Thursday, September 1, 2011

A helpful research in an unjust land

There was an article by the Straits Times yesterday, reported by Melissa Pang, titled “Study looks at sexual behaviour of gay men”.

It reported that the Tan Tock Seng Hospital is conducting a survey to study sexual habits of homosexual men, with a view to improve preventive measures as well as the treatment of sexually transmitted infections. The questionnaire comes with a biological test.

The study has “good intentions” to ensure confidentiality and the meeting of research ethical protocol. The study also hopes to “understand the risk factors to come up with solutions”.

In short, the study contributes to sexual wellness of men who have sex with men.

The report does not say “men who have sex with men” (perhaps the most apt description), because that is a crime. The report has to describe the sample group as “homosexual men” and “gay men”.

You don’t have to be a self-identified homosexual man, or a gay man, to have sex with other men. Actions and beliefs don’t necessarily correspond with labels.

The Tan Tock Seng Hospital survey has good intentions, because the data collated may put the researchers in a better position to come up with suggestions and solutions which may influence outreach, policy, education and other domains, benefitting the community in some way.

Here lies the stumbling block. We have a discriminatory unconstitutional law in place which criminalises consensual sex between adult men.

Why discriminatory? Consensual sex between adult men and women is legal, so why target that between adult men alone? It is not logical.

Why unconstitutional? Our Constitution states that everyone is equal before the law. Yet this statutory law has privileged one group (people who have consensual heterosexual sex) over another (people who have consensual homosexual sex). That is Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Section 377A makes some people less equal than others. It also further allows stigmatism.

Advocates of the repeal of Section 377A have, like their hate-mongering homophobic self-righteous bigoted counterparts, have played the same old broken record over and again. The government remains in a state of indecision, not wanting to be responsible to ensuring that our statutory laws are in line with the Constitution.

The presence and imbalance of another law is the one that defends the “modesty” of women. Unfortunately, there is no male equivalent law to protect men from insulting gestures and speech. It is a discriminatory arrangement that is misaligned with the Constitution.

The research laments the poor participation rate, rightly so because they are conducting a study in the dark shadows of legal and social discrimination.

The research is the cart that is put before the horse. How are they supposed to reach out to, do research on, and help homosexual men in Singapore when nothing is done to address the very mechanisms that coerce them into silence.

Sexual wellness is always welcomed for any community.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask for a “social wellness” that is on par with that of adults who have consensual heterosexual sex. How about some “legal wellness”, or rather, equality for all regardless of the adults with which they have consensual sex?

At the very least, the study should be part of a multiprong approach to improving the wellbeing of self-identified homosexual people in Singapore, involving the sincere efforts from other Ministries, apart from Health.

Any way, the ignorant moral terrorists who are hell-bent on conquering the minds of everyone else and turning them into the very same hateful discriminating bigots that they are (phew, what a mouthful), would have qualms with such a study, perhaps highlighting its complicity in the moral corruption of children (a convenient excuse to cover up their insidious imperialistic political tendencies) and the overall destruction of the institution of the family, leading to the apocalypse.

You know what destroys families? For one, people who break marital vows and walk away from being a responsible spouse and parent. Don’t blame the queer. Being straight doesn’t mean we are more moral and more right.

Homophobes may also make the logical leap (yes they are capable of logic, at times) and associate the study with the endorsement of homosexuality. A study on homosexual sexual habits, aiming to get results to improving sexual wellness, would probably mean you’re endorsing and celebrating the “homosexual lifestyle”.

All fundie speak. Even the non-religious homophobes have grown acquainted with the normalisation of fundamentalist Christianity, not that the members of the latter would mind. I know a few non-religious people who describe whatever they perceive gay people to be as leading a “homosexual lifestyle”, implying that sexual orientation and identity are learned, cultivated and hence can be unlearned and discarded.

The arguments here are not original, but they remain relevant, even though policymakers continue to lack the moral courage to do anything to end the legal discrimination of sexual minorities. Never mind anti-discrimination protection, they simply lack the will and confidence to ensure people in Singapore, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, have equal rights.

You want to talk about the threat of gay men. Gay men in no way pose any threat to me and my family. If there is any threat, it is the blinkers and hatred homophobes are trying to put on everyone else, further dividing our society and marginalising those. These are the people who associate an identity with crime and immorality, blackmailing other into believing that discrimination is justified.

It is odd that different arms of the state are not coordinated, in this case, to truly help men who have sex with men. But to give it credit, at least it is taking the lead by conducting a study (which probably isn’t new either). I’m surprised that the report has not received any attention from the gay-haters among us.

I observe that many homophobic individuals (who coincidentally happen to be biphobic and transphobic! WOW! What are the odds?!?!) are in fact fairly educated.

This is a great travesty. You use your bloody privilege of education to enforce continual discrimination against those who are of lesser social and legal privilege.

I strongly believe that if you have the means to articulate, to speak, to write and express yourself in any way that is testament to your good education, you can leverage your privilege to help the marginalised share the same privileges that others possess.

It is because of ongoing discrimination, hate and fear-mongering, and domination of political discourse by homophobic people of considerable political and economic influence, that we get a decent attempt in the survey, only in isolation, but and overall sluggish attempt to improving the lives of homosexual Singaporeans.

I’m not only talking about your middle-to-upper income English educated ethnic Chinese gay Singaporean stereotype, but those who don’t belong to that demography, in fact occupying multiple marginalities. Their issues and needs go far beyond the survey and raise many fundamental questions about our system of governance. This is the very same system whose inaction and inertia represents its insensitivity of the diversity and heterogeneity that defines our society.

Even if the survey does reach its target of 1,000 participants, how are the findings and solutions going to be articulated, and how so in an environment continually fraught with legal discrimination and social stigmatism against sexual minorities?

These constraints are an embarrassment to our society.

I am not asking for more to be done, but merely asking if we have got our priorities right in the first place to “help” members of the sexual minority community here.

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