Friday, June 19, 2009

The NLB No-Show for Ah Kua Show

Leona Lo, author of autobiography From Leonard To Leonard, recently had her request to put a poster for her upcoming play at the National Library Board (NLB), Ah Kua Show, turned down by the NLB. She has since started a petition.

She wrote, and I quote:

I wrote to the National Library Board recently to enquire about displaying the Ah Kua Show poster on their notice boards. Without enquiring about the aims of the show – namely, to guide youth who are confused about their gender identity – they turned down my request citing that “displays at our libraries should be relevant to a broad audience of all ages.”

This is weird. I recall NLB had publicity material promoting the play Asian Boys 3, and the same statutory board has previously lent its notice boards to plays and performances that would be considered niche or dark.

It is very interesting how government organisations and statutory boards often juggle the rhetoric of diversity/plurality and the rhetoric of generality. When they seek to make and pass decisions, they will either invoke the reason of diversity/plurality, to justify why such a decision has been made to accommodate differences; that, or they will invoke the reason of generality, and hide behind a smoke screen they call "the majority" or what they smugly perceive as what is good for "children".

The play by Leona obviously deals with the issues a transsexual person have and might face. NLB's rejection is merely symbolic, in my opinion, given that Leona will still continue to promote her work. However, this rejection is enough to show the lack of initiative and responsibility of the organisation, instead of supporting the raising of awareness of trans issues, they have chosen to silence it because they assume it was not relevant.

The public deserves to know more about trans issues, and for starters, those confronted by transsexual persons. There are, among others, emotional, medical, social and professional challenges faced by the gender dysphoric, the pre-operative transsexual, the transitioning and the post-operative transsexual people. The play may fulfill the function of being a play, but it also serves to raise awareness. Awareness and visibility is important, because their lack exacerbates the problems trans people face in our society.

It is odd but unsurprising that we silence the voices of the margins because we fear or dislike the people that we put there in the first place. I cannot see the harm of getting to know another person's story.

Trans people have long been part of our histories, and I fail to understand why is there a need (by some) to silence them. I fail to see the social or moral threat trans people pose to our society.

At the most, the threat is to our cissexist/cisgenderist bigotry and ignorance. The threat is to our pride, as we might feel ashamed for ourselves for consciously and unconsciously continuing the discrimination, the hate and the misinformation of trans people and sexual minorities in general.

The threat to us might be the exposing of how we are ever ready to hide behind populist rhetoric - e.g. children, general morality, gender norms, etc. - just to validate our irrational fear, hatred and discrimination of sexual minorities; all that without ever wanting to reflect on our own biases, for the reflection itself constitutes a threat to our ego and the manner in which we stubbornly subscribe to prevailing and incentivising ideologies.

As Singapore strives to be an "intelligent nation", that is "gracious" "global city", it often takes that giant leap backwards by openly not acknowledging the presence, contributions and issues of certain minorities. Silencing and the supporting the spread of misinformation are also part of this giant leap backwards. All because our leaders are driven by the economic imperative and the continual appeasement of the politically, socially and economically powerful Chinese elite, most of whom intersect with the educated elite and are opinion leaders of a mobilisable moral majority, and the appeasement of specific ethnic/religious minorities.

Harmony and progress for our country is about silence. We will not go far that way. NLB's actions are symbolic annihilation of the trans discourse.

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