Friday, February 27, 2009

Engaging e-Engagement

(Unpublished - Straits Times, Feb 25)

I read with interest the article 'Govt warms up to new media' (ST, Feb 25, 2009).

No government should ignore the possibilities and challenges presented by emerging media platforms for engaging the citizenry.

With alternative media platforms such as the internet, more citizens are able to either participate or have their interests represented in public.

This only adds to the diversity of agendas and opinions, both of which should not suffer monopolisation.

Moreover, the government has to discover meaningful ways to engage a growingly media literate society.

Not only do government messages get re-mediated in cyberspace, but their content and rhetoric are scrutinised and criticised. This has implications on citizen confidence in the government.

The internet and cyberspace content also reflect the limitations of traditional media.

Interests and issues that fall outside the frames of traditional media agenda-setting get to be articulated in this domain.

A government that is afraid of keeping its finger on the pulse of society, afraid of listening and afraid to engage the citizenry, is one that will continue to enforce restrictions on how its citizens can express themselves, provide feedback or contribute to political processes.

Reach, the feedback arm of this government, is no doubt a positive and progressive step.

Nevertheless, I stress that not every Singaporean gets to participate and be represented in either media platforms.

The underprivileged, being on the wrong end of a digital divide that requires serious attention, have either no computers or internet access.

Having not the means does not imply having not the desire to communicate their needs and interests in the public domain.

Engaging media and new media content may only mean an engagement with specific strata in Singaporean society.

As we make a step forward with the advancements in information communication technologies, we should take two steps back by allowing voices to be silenced or remain silent.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Our attitudes towards mental illness need treatment

(Unpublished - Straits Times, Feb 18, 2009)

I read with interest Radha Basu’s article ‘Dealing with devils in the mind’ (ST, Feb 18, 2009).

I applaud the efforts put in by the correspondent as well as her interviewee Dr Ang Yong Guan in raising awareness on mental illness and fighting its stigmatism in Singapore.

The public raising of awareness, education and dialogue will either be insufficient or in vain if the same efforts are not made at the level of the government, employers and other organisational and administrative processes.

The change may be very slow given we have developed and encased ourselves within a rigid rhetoric of meritocracy.

Such a system and mindset are unaccommodating, unsympathetic and unhelpful towards persons who suffer from mental illness.

It is in our culture and in our institutions that the stigmatism of mental illness continues to persist.

Most of us are into the layman groupthink that depression, for example, is associated with an inferior state of mind and can be corrected with a change in mindset.

This results in the isolation of the illness to the individual.

In the process, we think not about the environment and society, both of which are depoliticised and left unquestioned and unchanged.

Most patients and sufferers feel the stigma and anxiety of disclosure or discussion of mental illness because, apart from lack of social empathy and ridicule, they fear they may not get equal treatment or equal opportunity in areas such as employment, for instance.

The fear of stigma and informal negative social sanctions also prevents individuals suffering from depression to seek help from medical and psychiatric professionals.

This phenomenon also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes, where men are assumed be “mentally stronger” and should be “strong” enough to weather depression, or that women are seen to be “naturally” emotional and susceptible to mental illnesses.

Such stereotypes further fuel discrimination based on gender.

It is interesting that the article pointed out that in other countries, there are people who are not ashamed to seek help.

We, as Singaporeans, should see that shame is not what we inherent possess, but what is shoved down our throats.

As we improve our medical technologies, we should also improve our attitudes.

A little change in attitude in all of us is a small step.

Surely a nation that tries to exercise greater graciousness can exercise a little more compassion and empathy.

Ho Chi Sam

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Say no to "tranny"

(Unpublished - Straits Times, Feb 18, 2009)

I refer to the AFP syndicated report published on the Straits Times website, under the section Breaking News - Asia - Story, 'Convicted for tranny rape' (ST, Feb 18).

I feel the relevant editor has not exercised any discretion and thus allowed the derogatory term "tranny" to be featured in the headline.

The term "tranny" is disrespectful to members of the sexual minority community who identify as transgender.

May I suggest that since the local press are expected by the government to play a role in nation and community building, they (Straits Times included) should take the lead in promoting the use of politically correct terminologies that do not discriminate nor trivialise any minority community.

We already live in a society where there is social and institutional discrimination against sexual minorities in general.

The press has to play their role, directly or indirectly, in addressing the discrimination, rather than be complicit in perpetuating the marginalising and trivialising of people who identity as transgender.

In this case, a conscientious use of proper terminology is a small step.

Ho Chi Sam

Add: It's also important to note that there are transgender people, for example post-op transsexual people, who may not identify as transgender, but by their current/new/"true" gender identity and sex.

Essentially, we need to "create" our own education and make sure derogatory words aren't used (too often) or institutionalised.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bugis Terrorist Attack Hoax on SMS

My wife just got a text message on her phone from her aunt, who got it from a friend.

It warned about a potential terrorist attack at Bugis, and cited a high concentration of policemen as well as a military 24-hour standby.

The Singapore Police has already confirmed this to be a hoax.

Below is a Mediacorp News article:

SMS about terrorist attack in Bugis a hoax: Police

An SMS about a possible terrorist attack on Bugis Village has been circulating amongst members of the public.

But police say there is no credible evidence to suggest such an attack to date.

Still, they've taken the necessary precautions to enhance security in the area.

And investigations into the case are ongoing.

In the meantime, police are advising members of the public to not be overly alarmed, and to contact the police immediately if they notice any suspicious activity.

They also want to warn those who would intentionally mislead the public by perpetuating false threats to public safety.

The police say they take a very stern view against anyone who attempts to cause undue public alarm or fear in such a manner.

They added that they will not hesitate to take action against such perpetrators.


Well, I asked her aunt to call her friend. Hopefully, if each of us spend a couple of minutes calling the person who sent us the text message, we might find out who the perpetrator is.

I rule out capitalism, because this is a poor attempt to generate consumption (the sending of text messages).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is paedophelia wrong?

How can we prove that paedophelia is wrong?

Let us look at the notion of consent. Here, paedophelia is villanised as non-consensual. When there is no consent between two parties, one is assumed to be victimised.

Are there inherent assumptions (haha, tautology!) in our idea and understanding of consent?

Are children (the "paedo"s for your "phelia") incapable of understanding consent? Or what is it about our idea of "children" that excludes them from the domain of consent?

If we looked at it historically and from a social constructionist point of view, "children" are a relatively young concept, having surfaced in the industrial period. It has not helped that religion (religious institutions) and science in the industrial period have also created a new paradigm which segregates and ascribes meanings and value to various age groups. In this view, paedophelia is also a social construct, carrying along with it its historical, cultural and socio-legal baggage. (see social construction of childhood)

Here, if industrial and post-industrial "childhood" become arbitrary, does the wrong-ness of paedophelia change?

The thing is, what or who benefits or becomes protected, validated and/or justified in the institutionalisation/criminalisation of "paedophelia" as something that is considered wrong on many fronts? Can we ever problematise the dominant discourse on "paedophelia"?

Are we perpetuating an idea that age and body size and the medico-scientific prescription that is "maturity" are possible variables for discrimination and oppression? Then, how and to what extent is the discourse on "paedophelia" ageist (for example)? Also, how and to what extent are science and medicine complicit in normalising the idea that paedophelia is wrong?

Can we not see the trivialising of childhood as a category? This category is seen as inferior to the category of adulthood, and hence need more socio-legal and economic protection.

If we talk about the imbalance of power (given the case of paedophelia) along the axes of age, body size, gender/sex, as critical to proving paedophelia is wrong, hwo do we prove that paedophelia is more wrong than acts or "crimes" committed that involve the same categories? For example, a gerontocracy that disciplines the bodies of women, or an oppressive state forcing young men into military conscription?

Any way, what is it about our attitude towards and knowledge of paedophelia that makes it seem very wrong?

Is there a deontic or consequentialist explanation for/against this?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heterosexuality's very hetero

Okay. Short post today (or ever).

I think gender and sexuality are not problematised enough. Let us talk about the "heterosexual" and let us use the example of a woman.

Is this woman attracted to a male, a man or a performer of masculinity?

So is a heterosexual woman attracted to the biological male, the cultural man or the social masculine?

The (stereo)typical Singaporean ethnic Chinese woman may like her "man" to be taller, tanner, leaner and preferably ethnic Chinese or Caucasian. So what do these preferences tell us about heterosexuality then?

If this woman says she is heterosexual, will she prefer the abovementioned "man" to a "man" who is, say, shorter, fatter and ethnic Malay or Indian? Which "man" will figure more in this woman's desires and fantasies? Which "man" is more likely to turn her off?

"Heterosexual" is sometimes a convenient substitute for monosexist, culturo-, physiologico-, socio-economico-, etc. -sexual!

At the same time, does this woman get turned on by a biological male who possess the cultural characteristics of the desirable male, or a biological female or non-human being who is able to perform the very same chracteristics?

If we could assign a percentage to it, how much of her love is for the phallus, for the performance of cultural masculinity, for the potential political/social/economic benefits of their union and so on?

Is our idea of romance and attraction predicated only on sexual function? To what extent do gender performance play a part? Do you fall in love with a gender or a sex?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I have an injured left shoulder. Tendonitis or something. The pain and ache has spread to my chest and neck. And yes, it hurts a lot.

Tackling Underaged Sex

(Unpublished - Feb 9, 2009)

Tackling Underaged Sex

I refer to recent reports on under-aged sex.

The report addressed the increase in girls under 16 having sex.

While it is important it be discussed and debated, such a social phenomena should not be an easy excuse for creating any moral panic nor legitimising any singular brand of sex education.

Previously, on top of legal sanctions, there was also a stronger social stigma that helped to prevent underage sex.

Now, we are not only confronted with changing mindsets, but a diversity of ideas on what sexual values and morality consist. In today’s context, invoking social and moral sanctions does not create the same solidarity as before.

Furthermore, it does not help that physiologically, teenagers today mature generally earlier than previous generations.

With these changes in mind, we should tackle under-aged sex by continuing to openly provide a variety of information that can empower our young to make informed decisions pertaining to emotional and sexual health.

At the same time, the laws pertaining to under-aged sex and the protection of minors should also be reasonably explained and justified to our young.

We should not engage in any moral panic and start blaming the liberal media or peer pressure. Such an activity could cause us to adopt stringent measures that will only drive youth sex into secrecy.

And in view of the notion that the “forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest”, we should be less secretive and ashamed in discussing issues on sex. Only an open society is capable of doing that.

We must depart from the thinking that the mongering of shame, guilt and fear is the way to teach sex education, for one generation’s ideas of shame, guilt and fear may not be consistent with another generation’s. In the same line, we ourselves should not feel shame, guilt or fear when discussing sex with the younger generation.

We must also depart from the idea that teenage sexuality does not exist, that youngsters are asexual and void of erotic feelings, for turning a blind eye to underage sex makes us equally complicit in a phenomenon we call a social problem.

Our fear of and lack of responsibility in sex education ourselves have manifested in the endless blame games, moral panics, demonising and marginalisation of queer identities, as well as the villainising and stigmatism of unplanned teenage pregnancy.

Instead of spending our resources on identifying or even isolating causes such as the decadent media, poor familial nurturing or negative peer pressure, we should invest in making our society open to sexual health, sexual responsibility and sex education.

Ho Chi Sam

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tangled in the Internet

(Unpublished - Feb 5, 2009)

Tangled in the Internet

I refer to the recent observations by Lui Tuck Yew on the local online community.

Lui, in response to blogger opinions following the heinous attack on Seng Han Thong, has expressed shock and disappointment at such “unhelpful” and “vicious” attacks in the blogosphere.

Unsurprising it is that issues on internet content regulation and self-policing resurface.

I believe it to be a challenging task to discover and address the best form of governance in this “information age”.

Creating formal centralised systems of regulation and codes of conduct may seem misadjusted and archaic in the advent of new media communication technologies, given the possibility of challenges unforeseen and unanticipated.

I propose we turn our attention away from the search for a cure-all strategy and solution, and first understand and appreciate the structure, dynamics and aesthetics of new media communication technologies.

In this view, citizens with different opinions, or the influences of technology, should not be seen or studied in isolation.

We should depart from the mindset that isolates maverick, dissident or plain insensitive bloggers as individuals who are ungrateful or have too much time on their hands.

Our focus should rather be on the reality that these bloggers are Singaporean and are subjects of every social, political, cultural and economic process that exist in this island nation.

Local blogosphere frustration may stem from many aspects of life in Singapore, and the internet serves as a platform for the expression and sharing of views.

Such expressions are manifested in opinion pieces, personal accounts and even satire, all of which no less significant.

It is ironic given political discourse was previously restricted to the traditional political domain, but we now have alternative domains for such similar engagements in the internet. This may be indicative of the fear and lack of political representation and participation in our society. It also serves as a stark reminder that the bloggers’ ideas of regulation and policing are not coherent with the government’s.

The cyberspace burgeoning of opinions on a diversity of issues is symptomatic of modern day Singapore. This phenomenon, while thanks to improved public education, media literacy and general standards of living, serves to reflect the limitations of our political and legislative structures and institutions. In this line of thought, the blogosphere may hold the key to better governance and government.

We should also note that there still exist many other Singaporeans not privileged enough to have computers, internet access or the means to communicate their opinions.

Imagine, for instance, how vibrant (or chaotic) our blogosphere will be if every Singaporean had such a privilege. Should they be altogether downplayed or trivialised?

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lui Tuck Yew and the Internet

I didn't draw this. Just posting it on behalf of someone else. Cute huh?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Straight-jacket problem

Oh no, I sense illness on the horizon. Hope I don't fall sick.

By the way, for those who are interested, I am writing 2 papers at the moment. The first is on representation (in media). The second is about a particular discourse in transgenderism in Singapore, namely the medical categorisation of transgenderism. For my Masters thesis, I am (and hope to be) researching transgender representations in Singapore. Am not yet decided as to whether I should do a sociological or an discursive analysis approach.

I sometimes wonder to myself, "What's the point of doing all this?" Sure, my wife wants to retire early, and that will make me the sole breadwinner by being a teacher/researcher some time in the future. Gender norm eh?

I also harbour the dream to retire early. It is our integration into and dependence on the economic system that forces us to engage it. If it weren't for these variables/properties, most of us would have been disengaged (although "planting rice is never fun" hahaha).

On the other hand, it is an intention of mine (and to an extent, some degree of norm-breaking 'mischief') to spread greater awareness on gender and sexuality issues. Awareness is not merely about knowing something, but the desire to ask simple questions, such as "why is this like that?" Of course, this leads to far more political questions such as "who benefits from this?"

A simple group like the queer-straight alliance, SinQSA, poses huge philosophical challenges (to me). We support the idea of an integrated society, regardless of gender identity and sexuality (and gender behaviour and sexual identity, two slightly different terms from the ones mentioned). I feel, for the moment, the banner under which this integration can be championed is a bit limiting, so much so SinQSA can be mistaken for "one of those" sexual minority rights advocate groups.

While the sexual minority rights movement/campaign require such support and strength in numbers, and a wider diversity of support, I believe SinQSA cannot participate fully in the movement as the idea of SinQSA concerns not only sexual minorities, but "sexual minorities" who do not identify as sexual minorities as well as people who identify as straight. SinQSA is about Singaporean men and women in general(duh?).

Gay-straight alliances and queer-straight alliances in high schools and colleges in the United States address school/peer-based discrimination and bullying, very specific issues. However, the politics (if you want to call it) of SinQSA is about sensitising, on top of raising awareness, people to the some/often-times oppressive nature that is heterocentrism/normality/sexism.

I personally believe that Singaporeans should be sensitive and sensitised to issues on gender identity and sexuality, before they willingly don the mass produced straight-jackets of gendered society. In essence, transparency and the access to new/alternative sets of knowledge should be created for ourselves by ourselves, through the raising of this form of awareness.

What does it mean/take to be man/woman? What does it mean/take to be gay/straight/bisexual/pansexual/asexual/etc? What does it mean/take to identify as or be transgendered?

Are you a masculinist masculine male man?

There is another tension that exists, one that I have far greater difficulty in communicating. I am weary of the culture of "political correctness" that might shroud such a campaign/movement, taking into consideration SinQSA strives for social integration. The paradox is there for all of us to see when we become intolerant, forceful and righteous in our attempts to fight these very same properties.

To avoid that, I propose the "politically correct" use of terminology. A gay is not gay. He/she is someone who identifies as gay. At the same time, "homosexual" should be an adjective rather than a noun, the latter implying some simplistic reductionism of a person's identity. This linguistic/grammatical strategy is problematic too, as some members of the sexual minority community are still oriented towards the previous discourse of identification.

SinQSA is also stranded between liberal and radical politics. The whole discourse on "integration" signals liberal intent, but the intent to re-configure language and ways of thinking/assumptions are radical.

SinQSA also seeks to invalidate the polarisation of our society. I think the recommendations of "more dialogue" implicitly (and ironically) suggests that people should start listening, rather than talking. However, the problem with listening is that the ears with which we hear/listen are moulded by existing hardy socialised pre-conceptions of what right/wrong should be, of what society should be, and with that, the singular direction of a moral compass we believe to exist universally. How then can you communicate?

Members of the sexual minority community are, (un)knowingly, complicit in perpetuating heterosexist discourses on sexual minority rights/liberation/etc. It is not fault of theirs, as society is not ready for new radical/subversive discourses and challenges to pre-existing ideologies. For example, the usage of "gay" or "homosexual" as a noun.

At the same time, while we (myself included) have diligently sought to debunk gender norms as socially constructed, we have returned to biological essentialism to legitimise the queer sexual identity. There is also a turn towards pathologisation, medicalisation and medical categorisation to legitimise the transgender identity, for instance, the identification with "gender identity disorder" in transsexualism.

Society has defended itself so well from suggestions and charges that it may be the one that is "ill" or "wrong". In the end, we all bite the same bait, whether queer, pro-queer or anti-queer.

The fight against categorical conflation and straight-jacketing of specific sexual minority identities/groups somehow requires another level of conflation. I see it not as a synthesis, but rather a standardisation of ideas, ideals and identities to pursue a cause. Heard about the homogeneous homosexual?

Is there a way to go beyond this? Is there another tactic? Or does this tactic still figure in the grand scheme, the grand strategy (de Certeau haha) of things?

I look at accounts of trans-gender individuals (as in transcending the gender binary) wherein the subversion of societal gender norms/binary is furthered by the re-configuration of language. New pronouns such as "hir" and "zhe" are a couple of many examples in which these persons have chosen to identify themselves. They figure not as deviant or challenges to established codes and norms, but as a commentary, as an exposure that we live in a society not only of constraints and limitations, but also of possibilities. There is a possibility we can change. However, most of us can only conceive of a change that is linear, it "progresses" or "regresses", it "upgrades" or "downgrades"; and this idea of 'change' still exists within a binary.

Watching the movie "Short Bus" and meeting queer individuals have got me to wonder, "what is right/wrong with a consensual and happy relationship of three persons?" Beyond the point that society is culturally, economically and legally unable to accommodate this phenomenon, what is it that prevents us from accepting this?

I think SinQSA also fights for the idea that we should each have the freedom to define ourselves. Once people come to understand and respect this idea, we may ponder over the validity of "straight-ness".

There should be a freedom of one to identify with a gender/sexuality continuum, or a model of fluidity, or even something so transcendental/transgressive it cannot be categorised.

You are a biological male. You identify as heterosexual, which means you like females, but of a certain aesthetic/shape/behaviour. What about biological males that identify as women or become a woman (according to cultural standards)? Will your heterosexuality accommodate this woman?

This biological male of yours may identify as (culturally) masculine, but may not exhibit or perform all the masculine traits as consistent with the majority of societal expectations. So how man is that? How "straight" is that?

I don't think we should be nihilists and say that everything is arbitrary (although most of the time I think that way), as this will not do good for any kind of politics. You cannot mobilise people around an idea of nothingness or the idea that everything is meaningless (unless we have a organisation of anarchists, rather oxymoronic). We should instead explore and be open to the idea that it is time for people to become persons, to decide to "label" ourselves, but not merely with the existing terms and conditions given to us.

My tennis coach, a devout Catholic, joked about me being "a voice in the wilderness" (has biblical connotations, as I found out later). The thing is, if everyone has a freedom to decide his/her/its identity, I believe we will have a new system/paradigm/"wilderness" to accommodate these different voices. Of course, we still live in a world/mindset that the business of pleasing everyone and having everyone fulfill their potential/capabilities is problematic and impossible. Who knows, even the "emancipation" of queer identities will (paradoxically) take place under the continued oppression of biological females. Funny things can happen.

And again (as usual), where will we go from there? For the moment, a simple SinQSA won't hurt. I am so eager to figure out the potential challenges and problems that it faces and will confront, but am limited by knowledge, ideology, language and logic (and a bit of personal beliefs because I sometimes question the need to form associations, as it figures as functional to pre-existing systems).

Apparently, thinking is not enough; we have got to start questioning.