Monday, January 28, 2008

The Thesis on Sexual Minority Media Representation

This is an excerpt from my thesis on sexual minority representation in the Straits Times. In part of an analysis of 478 articles from 2001 to 2007, I attempt to gather news and views in the Straits Times and try to profile GLBTQ people accordingly. This is what I call a non-traditional means of anthropology of media, where the medium is the field, and the text is the subject of observation.

At the same time, I am almost very relieved to say that I am about 500 words away from completing the 12,000-word paper. Unfortunately, that is only the beginning as I have to start editing and proofreading it. I may not be very happy about the quality of writing, but I am still proud of my efforts.

I am also preparing for interviews, which means, I have finally got the go-ahead from the ethics review board, at the time when 90% of the thesis was already completed. It is interesting, yet vexing, to think that research methodology is actually affected by institutions that want to ensure they wear a clean name. Of course, I do not advocate unethical (whatever it means) research; I just intensely dislike the idea that some rules have to be mechanically enforced so that it's a whole "wayang"/performance/ritual to prove that the necessary measures are explicitly taken. This is what I call the bureaucratic ritual - rigid and unquestionable.

I had initially come to the point, when the whole administrative process was taking too long, of considering ditching the whole interview research. That's all thanks to the institution. Science is not objective. Researchers work in/for/with organisations/institutions with political and commercial interests, with obligations to their image and the powers that be. Therefore, the knowledge they produce, which will be fed into the minds of others, is moulded and tainted by these processes and forces.

Research is about finding out the truth. It is about asking questions and getting all the answers, from which more questions will be asked. Some people and organisations refuse to answer questions directly or truthfully. This world will be a lot more simple if questions are answered truthfully. This world needs a little bit more honesty. Of course, the communication of honesty should be done without violence, but with speech and listening ears. People are not only dishonest, but are generally poor listeners - a nasty concoction for disputes and violence.

Any way, here is the excerpt of my thesis:

Gay Men

A glance at the data reveals the impression that gay men in Singapore are mostly ethnic Chinese, English-educated, middle-to-upper class and income and more than keen to have sex with strangers. The gay identity is profiled are a lifestyle choice, a subcultural practice involving high-risk, reckless, promiscuous behaviour and extravagant spending habits; hence the occasional emphasis of its reversibility, revealing gay-ness as an illness.

In crime, the gay man is either a paedophile, or a consumer or trafficker of illegal drugs. The association of gay men with crimes against morality and the innocence of children is a regular feature in court news and the case for news in the 21st Century is not very different from Leong’s (2005) observations towards the end of the 20th Century. Given society’s relatively limited overall understanding of homosexuality, the association of sex crimes with deviant sexual identity may be inevitable.

The call to socially integrate sexual minorities is commonly criticised in the newspapers by moral conservatives, labeling it as the “gay agenda” which is deemed to mainstream and glorify alternative lifestyles, and be the harbinger of moral decadence.

Lesbian Women

With news media representation of sexual minorities as predominantly gay men, lesbian women are relatively invisible in the news. “Lesbian” is often mentioned as the second word after “gay” when the Straits Times reports on homosexuality in general, analogous to the phrase “man and woman”, where both subjects form equal half of the community. In this case, the “woman” and the “lesbian” are always in second place.

Leong (2005) observes that lesbian women are often engaged in stormy relationships, and are depicted as “catty, vengeful and treacherous” lovers. Arson and suicides have reportedly been the final chapter of such stormy relationships.

A handful of articles have discussed lesbian mothering and marriage, while some have regarded lesbianism as an unnatural, breast-binding subculture. Lesbian sex and sexuality have not been discussed at all, which is in stark contrast to gay man sex and sexuality. Lesbian sex, invisible in the Straits Times, continues to be not just a taboo topic for film censors but also an alien and mysterious entity in Singaporean society – an accurate reflection of the male-oriented Penal Code which criminalises sex between two men and not two women.

Bisexual People

A more obscure group, with minimal press coverage, is bisexual people. A footnote in discussions on homosexuality in the press, the word “bisexual” although always mentioned third in line after “gay” and “lesbian”, is often conflated into homosexuality itself.

A large portion of articles with the word “bisexual” concerns HIV and AIDS wherein “bisexual” is mentioned with “gay” and connected by the conjunction “and”, saved for a couple of reports dealing with paedophelic crime and a sex scandal involving an English footballer.

There is also no mention of bisexual women in the news, signifying that bisexuality in Singaporean context is exclusively male. Bisexual men are identified as a high risk group that can spread sexually transmitted diseases to both men and women.

Transsexual People

Transgenderism and transsexuality are often presented in soft news in the Straits Times Life! section, if they are not available in health and medical-related pull-outs. Topics of transgenderism and transsexuality also present the journalists with an opportunity to trivialise and sensationalise. Most related articles employ puns and humour, which creates an impression transgenderism and transsexuality are a freak show that cannot be divorced from humour.

Their representation is a sign of tokenism, often manifesting in health, medical, surgical articles, autobiographies and interviews and the occasional association with humour and self-deprecation. Stories and reports of transgenderism and transsexualism all do not represent this section of sexual minorities as a community, but as individuals and isolated anomalies. A sense of community and rights is absent in the midst of seemingly autobiographic stories of struggle and dissonance.

Moreover, a majority of transsexual and transgendered persons are male-to-female, highlighting a relative lack of visibility of female-to-male transsexual persons. The sexuality of transsexual and transgendered people is also not discussed, resulting in a representation of transexuality as being mainly aesthetic and superficial.

Their relative lack of representation and visibility in terms of citizenship and mainstream professions, is a form of symbolic annihilation of many aspects of transgenderism and transsexuality.


Spatula said...

Okay so this isn't really about your paper, which I WILL get down to reading eventually...

but THANK YOU for seeing the subtext in my post about dogs. If you've made a return trip, you will notice that I have been misconstrued as a bigoted, dog-hating boob. I am so annoyed I have no where to turn but to people who simply get it.

Joel from

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