Friday, October 28, 2011

Making change in Singapore

Wow it's been some time now.

Let's see. New job and fatherhood. Same old problems with the world.

I fielded questions on the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance yesterday, from final year university students writing a paper on activism.

It got me thinking a little more about not why I am in this in the first place, but rather how am I going to remain committed to what I believe in.

Essentially, belief is commitment, or at least that's what I would tell myself.

What continue to irk me the most are people going around telling others that, among many other things, homosexuality is bad, transsexuals are bad, wrong, unnatural, sinful, yada yada - I get the point.

That doesn't make the hatemonger is any better, but not that they know it any way. There will be people who think they know enough, or better, to speak for everyone else.

They'll want to lay claim to education, media, legislation, social norms and other mechanisms of control, to effect changes in our society that will eventually be ideologically aligned with what they are predisposed to, or already comfortable with.

That is destructive to the spirit of pluralism even our state is half-assedly committed too. (Well, I think our brand of pluralism essentially tilts in favour of the ethnic Chinese business elite, but that is just an opinion)

The curse of pluralism is the drawing of boundaries and battle lines, and when communities of uncompromising bigotry clash, and when the government fails to take leadership in social governance, it gets real nasty - we end up pretty polarised.

I still see myself as an ordinary anti-homophobe. I'm like "fuck your homophobia la" when I'm confronted with illogical arguments against LGB folks. It's a selfish thing, but I prefer to have a live-and-let-live approach to things, provided it doesn't impinge on the liberties of others.

A lot of "haters", -phobes, and fundies (religious fundamentalists) have an "us and them" complex. So too do most advocates and activists. So do I.

If people in the business of change (i.e. activists, advocates, etc.) adopt an "us and them" approach to advocacy, draw the bold lines and say stuff such as "you're wrong" and start prescribing to other communities what is the "right" way to think, feel and act, are they no better than the ignorant, the -phobic, the "haters" and all?

Different message, same kungfu.

I feel it is apt to leverage the (Singaporean) nationalist discourse (it is not entirely innocent any way) to focus on how different people and communities can co-exist. It requires the hard work of different stakeholders - an odd bunch of heterogeneous and/or overlapping communities able to agree to coexist and help one another; plus an active and supportive government willing to create and sustain more platforms for dialogue and all.

It doesn't work if the success of a collective is determined by the discrediting or invisibilisation of some communities.

Invoking more nationalist rhetoric - why must the Singapore story be written with omissions any way?

Coming back to the "us and them" mentality - between communities, between people and government - I feel some of the time and resources used to fortify the borders of indoctrination within a community, can be allocated to reaching out to others, or allocated to co-building platforms for stronger, constructive dialogue (NOT CONVERSION).

Speaking of conversion, if you still think homosexual people can convert your children, or that homosexuality is something you can learn and thus "unlearn" and discard, fuck you la.

Why give sexuality the same status as religious ideology? Well, I see it as the construction of an enemy or "devil" - it needs to have animalistic tendencies and a long penis, culturally recognised traits associated with all things evil.

To make people in your community recognise an "enemy", you have to 'zeng' the "enemy", like how Ah Bengs will add random accessories to their cars to make them look sporty and impressive and to show they don't have short penises, even though it is, in some cases, an extension of their masculinity.

Homosexuality, along with many other "ills", is something you have to make up as the antithesis of everything good that you believe in, every set of values you subscribe to. It doesn't cause it, but does exacerbates harmful mistruths and stereotypes of homosexuality being associated with sin, (un)nature, disease and other stuff you never want your children to be (which may include being unable to ascend the socio-economic ladder).

I personally think that good values, virtues and all the moral "rights/corrects" are not good enough to maintain ideological membership. Fear, hate and demonisation are necessary mechanisms to ensure the naturally permeable membrane that is the ideological boundary (if it even exists) is transformed into solid iron.

To use the government's globalisation rhetoric, we are living in constant change. Communities are not only characterised solely by strong bonds and fixed networks, but loose networks of mobile nodes. There is no place for "us and them". Bunkering in will only prove you are a hindrance to the collective. People with strong social prejudices will find it difficult to survive, without playing to themselves the same broken records of fear and hate (or tunes which sow such seeds).

If we are capable of friendship and be "colour-blind" at the same time - blind to physical differences, blind to religious differences, blind to racial differences - I think it is a good starting point for harmonious diversity. The same goes for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Who cares if that random girl is kissing another girl? Why can't your community address issues like 70, 80-year-old men and women scavenging our rubbish bins for recyclables? You want to create new enemies and problems? Try solve the existing ones first. Our very own prejudices and preconceived notions are existing problems to us and others who may be affected by them.

I am not an activist. I am not even half an advocate. I am just a digit, making an honest living, doing the best in different aspects of my life - familial, professional and recreational.

I somehow find myself in and out of the business of change. Got some battle scars - "freakiest gay in Singapore", "not neutral", "ignorant", "obnoxious", "not an activist", "patronising", "all brains no soul", "advocate of the cat holocaust" (that's a keeper), but that's okay.

Why in and out? I can never find a way to balance advocacy with my personal life. There are priorities and responsibilities I value more.

For me, activism, and more specifically, advocacy are embodied. When people within you circle make a needless and irrational transphobic statement, you could say "don't be a dick la" and that statement already indicates a stand for something, and against something else.

I also learned one thing along way, and that it is important to never take myself too seriously. Have a good laugh instead. I always feel that if people in the business of change take themselves too seriously, they end up, again, no different from those they try to change.

There has also emerged refreshing forms of advocacy which are characterised by the co-creation of platforms for different parties to come together to share ideas related, and even unrelated, to very issues that divide them.

Not all of us have the ability to lead, petition the government, mobilise people (illegal in Singapore), stage a march (illegal in Singapore), protest (possibly illegal in Singapore, demonstrate (illegal), picket (illegal), speak before the masses (illegal unless approved), and so on. But we have it in our own selves to embody the change we personally want to see.

We have the ability to make friends with those we disagree with. That is change too.

Personally, I was never inclined to mobilising or leading. I don't even fancy moving around, meeting strangers and all. But I do my best where I can

Balancing personal life and advocacy, I rationalised a little bit and tell myself, maybe I could commit 1-3 hours a week doing a little something - work on independent proposals to the government (they do listen, because the PAP wants to improve their vote share next election), read up or listen to talks, write to the newspapers, etc.

When people ask me about the Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance or talk about it, talk about membership and all, I normally say what I always feel, that any one who stands up against the nonsense that is homophobia, in any capacity, or any one who is "colour-blind" enough to co-exist with others regardless of orientation and persuasion, is already a member of their own queer-straight alliance.

There are many groups and individuals already working very hard to push for substantive equality for all in Singapore regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and they can do with the commitment of ordinary individuals, who live their daily lives being the change (hopefully not to abrasively or antagonistically).

If a substantial number of Singaporeans can come to terms with their prejudices, change at the collective level will probably be less difficult.

Now back to parenting.

No comments: