Monday, October 27, 2008

The 'China Bride' Chronicles: The Ballad of Alvin Tan and Sherry Aw

Razor-sharp feline claws shredding into the remnants of one Singaporean man's dignity. It is becoming so fashionable to bash the (once) dominant male, that I feel the once dominant is now the underdog; it is probably something new again if we bashed the female. I guess the growingly "wimpy" Singaporean man can never find a lover in the growingly "tigerish" Singaporean woman.

I believe there is definitely a few ideal types of men that Singaporean women desire. Let me explore one of them: Tall, decently built, handsome, takes the initiative, financially independent, has a car, occasionally pays for meals, you get the picture... oh yes, and heterosexual ("abuden", says Phua Chu Kang).

Is it social mobility some women crave, rather than romance? Or is the desire of social mobility (upwards, of course) part of the construct of "romance" for some Singaporean women?

Socio-economic status seems a factor to some Singaporean women, according to some Singaporean men. Is that an accurate assessment at all? In that case, are some Singaporean women materialistic? Or do some Singaporean men just think some Singaporean women are materialistic?

Why are people bothered with materialism and allegations of materialism? Are they being distracted with these, so they will not be able to find the time and energy to mobilise a socialist uprising against the oppressive capitalist state? (ok, just kidding)

I think Singaporean men and women should just get on with their own romantic lives, whether with one another or with a foreign other. If one side feels the other side isn't very desirable, the former should just ignore the latter and move on. The latter will get the hint.

Some men like type-A tiger alpha-women (I'm terrified of them actually), while some women like domesticated men.

And it doesn't help that the media facilitates the generalisations of gender, see Channel 8 and you will understand. "All men should ...", "all women are ..." are quite common in these Chinese shows.

Then you have the Straits Times that demean Chinese women as "China brides". China is a noun, bride is a noun - doesn't sound quite right. "Chinese bride" would be more respectful, but we'll probably take for granted they are Singaporean (Chinese = Singaporean; China = China, abuden?).

I think men have a right to express themselves if they feel oppressed. No shame in that. Women have long done that.

Have a fun read.

Oct 19 - Why I chose a China bride

Many people seem to believe that Singapore men who opt for foreign brides tend to pick younger, less educated women from less developed countries. I'm a Singapore male and I just married a foreigner this year. She's from China, two years older than I am and a university graduate with a top-notch academic record. We met in Kunming, where I work, after mutual friends introduced us.

On one of our dates, we did discuss why I did not have a Singapore girlfriend. I admitted that I don't understand what Singapore women want. They have their own careers and are as skilled and capable as their male colleagues. Yet, they demand that their dates behave like 'gentlemen' and treat them as the weaker sex. This hardly seems like equality or equitable.

In February, when The Straits Times reported the results of a survey on singles, this 'contradiction' was raised. Many women still expect their dates to carry their handbags and pick up the tab. Asking to split the bill is still widely unacceptable on the local dating scene.

From my own experience and what I've heard, it seems many Singapore women tend to interpret feminism in their own way. A woman who shells prawns for her man is deemed archaic, but a man who carries a woman's handbag for her is being gentlemanly, even though it might make him look silly.

If Singapore women want to be on an equal footing with their men, then they should expect to be treated equally - the way men treat other men. Among other things, there would be no need for the man to escort the woman home.

However, if women want men to shelter, love and care for them in the gentlemanly fashion they seem to demand, then they should let their men take charge.

I would have been happy to date and marry a Singapore woman who knew which she wanted. I would have accepted whichever path she chose.

As things turned out, I found a woman who knew exactly what she wanted - in Kunming.

Alvin Tan

Oct 23 - It's an insult to S'pore women

I refer to Mr Alvin Tan's letter last Sunday, 'Why I chose a China bride'. I am astonished that a single passage could make me feel insulted, tickled and disbelieving all at once. Mr Tan is either seriously misinformed of the needs and wants of the modern Singapore woman, or is still steeped in the traditional notion of how men and women should behave.

First, I am unclear of his intention. I believe his marriage to his Chinese bride was between two people truly in love. Why then the need to defend his choice? Why the need to accuse thousands of Singapore women of being clueless of what they want, or even imply indirectly we all want to be treated as the weaker sex?

What also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex. If wanting a man to hold the door open for a woman, an act of 'gentlemanliness', can be construed as weakness, does my ability to open my own door signify how strong and masculine I am? I pray not, or I would face a serious identity crisis.

And really, does having our own career or equal abilities to men mean we have become men ourselves? The 'equal footing' treatment we demand is recognition of our abilities to carry out our jobs. Not to be treated like men, but acknowledgement that we are as capable as men. If we 'should expect to be treated equally - the way men treat other men', then perhaps from the perspective of a woman, the equal treatment Mr Tan is looking for is to be treated like a best buddy-cum-girlfriend and not boyfriend material.

Mr Tan also insinuates that, if women want equality, they should see themselves home after a date, as 'there is no need for the man to escort' her. Men with such a mentality make bad dates, or do not have sufficient affection for the woman they are dating. Not wanting to escort your girlfriend home means you don't care about her.

Mr Tan, I am happy you found someone to love and care for. But there was no need to collectively insult the entire female population in Singapore, simply because you were unable to find someone to suit your needs here. I am certain we know what we want in a man - someone who respects us, treats us equally (not like other men) and has no reservations about being a gentleman.

Sherry Aw (Ms)

Oct 25 - 'Why I chose a China bride': It's a problem of changing gender roles and expectation

I REFER to the letters by Mr Alvin Tan last Sunday ('Why I chose a China Bride') and Ms Sherry Aw on Thursday ('It's an insult to Singapore women').

What we need to appreciate is that times are changing, socially and economically.

This results in men and women reprioritising their needs, which affects their idea of romance and the ideal partner.

Gender is always a thorny issue, but that does not mean we should ignore opinions from both sides.

The fact that there are Singapore men who have a certain opinion of Singapore women in general, and vice versa, is indicative of social reality.

Being empowered with the resources and opportunities for financial independence, among other factors, the Singapore woman has more choices and obviously has a shift in expectations.

While this may not apply to all women in Singapore, there has already been an impression, tending towards the mixed or the negative, among some Singapore men.

I do not disagree with Mr Tan on some observations as I have met and seen for myself women who are financially independent, yet still materialistic and demanding to be treated like princesses. This type of mixed signal is probably what confounds Mr Tan and some men.

I have also observed a common stereotype of Singapore men held by Singapore women, in which Singapore men are seen as timid mummy's boys who are incapable of being independent or having any initiative, something deemed to be an inferior and undesirable aspect of masculinity.

What is curious is that, in thinking this way, it shows that both men and women still hold on to traditional gender roles and expectations, and their discomfort with one another presents an inertia towards adjustment.

Media portrayals of the ideal man also exert pressure on how Singapore men 'perform' their masculinity. The route to financial independence of Singapore men is hampered by, among other things, the lengthy education system, changes in parenting, national service, servicing of study loans after graduation, the housing scheme and so on. Given these factors, it is difficult for the Singapore man to be the typical 'ideal'.

I believe the problem in our gendered conflict and differences is that both sides are a little misadjusted for the times, and at the same time, are so distracted by the opposite sex, we forget to discuss the larger political and social issues that may have caused the problem.

Ho Chi Sam

Oct 26 - What the modern S'pore woman wants

I refer to last Sunday's letter by Mr Alvin Tan, 'Why I chose a China bride', which I felt gave an inaccurate portrayal of the modern Singaporean woman.

Speaking from the perspective of a young Singapore woman, I do not see why it is so difficult for men to behave in a gracious or gentlemanly way, especially on a date.

Though some women here may appear intimidating, this is only to enable them to compete better in the workplace.

Women have to strive harder to prove their worth in the mostly male-dominated workplace. So they can't afford to appear soft, delicate or helpless at a professional level.

As for the 'contradiction' issue mentioned by Mr Tan, I believe many women, capable as they are, still regard gestures such as picking up the tab or carrying their handbags as indications of the men's devotion to them.

Singaporean women may expect the men to treat them as equals in the workplace, but if the men want their affections, the guys must show some sincerity. Carrying their dates' handbags and offering to pay the bill are just some ways of doing so.

Most women will remember and appreciate such gestures.

I would also like to remind Mr Tan that many Singapore women take on the roles of wife and mother, and yet continue to remain active in the workforce. And many women here contribute equally, or even more, to the household.

Thus, Singaporean men should let go of the old stereotype that women should be submissive to them.

If men here continue to harbour such outdated expectations, then it would indeed be difficult for them to find local partners.

Tan Wei (Ms)

Oct 27 - 'Why I chose a China bride': Women should seek to understand men better

I REFER to Ms Sherry Aw's letter last Thursday, 'It's an insult to Singapore women', in reaction to my letter, 'Why I chose a China bride' (Oct 19).

First of all, I strongly suggest Ms Aw to read the article 'Love me, spoil Me' (Feb 24). It provides a view into Singapore women's psyche.

I would also like to reproduce a remark in the same article by Ms Iben Wan, a Danish woman married to a Singaporean:

'If you expect the man to accept you as his equal, you can't also expect him to run around treating you like a porcelain doll on a pedestal. It just does not make sense in our modern world.'

Second, Ms Aw's statement, 'what also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex', inadvertently proves my observation that Singapore women interpret feminism in their own way. Yes, it is precisely because it is a puzzling matter that women like Ms Aw should seek to understand what and how men think, preferably from men instead of relying on one-sided women's magazines. My view is that true equality means women do not need men to take care of their every need, emphasis is on 'every'.

Third, her comment that 'not wanting to escort your girlfriend home means you don't care about her' is again one sided. If the man has done 80 out of 100 things a woman expects her date to do, yet does not escort her home, does this one act invalidate his 80 others? Men generally tend to be practical. With rising car ownership and usage costs, heavy reliance on public transport is prevalent. On the other hand, salaries do not increase in tandem with costs. In such a Singapore context, I am not surprised that Singapore men may find their dating plans limited by bus and MRT schedule (regular taxi usage is excluded because it is costly). However, sadly, such a practical and real concern will likely be seen as cheapskate by Singapore women.

Ms Aw is free to keep her definition of 'boyfriend material'. However, any relationship is a two-way street: You have to give as well as take.

To dispel the notion that I am an 'old-fashioned' man from the 1950s and ignoring any cynicism on my 'honeymoon period' of marriage, I go grocery shopping with my wife and I offer to carry, without my wife asking, the groceries home because I am physically stronger than her. My wife and I have a common understanding that whoever cooks is exempted from washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Yes, I do cook and reasonably well at that. Notwithstanding this, there are times when I both cook and wash up, especially if my wife has guests over as this will free her to spend time with them. Yes, I also cut and serve fruit, with or without guests, and with no one 'keeping score' on kitchen duties.

When it comes time to clean the apartment, my wife and I clean together, with me usually mopping a bigger area as it is physically more taxing. There are many more examples but these few are enough to prove I am not old fashioned. I intend to do all this, and more, as long as my marriage lasts and I am physically able.

Alvin Tan

Oct 27 - 'Why I chose a China bride': Points in letter to undermine Singapore women not justified

I refer to the letter by Mr Alvin Tan, 'Why I chose a China bride' (Oct 19). Essentially, it has has stirred up a beehive. If Mr Tan has had unhappy encounters with Singapore women, there is no need to glamorise China brides to justify his choice.

When a couple unite in marriage, it must be based on trust and love. What has it to do with nationality? How is marrying a China bride better than a Singapore bride? But one thing I can list are the many good points about Singapore women.

It is undeniable that Singapore women are more educated than they were a decade ago. They are now more financially independent and more informed of world events and can definitely fight for their rights. But have they not done their part?

Just look around. HDB flats are usually co-paid for by husband and wife. While the typical Singapore wife has to take care of the children, she is still expected to bring home a salary. By today's standard, a single-income family is under financial strain. To be financially secure, a dual income is ideal and it cannot be achieved without the Singapore woman.

If Mr Tan still hopes for such traditional wives who are submissive, then yes, he will have to look beyond Singapore. There is no best of two worlds, asking an educated woman to submit to the whims and fancies of men, yet be financially independent. This is probably achievable in Virtual World.

To enlighten further, are household chores and taking care of children, which includes nurturing and building their capabilities to enter the working world, not managed mainly by Singapore women? I do not deny that men put in more effort than a decade ago. What about Singapore women who gladly take a break from work to spend time with their children? They sacrificed the golden years of their lives for their children when they could have used the time to soar up the career ladder. The points by Mr Tan undermining Singapore women are not justified. Is a Singapore bride a bad choice?

I would not restrict the choice of husband for my daughters, but if the men are the self-contained, self-centred type, I would encourage my daughters to look further, Singapore or not. One thing I can enlighten Mr Tan on is my husband, a Malaysian, has been happily married to me, a Singaporean, for close to 10 years and we have two happy and beautiful daughters, both Singaporean. I have never lamented about Singapore men not meeting my expectations. Love is blind to nationality, race and age. I just need someone who loves and respects me, Singaporean or not.

Cheng Wan Ying (Ms)

Complaint about TV presenter: Long hair no longer indicates gender or sexuality

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. October 27, 2008)

I refer to Mr Ishwar Mahtani's criticism last Friday of long-haired male television personalities ('Male TV personalities should have neat haircuts and not sport long hair') and thank The Straits Times for publishing such a baiting flame-magnet of a letter.

At times, our preconceptions and perceptions are challenged by images in the media. However, that does not mean they are threatened.

Long hair, while associated by the authorities in the last millennium with gangsters and crime, is now no longer aesthetically and morally exclusive to women. Likewise, women also sport short hair. Thus, long hair is not indicative of gender or sexuality.

I urge MediaCorp to continue portraying such diverse styles, because it is the quality and content of programmes that matters.

It must also be understood that neatness of hairstyle has nothing to do with hair length. Rather, such discomfort with men sporting long hair is indicative of the set of gender norms and expectations one subscribes to, which derives from a specific time in history.

A short and 'decent' haircut for a man does not transform him into a decent-charactered and law-abiding person. The minimal form of conformity you get from a short-haired man is his abiding to a set of aesthetics deemed 'normal' by an authority that has more than often gone unquestioned and unchallenged.

While schooling in the 1990s, I always felt the relevance of hair to discipline and academic performance unreasonable, illogical and unjustified. I still believe, as I did then, that achievement, excellence and a fair sense of morality are independent of hair length.

At the same time, I believe men who sport long hair should be responsible for their hygiene.

Being male and sporting long hair does not make a man less moral, less productive - or less Singaporean.

Ho Chi Sam

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Polycentric approach to sex education

(Published - ST Forum. October 25, 2008)

I refer to the recent discussion on sex education in Singapore.

Sex education for our youth should be more than just a scare fest of disease-ravaged body parts.

As a diverse society, the challenge lies in the consolidation of materials and resources for sex education.

In view of this challenge, a polycentric sex education programme is a viable approach, rather than consolidated and blanket implementation.

Various institutions and organisations should not teach sex education and pass their brand of education as universal, but be upfront about their subjectivity.

This way, should they do so, moralising from such an openly stated position becomes more acceptable.

This approach allows a range of sex education material to be accessible to our media-savvy youth, whether from religious or secular organisations, while ensuring these organisations have their fair representation and stake in society.

Our youth should be exposed to this range of sex education, so they can make an informed decision and follow which material they deem to best suit themselves.

At the same time, the polycentric approach will not privilege any organisation or group over others in sex education.

Schools and parents should thus not rely on only one source of sex educational material to empower their children, but an array. As we are in the information age, we should behave like we are part of it and engage information with an open mind.

Ultimately, there is only a degree to which we can guide and influence the younger generation, and it will be they who have to clean up after us in the future.

Ho Chi Sam

'Why I chose a China bride': It's a problem of changing gender roles and expectation

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. October 25, 2008)

I refer to the letters by Mr Alvin Tan last Sunday ('Why I chose a China Bride') and Ms Sherry Aw on Thursday ('It's an insult to Singapore women').

What we need to appreciate is that times are changing, socially and economically.
This results in men and women reprioritising their needs, which affects their idea of romance and the ideal partner.

Gender is always a thorny issue, but that does not mean we should ignore opinions from both sides.

The fact that there are Singapore men who have a certain opinion of Singapore women in general, and vice versa, is indicative of social reality.

Being empowered with the resources and opportunities for financial independence, among other factors, the Singapore woman has more choices and obviously has a shift in expectations.

While this may not apply to all women in Singapore, there has already been an impression, tending towards the mixed or the negative, among some Singapore men.
I do not disagree with Mr Tan on some observations as I have met and seen for myself women who are financially independent, yet still materialistic and demanding to be treated like princesses. This type of mixed signal is probably what confounds Mr Tan and some men.

I have also observed a common stereotype of Singapore men held by Singapore women, in which Singapore men are seen as timid mummy's boys who are incapable of being independent or having any initiative, something deemed to be an inferior and undesirable aspect of masculinity.

What is curious is that, in thinking this way, it shows that both men and women still hold on to traditional gender roles and expectations, and their discomfort with one another presents an inertia towards adjustment.

Media portrayals of the ideal man also exert pressure on how Singapore men 'perform' their masculinity. The route to financial independence of Singapore men is hampered by, among other things, the lengthy education system, changes in parenting, national service, servicing of study loans after graduation, the housing scheme and so on. Given these factors, it is difficult for the Singapore man to be the typical 'ideal'.

I believe the problem in our gendered conflict and differences is that both sides are a little misadjusted for the times, and at the same time, are so distracted by the opposite sex, we forget to discuss the larger political and social issues that may have caused the problem.

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ishwar Mahtani's Hairy Issue

Okay, I don't think this will be published in the newspapers (Oct 27 edit: It was published... WTF!). When I read the article, I was going "what the fuck". Of course, "what the" went to the letter writer, and everybody's favourite four-letter word went to the Straits Times. Of course, that hasn't stopped me from writing 3 letters to the forum in the past 3 days (which is only a matter of probability I get published).

I mean, we have a recession and a sex education problem, plus a population problem ("we need more sex education" versus "we need more sex"). Surely there must be something really engaging and newsworthy to talk about... Hmmmmmmm... LET'S TALK ABOUT LONG HAIR!!! WOO HOO!!! WORLD PEACE!!! NO MORE POVERTY!!! EVERYBODY GOT BACK THEIR INVESTMENTS!!!

Yes, hair's the way, my friend. Lim Swee Say (off-centre parting) and Tony Tan (comb-back) are probably the longest you can go.

Long hair = women? Next thing we know, we are told to give our kids manly or womanly names, so people like the letter-writer won't get confused. I wonder what Vivian Balakrishnan will say about that.

Whatever the case may be, Ishwar Mahtani fully has the right to express his opinion and deserves to be heard. This also gives us the right to criticse, but of course, I have yet to go as far as Mike Loh (very venomous and hilarious retort), who laid the cyber smackdown on everybody's favourite moral crusader George Lim.

Ishwar Mahtani's Hairy Issue

Dear Editor,

I refer to Ishwar Mahtani’s recent criticism of long-haired male television personalities (ST, Oct 24, 2008) and also thank the Straits Times for publishing such a baiting flame-magnet of a letter.

At times, our preconceptions and perceptions are challenged by images in the media. However, that does not mean that they are threatened.

Long hair, while being associated by the authorities in the last millennium with gangsters and crime, is now no longer aesthetically and morally exclusive to women. Likewise, women too also sport short hair. Thus, long hair is not indicative of gender or sexuality.

I urge Mediacorp to continue portraying such diverse styles, because it is the quality and content of the programme that ultimately matters.

It must also be understood that neatness of hairstyle has nothing to do with hair length. Rather, such discomfort with men sporting long hair is indicative of the set of gender norms and expectations one subscribes to, which derives from a specific time in history.

Short and “decent” haircut for a man does not transform him into a decent-charactered and law-abiding person. The minimal form of conformity you get from a short-haired man is his abiding to a set of aesthetics deemed ‘normal’ by an authority that has more than often gone unquestioned and unchallenged.

While schooling in the 1990s, I always felt the relevance of hair to discipline and academic performance is unreasonable, illogical and unjustified. I still believe, as I did, that achievement, excellence and a fair sense of morality are all independent of hair length.

At the same time, I believe that men who sport long hair should also be responsible for their own hygiene.

Being male and sporting long hair does not make a man less moral, less productive or less Singaporean.

Ho Chi Sam

Letter by Ishwar Mahtani (nice name actually) published in the Straits Times Online Forum, Oct 24, 2008:

Male TV personalities should have neat haircuts and not sport long hair

On Tuesday night, as I tuned in to watch a TV talk show on the recent DBS investment crisis, I could not figure out if the presenter was male or female. I soon realised he was male, with long hair.

Personalities who appear on TV should always ensure they have a neat haircut and present themselves well. Appearing on TV with such long hair does not send a good message to viewers.

It was not long ago the Government used to warn males who appeared with such long hair in public places, for often they were associated with gangs.

I find it strange that MediaCorp allows a show with such a presenter to be aired. I hope it will look into this and ensure all presenters appear with neat and decent haircuts.

Ishwar Mahtani

-after thought-

To use the environmentalist lingo, the younger generation has to clean up the mess of the previous generations. Here, meanings attached to "long hair" are changing, but we are held back by such persons, who are further aided by the mass media (which amplifies their opinions).

Unfortunately, bigotry and mindsets have to die, given they cannot change. The only way for them to continue (in spirit) is through the institutions we have created for their continuation, for example the schools, media and other ideological state apparatuses. In that sense, values don't die, but the people who hold them and want them to propagate are mortal. Sometimes I feel we can only wait, because we fight a losing battle against these guys and the institutions that support them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We the suckers: Inspired by the fag and the pad

In a moment (of madness or assholicism) (and moments like that come very often) (wow, 3 parenthesised statements in a row! Is that permissible?), I wrote in someone's blog, somewhere along the lines of , "In Singapore, we suck either one of two things: The thumb on our hand, or the appendage of the establishment."

Of course, there are many figurative forms of sucking that we do throughout our lives, but I have chosen two prominent ones that are relevant to my experiences.

And it is the two (sucking thumbs and sucking phallic appendages) that are probably the source of frustration for many of us.

For the uninitiated, to suck one's thumb refers to one's eventual state of helplessness, loss of autonomy, to have a defeated (not defeatist) attitude, a position of non-actionability, resignation to the nature/circumstance of the situation.

To "suck cock" is to pander to someone (usually the owner of the "cock"), patronise, praise, submit to, be subjected to, often times the soft-soaper, apple-polisher, so as not to cause conflicts between the sucker and the receiver.

It is not surprising the crude and androcentric terms have their roots in the Chinese dialect, as how we understand them. Of course, "suck cock" is also understood in the same way in some Western cultures.

Post-industrial capitalism has led to complex levels of alienation, resulting in a culture of figurative fellatio (please don't cite me on that).

Agrarian societies, mostly micro-economically self-subsistence, have at the most a barter trade market. Now, with higher and more specialised divisions of (skilled) labour, and the condition we are so acquainted with that is bureaucracy, there is a market for "cock"-sucking.

There are high-level and low-level "cock"-sucking. For example, a high-level grassroots representative might execute some "cock"-sucking manoeuvres on the member of parliament in some meeting, for the sake of pursuing an agenda (either for him/herself or for the community).

That is not to say that the highest level of rulers/politicians are always on the receiving end of the conceptual cock-sucking. They too, suck as hard and as many, as the lower-level people. In thanking and giving credit to the masses, they renew their mandate and leadership, as they renew their acquaintance with the phallus. In the end, we see an exchange of "cock"-sucking.

"Thumb"-sucking on the other hand, while being the metaphorical cousin of the activity most toddlers are engaged with, is more of a reaction. However, it is often a reaction that yields no returns in the end. Thus, "thumb"-sucking is waste.

As children, we derive a sense of comfort and satisfaction when we suck our thumbs. But when we suck our "thumbs" in adulthood, we do it for consolation, often out of exasperation and fatigue.

The child sucking his/her thumb is the subject in the process of socialisation, while the adult "thumb"-sucker is the socialised subject. It is more of a natural and primal reflex for child thumb-sucking, but it is a social and ritualistic process (at times in the context of an urban and bureaucratic environment) for the adult "thumb"-sucker.

In being socialised and institutionalised, the child transits from a state of sub/un-conscious thumb-sucking, to a conscious, social and reflexive state of "thumb"-sucking. Also marked is the transition from a emotional and physiological means to gratification, independent of social structure, to a rational and social means to gratification/consolation. "Thumb"-sucking is thus functional to the larger social and political structure.

"Thumb"-sucking is indicative of the loss of agency. In sucking the "thumb", one has withdrawn his/her participation in the decision/policy-making processes of the establishment, letting it continue to reproduce itself and its ideology.

Philosophically speaking, sometimes "cock"-sucking is "thumb"-sucking, although "thumb"-sucking is no necessarily "cock"-sucking. A general submission to structure informs of both processes. Sometimes, both serve the purpose of sustaining the progress of an individual whose morale and sense of self-worth are dependent on the structure.

Enough of the concepts. I have to give some spotlight to the empirics.

As I cleaned my new flat today, I realised my upstairs neighbour had hung his/her wet clothes to drip dry, making it rather inconvenient for the neighbours below to dry their clothes.

I have also suspected that it could be the same neighbour who has rained blessings of cigarettes, a styrofoam food box and a used sanitary pad (now I know the meaning of heavy flow days) onto my air-conditioning compressor and the small ledge on which its brackets are fastened.

Perhaps my neighbour is the anti-social menstruating smoker who eats take-aways and handwashes his/her clothes. Of course, there could be many people living under one roof, because there is an assortment of clothes (children, adult, male and female) hung out to dry from above my unit.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) sent a representative today to inspect the house and surroundings for mosquito-friendly breeding grounds. I asked her what I could do about neighbours who shower us with cigarettes and sanitary pads. She told me to call the NEA hotline and also inform the town council. These are good ways to use the thumb (to dial the numbers, although I only use my thumb for dialing numbers "1", "4" and "7" on my fixed-line phone; we all use our thumbs to dial on our mobiles, don't we?), rather than sucking on it.

At the same time, she told me that the upstairs neighbour had refused to let her into the house to inspect.

"Aiyah, these people are uneducated one", she remarked. I could see her putting her own thumb into her mouth, in my mind of course.

What can I do about such neighbours any way?

They will not like it if I threw cigarettes and sanitary pads down on them, although I neither smoke nor menstruate.

It is also anti-social to an extent if we went "vigilante" on them, and do the following:
1) Take pictures/videos for evidence.
2) Collect the items in a zip-lock bag or box, and go upstairs and ask them if they have dropped these items.
3) Collect the items, and leave them at the neighbour's doorstep (but it could be the wrong neighbour though).

What can we do? Learn from Everitt Road?

At the moment, we have collected pictures. Although the sanitary pad one came on the day we did not have a camera with us. We are engaged in arbitrary acts (photography) just because of destructively anti-social acts. The kind of anti-social act I appreciate is the "you leave me alone, I leave you alone" one.

On the domestic front, I'm inclined to sucking my "thumb". Outside the home, and for the sake of earning some money, I have to suck some "cock".

I long for a life where one can be free from "thumbs" and "cocks". But social relations are as such that the sucking of "thumbs" and "cocks" are important processes.

The experience of living in our new home is, to an extent, at the mercy of our neighbours. We may have upgraded our flats (although the opposition wards might find that ironic), but we have not upgraded our attitudes.

In order to make peace, I am presented with two options: Suck my "thumb", or suck my neighbour's "cock". Perhaps, due to disempowerment at various levels, my neighbour has found autonomy in the form of unchallenged anti-social activities, such that others are compelled to do the sucking.

At the level of the establishment and formal institutions, their "thumb"-sucking often times inspire people to take matters into their own hands.

"Sorry, this is a minor case." "Sorry, not our jurisdiction." "Sorry, we don't handle this." "Non-seizeable offence!"

Recipients of such responses often juggle with the thought of taking justice into their own hands, or simple take their hand and suck their "thumb". In Singapore, some random person can punch you in the face and can get away with it. A crazy auntie (not related) can hit you with various weapons, but if you floor her with a clothesline or shoved your thumb into her eye (forms of self-defence) to subdue her, you could be in greater trouble than her. I'll probably talk more about self-defence next time.

On the one hand, we are given "thumb"-sucker responses, on the other, we are told to refrain from taking the law into our hands (I think about doing that all the time any way). It ultimately leads to a society of "thumb"-suckers. And in a society of "thumb"-suckers, one increases one's chance of being socially mobile (upwards of course) by engaging in "cock"-sucking.

"Hi, I think your under-aged son is smoking today."
"Hi, your wife is still menstruating!"
"Hi, I guess you were too tired to cook today. Is the economy rice stall good?"
"Hi, how big is the basin you use to handwash your clothes?"
"I'm glad you're kicking the habit, because you've thrown the cigarette box out the window too."

And I just thought of a song in the tune of "My Name Is Luka".

Hi, my name is Sam Ho. (one half of the ang mo pai newly-weds)
I live on the "di4 san1" floor.
I live downstairs from you.
I don't think you've seen me before.

If you smoke something late at night.
Some kind of Marlboro you had to light.
Just don't throw it on my 'con. (air-con)
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.

I think it's because I'm angry.
I try not to talk too loud.
The pad is sanitary!
It fucking doesn't float like clouds!

What you have done just make me cry,
That you are an eff-ing chao chee bye! (a mean-spirited piece of female genitalia)
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.

Yes I'll call N E A. (National Environment Agency)
T C, N P P again. (Town Council & Neighbourhood Police Post)
I'll repeat what I would say.
It's bureaucracy any way.

I guess it's better you live alone.
And cluster-fuck with what you've thrown.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.
Just don't throw it on my 'con.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Transgender Engendered Agenda

After attending SGButterfly's anniversary celebration last Saturday, I thought a lot about the transgender identity.

My research topic for my Masters Thesis is (at the moment) on transgender representations.

There are so many questions to be asked and so much to be learned.

And there are so many ways of looking at the topic. Methodologically and discursively, it is a headache, nevermind the subject matter itself.

I still feel it is inadequate to use feminist or queer theory to look at the formation and negotiation of the transgender identity.

Is transgenderism a reproduction of gendered discourse, or not? How?

What is the transgendered lens of viewing? Are we able and should we be viewing it through the male, female, trans-male, trans-female lens? Is the selection of lenses a mere reconfiguration of dominant gendered discourses?

I'm not looking at nor using "third gender" discourse, and it is theoretically so difficult to understand and conceptualise the transgender identity. I guess that is the plight of a "not" studying an "is".

Not to romanticise or patronise transgender studies, but I realise it is a lot more complex (in my opinion) than queer studies. It is so difficult to categorise (if we had to) transgender identities that although it appears that most of us have put the "T" in GLBTQ, we forget that the "T" is not entirely about sexual difference, but incorporates "difference" based on gender identity. Heck, I am even hesitant now categorising them as "sexual minorities".

"Transgender" could be a category on its own, but in such an environment now, the voiceless and oppressed have to form alliances and help one another.

Any how, I look forward to getting my research in order and reading up on transgender studies. Even within the academic community, there are disagreements in this field. I guess that is part of the beauty that is learning.

On another note, having been an audience to a handful of transgendered performances, I have the following thoughts:

1) Where are the men? Why are women, womanhood and femininity being portrayed more than masculinity?

2) In my opinion, some of the shows are a celebration of (new) womanhood and the feminine identity, and sometimes a critique or satire on the performer's past. It is a happy and dramatic concoction of humour, courage and show(wo)manship. Or is there too much of a reading into them?

3) Essentially, through the performances, I feel hyperfemininity is being reproduced. Is this a satire on dominant/hegemonic femininity or a critique on the need for social assimilation?

4) An unrelated thought: Why do some gay men dress in drag (as women) and perform? Is it because while they identify as homosexual, they appreciate the aesthetics of femininity? What are other possible explanations?

5) Why is masculinity not celebrated? Or is the stage not the best place for this?

6) Traditionally, in male-dominated domains, women perform for men. Is the male-to-female transgendered performances a critique or a reproduction of this? I understand many transgendered persons have to make a living and also save up for surgery, so performance may be avenue, while some are driven to enter the sex trade because of discrimination at various levels. So, are performances the choice of the privileged (like most of us) or the choice of the transgendered? Is miming to the music symbolic of anything?

7) I've watched Kumar's stand-up comedy and dance routines, where he dresses in drag. Is he paying a tribute to transgendered performances (other than celebrating and expressing his feminine side)?

8) Ultimately, the people who perform are not representative of everyone who is transgendered. But what is the significance of these performances? How, if we can, do we situate these performances in the context of hegemonic masculinities/femininities?

There are more thoughts than the ones mentioned. In the end, we have to challenge our own pre-conceived notions of gender and the male/female dichotomy.

There are so many questions, which is the most unsettling thing especially when you want to know the answers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blocked TV: Am I a bad programme?

I was celebrating the upcoming public holiday (Hari Raya) at Botak Jones in Braddell/Toa Payoh with a friend on Tuesday night, but later went to my wife's place to watch the taped version of Channel News Asia's BlogTV "Am I gay?" episode.

Being a GLBTQ-focused media studies researcher, you have to be really sensitive/sensitised to texts, images, news and representations of sexual minorities across various media.

My wife also figured it be an interesting segment, because it is not very often a Singaporean television programme deals with such issues.

We endured the excruciating opening music and the pre-advert fillers. The quality of opening music in almost every English programme from Mediacorp is not just bad, it's painful. Maybe it's there to build some character in our viewers.

There we sat watching, hoping to hear something interesting about homosexuality and how people would deal with homosexuality. After all, the title of the segment was "Am I gay?", so it definitely had to be about gay-ness/homosexuality and its accompanying struggles. Given it is mainstream television programming, at the least they should have discussed and debunk the myths of homosexuality and provide suggestions as to how we can be more accepting of homosexuality.

Thanks to cutting-edge editing, which means they have cut out probably most of the rigorous and critical engagements with the issue of homosexuality, the programme devolved into a discussion on sex education. Sure, homosexuality is and should be a component in sex education in Singapore, but isn't the programme about homosexuality itself, rather than a (un)related topic?

I remember (later) watching American Pie: The Naked Mile on HBO after that and it was cut/censored very badly, that the transition within and between scenes was so abrupt it made the viewing unenjoyable. I suspect CNA's BlogTV has done the same. The discussion could have been way longer than the 20+ minute show that was aired. The final product is unfocused, disoriented and shallow, and made the "schoolboy error" of not keeping to the topic. Worse, they had to torture us with the bad music.

It didn't help that there was not enough discussion on debunking the myths of homosexuality, such as its association with paedaphelia, sexual transmitted infections and so on. There was only a presentation of the problem: the populist associations. But no engagement with the problem.

Perhaps the aim of BlogTV was not to discuss issues seriously, but to flex their technological savvy muscle. They did a good job demonstrating video-conferencing and all the fancy gadgets. In staging the discussion on a young and hip backdrop, they would have thought they would engage the larger youth population. Maybe if they tried doing a hip-hop dance for an intermission, wore some bling-bling and spoke like a sub-urban African American, they would have caught the attention of ALL Singaporean youth, and CNA's ratings would have skyrocketed.

When the show closed, the two hosts gave their opinions and I felt, given the editing, they should not have invited the 4 guests at all. They should have just let the two hosts talk to the camera and I do not think there would have been a difference. Who are the two girls any way? Are they BlogTV viewers who got invited on the show?

At the least, the show could have made some effort in using the proper respectful and maybe politically correct vernaculars. They could have not used "homosexual" as a noun but as an adjective, because a "homosexual" is more than just his/her sexuality. "A homosexual man/woman" is a better term. In fact, "a self-identified homosexual man/woman" would be a lot more respectful. The same goes for "gays" (as a noun) when it can be used as an adjective, e.g. "a gay man/woman".

In listing the stereotypical and misinformed associations with disease and social ills, BlogTV has reinforced the stereotypes that are associated with homosexuality, because it did not deal with them critically and talk about how these stereotypes have originated and been perpetuated.

BlogTV has been way too ambitious, thinking they could tackle or problematise homosexuality in Singapore in less than half an hour. Perhaps they might have got the "cheap pop" they wanted in ratings by airing a show that deals with a contentious topic. But the development and ending of the programme simply shows the lack of substance and direction, and myself as a viewer feeling that the four guests have wasted their time being on the show.

I remember doing a post-production interview for Channel Five's "A War Diary" in 2001. Remember that show? I was the bespectacled writer of the diary (but there was no mention of the diary until the last of the 20 episodes!). The interview lasted about half an hour, but in the "behind the scenes", I "spoke" for about 30 seconds. Of course, the gaze were on heavyweights Tan Kheng Hwa, Tay Ping Hui, Whinston Chao and the emerging Fiona Xie. No sour grapes there, but it was definitely a waste of time and saliva (used for speaking).

If I had the opportunity to run a segment on "Am I gay?", I would invited the anti's and the pro's. I would invite various religious and racial representatives to give their views and rationalities on homosexuality. There will be panels of experts from both sides to give their views too. Essentially, the show could conclude that for every perspective on homosexuality, it may have a political or religious background. Whatever the case may be, it is up to questioning/struggling individuals to decide from whom they would want to seek help/attention, and these individuals deserve to be fully aware of the resources that are available for them.

On the sex education part, I think Singaporeans need to be open about it. Rather than being authoritative and using sex education as a scare-fest of disease-ravaged genitalia, they should teach responsible sex. At the most, if they wanted to moralise, they could discuss and moralise sex with/without love/commitment, and their consequences. Responsible sex is safe sex. Responsibility is safe sex.

"We don't care what you do with your body, so long as you are responsible from the beginning to the end, and do not cause harm and distress to yourself and your loved ones. Don't be a statistic for some phenomenon." would be my message.

Other thoughts: The role of the school has changed too. Seems to me the school is the third parent, which says a lot about parenting today.