Friday, July 10, 2009

McCurley's open letter to Thio

Refer to here for the news and opinion related to law professor Thio Li-Ann's impending visit to New York University.

In it, there was an open letter by student Jim McCurley to the highly articulate and rather understated political liberal academic.

I shall reproduce it here:

I read your recent e-mail interview with Inside Higher Ed with some interest. It seems that you may be a little concerned about what awaits you at NYU this fall. As a gay person and a law student, I wanted to take the opportunity to reassure you and to welcome you to the university. I’m not sure if you’ve been to New York before, but I gather from your CV that you got a quite a fine education in the UK. Because of a few phrases you used in the interview, it occurred to me that you may not be familiar with some peculiarities of American English and I want to point out a few that may come in handy. First, we call chips “french fries” and crisps “chips.” Second, we generally call Members of Parliament “elites” and law students, well, “law students.” We don’t really use the word “diktat” a whole lot.

New York being New York, you may also find a few Yiddish words to be useful. Foremost among these is “chutzpah.” “Chutzpah” is hard to translate directly and its meaning is perhaps best illustrated by example. New Yorkers would say that a former NMP and graduate of Cambridge and Oxford who denounces gays in a rather vulgar manner on the floor of Parliament in a successful bid to enable their imprisonment calling the highlighting of her remarks by a few law students “ugly politicking” based on “their own prejudices, from whatever sources” has a lot of chutzpah.

Now, having grown up in a farming village in Kentucky and spent a number of years in the enlisted ranks of the Army, I share your distaste for both “ugly politicking” and “elite diktat.” As I’ve been called a “faggot” and been beaten up a few times, I don’t care much for “bullying” either, although I’m not sure having one of one’s own Parliamentary speeches circulated really qualifies as such. This may be yet another peculiarity of American English.

You are quite correct, however, that in the face of bullying, one must have courage. It also helps to have supportive gay friends. One of the nice things about gay folks is that we tend not to belong to either the “liberal camp” or “communitarian camp” which you described in your speech. We’re just into camp. Likewise, the gays at NYU don’t by any means have a problem with you, your right to your views, or academic freedom. We just don’t think that state power to imprison or discriminate against sexual, racial, or other minorities is a particularly “academic” question. Again, that’s American English for you.

Another generally appreciated feature of the gays is our sense of taste, which has been highlighted in television shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” You are a bit mistaken if you think that the gays at NYU want to censor you. It’s just that, like mixing polka dots with plaid or having George Wallace teach a course on civil rights in the American South, we tend to think NYU’s hiring you to teach a class called “Human Rights in Asia” demonstrates a lack of taste.

Dr. Thio, if you’ll have me, I’d like to be your supportive gay friend. We can have lunch, dish about men and listen to music together. I know a great tapas place in Greenwich Village and, as an American, I’d like to disabuse you of the notion that I have any interest in “refus[ing] to engage with dissenting views” or directing “intolerant animosity” at you. There are also a few great American songs I’d love to introduce you to. One of my favorites is called “Cry Me a River.” It was written by Arthur Hamilton.

I must make one friendly request before I let you go, however. We American gays are doing fairly well post-Lawrence v. Texas. Unlike our Singaporean brethren, we can’t be arbitrarily thrown into prison and can generally defend ourselves under the law. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our friends, the straw men. From “human right to sodomy” to “Americans … appropriating the rhetoric of human rights … [to] impose their views on a sovereign state,” you’ve spent a good deal of time knocking them down. Last I checked, they hadn’t done anything to you, so why not go a bit easier on them?

All the best,

Jim McCurley

NYU Law Class of 2010

Thio was notified of this letter and posted her reply:

A faculty member forwarded me your Open Letter and I must say it's wittiness made me laugh out loud, especially your comment about being "camp." Touche. When I mentioned camps, I was thinking of Frankie goes to Hollywood's two tribes song and perhaps it was a little ill-advised on my part, but such are my sorry cultural referent points.

I am a little weary of some of the sad posts from certain of my countrypeople who love to misrepresent and distort the nature of my views or the context and issue they were directed at. Always sweeping, uncompelling and with the tired litany of insults and presumptions, but then, perhaps they read religiously from Schopenhauer's Die Kunst Recht zu Behalten but fail to see the irony.

It really is the last straw.

Contextualisation is key, I am sure you will agree.

I was sorry to read that you were beaten up - that is never justified; and being called "faggot" is as ugly as being called "homophobe" so perhaps we will leave the name-callers to their own devices and treat each other first and foremost as human beings with intrinsic dignity. (Is that a howl of protests I hear across the cyber-waves by the usual band of demonisers? C'est la vie.)

I find the internet not to be conducive to genuine communication as people will say what they will say and believe what they want to believe. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Anyway, please do come knock on my door or drop me an email and have a coffee with me when I reach your not so sunny shores (if you do caffeine, that is). I would welcome having a civilised conversation with you; you can ask me whatever questions you might have to understand where I am coming from and what my political convictions are - if you care to know the truth of things. I find face to face talks are very effective in disabusing falsehoods and clarifying misapprehension and well, heck, distortions, particularly those redolent with malicious intent.

Thank you for the letter,

All the very best,
Li-ann Thio.

Interestingly, I somehow feel that people have the right to be convicted to their beliefs. Well, it is the enactment of these beliefs that encroach other spheres and weigh down on the beliefs of others, compelling them to feel threatened or to be changed. But that is a world that we live in.

I hope that some attention will be paid to what Thio has to teach. Beyond sexual minority issues and her personal beliefs, there are many things the Americans can learn about this part of Asia. Our relations cannot be built on stereotypes and prevailing and exclusive ideologies.

That said, it is sometimes ironic to me that when the upholding of diversity of ideology and opinion creates stereotypes and misinformation, creates aggression and passive aggression. I think this is worsened by the lack of sense of community and sense of social belonging of Singaporeans, that ideological institutions provide that alternative.

I actually look forward to any interview with Thio that finds out her views on sexuality and sexual orientation. Most of the time, she is somehow 'objective' about it. It is about time we get an insightful and personal interview with her. I am sure faith and religion are important to her too and that could be shared with all of us too. She is after all, human like us.


:byang said...

IMO, this is a case of double standards - she's being a way lot more polite to this NYU law student than her fellow 'countrypeople', the local LGBT community, whom she describes as suffering from "gender identity disorder". (I'm pretty sure this is not taken 'out of context' or 'misrepresented' -I quote her, "Homosexuality is a gender identity disorder; there are numerous examples of former homosexuals successfully dealing with this.", taken from her parliamentary speech in 2007.) Much more venomous descriptions of the local LGBT community can be found in her full speech transcript.

I presume the reason for this double standard is because she would be in a foreign land (without support from her fellow anti-gay friends) and she has a lot to lose should she face a strong backlash from LGBT students in NYU.

On a sidenote, I'd REALLY love to hear what she has to say about fighting to keep S377A to said NYU law student.

YAPdates said...

I presume you are one of her countryperson. Why don't you take her up on her statement:

"I find face to face talks are very effective in disabusing falsehoods and clarifying misapprehension and well, heck, distortions, particularly those redolent with malicious intent."

... then come back and tell us if she practices 'double-standard?'


Sam Ho said...

hrm. so many things to talk about here.

i think our laws in the first place demonises and dehumanises people who identify as homosexual. they label it as 'gross indecency'. the battle here is not legal, but ideological. this skirts the (un)consitutional argument, as this reason has nothing to do with rights.

what's important for repeal advocates is to open the discussion on consent. it is only when we talk about consent between two adults that we then realise that it is the third party that labels whatever they do as gross indecency, as it challenges and threatens what the third party believes to be decent.

there is psychology, psychiatry and there are professions that are shaded by one's religious beliefs. i don't think homosexuality is a gender identity disorder.

there is a heterosexist spin to it. we assume that homosexuality does not exist and that one person's orientation towards another of the same sex would indicate that he/she is struggling with his/her gender role (i.e. that it is natural to love someone of the opposite sex, therefore you might be of the 'wrong' sex).

mind you, among the gender queer, there are those who are of diverse queer sexualities, i.e. a self-identified bisexual male-to-female transsexual.

gender identity disorder is the experience of one being uncomfortable with certain parts of the body (namely those indicative of gender differences, such as hair distribution, genitalia, voice, etc.) as well as cultural assimilation (i.e. dislike behaving or dressing or be treated like a male/female).

sexuality is secondary to gender identity disorder, we are more concerned with one's level of discomfort with his/her sex and gender role. it's a mix of 'nature' and 'nurture' given that gender across cultures have different markers/borders.

as i said, it is rather obvious that the quote "homosexuality is a gender identity disorder" reeks of heterosexism. maybe i shall take this up in another post.

there are men who feel like they should be women, but that is not to say that their "inner feminine" identity has a sexual preference for men.

superduper said...

@ YAPdates

Oh well, what a pity she gave her chance up at a "face to face talk(s)" to "disabuse(ing) falsehoods and clarify(ing) misapprehension" by cancelling her visit to NYU.