Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gay is okay

Is gay okay?

Well, straight is okay. But "straight" is a term/slang created by gay people. "Straight" also informally refers to sobriety, law-abidingness and a subscription to convention and tradition.

"Straight" never existed. It is a name or a term given to an attribute of a common taken-for-granted reality in which we live. By naming it, it becomes noticeable and salient. By extracting, isolating and naming an attribute, or a unit, of a whole, we begin to segment, divide and organise our reality.

Some people(s) segment, divide and organise reality in a prescriptive manner so as to maintain their status of power over those who in turn become oppressed. By naming something, you have actually made a reconfiguration in the language you have been socialised into and ascribed unto it properties which you think that best fit this reconfiguration.

For example, what arises from such a process is the logic of binary opposition, as illustrated by the natural/unnatural dichotomy. The concept of natural/unnatural never existed. It isn't as universal as we deem it to be, although cultural, socio-religious, political and scientific boundaries have been erected over time to ensure its universality. The power to identify something also translates to the power to oppress and suppress something. When you prime one form of sexuality over others, you attribute terms accordingly, which justifies your political position and predispositions. Systems of discipline, (dis)incentivisation, rewards and punishment are created in the image of these predispositions.

Gay-ness, in such a framework as constructed, moulded and determined by heterocentrism, is often seen as unacceptable. In the times when there was no such thing as gay, or perhaps prior to urbanisation, society had a different concept of gay-ness. It was understood as sexual behaviour manifesting in acts which deviated from conventional man-woman procreational sex.

The concept of the family is also derived from most polytheistic religions, where the gods and their hierarchies of power and roles, all reflected that of society. The patriarch god would be the father figure, determining the economy of the cosmos, namely in the division of labour among other subordinate gods and everyone's duty to maintain the status quo. The female goddesses were more likely to represent society's view of femininity, which encompasses the role and function of the mother (milk-giving child-bearer), the lover, the daughter. For some monotheistic religions, there is more authoritarianism in the form of one ruling deity, who does all the work which would have been clearly designated to various gods in polytheistic religion. Gone is the autonomy of the subordinate gods and deities, which also translates to a more abstract understanding and prescription of rules to society.

The traditional family is a privileged entity of the microcosm that is society, for it consists of and fulfills all the necessary functions that are required of it as in the macrocosms. It is also economics that bind the family together given their various functions and roles toward maintaining and sustaining life. Society has come to institutionalise and normalise the family, ascribing layers and layers of meanings which eventually sanctify the family and marriage. The family is essentially an economic relationship that is later incentivised by modern states in modern economies. Of course, to digress, the liberalisation and economic independence of women has threatened the formation of the family.

Homosexual behaviour on the other hand, was the "recreation" to the heterosexuality's "procreation". Friendship and love between men for example, served no economic purpose, even in the times when women were still commodities and objects (like sea monkeys, just buy and add water and you get your sea monkeys).

By creating categories, some of which fall into another creation that is binary opposition, we implicitly discriminate. The imagination of the finite and limited resources in a social space has led us to device a system of distribution that best fit the needs of the dominant class. Armed with specific knowledge or intelligentsia which creates specific categories for the understanding and control of society, distribution is skewed towards certain categories.

By distribution, I mean rights and resources. Why should the distribution of rights and resources be discriminatory, unequal and imbalanced? Or rather, why do some people not even think about it and assume it is fair, equal and balanced?

The decriminalisation of male homosexual sex is seen as some as wrong, as upsetting a certain "balance" and "stability" that society is currently enjoying. People are living on an undulating plane, on which there exists many slopes of different inclines, such that one's concept of "balance" differs from others. Unfortunately, the criminalisation of homosexuality exists on a plane in which there are laws that ensure nobody is discriminated or marginalised. If heterosexual sex is allowed and not homosexual sex, isn't there embedded discrimination and marginalisation?

What complicates matters is the politics of the "majority", or basically, politics in general. It puts a lens before the eyes of society, such that society is viewed from a heterosexist and patriarchal point of view, among many other possible readings. For example, there is discrimination based on age. Maybe it has its economic roots. But more importantly, society is able to articulate and confront this form of discrimination because it is a common problem which affects the ruling elite.

Homosexuality on the other hand does not pose that common a problem. Hence its sparodic appearance provides society with a (mis)understanding of homosexuality as an illness or a lifestyle, which can be unlearned and discarded. The laws of the land and science too were governed by this belief. And in the process, embedded in the structures and institutions of society are such specific (mis)understandings of reality, and rather prescriptive in nature too.

How we come to understand humanity is also shaped accordingly. Most people are comfortable with the clear-cut, defining, yet limiting concepts of what makes a "man" and what makes a "woman". A "man" has to possess certain "universal" properties, abilities, mannerisms and functions to be recognised as a "man", and the same goes for the "woman". Any idea that falls outside what has come/grown to be accepted, will result in dissonance and anxiety on the part of people who devote their minds to defending and protecting this ideology.

Deviant identities and character traits become isolated, de-socialised, de-politicised. The gay identity has been reduced to genetics, as well as rational choice/behaviour. Such isolation, medicalisation, pathologisation lead to the allocation of resources to correcting these "reversible" and "curable" problems. The "ill" person undergoes re-integration, recovery and re-institutionalisation, so he/she becomes well again, as in well enough to be accepted by the moral majority.

Identity, being fluid in nature, becomes rigid when mechanisms, apparatuses and institutions come into the picture to establish and sustain a certain desired order. An order established over time and immortalised in literature, becomes taken for granted, acquiring the status of "natural", thus being prescriptive. And it's because of the belief that the "natural order" is the default, the status quo, measures are in place to ensure no transgressions. Deviant sexual identities are resultantly viewed as trangressions against "nature", and thus require policing, and to a large extent the deprivation of civil liberties.

When the homophobic moral crusaders speak of the slippery slope that is gay rights, they forget that they too are equally complicit in the political discourse - they are the snowball (no pun intended) that is gaining size and pace as it tumbles down the slippery slope.

Each time the sexual minority rights movement is silence, invisibilised, rebuked and challenged, the moral agenda of the crusaders is pushed to the fore, along with their political and social ideals. I do not see the sexual minority rights movement in Singapore as the hand that pulls society down into the moral abyss, but a movement that tries to create another lens for the rest of society to view - and in the process, confront the existing biases and predispositions and taken-for-grantedness we have. It is so comfortable looking through the same lens, the very one we think might lead us to the truth, but might in turn make us dependent and myopic.

Sitting on the fence is neither a golden position, but the most political. Some "neutrals" have come to fold their arms and entice both camps/poles/ends to win them over, as though without the support of the "apathetic" middle, there will be a stalemate, creating no influence in the political and legislative domain. The fence-sitters see themselves as objective and arm themselves with a "go ahead and try to convince me to believe you" mentality, similar to the snooty "customer-knows-best" worldview. The people who do not really care about the issue at all, are the ones who see no side and no fence.

Every side is a side. To choose no side is also taking a side. Why "normal" people like myself have to speak up is to provide a check for society. Using the rhetoric of the moral crusaders, we have to be wary of the threat posed by moral crusaders, with them pushing their moral agenda, wanting to mainstreaming a certain worldview and legitimate lifestyle, and it is a slippery slope to moral totalitarianism.

What people fail to understand is that sexual minorities, not only gay people, but bisexual, transgenderred and transexual people just want to be treated equally. Maybe it's time to revise how we privileged straight people come to understand "equality" - isn't it already rather skewed, slanted, limited and enframed within a certain heteronormative discourse? Gay people don't want special treatment or relatively more rights and superiority, as posited by the moral crusaders/police. And of course, gay people do not harm our children. The black sheep among straight people are as dangerous to children as the black sheep among gay people, but it is sad some people think that all gay people are black sheep.

We are too used to questioning people and outsiders, sizing them up and criticising them. It is about time we turn the spotlight onto ourselves and question our beliefs. Then again, there may be mechanisms that prevent such self-reflexivity. Then it's up to us to confront these mechanisms.

There's inequality in society, what are you going to do about it? This is no MRT train where you can fake a nap.

You don't even need to stand up for sexual minority equality. All you have to believe is: Gay is okay.


Solo Bear said...

Hi Sam, I believe we have "met". Picked up your article through SG Daily.

Have we not discussed this before over here?

Anyway, I respect your views. To each his own.


PS: Your "Leave your comment" entry is user friendly. No moderation stuff and/or verification. At least we are in agreement in free flow of discussion. ;)

Sam Ho said...


i never consciously thought about the comments function, only had the worries of spam. so you have overestimated me there haha.