Saturday, October 16, 2010

It is ok to exoticise

I must admit that gender, sex and sexuality are few of the topics of discussion that interest me the most.

I don't deny indulging in exoticising the perennial social taboo/outsider. This can only constitute a fascination within a social, political and moral domain whose bodies of norms have made these topics rather mysterious and elusive.

In this case, to be fascinated is to be curious about what we have been socialised into believing not worthy of curiosity. The defence mechanisms of a dominant moral discourse, aimed at protecting specific structures and logic that order our society and way of life, do not allow us to be curious.

Even those whose identities and lives are far from the norm have sought to question this curiosity. This charge of exoticisation parallels the defence mechanisms of a wary and unstable cis/heteronormative society. A curiosity is always susceptible to being read as an interest of the exotic.

I am curious with the particular reading of people who appear fascinated with studying the "nuts, sluts and p(re)verts". These fascinated bunch are read to be interested in the exotic, and some critics have suggested we focused on the mundane to study and appreciate the less visible and taken-for-granted phenomena and structures that order our social lives.

But it is in the "exotic" that we also understand the various processes and nuances of social ordering, and through these understandings, we appreciate why the label "exotic" and why the (academic) habits of exoticisation exist.

For the "normal", "sane" and "moral" world, gender, sex and sexuality are conflated, and articulated in binarism. (Traditional) Medical, legal, religious and (Western) cultural norms all the more reinforce the validity of this articulation.

But we have to have the presence of "not normal", "not sane" and "not moral" beings to trouble this articulation. When we ask ourselves, "Why is this person not normal, not sane and/or not moral?" we begin to refer to the norms that shape and regulate our behaviours.

The "not normal", "not sane" and "not moral" (and other labels) folks reflect something about our culture and its limitations. The construction of "them" says something about "us" and our presuppositions, predispositions, socialisation and prejudices.

"Them" reflects a society of "us", characterised by the norms of different domains, interwoven and overlapping. These different sets of norms engage one another and at times reinforce one another.

Take for example, the norm of binary dimorphic (heterosexual) sex. It is emphasised in Judaeo-Christian-Islamic norms. It is also emphasised in medical science. At the same time, society found it fit to ascribe moral meanings and a status of naturality to protect this order, as the norms of religion, the norms of medicine and basically everything people observed, confirmed this. Put it altogether over time, we have something that is natural and right - just like how the Earth is flat and the sun rotates around it.

Whatever that challenges and contradicts the taken-for-granted "natural" and "right" order, for example, homosexuality, is deemed as unnatural and immoral. I looked at the Church of Our Saviour's 12-page document (written by Dr Thio Su Mein) on the "myths of homosexuality". It says "Homosexuality is learned behaviour and it is therefore possible to overcome homosexual identity and leave the homosexual lifestyle. Change is possible and desirable."

Within the frames of religion, the accepted human identity is one that parallels scripture. (some) Religion enforces order in society, and the stories, fables and rules in scripture and teachings demand congruity and conformity in the mortal world. The human world ideally has to be microcosmic of the heavens (and its fables), as however interpreted by the individuals higher up the human-made socio-religious hierarchy. We are expected to replicate the love, benevolence and compassion, and also the structures of power and obedience. These are but political processes built on human interpretations of holy material, deemed by human beings not to be questioned.

In the event of non-conformity, individuality is focused upon and questioned. The problem becomes reduced to the individual, and articulated within the frames of morality, as prescribed by socio-religious authority.

Given the complicity of various sets of norms in determining what constitutes conformity, these offer avenues for validating the belief that non-conformity is the result of wayward individualism. We can see it any way - insanity, sin, wrong influence.

What these do is draw attention away from the structures and logic that result in such an approach. We end up never challenging our continual and uncritical insistence on, among many other things, binary dimorphic (heterosexual) sex. We don't question the motivations, history and circumstances concerning the conference/ascription of "natural" and "right" to certain kinds of behaviours and attitudes.

The "natural" and "right" are but symptoms of political processes and action. How we label the "not normal", "not sane" and "not moral" are symptoms of our social conditioning, and the process of labelling is furthermore a political process.

I believe, to be fascinated with the "not normal", "not sane" and "not moral" is indicative of a curiosity (of varying consciousness') of the ways of the "normal", "sane" and "moral". The identification of the exotic via the process of exoticisation, is a site for questioning the grounds on which the process of exoticisation occurs.

It can go both ways. Some of "us" of study "them", want to know how this study can tell us about "them". But there are those of "us" who study "them" to know how this study can tell us about "us".

Exoticisation is still necessary to not only create sites for counter-discourses, but also to critique the conditions that allow for exoticisation.

Minorities are often guarded and angry at the glares of exoticisation, but these constitute one platform for dialogue, the language of which only understandable to the privileged.

To speak in the language of privileged is in no way indicative of being subjected to the discourse of the privileged. There are sites for negotiation and resistance even within the narratives of the privileged.

Too many doors are closed when different individuals and groups begin rejecting labels, collectives and platforms for discussions deemed only favourable to the privileged. But we forget that the business of change includes not only the identification of and engagement on new sites for negotiation and resistance, but also existing ones inhabited by the privileged majority.

Any way... Back to exoticisation. I feel that if we are in a culture that has lots of fascination with the non-mundane (or exotic), it says something about our diversity and how we construct the mundane. The exotic is a way to looking at the mundane.

So, next time, every time you observe or experience something, and are about to say "That's not right, not natural, not moral!", you can ask the question "What is it about me, my socialisation, culture and sets of beliefs that makes me say such things?"

Same goes for the folks who say, "That's not funny!"

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