Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shoving heterosexuality and homosexuality into our faces

"As long as they are not open about it and shove it in my face" is a qualifying statement for most self-identified open-minded and heterosexual friends, following declarations of support for LGBT people. Yes, support comes with limitations and qualifications - a very rational process that might not be homophobic but heterosexist/centric.

Let us look at this rationally then. Let assume there are two genders/sexes in this world, as prescribed and indoctrinated into us by Western medico-moral Judaeo-Christian-Islamic norms, Confucian patriarchal "values", and the mores that inform our legislative and administrative structures.

In this framework, how many permutations of monogamous unions can there be from these two units, man and woman? Three. Man & woman, man & man, woman & woman. If this is the case, isn't the laws of the land and the laws in certain religions privileging one third of these possibilities?

My friends who show they are accepting and supportive of LGBT people are symptoms of heterosexism, and this "acceptance" and "support" for LGBT folks remains articulated in homophobia in this rubric.

LGBT people grow up in a heterocentric/normative environment. Our social and cultural logic are oriented towards the belief that heterosexuality and the correspondence of gender (the behaviour) with sex (the physiology) are the normal, natural and default status of all human beings. It is very much the same when Europeans used to consider interracial sexual relations (particularly with the darker skinned Africans) as tantamount to bestiality, or that slavery was justified because the African people are not seen as human beings, but more like animals. In this case, white-ness, or the Caucasian identity, is seen to be a normal, natural state of human being. You are not human if you are not white.

This heterocentric/normative environment is a self-perpetuating one. The cycle includes heterosexual procreative unions, codes, rules and laws which legitimise and promote this, social behaviour believing that is the natural form of being, thus the morally right form of being, and this set of beliefs are further protected and ascribed with moral meanings from powerful institutions such as the law and religion.

As such, what is taken for granted is this straight privilege most heterosexual folks have. We welcome and do not challenge images of happy man-woman couples, holding hands, having a meal together, or kissing. Yet at the same time, the heterosexual-identified folks who claim to be LGBT-affirmative are saying they do not appreciate the same kinds of representation for man-man and woman-woman couples. This is ethically imbalanced.

Even the subtle sign of homosexual affection might be constituted as the brash and confrontational "shoving it in my face" gay-ness according to straight folks. Something is wrong. Are rules and laws determined by the discomforts of heterosexuality and the heterosexist belief that homosexual-identified people feel no sense of discomfort at heterosexual displays of affection? Who has greater privilege then?

I find the heterosexist panic a ridiculous act of overreaction. The fact there exist straight narratives against the "promotion and celebration of homosexuality" at the slightest positive portrayal of homosexuality goes to show that there are many insecurities that "practising" heterosexuals have when it comes to instances when their belief of heterosexuality's natural-ness, normalcy and right(eous)ness become challenged.

It is always perfectly fine and normal for guys to talking (objectify) about women, or girls wanting to be that white bride, or of people using the mechanisms of heterosexuality such as pictures of their families and children. These are displayed and performed without the fear of being harshly judged and excommunicated. Gay men and lesbian women do not have that privilege.

Since LGBT folks don't have the privilege, the heterosexual-identified people take it upon themselves to assume LGBT does not exist, is merely a phase, a lifestyle that can be practised and discarded; not knowing that the very heterosexist system of oppression has created the silent and silenced LGBT person, in turn contributing to greater misinformation and malicious myth-making. It is probably how we take for granted the fact that we live in a Judaeo-Christian-Islamic-centric world, and when we say "thank God", we assume the supremacy of monotheism. Of course, if you are orthodox enough, you would also encourage the mass culling of non-believers if conversion failed.

Why do some straight people believe that LGBT silence is and should be an acceptable condition for coexistence? Ok, from the religious point of view, there are culturally ascribed meanings of morality and sin put (violently) on the bodies and lives of LGBT people. Outside religion, although we can never disassociate religion's entwinement with the legal and cultural institutions of society, there are "values" of patriarchy that reinforce the belief of the naturalness of heterosexual unions. We have cultural industries that promote and reinforce what men and women should be, as well as laws and governmental policies that tell us what we can and cannot do with our gender, bodies and sexuality.

Because of all these laws, norms and rules, which have come to serve their heterosexual masters, LGBT people have no say. And if they did speak up, they would be deemed as shouting or shoving their beliefs into others' faces. This is indicative of a defence mechanism of heterosexist hypersensitivity put in place to safeguard the flimsiness and hypocrisies of straight-ness. In this view, what is considered natural cannot be challenged, and more defence mechanisms like religion are set up to protect this thought. LGBT silence is thus taken for granted by straight people.

In Singapore's case, LGBT emancipation and freedom from discrimination will probably never see the light of day, so long as political and community leaders do not humbly see what they have as privileges relative to that of LGBT-identified folks. Moreover, unlike religion or to a lesser extent race, LGBT Singaporeans are probably the least likely to commit violence or use the threat of unrest to make a demand. LGBT Singaporeans are also unlikely to affect voting patterns in times of election. These are some of many reasons why they remain marginalised and in a state of indignation. They are so low down the pecking order of priorities as seen by our political leadership, that sexual identity as a demographic category is almost non-existent.

Our government sees race and religion as potentially destabilising because of their potential for widespread unrest or even violence, but policy should never be made in the anticipation of the violence, but for the idea of harmonious coexistence. We have obviously missed the bigger picture, and that is proven by our disregard for LGBT Singaporeans. You can say that Chinese gamble too much, Indians drink too much, or Malays don't do anything too much, but compare these myths to the myths of HIV/Aids, sexually-transmitted diseases, immorality, sin, promiscuity, association with bestiality and paedophelia, "sick-in-the-head" mental illness, etc. that are inscribed on defenseless LGBT folks (they have no sustainable public platform to protect themselves any way). Who gets more abuse? Shouldn't there be protection? Shouldn't there be efforts made to stop this and also create platforms for dialogue and wider LGBT participation?

I believe that straight people should reevaluate their beliefs and ask themselves why do they even see any portrayal of homosexuality as "shoving it into my face". What is it about the views and beliefs that you subscribe to that have allowed you to interpret this as such? What are the assumptions you hold that have allowed you to give judgement, believing that something or some action is right or wrong? What are the repercussions of these views? Do you think it is fair?

I have heterosexuality "shoved into my face", especially when guys with masculinity complex try to "man up" and the way they talk about women just to emphasise their heterosexuality. I have no problems with these genedered/sexed performances. I have no problems either when I see same-sex couples who probably aren't much bothered to prove anything.

Reverse logic would fail because its articulation will fall on the same ignorant ears of the privileged. I doubt heterosexual people will ever be able to fathom being maligned for their heterosexuality, being made to stomach others' beliefs that heterosexuality is wrong, sinful and immoral, and that any positive displays of it would be equivalent to the rude shoving-it-into-my-face. That is probably why I would encourage the evaluation of the privileges we have as heterosexual people. It is not about feeling grateful for who you are, but understanding the ethical and social implications when you force your beliefs and judgement onto others.

Unfortunately, bigotry casts no reflection on any mirror. Some heterosexual people are even disturbed by positive portrayals of heterosexuality. These are the people who are greater threats to society, because they see it as their duty to influence ideological development and change. Moreover, they have religious membership, something that would bring any self-proclaimed secular government down to its knees (with hands tied behind its back).

I believe we can do something about this affliction and the leprosy of desire that is homophobia and transphobia (nice to reclaim and re-use those rheotric, no?). We need to ask the homophobic and transphobic questions, since they like to be active participants on sexuality, wanting to appear as experts and authority voices. Apart from the questions posed, I would like to ask you, "What is it about YOU when you see positive portrayals of homosexuality as its promotion, celebration and glorification, shoving it in your face?"

11 comments:

Ash said...

I would find nothing wrong with homosexual couples holding hands in public, and whatnot. Kissing, like a peck on the cheek, is fine too. (Though surely, full-out making-out would make anyone uncomfortable, even if it were a heterosexual couple.)

I do, however, stand against gay pride events– if you would consider that being against 'in-your-face' homosexuality.

In my defence, though, I would just similarly stand against parades that promote heterosexuality (it's hard to imagine such an event, though, because there's really not much worth throwing an event over).

Just as it annoys me that a macho man would feel the need to proclaim his manliness, I expect the same from homosexuals, i.e. please just stfu about it and not behave like people should give a damn about your personal life choices.

A macho dude over-compensating for his small penis would annoy me just as much as a gay dude trying to act all prima donna and hey-sista. Honestly, I hate that.

So, though I admit I disapprove of these examples of in-your-face homosexuality, I certainly hope I do not fall into your category of hypocrisy.

Saltwetfish said...

Whether is women, black, left-handed, animal,environment or homosexuals, a coming together to form a parade allows strangers and friends to show support for equality and its a powerful token for some people who may have suffer mentally due to the homophobia in society, religion or family. Just like national day is a coming together as a nation. So I guess for Ash the notion of a national day or chingay parade is also in your face then...

Sam Ho said...

personally, i have a discomfort too with most things that are in-you-face. like public displays of (higher level) intense heterosexual affection, nevermind homosexual affection.

i don't think gay pride parades are in-your-face. but perhaps sometimes over-the-top campiness might make you feel uncomfortable. i feel uncomfortable too, because i'm not used to seeing it on a daily basis, and it challenges my preconceived notions of what men/women should be.

it then made me think about why i have a preference for body-hugging t-shirts, and shirts with funny slogans. outfits define my identity as a person, who loves to be creative, play sports and also able to laugh at himself. and this might be seen as too much by others.

i think ash has a legitimate point on the macho dude example. i mean, the "macho dude" could be overcompensating and acting, or that this persona is a legitimate part of his identity and should be accepted. quite difficult to tell. but one thing's for sure, the "macho dude" exists in a playing field that already slants in favour of heterosexuality, so that is why most of us are inclined to believing the "hey sister!" gay dude's identity is less legit and more of an act.

at the same time, there's a growing urban discourse on gay identity formation, in which gay men are forced into queer categories themselves. it's all about culture, its formation, and the use of cues of culture to make your own identity. culture or subculture provides us with the crayons to draw what we feel best represents us.

BABO said...

Sam,

I wanted to post this message. But, you beat me to it. Cheers.

"I laud your commitment and conviction. Why don’t you respond directly to Ash or the likes of Nicolas Chauvin, or just censor them completely to help your cause? They have no qualms of doing the same."

Ash said...

Hmm. Oh well. There is a difference between censorship of homosexual behaviour and censorship of loud, in-your-face behaviour (homosexual or otherwise). And I'd like to think that I've not done any censoring on my part, much less have the authority or ability to.

Well, I can see how National Day is worth celebrating, for instance, because it is a coming together to recognise the significance of your identity and nationality. This is fair enough, I suppose.

However, I can't see what there is worth celebrating in one's sexuality. To me, it is as narcissistic as celebrating something as mundane as the colour of your skin. After all, is there inherently anything worth celebrating about your gender preference? We're all born with it, after all, and it is the celebration of a complete natural phenomenon.

However, if you are talking about the triumph over homophobia and the oppression (passive or otherwise) of homosexuals, then I suppose there is a more valid point. And to this, I concede it more or less legitimate. But next, one has to then ask if it is the right thing to do.

Look, for instance, at the Orange Order parades in Ireland, with respect to the Protestant-Catholic conflict. (No point studying history if we don't reflect on it, right.)

To me, the holding of parades is fine, as long as these parades are not provocative to the losers. Expression of triumphs are acceptable when everyone shares in the celebration, but where it may end up creating conflict, it becomes blatant asking for trouble. That's when I think it becomes 'in-your-face'.

I think it is one thing to seek equality and triumph over oppression of your faction. But I think it is another to parade it in front of the losers (or homophobes).

If you want to celebrate it, celebrate it together with people who care, and who would actually appreciate the moment. Gay bars, clubs- whatever. Enjoy the victory with your peers and friends, rather than putting it in the face of people who would feel sore about it.

This is my qualm with 'in-your-face' homosexuality. I hope I've articulated it fairly enough.

Xtrocious said...

Ash...

Maybe that's because you are not marginalized and that's why you think these gay "parades" are in your face?

I don't think the LGBTs are having the parade from the point of a "victor"...so I don't understand the parading in front of losers statement...

Ash said...

Yeah, the thought did cross my mind that it could just be that I've not experienced the same discrimination as gays have, and hence unable to genuinely sympathise even if I try. So yes, I do think that's definitely a possibility. I'm trying, though.

Mm. I've never actually -been- to a gay pride parade. But from what I've read/seen, I perceive it to be a very loud and rowdy "WE'RE GAY AND WE'RE PROUD OF IT." type rah-rah event that's a celebration of homosexuality. (Which, as I pointed out above, is why I, all in all, don't see how it is worthy of celebration. Sexual preference per se isn't really worth celebration.)

When talking about victors and losers, I guess I should have explained that I was assuming that the existence of the parade implies that society (or at least its laws) have opened up wide enough to allow such a public event– this is what I meant by a victory. To see a gay-pride parade allowed in Singapore, for instance, would be a milestone in exhibiting the liberation of mindsets.

And to this, I simply feel that it can be done without such a loud event– because it would serve also to rub people the wrong way.

That said, it was also pointed out that these parades serve the function of showing support for equality and mental/emotional support for those who feel marginalised. And to this end, I do agree that the coming-together of homosexuals serves a good purpose.

But well, celebrations don't have to be on the streets– Rent a venue, have a party at a club, sure. Why is that not good enough that there is a need to have it in a location where it is bound to rub a significant number of people the wrong way?

Don't know. Just reckon it's unnecessary risk. I can't see how the celebration of homosexuality calls for the extreme of parading in the streets.

But hey, maybe it's just that I've never suffered marginalisation. My two cents. :)

Sam Ho said...

yes, it will rub people the wrong way.

because most people are not sensitive to the history of marginalisation and oppression that LGBT folks face.

the "rah rah"-ness is a reaction to show that they are free, as a reaction to their oppressed history.

same goes when after singapore was freed from japanese occupation, you see the nationalist identity coming up. everyone was cheering like there's no tomorrow. people saluting one another, etc.

same goes for the rah rah ness of african americans after the civil rights movement.

unfortunately, most people don't understand the historical context of events, and start conveniently judging.

much like we don't understand the historical concept of "asian values" and "asian culture", items which are ironically used to justify homophobia.

Ash said...

hmm. I see.

(At the risk of sounding insensitive or ignorant) what IS the historical context to it?

From anecdotal experience at least, I haven't seen marginalisation of homosexuals to the extent of mental, emotional and especially physical oppression during the Japanese occupation.

Neither has it been to the extent of oppression of the Black slavery and second-class citizenry.

To be fair, I recognise that the much oppression I've seen comes in the form of trauma, insults and teasing in the formative years– in schools, when people don't know better, or when they more openly judge what is different (when we were young, people were made fun of for being a different race, having severe eczema, or hell, not having the money to afford colour pencils). I admit, that was oppression many of us were a part of, that many of us regret, and oppression that is very much recognised.

Moving on, I haven't seen homosexuals being denied jobs (at least not to the same extent as non-Chinese-speaking applicants have. Although this could largely be due to job requirements than profiling.) Arguably I've heard things about a declared homosexual getting it on government record, etc. But then all I've heard is hearsay rather than facts. I don't know enough on this.

I haven't seen social marginalisation (in context of being made second-class citizens during the Japanese Occupation or pre-civil rights movement). In fact, is it at all prevalent in adulthood? My perception has been that most adults recognise homosexuality and don't actively judge it; I might go so far as to say that to be labeled a homophobe is an unsavoury prospect as it insinuates that the fellow is intolerant and ignorant– and is something that people generally avoid being called.

I had a gay friend made costume designer for NDP during his NS days. Is this marginalisation? Or simply putting his passion and talents to good use?

My female friends have no qualms with gay guys. In fact I dare say most girls prefer gay guys as friends because there isn't the complication of romantic feelings and attachment.

I dare say even that my experience with effeminate gays has been that they are naturally disarming. The people around me instinctively like them. It's as if people identify them as different and thus that curiousity which begets courtesy has them treating them better.

Now as I talk of marginalisation, I do it in context of the other events that have warranted the extreme practice of street parades– honestly, has it really ever been as bad as Black oppression or the Japanese Occupation?

If so, then I want to know more about this oppression. I would admit to my abject ignorance (and from my above experiences and observation, you can surely see why) I would definitely stand up for the same cause as you have, then.

If not, then try as I might, I cannot help but be inclined to think it's more akin to human narcissism. And what right do we have to bring it to the same level as winning independence from a cruel foreign masters who engaged in rape, murder and torture; or the slavery of the African-Americans? Wouldn't that be belittling these causes?

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