Monday, July 14, 2008

Practising a lifestyle

"So Sam, do you know any one who practises that lifestyle?"

Some time ago, that question was innocently shot to me by a friend, who is actually a very morally upright, virtuous, level-headed, grounded, (Christian) God-fearing young man.

From a certain perspective, some say that it may be out of ignorance the manner in which the question was formed. In answering it (yes or no), I would have dignified it. I would have endorsed the view that homosexuality (or sexual orientation other than heterosexuality) is a lifestyle that is practised.

By convention, a lifestyle is seen as something that is adopted. In practising something, there is an allusion to the notion of rational choice, wherein homosexuality is seen as a choice taken up by an individual. Thus, the assumptions that it can be unlearned and discarded as a practice accompany the definition.

Discourse pertaining to homosexuality in Singapore is often steered towards the origins and causes of homosexuality. The gaze and our attention are always focused on these areas.

We come from a society that prides itself in rationalising and reducing complex phenomena to specific and perceived critical variables. Psychiatry and medicine, fueled by politics, creep into the discourse and turn it into the way they want it to be.

Why can't our attention be turned towards the inequalities that are being harboured and institutionalised?

How have social forces come to influence our perception that sexual orientation other than heterosexuality, is a lifestyle?

Why do institutions of power and influence want to monopolise sex and sexual orientation?

Could it be because diversity is difficult to organise, to manage, to dictate, to abuse (unlike homogeneity)?

Although sexuality is part of one's identity and in that respect, part of one's life, it is simply too reductionist to associate that aspect of one's identity as a lifestyle.

Individuals, whether straight or queer, deserve the right to self-identify. It will not help if there exist a people to tell them that "deviant" sexual orientation is wrong, temporary, a choice, and so on. If I am not mistaken, esteem is also part of one's identity and life, and I believe sexuality is intertwined with esteem. Imagine people making fun of your "small dick" or "airport tits".

To hammer "deviants" into conformity, society hits below the belt by shaking the esteem of individuals who struggle to find or even love themselves. It thus can be very insulting if you labelled a person's sexuality as a lifestyle when he/she believes it to be an integral part of his/her identity, character or even life.

As written last year, I have questioned the definition of the "gay lifestyle". It is more of a stereotype than anything else, perhaps to steer the rest of us away from its perceived corruptive influences. What then is the "straight lifestyle"?

There are "loud" gay men. There are also "quiet" gay men. Same goes for other queer and questioning individuals in our diverse society. And the same goes for straight people too.

During my reservist training, the guys indulged too often in conversations about women and sex and all that, perhaps to reinforce their masculine dominance and libido. Macho talk and all. Would that not qualify as the "straight lifestyle"? Moreover, why can't gay men talk about men, if straight men can talk about women (and even objectify them)?

The role of taboos and rules are observed to keep our society in order. But I believe there exists an immaturity that prevents us from creating an order in diversity. The presence of taboos and rules (and OB markers) helps create conformists, such that order is built on homogeneity. This is explained by a well-disciplined press system and a harsh penal code.

As such, it appears that this society is one that does not belief in an order moulded in diversity. Hence, we dismiss difference with our own set of socialised and predefined vocabulary, i.e. "gayness is a lifestyle".

I hope one day, our society will be more open towards diversity, other than those which are defined and limited by the government. Diversity is beyond age, religion and ethnicity - beyond the Chinese boy interlocking arms with fellow token ethnic minorities, beaming from ear to ear and that kind of stuff.

Diversity exists in physical ability/appearance, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, political beliefs and so on. If we can bring ourselves to understanding and appreciating difference, we can and will be able to understand and appreciate diversity as we will be less inclined to discriminating based on differences. That quite simple in theory, but if there is a lifestyle I will encourage others to practise, it would be one of asking questions with the goal of wanting to learn.

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