Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Token Straight Guy

Maybe it's me, but I always get myself into situations in which I've always emerged as the minority.

In class, I often sit in front. In school (for many years), I do not willingly join social events and outings.

Perhaps I do not see a need to fit in for the sake of acceptance. Maybe in this current climate of political correctness, we sometimes feel the urge to make compromises so that we are accepted. Good and bad.

Barely into the first week of Singapore's pride month, which includes a series of events under the banner Indignation, a term punny enough for a stereotypically cultured gay man's taste, I realise again I fall into the minority group.

In truth, a straight man, be it former nominated member of parliament Siew Kum Hong, pastor Reverend Dr Yap Kim hao or a straight male SinQSA subscriber/member, will have little reason to directly address homophobia and social harmony regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

A gay man's problem is not a straight man's problem, unless by some sheer coincidence, there is a common understanding of the very subjective and debatable entities that are justice, rights and well, simply what is right.

I think we live in a society and have a history that is rather averse to difference. We vilify differences that threaten the institutions and ideologies we subscribe to, and we make it seem that this ritual is right and just.

A straight man will never fully understand what a gay man goes through, and if we want to talk 'gender' here, will probably not understand what a lesbian woman goes through.

Therefore, it is rather difficult if we brought in deontic discussions to make straight people think about themselves. The "imagine if you are gay" exercise will not work on straight people, as they will have to negotiate between stereotype, misinformation, possibly limited contact/interaction with gay persons/friends/family members, and other sources just to construct this scenario of which they may have little or no attachment and understanding.

I am no different. Even though I know what it is like to be at the wrong end of what most people see as "just" and "right", I will never know what it is like to be a sexual minority.

I am blind and choose to remain blind about people's sexuality or gender identity, because these traits do not bother me in any way. This form of difference between me and another person who is queer, is neither a problem nor an issue.

It is only in such a society, one that is filled with bigotry, misinformation, divisive self-righteousness, Thios and George Lim Heng Chyes, that I find myself in the unfortunate position of emphasizing difference just so we can embrace it.

This is similar to ethnic difference and its accompanying PAP government emphasis. We are different, but so what? Difference is only a problem if you hate it, if you cannot tolerate it, if you choose to disturb it. Difference to me is not a problem.

A SinQSA member has often reminded me (and kept me rooted) that I have to respect people who basically do not identify as straight. I agree whole-heartedly, but I believe there will be many toes to be inadvertantly stepped on before I can make the right message and carry it with conviction in my daily life.

He says, somewhere in the line, that there will always be the implication that I, the straight person, will be condescending and disrespectful if I said "I accepted queer people" - that the speech alone, no matter how sincere, will always be in danger of being construed as treating the queer person as inferior but deserving of another (superior) person's acceptance.

What a dilemma.

Apart from the irony that I am growingly terrified of people, I feel that it is odd that a person who doesn't give two hoots about difference has to bring attention to something, make it salient before it can be embraced.

I am also personally not interested in thinking and discussing about the things we all have in common.

However, I have been disturbed into doing it. Some people and some organisations are creating conditions in Singapore that might not be conducive for friendships to be forged, ideas to flow freely and suffering to be minimised. Worse, they hide behind the rhetoric I personally identify with, which are morality and family, sharpening these previously personal and private values into knives that slice us into permanently separate pieces.

It is the recognition of difference, and a considerable distaste for it, that creates the need for division.

I find myself at Indignation 2009, one of the few straight men who attend it and support it (and I am talking about the self-identified heterosexual males here, not the women). I'm just one of the few token straight guys at some of the events.

And that's the same thing at the regular SinQSA meet-ups. Straight men will not attend a SinQSA meet-up just for fun, unless there is some serious discussions and all that, but SinQSA is not about serious discussions - it is about forming mutual friendship and understanding that underpin an alliance; it is about a small change in mindset that result in personal yet informal contributions to social harmony. (but for the straight men who turned up for our meet-ups, you're very much appreciated)

A problem with sexual minority equality and rights in Singapore is engaging the sexual majority, assuming straight people are 100% fond of the opposite sex, but I do not believe so. Imagine asking a straight middle-class ethnic Chinese man if he loves women. He'll say yes. Ask him if he prefers as certain skin colour, body shape, certain odour, certain socio-economic and educational background, he'll start becoming a little more discriminating. And if some women are left out of his choice, can this person fully qualify as heterosexual?

Back to engaging the straight people in queer advocacy. While some see apathy as a failure, I see it as a sign that society is ok with straight people. Okay, I am lying, I too see it as a failure at times. But any way, most of the "why should I care?" attitude show that there are straight people who do not bother about the lives of queer people enough to condemn them or make them feel guilty or fearful about themselves.

It is, in my opinion, bordering on wishful thinking, that queer people want straight people to march alongside them to advocate equality and rights for the former. The fact that sexuality is private and that most people, saved for overtly and destructively homophobic ones, do not care about others, implies, for me, that sexual difference is not an issue for them.

If difference is not an issue, why raise it?

The straight person may say "yes, I support", "I will join your FaceBook group" and "my attitude is already queer-friendly" and I believe that is enough on a personal level to make a small change.

The problem is getting the message into the minds and hearts of the haters and the bashers, show them that their justified hatred, fear and discrimination are unjustified, which is an impossible task.

As long as these people exist, they will always paint a picture that queer people are the bullies of society, bullies of what we conceived as morality, bullies of our "children", and bullies of politics - basically bullying them into adopting the label of "bully".

Should we innocent (and straight) passers-by stand up against bullies in our neighbourhood?

Everyone is bullied in some way or another. Single mums, the underprivileged and homeless (they exist by the way), certain foreign workers, children in schools, people suffering from depression (silent and stigmatised group), abused husbands (lagi silent and stigmatised group), etc. Why can't we stand up for them and speak up?

The impression society gets of queer people is the image of an affluent rich gay man, with a high-paying job, swimming in heaps of pink dollars in his mansion, visiting night clubs every other night and having random unprotected anal sex everyday. And that stereotype sticks. We forget that there exists among the gay men for example, the lesser socio-economically privileged, the abused, the son of single parent, the ethnic minority, the one with disability, the one who is struggling/questioning, the one who is retrenched/unemployed. That is probably why some segments of society choose not to sympathise with the queer cause.

To make a change, a personal attitude change is only one of many contributions. I believe standing up and putting your money where your mouth is as another contribution, that runs parallel to others in advocating equality and harmony regardless of orientation and identity. There is no shame to putting your face and your name to a message you believe in. It also serves to expose the bigots, the misinformed and the intolerant when they come out of their bunkers and heap vitriolic criticisms and remarks at you.

Standing up and speaking up is equally important in a society that is characterised by 'majority politics'. You have an educated conservative elite making the noise on behalf of what they think are the "majority" and the "conservative majority", and the government, for the sake of appeasing this economically and potentially politically influential bunch, buys into this rhetoric. Straight people who feel their personal views are misrepresented, or who feel their education and experiences are belittled and insulted, should raise their hands, stand up and speak up. Show those people who play 'majority politics' that their majority isn't exactly the majority they think.

Sadly, there aren't enough straight men who will pro-actively engage the press, engage his fellow straight friends and others, and get them to have that little change in attitude. Almost all of us don't see the point because these are things that do not personally matter much to us. At the least, we should have a "live and let live" attitude and only stand up against the inconveniencing of fellow Singaporeans, i.e. fear-mongering, guilt-tripping, misinformation-spreading.

A "live and let live" attitude is probably the happier cousin of apathy. People won't go out of their way to vilify and defame other people that way.

People with "live and let live" attitudes will allow others to live and not be oppressed by other people and institutions.

I feel there should be new ways of engaging these people. Making friends is only one of many ways.

It's very ironic that an advocate of friendship isn't exactly very fond of people. I don't have many friends, but I'm happy actually. But I'd like to live in an environment of peace and harmony, and get on with my life. Unfortunately, there are people who wish to continue creating more suffering for others. So, I just happen to be one of many who stand up and speak up. I hope when it comes to queer discrimination/oppression in Singapore, more straight men can just stand up and speak up too.

1 comment:

Phillip said...

Hey! I had read your recipe for writing a National Day song and and chanced upon this gem while reading your other blog entries. THANK YOU for such a gracious, eloquent, and thoughtful piece. It is so heartwarming to read something so enlightened, direct, and genuine in a non threatening and persuasive manner. You have just made me a new friend and believer.