Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Qu(e)erying Singapore

It all started out of, what I would say, almost nothing. Now I find myself part of a small team of individuals forming a queer-straight alliance. In truth, I had always wanted such an organisation/alliance to be formed, but never have I foreseen my involvement.

It is a small step, and only natural that words and beliefs get put to action.

I have spent a little time researching on gay-straight alliances last year and have been writing on sexual minority issues in Singapore, in the process establishing a symbol of alliance between straight people and queer and questioning people. Among the few straight folks who have written to the mainstream media advocating equal opportunity, equal treatment and equal rights for sexual minorities, we have implicitly created a queer-straight alliance - its manifestation merely a belief and a few paragraphs.

Now that a queer-straight alliance is slowly being materialised, I look forward to doing my part and apply a little bit of what I have learnt in school.

I have already been pressed with questions. Among those quizzes, one stands out, "Why do you do it?"

Firstly, it is important to state my motivations are not altruistic, but that does not mean I am an attention-seeker. I believe there are many forms of injustice, inequalities, marginalisations and violence in our society, most of which are often perceived to be normal or justified. It is I too who have been at the receiving end, but before any one makes any atomistic psychological reductionist conclusion that reduces my motivations to a singular traumatic experience (a rather appealing form of rationalisation assumed to be universal), it is equally important to say the unpleasant experiences combine with my education (pleasant experience I might add) to shape my worldview and ideals.

Secondly, while ideals of the social/political can never be achieved in a Singaporean lifetime, baby steps are every bit an achievement. One small step towards the remedy of injustice, inequality, marginalisation and violence is required. The support/fight for sexual minority rights is only one small step, for it is not an end on its own.

As a passive member of "normal" society for the most part of my short life, I have observed the imperfections, inconsistencies and paradoxes of a society that struts and prides itself in being almost perfect and consistent (I gave up on thinking of an antonym for 'paradox'). One lecturer has told me why sociology is appealing to him, something like "Sociology reveals the hypocrisies and ironies of society."

Not everyone needs to be a sociologist to be aware of the hypocrisy. It is hypocrisy and a rather strong and unequivocal support for hypocrisy (oxymoron! gasp!) that results in the various manifestations of marginalisation and discrimination. They perpetuate and sustain inequalities. Society is stratified, from the obvious that is class-oriented and race-oriented, to the not-very-obvious that is gender-oriented and sexuality-oriented.

Since the Singaporean Constitution (Internal Security Act) empowers the Internal Security Department, our beloved secret police, to identify and detain without trial any Marxist, it is tragically rational not to indulge in class-oriented, or race-oriented for that matter, social issues.

Nevertheless, discrimination is still discrimination when one group of people are more/less privileged than another. There are legal, social, political, cultural and economic privileges and sanctions that determine the shape of social inequality. Sexual minorities, for that matter, are sexually criminalised, socially disadvantaged, politically disempowered, culturally marginalised and economically disincentivised. And that is where we could start.

Essentially, it is not about wholesale change or a complete make-over, although Singapore society is badly in need of one. "Change" is the bogeyman, a dirty word, the nightmare that weakens the bladder muscles of any socio-political establishment, and the economic elite and stakeholders who support it.

When powerful people divert their attention and resources from serving the people they love to serving their needs and desires to remain in power, they become "conservative". They create rules, aphorisms, ideologies, moralities and campaigns to justify and legitimise their stranglehold on the socio-political proceedings and affairs of the land; basically anything to sustain and galvanise their dominance. They write books that teach a form of history, a particular brand of epistemology, all of which that favour their conservative position. A conservative position is a position worth conserving.

It is such a conservative establishment that draws lines and redefines boundaries as and when it deems fit. I am not referring to the regular gerrymandering of our General Elections, but pointing out that definitions such as "natural/unnatural", "right/wrong", and "acceptable/unacceptable" are all defined by an authority that aspires to be an authority forever. This is an authority that threatens when questioned, imprisons when disobeyed, murders when cornered.

Our authority may not create homophobia, but allows it to perpetuate and fester in every portion of our society. I strongly feel that homophobia in Singapore should be addressed.

It is homophobia that perpetuates discrimination, marginalisation, abuse and violence. It is homophobia that deprives another person due respect, equal rights, proportionate recognition, fair representation and equitable redistribution (of opportunities and resources).

I have seen the media make a mockery of the representation of queer and questioning persons and they could very well do the same for any ethnic group or other identities. I have heard ridicules and threats of violence from my straight friends when they are addressing gay people. I have been told of how sinful, immoral, unnatural and "plain wrong" gay people are, judgement made by persons who believe they are ultimately not worthy of judging (someone say "snap!").

It is important we prove/show that society is made up of different peoples/persons, especially so in Singapore where there is inertia towards accepting the possibility that individualism could be constructive. Rather than questioning and debating the origins/causes/roots of differences, we could be devoting time and resources towards social integration.

I have moved on from "why are gay people like that?" to "why does society treat gay people like that?". I used to take for granted that society is always correct, but maybe it could be that society has taken for granted that it is always correct.

Only time will tell. In the mean time, I am just doing a little bit in confronting one little form of inequality. If everybody steps forward and confronts one type of inequality, there will be reason for society to change.

Just when I thought I had just made a concluding paragraph, another thought came to mind. Or a question, rather. Why wouldn't straight men join queer-straight alliances? Is it pride, fear of stigmatism, an irrational matter given no possible gains? I have yet to find a good bunch of reasons to convince straight male support without attacking straight male ego (I think I just did so, if that were to be construed as passive aggression). Or maybe people like myself are plain mad. But as we may know, it is the label of insanity itself that exposes the limitations of what we come to know as social order.

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