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.

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