vote you into power any way and it's very hard to be loved in singapore. look at lee kuan yew and many singaporeans can tell you they respect the man. i don't fancy the idea of being loved by many, because i am already content being loved by a few.

any way, when it comes to philosophy and debating, it's not about proving others wrong, or making others feel inadequate, but letting others know that there is another way of looking at things. a lot of people are very confrontational, temperamental and ungracious when it comes to debating. there are a lot more ways to discussions/debates other than "you're wrong/i'm right" or "your points are inadequate". even a person like myself has to use "misinformation", see how ungracious i am. but what matters is the continual discovery of a new way to arguing things without actually engaging in argument, persuasion without actually engaging in persuasion.

it's ok to be different. most of us choose to be something we are not comfortable with, because we value what people around us think, more so than what our heart and mind believe. what matters, in my opinion, is that you're sincere and honest, because these are the things that gain you trust and perhaps respect.

education in singapore is a very long process, filled with periods of inspiration and periods of non-inspiration/fatigue. there are times you'll feel on top of the world, and times you feel like quitting. but these periods are temporary, highlighted in your interests and disinterests. interest is temporary; passion is forever.

i wish you strength in this taxing time.