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?

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