Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Full-time student doing reservist

(email sent Sep 29, 2009)

Dear Mr Teo,

I refer to Ms XXX’s letter (on behalf of Perm Sec) on XX July, 2009, in response to my email and feedback sent on 12 June, 2009.

I am the second year full-time Masters student who had applied and appealed for deferment from a recent in-camp training (ICT) from XX to XX Sept. Both were unsuccessful, and I have since decided to attend the ICT, which clashed with my studies, research and teaching commitments.

I have also written an email on XX June, which is supposed to be feedback and not any more request for deferment.

There are several questions raised in my XX June email that have not been answered, and I would most appreciate an answer from MINDEF for just one of them.

Now that I have completed 2 and half weeks of ICT, at the expense of my student and teaching assistant commitments, I ask if MINDEF will be able, in return, to pay for my school fees in the event my scholarship expires next August (2010) and I am unable to complete my course and thesis. This scenario will require me to extend my studies by one or half a semester. Is MINDEF willing to express its appreciation for NSmen who pursue higher studies by helping this NSman foot his tuition fees when his scholarship expires?

I have, after all, given my best during my ICT, as I always do and there will always be someone, higher or lower rank, to vouch for that. I have gone beyond my job scope to volunteer for menial work and even helping out my fellow NSman colleagues even though we are not in the same platoon.

Now, I return to my civilian and student life, faced with 2 weeks of readings and research to catch up on. I have papers to mark too.

Will MINDEF pay for 2 and half weeks of my semester fees in Semester One of the academic calendar year 2010/2011?

Is MINDEF willing to do something to make our relationship a lot fairer, and more mutually beneficial?

Aside from the abovementioned question, I would like to take the opportunity to say that, with all due respect, I personally do not support conscription, reservist and MINDEF. But in a country that outlaws conscientious objection, I serve NS because I do not want to be incarcerated and have my private and professional life threatened or destroyed. I serve out of fear, and I serve because I have no choice. Even my wife does not support this. These are all genuine on-the-ground issues and we do not need to use abstract concepts like national defense to silence the Singaporean sufferers who always receive the shorter end of the deal when it comes to reservist.

I appreciate a thoughtful, fair and compassionate gesture from MINDEF with regards to my 2 and a half weeks of commitment at the expense of my studies, research and teaching commitments. I have already endured 2 rounds of non-compassion when my application and appeal for deferment were earlier rejected, but I still served my reservist with 100% commitment.

I look forward to your response.

Ho Chi Sam

MinDEF: More action, less talk please, we're Singaporeans

(Unpublished - Sep 22, 2009)

I refer to Colonel Darius Lim's response (Sept 22) to Mr Sylvester Lim's letter explaining his in-camp training (ICT) call-up during his undergraduate course.

Like Sylvester, I am a student, but pursuing full-time graduate studies at the National University of Singapore.

I am currently attending an ICT in the middle of of my semester.

This has caused disruptions to my obligations as a teaching assistant, my research and thesis writing. On top of that, I am unable to attend seminars or be around for consultation for my students.

I returned home for the weekend exhausted and nursing blisters on my fingers, both obvious impediments to catching up on any student and research obligation.

Months ago, my application and later appeal for deferment had both been rejected.

A letter of rejection and a response from the Ministry of Defence (MinDEF) following my letter to MinDEF both expressed MinDEF's understanding and appreciation of NSmen pursuing higher education.

I have since made the decision to put my studies, research and teaching aside and attend the ICT.

I suggest that MinDEF put more than just consolatory words into "understanding" and "appreciation" for Singaporean sons who are pursuing degrees and sacrifice a lot to do reservist.

As a student, two weeks away from lessons and research results in backlog work and loss of momentum, and more than two weeks would be required to regain what is lost.

There is no such thing as a cover or replacement for a student or researcher when he is doing his ICT.

I suggest MinDEF reimburse NSmen for a semester or half a semester of school fees, in the period they are called up for ICT. This gesture will benefit those who are called up for ICT during their studies, and be less burdened by student loans.

This way, NSmen do not end up on the deeper side of the losing end, with only a few consolatory words and a huge sense of helplessness and resignation.

Most NS-liable people are well acquainted with being helpless and resigned, so something must be done to lessen that.

In my case, as I am on research scholarship which expires August next year, I would like to ask if MinDEF is willing to pay for two and a half weeks of school fees in the event I am unable to complete my course and submit my thesis by then.

This question has been ignored in my letter to MinDEF and I would like to repeat it here.

It is time MinDEF offer solutions that thoughtfully, sincerely and genuinely help, instead of giving us reservist-liable Singaporeans doses of dead-end communications rhetoric.

I suggest that MinDEF do public relations communications that are - or at least tend towards being - mutually beneficial, rather than one-way.

The fact that conscription and reservist are mandatory does not mean that MinDEF have the right treat Singaporeans this way, students included.

Furthermore and with all due respect, MinDEF should not only talk about their "understanding" and "appreciation", but show that they are mean it and do something that the NSman will feel is reasonable and meaningful, that they feel "understood" and "appreciated".

At the same time, NSmen should not be afraid to speak up, make suggestions and stake a claim in their relationship with the organisation.

Ho Chi Sam

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seagulls on the Ris

I figured I should join the crowd of spectators, and gather around a recent exhibit that has garnered considerable cyber attention.

It appears, in the case of Miss Singapore World 2009, Ris Low, there is an intimate - yet boredering on obsessive - relationship between the exhibit and the audience.

On the surface, it is plain to see how most of us will examine the exhibit. We individualise its qualities and view it in isolation. This makes it easier for one to make esteem-damaging jibes at the 19 year old, and all the more are we inclined to do it given recent news of her committing credit card fraud

At another but unpopular and inconvenient level, we see her as a possible window to what is wrong with society, and under what circumstances and conditions that have led to such a spectacle.

And then, we turn our attention to the audience. Wee Shu Min and the Intellectual Snob persona have already revealed some interesting qualities of us people. It already has been revealed to us how individuals and people react to certain things, and frame their arguments and criticisms.

The more that is said, the more that is revealed about how they think, how they are morally oriented, how they are socialised and perhaps what their characters are.

The more that is said, we come to know how people perceive certain issues and what areas of concerns they are more predisposed to.

I believe that the "actor" on the "stage" only tell less than half the story; for the audience is key to the narrative.

The actor holds an advantage over the audience, as when they have come to exist in the theatre, it is the audience who more readily and unknowingly, surrender their ability of self-reflexivity. The audience becomes too preoccupied with the drama, and as the drama entwines itself with their respective subjectivities and predispositions, they are taken in, relinquishing any thought of introspection during the performance.

Unfortunately, I think Ris Low is equally as disadvantaged as the mob that makes her newsworthy, for she probably had not intended to be a spectacle outside the domain of beauty pageantry.

Inadvertently, she has not only revealed how malicious and/or unforgiving we are, but also the social standards we use to judge others.

She reveals how people in a nation, that continually and conscientiously celebrates difference, has on an ad hoc basis, come to impose categories and expectations of what is the 'right' way of being. This is a paradox: On the one hand, we promote diversity, but on the other, we demand some standardisation and streamlining that omits people of the same demography as Ris.

People see what they want to see and interpret things according to how they see it. And that is how some have come to associate my discussion on Ris Low with my discussion on the person, when my focus is actually on the circumstances that led to us to giving her the unhealthy attention in the first place. In simple words, I don't really care about Ris Low, but am more interested in the people who "care" about her and how they represent themselves when they enter the discussion.

It is very much similar to coffeeshop talk about how evil the government is. In this case, we give attention not to the evil-ness of the government, but rather the subjectivities that underlie such a discussion, as well as the relevant relationships.

By convention, we are often more preoccupied with the discussed than the discussor. A topic of discussion doesn't exist without someone saying something. And after something is said/discussed, the sayer/discussor fades behind the discussion.

Quite a number of Singaporeans, as already acknowledged by some netizens, speak like Ris, if not "worse". On the one hand, we try to promote Singapore as cosmopolitan yet "uniquely Singaporean", and on the other hand, we are appalled by the extent to which Ris Low has (seemingly) naturally localised - but destroyed - the English language.

Through the criticisms, we have come to realise that in certain domains, the localisation of certain things are prohibited, simply because of image - we worry what others might think of us.

Well, "boomz" is probably a spontaneous concocted onomatopoeia that explains eye-catching flambouyance and extravagence. The Tamil, Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin languages on television are also seeing some lax in 'standards' from a linguistically conservative point of view. English is borrowed into the dialogue, and so are various colloquial expressions/exclamations, like "lah", "lor", "hor" in Mandarin dialogue.

There is also the cultural element, when Chinese pop cultural slapstick enters the domain of Mandarin dialogue. When a person says something outrageous, his two friends will "fly" backwards as if they were literally hit by a train. They go "biiiissshhhh". When someone says something ludicrous, the more anglicised folk will go "roll my eyes" while the Chinese slapstick folk will go "diaozzz".

It is probably most accidental (and most natural) that Ris reveals such intersections of cultural expressions. On the one hand, we observe a lack of English vocabulary, but on the other, there is some degree of amalgamation. We may see amalgamation, or we may see corruption of the English langauge. As if we owned it, right? And who are we trying to impress when we attempt to enforce it? Sure, there's some economic value in speaking proper English, because of its linguistic (and to some extent, cultural) hegemony.

There are tensions in how we manage culture - we push for homogenisation and heterogenisation/diversity at the same time, and in certain contexts or domains of political correctness, we place more value in the adoption of certain positions.

It is unfortunate that Ris Low is guilty of credit card fraud, not because of the dishonest and morally wayward act of committing fraud, but the extent to which the news of it validates existing and unconnected criticisms of her.

Like Season One and Two Phua Chu Kang, Ris has become the whipping boy, or girl rather, for the "problem" that is broken English. Yet, we probably will never fathom how much more authentic Ris is compared to say, Irene Ang's Rosie Phua.

It reveals the extent to which we apply (or remove) the concession of "nobody's perfect" in certain contexts, and for others, we impose a "you better be perfect" mantra.

Ris and the accompanying drama both present us with the opportunity to critique and rethink beauty pageants. However, there still remain those who treat beauty pageants as unproblematic, and any problem would lie in and be isolated to the contestant. As we unravel the "problem" with pageants, we begin to realise the extent to which we ordinary people, members of society, are related to these pageants. Of course, in the case of Singapore, it is somewhat an apathetic relationship, which explains the dismal sponsorship for our Miss Universe and Miss World local competitions, unless there is something really scandalous about the contestants worthy exploring in cyberspace. And again, from where I am coming, a "scandal" does not exist in isolation, but require the socially desirable attributes of sensationalism and the fixation of an audience base. Fetish is a two-way relationship.

I wonder if Ris will have a release or do an interview in light of recent events. Maybe she'll do a Cantona and talk about seagulls.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Good News Malay!

I had a glance at the headlines on the Sunday Times today.

Well, it is not at the sensational headline of the murder of Singaporean-born porn star Felicia Tang, who has perhaps been erroneously tagged as a porn star, even though she has done a few topless shoots. But for Singaporeans, we go the easy route and conflate nudity into pornography. Hey, if you're George Lim Heng Chye, littering will probably be similar to the leprosy of desire that is masturbation and unethical medical practices. So let us just call it porn.

I had a glance at the headlines.

I saw the "good news" reporting of the Muslim community. Conflation. Conflation. Immediately, I thought about the Malay Muslim community in Singapore. Very natural. And I thought to myself, "OMG, yet another good news reporting for the appeasement of our ethnic minority friends."

As my brain processed the image of me palm-smacking my forehead. I realised, amidst the Hougang Taoist smoke lingering in the air, that it was Hari Raya Puasa!

Nevertheless, looking at the headline, I remember a conversation I had with a Malay bunkmate during my reservist training (I'm still in the middle of reservist training by the way).

I told him my impression of Malay politics in Singapore, or rather the PAP government's policy and attitude towards Singaporean Malays. Deep down inside, I had wanted to see to what extent is my view on Singaporean Malays blinkered and shallow (hey, at least I want to know more, right?).

I told him how I, as a non-Malay, rather than a Singaporean Chinese (I seldom think of myself as Chinese until I am reminded of my skin colour or when people speak to me in Mandarin or conjure up the Level 3 Sino Dragon Crusher on my skull), genuinely felt that, in point form:

1) Our government has a "don't piss off the Malays" policy/approach.
2) And as a result of that policy/approach, we get stuff (releases, policies, reports) where Singaporean Malays appear to come first.
3) And that is why I get the impression that the government, for the sake of wanting to stay in power, appears to treat Singaporean Malays better.
4) On a sidenote, I also mentioned that Singaporean Malays are the swing voters. And the PAP is smart enough to secure their vote.

My mate, a diploma holder, now pursuing a part-time degree while working for a regional business, agreed with my observation, but disagreed with my analysis. On the outside, we both saw the same thing. But he told me, "Your perspective is your perspective. You need to see it from our perspective."

And he gave me a lesson on subjectivity!

But first, I'd like to point out that I find it a little more difficult to address me and my "fellow Singaporean ethnic Chinese folks" as a collective, "our". I feel the Chinese community, or rather a collection of yellow-skinned folk, are too fragmented, along the faultlines of language and class.

Any how, he told me he feels that while he believes that there is a "don't piss off the Malays" approach to appeasement adopted by the government, the circumstance is somewhat different from my analysis.

He said that he feels that the government gives too much attention to the Chinese, and it has allowed systems in place that benefit the Chinese more, at the expense of Malays.

Therefore, in his opinion, he believes that the "don't piss off the Malays" approach to appeasement is to make the Malays less sad or angry.

I guess we will never know, unless we knew what is the percentage of Malay vote for the PAP every election. Of course, only the government knows. When they say "your vote is secret", it means that it is only secret to you, but that perhaps does not mean it is secret to others (in positions of power).

To sum up that point, my bunkmate and I agree with the statement that the PAP government has a "don't piss off the Malays" approach to appeasement". I'm repeating this so as to make the point clear any way.

But we are different in our analysis of the circumstance, based on our different positions:
Sam: The government gives special attention to the Malays.
Bunkmate: The government does not give enough attention to the Malays.

He told me more about job applications and stated how it really sucked that the bilingual requirement is a mere euphemism for English and Mandarin language proficiency. Of course, being a racial majority, it is too easy for my Chinese privilege to blind me to these things.

Any way, appeasement does not necessarily mean a minority group will be able to be "part of the team" or "play catch up with the majority". I was thinking, after what my bunkmate said, that there will always be culture-influenced infrastructure and institutions that will impede the integration of ethnic minorities.

When we speak of a multiculturalism and a pluralism, we might get different interpretations, impressions and reactions toward it, depending on our status as a majority or a minority. And when we look at it from a position we live in, or are comfortable with, we take certain things for granted.

For instance, my introspection and degree of reflexivity is somewhat limited, to the point I am (only) able to imagine how a Chinese elite politics of pluralism is merely a means to Chinese elite economic prosperity and continued political stranglehold.

The biggest irony in this Malay-Chinese exchange we had in the bunk was that we totally invisibilise the ethnic Indians! It's quite funny, to put it in a cynical way. When we debate Malay politics/policy in Singapore, we usually engage the Chinese (elite) and of course the Malay folks. We seldom if never invite ethnic Indian Singaporean discourse on Malay policy. Heck, for most Singaporean Chinese, Indian is Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Sikh, all Indian. Very sad. But then again, knowing all these has little influence on how we achieve Chinese elite economic prosperity and continued political stranglehold in Singapore, right?

I told my bunkmate that I, as a sandwich class (slightly below middle-class) ethnic Chinese Singaporean, feel left out by the government.

My bunkmate told me, that he as a Malay, and probably in the same income range as my household I believe, feels left out by the government.

Win already, right?

If both of us, as Chinese and Malay respectively, feel left out by the government, what on earth is happening?

It is very important to note that we do not at all represent our respective ethnic communities, as again they are different class and (to some extent) cultural divides within these communities.

I related to him about the time when I spoke to a Malay graduate colleague, who felt that the government should stop giving special attention to the Malays. That colleague provided the analogy "if you give $5 to a beggar, you make him a beggar", somewhere along the lines.

Then my bunkmate said, "Educated Malay, right?" We both laughed, probably aware of the stereotype-fed oxymoron he just spewed out.

He proceeded to explain that not all Malays are the same. And that some Malays really need help, like the poorer ones.

I challenged that point, saying "A poor Chinese is the same as a poor Malay, no?"

He disagreed, and explained something I can't recall. But I realise that a poor Malay and a poor Chinese may live in the same place, but the circumstances they face is different. They may share the lack of literacy in English, for instance, and thus speak their own language. But they live in an economic space dominated by Chinese culture and politics.

Even I, with my education and all, require some reminding of this cultural reality. The reason why I am sometimes unable to immediate think of this is because of the very fact that I live in my Chinese privilege, whether or not I consciously see myself as Chinese. It is a privilege I enjoy, unknowingly or not, for the colour of my skin, access to ethnic Chinese-releated cultural capital and resources and so on, resultant attitudes around me arising from these circumstances, that give me such perspectives, bundled with blinkers blocking out the possibilities for any critical amount of introspection.

I mean, it is like using two mirrors to see what is at the back of your head. We do not do it all the time. At the most, we are able to use one mirror and reflect on the things we see. But we forget about the things we do not see without two mirrors (triple negative, sial!)

I think my fascination with ethnic minority politics (or minority politics and representation in general) stems from several realities I experience as a majority in many aspects. I may qualify as a numerical majority in many instances, but I feel like a minority most of the time. At the same time, knowing more about the realities that minorities face will help me understand my position as a "majority" and the things I take for granted.

Knowing about the things you take for granted is not an end on its own, or for you to feel grateful, so that you can continue voting for the PAP (right?). But at least, when you are in the position to make decisions, influence another person or just develop relationships of any kind with others, you can create stronger bonds and minimise suffering for everyone on the whole.

Any how, I feel there is generally nothing taboo about race or religion so long as we want to find out more. Of course, having extra institutional affiliations, stemming from the institutionalisation (or tribification) of race and religion, gives people an extra reason to be offended. I mean, it's like having a flag, and an extra reason to die for (sorry, I just hate conscription and reservist, especially one that doesn't tolerate conscientious objection).

My bunkmate told me that he feels quite cynical about all these "good news" being featured about the Malay (and Muslim) community. He explained that there are so many Malays in trouble and in need, and they have to feature only the nice, good and happy stories.

Our conversation drifted to the representation of Malaysian politics (simply because my mind keeps drifting). I was telling him how I feel about the representation of Malaysian politics, saying that I observe in the past few years, the Straits Times have been presenting Malaysian politics as something that is vibrant and "very happening", in a very negative sense. I gave him my analysis, that I believe that the local press presents a shitty image of our neighbours just to make us Singaporeans feel lucky we have our PAP government and our PAP government-led stability.

I asked him how is it like in the local Malay papers. His impression is that the Malays papers do not portray Malaysian politics as too "vibrant", because a decent proportion of Singaporean Malays have relatives all across Malaysia, and it is a potentially sensitive thing.

It is really interesting. I am no expert at all in these affairs but I really enjoyed my conversation with my bunkmate. While his and my perspectives are only two of numerous positions on Singapore and Malay politics, I am probably reminded of the certain things I have taken for granted, more so than him.

Both of us were equally surprised at each other, when each of us claimed that we feel forgotten and that it was the ethnic other who got better attention from the government. Of course, to be more specific, while I agree that Chinese folks in general get more attention from the government (simply because they are a numerical majority), 1) there are certain segments of Chinese folks who get proportionately more attention than others, and 2) I still have the impression that Singaporean Malays get proportionately more attention than other ethnic communities.

Our exchange was never an angry one, nor did we feel angry at our positions. It was, for me, more like a "what to do?" position, a bordering-on-sad kind of a feeling, coupled with healthy doses of disempowering helplessness. You know, the kind of disempowering helplessness when you are part of SAF, doing your reservist, cannot get your deferment even though you are on a full-time graduate studies course and when you write to feedback to Teo Chee Hean, the perm sec thinks you still want to defer even though you just want to feedback, indicating that the government only reads what they want to see and not what you actually want to say, so fuck off.

Our exchange offered a sharing of perspectives, and although problems were identified, we didn't and couldn't think of the solutions. Nevertheless, I feel that we should have more of such conversations, at different levels, so that we can make better informed decisions to ensure that "no Singaporean is left behind" is not merely a Chinese elite rhetoric, as are the notions of multiculturalism, pluralism, prosperity, progress, racial harmony, etc. (like how "Asian values", "mainstream values" rhetoric should neither be spearheaded nor monopolised by the Christian right).

And of course, let us involve the ethnic Indian Singaporeans next time okay!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I am finally an "insightful" blogger

I'm home already (but booking in Monday night for the second week of my reservist) and got to see my prizes.

It is great to have the bragging rights as "The Most Insightful Blog".

Of course, it depends on who's nominated for the competition and whether you answer the nomination.

I'm lucky there are a number of blogs, older and with more authority, who aren't in the competition. Perhaps, they are unknowingly gracious enough to let me go to Phuket, the top prize for the category, although I would have to pay for my own airfare (WTF goes the husband and wife).

It is both easy and difficult to win the category given the other nominees are considered insightful in their own right. Perhaps, in the future, insightful can be further defined.

And perhaps, in the future, they would allow the same blog to feature across multiple categories. A good example would be mschorlor.com, a blog that will probably challenge not only the category it was contending for this year, but many others like "most insightful", "best individual blog" and so on.

Of course, we cannot please everyone. See http://singapore.groups.vox.com/library/post/6a00d4142545853c7f011017f7645f860e.html.

The OMY Singapore Blog Awards is a young competition, confined to Chinese and English bloggers. Even the wife, who attended the awards ceremony on my behalf and who got to shake the hand of the ubiquitous George Yeo (yes, he IS everywhere), said it was rather, to put it politely, "sino". Moreover, she was a bit uncomfortable with the pouting and posing for the cameras.

I really wanted to attend the awards ceremony. Get to see the Supperclub, see George Yeo in the flesh (since he is also the MP for Aljunied GRC, my former home, which smells like urine occasionally), see Yu-Kym and see what's the fuss all about haha.

Speaking of Yu Kym, I think she should have her own category, and she'll probably win it given she is, well, bold. If I were to blog about what she blogs about, I'll be labelled a pervert and MINDEF/SAF will filter my blog as ADULT/MATURE:PORNOGRAPHY.

The competition and organisation should only get better in time. That's the nature of the business of events and contests. Maybe next year's prizes will include healthier food and beverage prizes, you know, the kind of stuff that will not raise the salt content in your body, and not to mention airfare for hotel stays.

Speaking of prizes, I believe future competitions should feature more technological/hardware/software prizes and vouchers, along with a larger assortment of food and beverage items, like dining vouchers, and not to forget fashion apparel and lifestyle related items. With events/competition organising, it's always a chicken and egg thing, where you have to balance/snowball the participation/audience versus the sponsors.

And there will always be people who believe their blogs are beyond this, or try to invalidate such competitions. Then again, it's like Singapore Idol. Some say it's shitty, and then there are others who join.

It is true that you do not need to win a contest or a category to be an "insightful" or "most insightful" blog. That is why I believe that a site like mschorlor.com could genuinely win the "most insightful blog" category, hands down.

Organisers will always be concerned with the credibility of the contest, and will make the necessary decisions.

Maybe future competitions should have separate categories, English and non-English/multi-lingual blogs. This will pave the way for more entrants.

I'm surprised to find out that the "Best Modeling Blog" features only one guy. On the internet, a female blogger will always be more exotic than a male blogger. Readers (male or female) are more likely to appreciate feminine beauty. Maybe that's how our culture goes.

Maybe I should put more pictures here and give the "youngsters" a run for their money next year? Haha. But that will probably come at a price, when people see too many visuals and start treating what I write less seriously. Imagine I write a serious article on single mums and inserted a topless picture of myself that screams "look at my abs!".

The more I look at the RazorTV interviews, I begin to realise that sometimes self-confidence (or self-deprecating humour, or pseudo-arrogance) comes across as arrogance, similar to how some of us "read" Ris Low. BOOMZ.

Maybe it's a blessing I wasn't at the awards ceremony and had to be put in the spot. I prefer to write releases than do live interviews.

Nominated twice, won once. Not a bad achievement. It's also great that some contemporaries and the organisers recognise that visits/traffic don't really matter too, but content. Maybe they didn't. People generally don't really want to read long wordy blog entries, when they could spend a couple of minutes ogling at some bikini-clad girl or some pretty boy (whatever your aesthetic taste).

When it comes to a popular vote, I'll probably lose out. So I guess this year's judging criteria sort of played into my favour.

I'm also proud to say that in winning this award, it's wonderful to know that I'm doing some justice to my discipline in sociology and discourse analysis, and that academic discussions can have a place in the blogosphere.

Lastly, a big thanks to OMY and the organisers. I look forward to being nominated again next year and more holidays for my wife and I.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Combing the Mane of Singanews for Lice

This is probably old news. Buzz, mainly of suspicious nature, recently surrounded Singanews.

Like many issues, they have a lifespan, and apparently the interest and discussions have slightly withered away, given how they have appeared to gather full momentum a few days ago.

As with any cyberspace-based discourse, we find ourselves negotiating an ecosystem of facts, subjective truths, cynicism, one-upmanship, and of course, speculation.

The Online Citizen has provided an "About Singanews" factsheet earlier in the week, reproduced at the permission of CEO Mathew Yap. It can be accessed here (http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/09/about-singanews/). Do note that Singanews has referenced Goh Chok Tong's 1997 Singapore 21 Vision as a probably inspiration of its launch.

One gripe some Singaporeans have with Singanews is that they believe the news portal might be a sheepskin for a Christian movement, one that probably has doses of puritanism, conservatism and righteousness too high for others to accept, or even respect.

A point of contention remains in the rhetoric of "mainstream values", of which Matthew Yap already has elaborated in an interview with The New Paper as one includes, or stars, a "generational, natural family which focuses on procreation".

While the conflation of "family" and "procreation" is not entirely exclusive to Christianity, it suggests many things about a possible conservative agenda. By conservative, I refer to sexual conservatism, a system of beliefs often under the guise of a general term like "conservative" or "mainstream values".

This form of sexual disciplining ignores its own history in Victorian puritanism, from which Western conservative ideas of body and sexual discipling derive. And here we are, Asians appropriating these values as if they were indigenous to us when it was Western Christianity which had colonised our minds.

What my Christian friends will see as truth and the right way of life, I see a disregard for history and cultural circumstances. An open mind will come to realise the extent to which Western Christianity has been borrowed into the discourse of "Asian values".

Yes, even I have joined the bandwagon of speculation, as it is evident how inevitable I bring religion into the launch of a news portal.

For the record, the soft launch on September 9 was private and so was the event at which it was launched. It is unfortunate that news of it broke into the mainstream.

I feel it is a little ironic that a champion of mainstream values did not want mainstream attention.

Nevertheless, we could recognise it to be a small humble launch at a small humble event attended by a small humble crowd. We could recognise that a portal foundationed on "mainstream values" may want to consult a section of society that supported this moral agenda. After all, the discourse of "mainstream values" cuts across many segments of society.

Given Chinese Christian connections, a demographical convenience, we could recognise that it would be easy to reach out to the converted, and there would not be much of a burden for the launch to be part of such an event. In that view, there is nothing wrong with that. After all, those who have done events, should know that the success of events depends a lot on connections and convenience.

Say if there was a socially liberal news portal to be launched, it will probably want the opinions and consultation of a private audience of a particular demography too.

What is slightly unsettling is the fact that we will never know, despite official releases and explanations from Singanews representatives, that there is a Christian agenda.

Reasons for such suspicion are aplently. We will never be able to see a salient Christian agenda, because it might be entangled with moral discourses on gender norms, sexuality, secular pro-life politics, secular/multi-religious ideas of what constitutes a family, and so on. Hence, a discourse on "mainstream values" will always be suspected of harbouring a Christian agenda.

At the same time, we could be wrong in giving Christianity in Singapore too much credit, as not every narrative is a euphemism for Christian doctrine. We could be wrong in speculating that it might be a Christian agenda to unite other religions in Singapore, by highlighting certain commonalities in beliefs and values, and steering this ad hoc alliance towards or against specific issues - we could be wrong in suggesting a Christian lynchpin in these affairs.

Christianity and Christian faith in Singapore has been re-articulated, re-rationalised, and in simple terms, evolved. I believe it has even entered the lives and mindsets of non-Christian Singaporeans. After all, some of us think in English, some of us mingle with Christian friends, some of us watch television programmes.

Christians themselves have also articulated their Christian faith as not merely a religion, but a relationship with the biblical god. Christian faith is also re-articulated as a familial entity, which of course is not exclusive to them.

With monotheism, there is "monotruth", singular truth, truth with the capital T, wherein capitalisation in the English language indicates importance, like how most of us, Christian and non-Christian, have come to capitalise "god". (ooo, capitalise "god". it is a pun that explores many possibilities, but I don't think I shall delve into that.)

Monotheists believe in one truth, and there have been different manifestations across time and space. We used to excommunicate, prosecute, punish or kill those who do not subscribe to the one truth. Given modernisation, nationalism and immigration, a new politics of multireligiosity, multiculturalism, entities so crucial to the economic sustenance and progress of a country like Singapore, we discard this bloody history for newer ways of propagating the "monotruth".

I believe the acceptance of other faiths (and the faith-less) is not what it seems. Amidst the political correctness, I believe there is some degree of condescension and begrudgement. It is here where religion, the institution, attempts to lay claim over "knowledge" and "truth", whatever they are. The stakeholders are every individual's faith.

It is under the circumstances of our informal Christian/non-Christian contact with Christianity that makes us less able to challenge specific discourses. We are thus more like to dismiss suspicion because a specific issue appears to us as a concern for all, and not only a Christian thing. The entwinement of Christian doctrine and politics with mainstream politics becomes unproblematic, therefore appearing to be natural and authentic social issue for the multicultural masses.

This is why some Singaporeans are suspicious of Singanews. They see something that some of us don't. They are asking questions some of us cannot even think of asking. I believe the problem does not start with us not knowing the answers, but rather us not even knowing what to ask at all.

For me, a Christian Chinese elite (elite as in relatively privileged socio-economic status and fairly educated) discourse on "mainstream values" raises a lot of alarm bells. To put it crudely, but not intending any disrespect, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. We are accustomed and rather warm towards the rhetoric of "mainstream values", which makes discourse on "mainstream values" a fertile ground for certain entities with desires for hegemony to infiltrate, scavenge, hijack, (re)claim, conquer or crusade.

The discourse on "mainstream values" deserves the participation of non-Chinese Christians too, by the way, and not to forget non-proponents of mainstream values themselves. Everyone, mainstream or subaltern, has a say in it.

Speaking of participation, the existence of Singanews appears as a reaction to the apparent lack of participation of proponents of "mainstream values". Perhaps, this is a genuine problem in Singaporean cyberspace, where it is rather easy to raise your pitchforks and light your torches and do your cyber lynch-mob routine, championing a certain brand of political correctness we dare not whisper in the corporeal world.

Obviously, the people behind Singanews have long felt there is a need for the representation and participation of the "generational family structure", and that the mainstream press is thought to have forgotten about them.

I believe this is a reaction to how growingly globalised and cosmopolitan Singapore is, and the extent to which our government is indirectly allow non-mainstream (or "alternative", as the "mainstream" would like to call it) value systems and identities to proliferate. A clash in values will always put the incumbent on the defence. In a country where we (try) tolerate different races and religion, people continue to feel threatened.

Non-mainstream value systems and identities, that directly contradict perceived mainstream values, are discarded and demoted to "alternative lifestyles", suggesting they are inferior and more flawed.

As the "Values" of Singanews indicate, we seek to "promote truth, peace, compassion and justice". Is this promotion couched in a certain perspective that ignores that presence of other perspectives, that embraces universalism over subjectivity, that passes off a particularly popular and powerful beliefs system as the only beliefs system?

Any how, is the government and the press not "mainstream" enough for Singanews to enter the cosmos of Singaporean journalism?

We need to see for ourselves how legitimate there is a need for this particular brand of "mainstream values" to be part of news reporting. Perhaps, we are truly missing something out. Only time will tell.

I believe Singanews is here because there is a perceived lack of focus on "mainstream values" and the "generational family structure", as well as their representation and participation. That perceived lack might be genuine and that is why I believe we should support Singanews to some extent. However, I still believe this problem is mainly confined to cyberspace discourse.

Perhaps, with Singanews on the internet, we will no longer engage in "liberal" monologues, or outshout websites into closing down.

No matter what the (true) leanings of Singanews, its online presence should provide for more dialogue, even though it might be conservative. It is not wrong to be conservative or liberal (you could be politically liberal and morally conservative any way), and it will always be natural for you to feel your beliefs system is better than others. What matters is that we get to participate and from our participation, we become better informed.

And it is the perceived lack of participation of the "generational family structure" in cyberspace, for one, that makes some of us not so informed, even though we claim to be wiser and seen it all. That is why I welcome Singanews, as it will pave the way for more voices, some of which might support, and some of which might challenge the notion of "mainstream values", revealing many possibilities and positions.

Once Singanews defines and communicates its idea of "mainstream values" through its publications, I am sure there will be invited many other voices to articulate their idea of "mainstream values", because after all, every Singaporean matters, so it says.

We need to give Singanews credit for identifying its moral position, because there are organisations that hide their positions under vague rhetoric.

Any way, in a political climate where we are faced with Islamophobia, some of us Singaporeans have Christianophobia. We see the extent to which Christian doctrine is deeply rooted, entwined, how it appropriates, (re)claims and hijacks certain issues and discourses. Christianophobia in Singapore lies deeper in the areas of ideology and way of thinking. Do we then blame the Christianophobic individuals, or do we start looking at the conditions that led to people becoming suspicious of Christianity in Singapore?

As said, I find it too convenient to link Singanews with the Christian agenda. And this is why I believe my suggestion of self-interrogation for others should also be applied to myself. Unfortunately for many, the self-interrogation of your prejudice is sometimes confined within your prejudice, as it begins with your prejudice and ends with your prejudice. Heck, there is even prejudice and bias when we talk about being fair and gracious, for we are speaking about fairness and graciousness with a certain ideal and from a certain position.

Maybe Singanews could free up a few spaces on the Straits Times previously hogged by one George Lim?

-Add- I am still in camp, doing my reservist training. There will be more from me on this issue, whether or not it is still considered "newsworthy".

And with regards to the title of this article, I am not suggesting anything when I say the following word: Homophone. I realise it's just cheeky, that's all.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Singanews

There has been some buzz surrounding Singanews, a news portal.

It had a soft launch on September 9, at a forum event organised by ATRIA in Kum Yam Methodist Church, following a talk by Dr Thio Li-Ann discussing the involvement of Christian Singaporeans in public space.

More can be found at the following links (will be updated; please do the proper attributions/citations):

The Void Deck:
http://thevoiddeck.org/?p=568
http://thevoiddeck.org/?p=573
http://thevoiddeck.org/?p=577
The Secret Political Blog:
http://secretpoliticalblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/thio-li-ann-christian-agenda-and.html
The Kent Ridge Common:
http://kentridgecommon.com/?p=5189
http://kentridgecommon.com/?p=5206
The Temasek Review:
http://temasekreview.com/?p=13485
http://temasekreview.com/?p=13559
http://temasekreview.com/?p=13601
http://temasekreview.com/?p=13604
http://temasekreview.com/?p=13648
The New Paper:
http://tnp.sg/news/story/0,4136,213533,00.html
Yawning Bread:
http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2009/yax-1062.htm
The Brotherhood:
http://dotseng.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/singanews-the-theory-and-reality-a-study-in-internet-stupidity/
Akikonomu:
http://akikonomu.blogspot.com/2009/09/plausible-deniability-or-are-you-stupid.html
The Online Citizen:
http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/09/about-singanews/
Sex sells, so does politics:
http://politicssg.blogspot.com/2009/09/thio-li-ann-is-back-with-new-weapon.html
Silent Assasin's Archive:
http://silentassassinarchive.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/spectacularly-secular/
Where Bears Roam Free:
http://wherebearsroamfree.blogspot.com/2009/09/thiophobia-why-are-gays-and-pro-gays.html
Fukzpaper:
http://fuzkpaper.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/singanews/
Pseudocritic:
http://pseudocritiques.blogspot.com/2009/09/singanewscom.html
Trapper's Swamp:
http://callantham.org/blog/2009/9/15/bring-it-on-singanews.html
Socially Aware:
http://sociallycivil.blogspot.com/2009/09/josie-lau-sugar-mummy.html
Civic Advocator:
http://civicadvocator.net/singanews

Discussions at:
Sam's Alfresco Heaven:
http://singsupplies.com/showthread.php?p=307261#post307033
http://singsupplies.com/showthread.php?t=37886
http://singsupplies.com/showthread.php?t=37923
http://singsupplies.com/showthread.php?p=307180
Trevvy:
http://www.trevvy.com/sgboyx/index.php?showtopic=32017
Hardwarezone:
http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg/showthread.php?t=2493961
My Car Forum:
http://www.mycarforum.com/index.php?showtopic=2642582
SgForums:
http://chitchat.sgforums.com/forums/10/topics/375528

There seems to be some growing degree of sensitivity towards certain Christian movements in Singapore and of course towards the movements of specific individuals. Most Christians, if not all, will see it as their duty to make "right" and do "right", but this unfortunately does not go down well with those of non-Christian subjectivity.

It is thus inevitable that one will develop a healthy dose of suspicion when Singanews was presented at a seemingly Christian forum. So what is "wrong" with this?

In an interview with The New Paper, Singanews CEO Matthew Yap had explained, "repeatedly stress(ing) that the news portal does not have a Christian agenda", but "will be written from the perspective of mainstream family values, which he defines as 'a generational, natural family which focuses on procreation'."

It is commendable for a news source to identify its position with respect to news reporting and journalism. It shows that it is open as to through which lens of journalistic objectivity it will be reporting. So what if this is a conservative stance?

People who subscribe to "mainstream family values", whether or not a discursive camouflage for Christian doctrine, deserve to participate and be represented in the public domain.

For those skeptical, critical and suspicious of some of our Christian fellow Singaporeans, they will be able to understand better and more clearly such (conservative and/or perhaps Christian) perspectives and definitions of "secular" and "mainstream family values". To be it crudely, and in view of what I think is growing animosity and suspicion, you will know the "beast" a little better.

I mean, we are already well indoctrinated by a Chinese elite definition of "secular", why not get better acquainted with an allegedly conservative Christian definition of "secular"? What matters more is that people get to participate in the discourse of "secular", and not let it be dominated by a single ideology or ideological institution.

Subconsciously, I think about "objective" (as in objectivity) when the idea of news is brought up. The word "objective" poses a paradox in this instance. There is "objective" as in objective news reporting, and then there is "objective" as in a goal, a target, with respect to an outcome you personally deem ideal.

There is an objective in every attempt to be objective. Beautiful isn't it? A single word and/or idea has such tensions and paradoxes.

Matthew has already cleared the air on the stance Singanews will be adopting. Furthermore, the presence of ex-journalists (or ex-reporters) will provide the news portal the experience and credibility any portal/paper needs. Journalists look for news, reporters wait for news by the way.

Of course, there is always the skepticism that a religiously informed or Christian ideological core underpins a rhetoric that contends with vague stuff such as "mainstream family values" and "secular" and what is "good". For instance, I myself can claim to support and endorse "mainstream family values", but I do harbour ideas similar to my social and institution associations, which inform my mindset. In the end, I support an idea that has its exclusions, limitations, advantages, sanctions, that makes certain groups more visible, more equal, more legitimate than others.

But what matters, philosophically, is that when I articulate my view or my organisation's view of certain concepts, an equal right is bestowed upon my critics to articulate their own view of the very same concepts. A rejection of either side is indicative of a desire to silence, overpower and ideologically cripple.

The conservative folks in Singapore are to some extent victimised, by liberal journalism and bloggers. Of course, their victimisation has been played down in our specific climate of political correctness.

This is why it does not really matter much to me whether Singanews has a Christian agenda or not, for it ultimately creates yet another platform for the seemingly voiceless and perhaps victimised folks to participate in the public domain. They get to express and articulate their views. Fair enough.

At the same time, such an expression will inevitably be accompanied by criticism and challenges, all of which, put together, create dialogue. Dialogue is important, in my opinion. One side will take another side's idea/concept of X and show to what extent it is exclusive and what implications there may be. Theoretically, it's great, but the practical world of power-hunger, fear-mongering and good old fashioned assholism make everything a little spicier and complicated.

I believe whatever information we have right now on Singanews are a combination of information and speculation. We are drawing the lines connecting the dots that we are only able to see. As we want to interrogate such a "Christian" movement, we need to interrogate ourselves. We need not develop a sympathy towards what we want to criticise, but we need to know our individual biases and demands first before we enter the public domain and entangle ourselves in specific discourses and rhetoric.

Like the people we want to challenge, we see what we want to see. In a society where people see what they want to see, we create differences. It becomes more problematic when there are claims that certain perspectives are more authentic and legitimate than others.

We criticise the Straits Times, and come up with online content/blog aggregators. But then again, aggregators also have the same strategic (but different tactic and objective) of framing as the party we first criticised. So, it is very natural that spaces are created for specific people and organisations to participate.

It is very much similar to why there are many LGBTQ interest and advocacy groups in the States. Everyone probably has the same goal, but prefer to take different routes and positions.

This is why, based on the (limited) information I have right now, I believe that Singanews should be supported. Of course, questions still linger, like the Christian connection, the source of funding and all that. We can deal with those in time. We should also lend some attention to the fact and principle that Singanews wants to provide a space for certain demographies to participate and be represented.

I am also interested in finding out to what extent it will be "secular" and to what extent "mainstream family values" is articulated. There are a lot of good people I know who may fall within or outside "mainstream family values", so I'd like to find out more. But to hinder and silence Singanews, while being indicative of the intolerance most of us seek to battle, will be bad for dialogue.

My main contention is only when Christian (or religious) folks try to pass off their ideology, doctrine and values as universal, which has severe implications. Some get left out of the picture, while the presence and ideas of others become invalidated, delegitimised. When you pass something universal, it indicates your intention of ideological and political hegemony. What makes it less innocent is that we think of it as innocent.

In the mean time, I look forward to Singanews and its reporting from the perspective of "mainstream family values". There are many types of families in Singapore, different strategies of love, care and creating safe environments for our loved ones. And even within circles who subscribe to "mainstream family values", there will be different opinions.

I may post another piece when I can get more information to clear out the speculation.

I look forward not with suspicion, but with curiosity and interest.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Transgender Representations: GID

I shall now use this blog to write my thoughts down as I organise and write my thesis, titled "Transgender representations". A lot of people tell me I should just write (for fun) as it gives me the opportunity to reflect more.

Many trans persons have claimed or explained they once (or still are) suffering from Gender Identity Disorder, or GID.

When such medico-psychiatric diagnoses are invoked in the articulation of a person's condition or identity, alarm bells will ring for many a social scientist or a humanities scholar.

The trans articulation of GID reveals a relationship between the individual and the medico-psychiatric institution, a historically and politically established authority - not to mention, legally recognised and respected.

The institution of medico-psychiatry is very much intertwined with the domain of social life. To a large extent, it normalises and justifies certain cultural practices, and cultural categories, legitimising and transforming these aspects of life into entities that appear natural, ontological and taken for granted.

In the case of Singapore, medico-psychiatry dovetails with prevailing social and legal sanctions imposed on nonconformity to the gender binary. We need to understand that in other geocultural contexts, in different economies with different histories, and subsequently, the extent to which societies and their institutions orientate themselves according to preexisting cultural categories and taxonomies.

The fields of medicine and psychiatry have play a significant role in creating and preserving certain taxonomies, which in turn provide the very similar categories for these fields. This is the positivist building of knowledge - piling new research and knowledge on previous knowledge.

This is where we have to be critical, for such an approach has implications on how people see themselves and the world, live their lives and how policies are formulated.

The nonconfirmity to the gender binary is labelled a disorder, thus it is understood as a disorder.

Transvestism, for instance, casts a huge shadow over cross-dressing, as the act, identity or lifestyle are not merely a psychiatric or psychological issue.

The term "cross-dresser" indicates a turn away from psychiatry-informed rationalisations of the the world. Not all individuals who cross-dress see themselves as ill. And even those who do see themselves as ill, does this reveal the extent to which their relationship with the institution of medico-psychiatry is articulated?

The institution of medico-psychiatry has enjoyed a one-way relationship with people like you and me. We question not its knowledge foundations, prejudices, historical male over-representation and positivism. We are subsumed under its discourses, and in the process, we forget about incongruences and outliers, and are choiceless when we straightjacket other individuals into adopting certain understandable medical categories.

While there is a legitimate arguement that trans persons are in risk of losing their subjectivity in a modern social domain informed and authorised by medico-psychiatry, we have to appreciate the paradox that medico-psychiatry (along with its essentialist notions of gender and sex) constitutes also part of their subjectivity.

Given linguistic limitations - considering language is informed by culture and cultural notions of gender, as discovered by cross-cultural studies on gender categories - there is insufficient vocabulary to explain and describe the trans experience and identity. Medico-psychiatry currently fills in the gap, and provides trans persons and lay persons the tools to making sense of transgenderism.

The representation of the transgender, specifically the transsexual, revolves around the axis of medico-psychiatry. Sandy Stone observes that the social institutionalisation of behavioural profiles symptomatic of GID perpetuated itself when patients seeking sexual reassignment surgery had already read the famous German endocrinologist Harry Benjamin’s book and “provided the behaviour that led to acceptance for surgery”. In addition, Virginia Prince quips that transsexualism had become a “communicable disease”, wherein the more awareness it gained, the larger the number of people who identify with it.

In Singapore, the identification with GID is a means to getting medical clearance for sexual reassignment surgery or SRS. This is a medical, administrative and legal process. GID is the passport to SRS in Singapore, and this is somewhat communicated between trans persons in the country seeking SRS. And then, there is always Thailand.

It is under the very same medico-psychiatric discourse that creates a trans stratification. Certain trans identities are legitimised and receive the necessary attention, while other trans identities are dismissed as deviant, sickly or perverse.

Such stratifying selectivity serves to sustain the dominant institution of gender, and to a large extent heteronormativity.

For instance, a male-bodied person who wants to be a female-bodied woman who happens to be sexually oriented towards men, will receive more institutional support for her transition. Such a situation poses little threat to society, as gender and sexual "queer-ness" is systematically eliminated. Since little or no threat is posed to the gender binary and heteronormativity, there would be little opposition to SRS, despite the post-SRS reality of employment discrimination, among many others.

For the genderblender, genderfucker or genderqueer persons, they are continually disincentivised, as they transgress the boundaries of gender and heteronormativity.

A divorcement from medico-psychiatric discourses is not possible, not only because of its historical enmeshment with contemporary discourses on gender, but also due to way our cultural and economic institutions are designed. Since the institutions are not accommodating, onus is on the trans person to compromise and assimilate into a language and culture informed by medico-psychiatry.

There may be movements to end the pathologisation of transgender and/or intersexed bodies and identities, believing that pathologisation entails stigma and some extent of haplessness in body "repairs" or "modifications". However, does this immediately and entirely retires the discourse of medico-psychiatry from the trans domain? How will this affect trans individuals who orientate their rationalisations and experiences around the medico-psychiatry discourse?

Stigma will always exist, given the degree to which our cultural expectations are entrenched in our gendered and heterocentric culture and prejudices. Pathologisation may be a branch of this prejudice and it may serve to reinforce the very same set of prejudice that exacerbates it in the first place, but we have to acknowledge the reality that pathologisation also figures significantly in trans discourses and the articulation of trans identities. Pathologisation sustains the universality of the gender binary, and that cannot be deemed unhelpful to all trans persons.

There should instead be more plural spaces for transgender persons, because different persons identity with different discourses, trans and non-trans. Or trans persons risk jumping out from one straightjacket to another.

We can politicise and implicate the institution of medico-psychiatry as we analyse trans discourses, but how far can we actually go without silencing other trans identities around the world?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Transgender Representations: Problems with discourse

I shall now use this blog to write my thoughts down as I organise and write my thesis, titled "Transgender representations". A lot of people tell me I should just write (for fun) as it gives me the opportunity to reflect more.

In a forum I attended, one of the panelists of trans men identifies himself as a heterosexual man who was once a lesbian, an "ex-lesbian".

This utterance poses a epistemic (and perhaps linguistic) challenge. I believe such an expression exposes the limitations of our language - and hence our understanding and knowledge of the world through this language.

In front of an audience probably sharing a common theory of queer identity, the trans person invokes culturally established queer labels to articulate his position as a man.

As we put aside feminist and gender studies' constant attention on gender essentialism, we should turn our focus to the amalgamation of pre-established identities, informed by (hetero)normative discourses and queer discourses on gender identity.

"(Hetero)normative discourses", in a plural form, would probably have taken more credit than it deserves, but I figure it is important to acknowledge differences within heteronormativity - along the lines of culture, age, geography and so on.

For the trans man, being a man entails certain physicality, aesthetics and behaviour. Being a straight man will involve further narrowing and certain specific traits which are culturally recognised and performed.

It is this oxymoronic conscious performance of one's idea of the constitution of masculinity, which reflects the reality of trans assimilation into a society of cultural categories normatised into pre-cultural entities.

According to Judith Butler, performance of gender (and sex and sexuality) is involuntary. The body (and self) is gendered and sexed through culturalisation, such that certain routine/routinised behaviours seem normal and agreeable with our respective categorical genders and sex. These categories become unchallenged as they appear to be ontological.

In the case of the trans man, there is the very valid need to assimilate. Assimilation does not merely involve being part of the pre-established gender binary, but also the social, cultural and economic 'privileges' one enjoys as a member.

I find it very interesting when one's identity disagrees with one's body and the expected set of behaviours culturally attached to it. This disagreement is further highlighted by the open and highly conscious subscription to another set of gendered performance alien to their bodies. In explaining "a straight man trapped in a female body", this indicates the voluntary adoption of specific (male) gendered performance.

However, there are blindsides to this observation. There is a limitation(s) to language in the communication of identity and experiences. To indulge a little bit more in categorisation and taxonomisation, we cannot solely use or rely on certain feminist theories.

There are disastrous scholarly implications, as we box and frame transgender identities and experiences within singular and/or specific theories and concepts. While non-trans individuals have a stake in trans discourses, given a multitude of interactions at the level of the layperson or scholar, we must be aware that narrow framing and convenient conclusions made on trans identities and discourses will pose great threats to trans people and how they are represented - and how we articulate their respective self-representation.

Even the use of "their" is generalising, and runs the risk of reducing individual experiences to convenient pre-existing understandable ideas and concepts, for instance the invocation of "nature versus nurture", wherein a trans person may lose his/her (see the linguistic reflection of my subscription to the gender binary?) subjectivity or have his/her experience diluted and misrepresented through singular generalising theories.

At the very basic level, I find it convenient to rely on existing categories and feminist theories to explain trans discourses. However, given trans discourses are intimately entwined with other discourses, both dominant and subaltern, we have the obligation to explore how trans discourses are situated in, part of, or intersect other discourses, and how other discourses figure in, inform, are part of, or intersect trans discourses.

And (un)fortunately, I believe there is the need for self-interrogation. To borrow loosely from Anthony Giddens' theory of the double hermeneutic, the main course, if not the backbone, of the social sciences, wherein the scholar interprets a preinterpreted world (i.e. I interpret your subjective interpretation of the world), I believe we should make one step further and interrogate the interpretation of the preinterpreted world.

This (self)interrogation will reveal certain limitations of scholarly interpretation (scholar biases, prejudices, socialisation, etc.) and the foundations of scholarly interpretation (language, socialisation, etc.).

So, I believe when we talk about trans discourses, our preoccupation should not be with the trans person. While trans discourses reflect certain conditions of society and realities trans people face, they do borrow from and share similar ideas from other existing discourses and systems - indicating their respective limitations in articulating trans experiences. We also have to recognise the fact discourses are a lot more permeable than we think they are. We become the unknowing intruders, whether layperson, scholar or member, when we make observations and enframe specific discourses, limiting them with unsighted linguistic and conceptual limitations, along with unchallenged and un-queer-ied prejudices.