Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12 days of Christmas in Singapore

On the first day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
A U-turned PDPC

On the second day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the third day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the fourth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the fifth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the sixth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the seventh day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Everything called hacking
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the eighth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Dirty hawker ceiling
Everything called hacking
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the ninth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Pineapple tart claiming
Dirty hawker ceiling
Everything called hacking
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the tenth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Peter Lim corrupting
Pineapple tart claiming
Dirty hawker ceiling
Everything called hacking
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Tey's sexy grading
Peter Lim corrupting
Pineapple tart claiming
Dirty hawker ceiling
Everything called hacking
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my gahmen sent to me:
Lots, lots of ponding
Tey's sexy grading
Peter Lim corrupting
Pineapple tart claiming
Dirty hawker ceiling
Everything called hacking
Little India rioting
More censorship
Weekend ban
Some pinky shirts
And a U-turned PDPC

Monday, December 2, 2013

Reactions show need for education

(Published - ST, Nov 23, 2013)

Reactions show need for education

I support the Singapore Armed Forces' move to ban a verse of an army marching song, because misogyny, sexism and rape should not be tolerated ("Offensive verse of army song banned"; last Saturday).

Some online critics claim the lyrics are "no big deal" and sung in jest. Their argument trivialises and normalises sexism and rape, while justifying sexual assault as retaliation for infidelity.

Also, it indicates apathy and desensitisation towards the issues, resulting in some seeing nothing wrong with the behaviour.

Then there are those who argue that the verse is sung within the confines of the army. But locale is not an excuse.

Surely, there are many other ways for soldiers to cope with compulsory conscription and fatigue, as well as raise morale, without putting down women.

Some argue that the Association of Women for Action and Research is intrusive and prudish. This should not detract from the work it has been doing in raising awareness of prejudice, chauvinism and their normalisation.

There is no need to ascribe inferiority to women as a means to state one's masculinity.

National servicemen are obligated to bear arms as part of state-sanctioned violence in the name of national defence. Sexual violence and its rhetoric have no place in this.

We could perhaps reflect on how we have long taken for granted certain historical liberties taken by males with regard to attitudes and behaviours towards females.

The reactions to the ban show that we are in dire need of some education.

Ho Chi Sam


(Original version - sent 17 Nov 2013)

I refer to the recent ban on the verse of an army singalong song by MINDEF following a complaint by AWARE.

I support this because misogyny, sexism, rape and threats of rape should not be tolerated.

In the online criticism directed at AWARE and the ban, some claim the lyrics are "no big deal" and sung in jest. I disagree. This trivialises and normalises sexism and rape, while justifying sexual assault as retaliation for infidelity.

Furthermore, it indicates apathy and desensitisation towards the subject matter, resulting in few seeing no wrong in the behaviour. It is alarming and disappointing.

Some argue the verse is sung within the confines of the army, but locale is not an excuse. In addition, the responsibility of having done National Service does not give one the privilege to be sexist in any context.

It is also not an excuse to objectify women and joke about sexual assault - a tacit acknowledgement and imposition of gender superiority. Surely there are many other ways for soldiers to cope with compulsory conscription, fatigue, showing machismo, building caramaderie and morale etc. without the need to put down women.

Some argue AWARE is intrusive and even projected expectations on them to take up further causes with respect to conscription and traditional attitudes toward the expendability of male citizens' lives.

This should still not detract from the work AWARE has been doing in making Singaporeans more conscious of prejudice, chauvinism and their normalisation.

I feel there is no need to demean, trivialise abuse or ascribe inferiority to women as a means to stating one’s masculinity, building an army or engaging in war.

NSmen are obligated to bear arms as part of state-sanctioned violence in the name of national defence. Sexual violence and its rhetoric have no place in this.

Rather than focus on AWARE and label the organisation as prudish, we could perhaps take on a less convenient task in reflecting on how we have long taken for granted certain historical liberties taken by males with regard to attitudes and behaviours towards females.

For those who place great emphasis on masculinity or manliness, I kindly suggest these traits be constructed, embodied and impressed upon others without the need to be sexist, misogynist or partaking in activities that trivialise and normalise these attitudes.

The above-mentioned reactions to the ban only show that we are in dire need of some education.

Friday, November 15, 2013

AWARE and Purple Light's "rape"

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) recently shared an update on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/awaresg/posts/688516534494122):
Ever wonder if speaking up about sexism really creates change? Here's one case where it has!

Earlier this year, AWARE learned of "Purple Light", a marching song sung by many NSmen, which included the lines: 
"Booking out, see my girlfriend
Saw her with another man 
Kill the man, rape my girlfriend
With my rifle and my buddy and me."

We were troubled that NSmen were bonding over misogynist lyrics about committing sexual violence against women. So we raised our concerns with MINDEF and SAF.

And now we have excellent news: MINDEF and SAF have confirmed that they took steps to investigate. They will "immediately halt" the singing of these lyrics, which they describe as "contrary to the values of [their] organisation".

It's really encouraging that MINDEF and SAF are prepared to listen to feedback, recognise this as an issue and take action on it. Thumbs up!
Before I provide a *gasp* short comment (in less than my usual 2,000 words), I like to say that when I did my Basic Military Training (BMT) in 2002, there was such a song sung with the above lyrics.

Any way, I think it is important to support this because it is not about women's rights or protection from violence. It is about G/gender and how we continue to construct it.

First, I believe AWARE should be applauded and supported for raising this. It has been a blindside to many folks when it comes to partaking in seemingly silly or trivial singalongs that in the process normalises sexual violence.

I do have my gripe against advocates who border on "feminazi" when it comes to policing the word "rape" such that even the boundaries of commentary and satire with the most self-aware and conscientious intent get controlled. I feel it is important that everyone gets involved in the discourse on rape, including the most offensive. But any way, I don't intend to discuss that in this post.

The abovementioned army singalong talks about revenge on infidelity using sexual assault or rape. It is mentioned in the context of serving in the military and losing your girlfriend, and coping with the perpetual sense of loneliness in the midst of service. But (as some have still yet to understand...) the context still does not justify sexual assault, or "she deserves it" kind of rape (in layman speak).

Looking at the lyrics in isolation, disregarding the context, I still feel it is still an unnecessary remark. Does it make you more capable of coping in the army? Does rape or joking about it make you closer with your army mates so you can serve the nation better? I'm sure there are other ways of creating camaraderie and building a team, apart from the ritualistic normalisation of rape that was/is (?) rampant in the army.

Why "ritualistic"? Well, people think nothing of it after saying it or being part of it, or they end up reasoning "Nah, it's nothing much really. Don't take it too seriously."

Now let's look at the singalong with respect to creating the desirable male in the military. Traditionally (and maybe some of it still hold true today), men in the military, in order to be more "man" enough to serve, are either exposed to or indulge themselves (or both) in misogyny, homophobia, racism, swearing and so on.

Any way, I recall one episode of unnecessary racism when I was doing my in-camp reservist training this year. One of the instructors made a remark about recording long names, and said something along the lines of "pretty easy... unless it's an Indian name, because they're damn long". I uttered "fuck" in disgust, while an ethnic Indian battalion mate seated near me looked down and said "WTF, that's fucking racist" (see, we cursed). We later registered our complaint, but on hindsight, we should have stood up and called the guy out in front of everyone and told him what he said was unnecessary and has offended some of us.

Racism is a different animal from sexism and misogyny, but there are folks who are aware and conscious enough. In the same reservist training, another instructor, in the context of explaining how to subdue a threat, said "...gang bang him", but apologised before and after saying it. It was strange, but I got the impression that while he wanted to convey a concept that everyone else already understood, he was conscious of it. I honestly didn't see it as an attempt to trivialise the situation or the metaphor. So is that correct? Will people on different points on the feminist spectrum have the same view on this?

From this episode, it did show, for me, that there is already some degree of (de)sensitisation towards sexual violence such that such terms and metaphors used in the context of military training resonates with the folks receiving them.

It is not because these men are disrespectful towards women which is still not the issue by the way. It is that after many generations of conditioning, it appears that men or male-bodied persons are facing greater challenges in defining, constructing and reinforcing their masculinity, and maybe impress and impose it on others too.

I have to keep emphasising: It's not about the feelings or rights of women or females here, but about men and males and their "masculinity".

It was previously done with generous doses (even if they meant it or not) of misogyny, sexism, aggression/violence (or threats of violence), homophobia, transphobia, racism, even class and so on. Yup, the act of "being a man" traditionally involved (partly or fully depending on the individual concerned) putting others down. In the historical context of military and war, perhaps it helped soldiers (who already had some prejudices) cope? Perhaps they needed some rhetoric that resonated with their prejudices, for example, towards female sexuality or race? I don't know. But in today's context, we can do without these.

Back to "being a man" or "manning up", more attention should be focused on how we continue to define, construct and reinforce the flimsy (singular) idea that is masculinity/manhood - i.e. we aspire towards a certain behaviour, a certain body type and a certain social relationship with our environment and other people, just to prove we're "a/the man".

Once we strip the unnecessary isms and phobias from the construction of all things "manly", we will soon realise that there are a lot of traits that are not exclusive to males (and females). Here, binarism is fucked (ah, violent language with implications of sexual assault).

I don't speak for AWARE, but as how I see it, they do their advocacy in the context of a generally ignorant and gendered population, and sometimes, the issues they address do not immediately reveal the overarching themes they champion or fight against, because I do not believe many people will be able to understand them. Even if the AWARE activists and volunteers articulate these, it will still be lost on some.

Not everyone is sensitive to Gender (capital letter there), so things have to move at the pace of, with all due respect, the lowest common denominator in a gendered society. That is why some men and even women have taken this advocacy to be something that is "all about women's rights", when it is actually about how in the process to guarding our manliness/womanliness and maleness/femaleness and their supposed (dichotomous) distinctions, we end up using violence and oppressing others.

Lowest common denominator... If there's a better term, please let me know. In the process of advocating same-sex marriage, there are some factions within the LGBT, feminist and intellectual communities who argue that such a movement is complicit in heteronormality with its prized trait of monogamy, and somehow goes against the grain of sexual diversity (emphasis on consensual) for instance.

Again, it is not as if same-sex marriage advocates are all shallow or dumb, but they are merely dumbing down the message for others to understand enough to have a change in mindset. In the process of doing so, they use themes that resonate with their preexisting biases (is preexisting bias a tautology?). It appears less confrontational. It's like deflecting a punch instead of blocking it stiffly at a right angle.

If we turned the spotlight on masculinity and how we define and mould our maleness or manliness, there will be lots of people who say "that's natural, what!" or "that's how/what men should be". It'll be lost of them and nothing changes. It's not that "women's rights" is the low hanging fruit, but the issues discussed so far have indicated greater accessibility to a larger number of Singaporeans, and hopefully, it'll lead to greater reflection on masculinity and Gender in general.

The mundane always appear to be the most innocent, when in fact, it plays a role in reinforcing harmful prejudices. AWARE did the right thing, and well, it is never too late to call MINDEF/SAF out on this. I support this.

Friday, July 19, 2013

WOAH WOAH WOAH One Singapore

An orgy of vocals excreted from the necks of decapitated chickens running around in a burning farm.

That’s an understatement for something we dare pass off as a song, never mind the intention of celebrating nationhood.

I thought it was a prank when the link to the song for the National Day Parade 2013 was shared.

I've listened to it about 20 times. The first listen was the most painful actually. First impression counts, like the first date with someone with nauseating body odour and unwashed morning+cigarette+stale coffee breath. Musical tastes and opinions differ, to each his own, and you might find certain breaths nice to smell. Whatever.

To be fair, I won't talk about the lyrics in detail, because the song is so musically compelling it churns a cow’s stomach(s), so I missed the lyrics.

It starts off with the synthetic hi-hats signalling the time signature, that 4-beat intro into the song. Sounds like it came off a demo. I went "uh oh", but it'll probably compel any Jade Seah to go "oh fuck".

The guitar work, while sanitised, stutters with awkwardness. It’s like walking into a party with your panties hanging at your ankles – and you’re a man.

The song shows an attempt to make it a fun and carefree sing-along – given the collage of vocals. The repetitive chordwork may polarise opinion, but I thought it was ok (was thinking about those whimsical Smashmouth songs).

This NDP song still sounds pretty cluttered, and that’s because of it overlapping, overflowing and overwhelming vocal delivery, not helped by the wordy lyrics. The tempo of the song may be fixed, since it gives the impression it's done on some cheap computer mixing software, but more justice could have been done by pacing the melody. It moves at one pace - frantic, like an ugly Singaporean at a buffet.

The production is paper thin and plasticy. The arrangement and orchestration are awful. I think the Mayans were right in their prediction.

While the vocals and lyrics are emphasised, as are in most songs, they came at the expense of the instruments, which came across as synthetic and amateurish. And there are far too many unnecessary musical and instrumental touches. Not a wall of sound, but a wall at which various types of animal faeces are thrown, some of which sticking, other pieces sliding down with the pull of gravity.

No comments on the chords and chord sequences. I’d normally look at the chords of the song, but didn’t bother this time. Gave up half way trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

C-F-Am-G (repeat… repeat)
C-Am-Bb-F (repeat… repeat… repeat) or C-Am-F-C/E-Dm-F whatever
Transpose to D? Whatever…
For the bridge… just take some hallucinogen

What's up with the bridge? It sounds like that part was conceived in one blurry potty cokey episode in a residence at Seletar Airbase. That part of the song is a little bit out of this world... well, maybe some epic 1980s song... hmmm.. never ending story, any one?

The song has got some clamouring for Dick Lee to right/(re)write the wrongs. Never mind Dick Lee’s “Home”, even the dreamy simplicity and organic-ness of Electrico’s “What do you see” is what this year’s song lacks. Place "One Singapore" next to "What do you see" and you'll think "What do you see" is best thing since Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Children rapping – nice touch… of musical death, murdered in the most contrived and constipated way.. Awkward pause included. Don’t think putting children in the production will render you immune to criticism, hor!

"Oh yes! For sure the inclusion of children so absolutely represents the future. I get it! So poetic, excellent metaphor... and the rapping, wow, it sooo resonates with every Singaporean who's young and young at heart!"

Is there an NDP songwriting checklist? Transposition… Check! Multi-ethnic instrument tokenism… nah, not this time. No er-hu this time, or maybe it's there but drowned out by the chaos.

One decent part of the song is the “woah” part, because at least the song got its fundamentals right, i.e. a catchy chorus. Another portion worth mentioning is the bass - nice arrangement, nice touch, and it probably has done the best it could given the constraints.

The singing is very Singaporean, and that’s something we can be proud of. It’s ok to have that Singaporean twang, especially the music we’re exposed to are pretty westernised.

Most folks will want something that evokes (positive) emotions, sense of (be)longing, nostalgia, pride, etc. In this respect, “One Singapore” sounds frivolous and clumsy. Even if it was intended to sound so bad it becomes good, it may very well sound so bad it is hated.

Songs like "Count on me, Singapore", "Stand up for Singapore", "Home" are not good and loved because of nostalgia and folks wanting to live in the past. They're just well-written by legit songwriters. And in each song, you can tell the pedigree of the songwriting and craftsmanship.

If you're looping four chords like Corrine May's "Song for Singapore" to give an NDP song a contemporary spin, the quality of the arrangement and delivery matters. Corrine May's song was decent and very organic, sounds personable and relatable, but the strings could have been played down a little.

Well, who knows, maybe "One Singapore's" live performance will be provide a visual feast that will compensate for its audio and musical brokenness.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Punctuating Pink Dot with Optimism

Pink Dot 2013 was my third Pink Dot. Wasn’t able to make the first two though, but had lots of fun for the ones I attended.

Pink Dot is what it is – a carnival that unites a considerable number of pink-clad individuals and groups to form a message and collective bargain on equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

That it appears so commercial, coordinated and massive, it becomes incoherent with the myriad of queer intersectionalities that characterise LGBT Singapore. And for that reason, among others of course, some segments might have felt that Pink Dot, as much as it is pro-equality, is commoditising, complicit in tokenism and further oppression of marginal queerness, and presents paradoxes that trouble the SOGI troublers.

For many activists and defenders of human rights, it is easy to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity at length. But depending on your business of change, you may have a target audience that might be less informed and probably need a more simplified message: Equal rights, treatment and opportunity for LGBT Singaporeans; abolish S377A; stand up as friends and family of LGBT Singaporeans.

Unfortunately, a simple message dilutes the queer diversity and the different challenges LGBT and questioning Singaporeans of different cultures and socio-economic statuses face on a daily basis. Furthermore, Pink Dot appears to be a one-off occasion, where thousands gather together and have fun for a couple of hours and the impression is given that there’s no continuity in this business of change.

Ah. Pink Dot and its continuity. Does discrimination and marginalisation continue as per normal after the event?  Sing, dance and sweat for a couple of hours and that’s it?

For me, Pink Dot is a platform for collective bargain, to show Singapore that there is a significant number of people who stand up against discrimination. People willingly attend the event, as opposed to cornering a senior politician and presenting him with a political bargain.

I think Pink Dot is not about pluralistically representing every queer corner and margin of Singapore society. It is focused on numbers for a more significant collective bargain that is visible to all Singaporeans and the world. It puts together the relevant ingredients to bring together not only the 24/7 champions of LGBT rights, but also the casual supporter, the fence-sitter and even people who never cared for most of their lives but happen to do so for 1 or 2 hours.

Pink Dot forces the local media to report about the event not because of its message, but because of its newsworthy massiveness and celebrity ambassadors (straight allies among them). The dominant discourse is commercial, commoditised, English-speaking, middle-class, mostly male (homo)sexuality (at least for most straight people, because penis-less female-female relationships are beyond their simplistic and misogynist lesbian pornographic imaginings), homonormative, monogamous, “just like straight people”.

It is this particular approach and discourse that is more coherent and less threatening to the heterocentric decision-makers, the neutrals and the marginally homophobic. It does risk diluting the queer spectrum in the process, or even silencing the margins of margins, and maybe this is the trade-off. I wouldn’t go so far so to call this a “big picture” “activism”, but it does what is necessary for a bigger collective bargain – it maybe in tandem with some smaller circles and out of sync with others, but it has its own purpose.

As in music, you don’t add more chords, musical and artistic nuances, transposition, chord variations, wide-ranging complex vocals to a simple 3 or 4-chord pop song that aims to be number one.

Without neglecting these paradoxes and complicities, we can focus on the positives. Pink Dot provides a platform for various LGBT interest groups, communities and civil society organisations to reach out to the public – queer, straight or questioning.

Another positive is the lengthy speeches by the straight ambassadors, who somehow almost feel apologetic for the numerous fuck-ups their fellow straight community folks have made in dealing with SOGI issues. It’s necessary for a straight LGBT-affirming person to speak up and at such lengths, because the silence that has plagued the “straight community” for the longest time continues to impress upon everyone that all straight people do not support equality regardless of SOGI.

So the next time before you scream, “Hurry the fuck up, Mark Richmond!”, do think about the context of the event.

Pink Dot has a legitimate message that may not necessarily and directly support other queer messages and lived daily complexities faced by the margins of margins and the more invisible among the invisible. I personally feel more could be done for gender identity issues, but Pink Dot, for the sake of a relatively prejudiced and ignorant Singapore populace, has to choose the most accessible message – sexuality. And sexuality has to be communicated in a way this segment can best understand – in terms of family, love, acceptance and treatment.

In the process of focusing on sexuality, some assumptions have to be made about gender, and this threatens part of feminist and queer movements and circles here. The focus on monogamy is also another point, and can be read as validating heterocentrism (kwa kwa kwaaaaa). That fact that the event is in Hong Lim Park furthers the post-structuralist imaginings of circumscribed liberties. How not to be pessimistic?

I share some concerns and have issues with Pink Dot. It will make a good intellectual discussion, but left for another time and place.

Here’s the situation. There are rules against positive or normal media depiction of homosexuality. Homophobic faith and religious groups, with constitutional protection and all, have safe spaces to perpetuate myths and discrimination against LGBT Singaporeans, to the point of demonisation and wanting to wage “war”. In a country in which homophobia is institutionalised (military, schools, media, etc.) and normalised, Hong Lim Park is probably the only place to have a collective bargain against this madness. Small space for 20,000 people. 3-4 hour event. Once a year. So that’s pretty reasonable.

It was thus worth our (me and family’s) time to attend Pink Dot. I sweat buckets every time I’m there. I have spent hard-earned money to make SinQSA (Singapore Queer-Straight Alliance) badges and decals, and managed to recoup about half of it through contributions and donations. Without hesitation, I agreed to help out with the video production for Pink Dot 2012 by being an extra. Even at Pink Dot 2013, with the help of queer women’s group Sayoni, we gave away the SinQSA badges.

For the SinQSA badges, it’s merchandising (without any profit), but if there are some who are willing to use it, explain what it means to them and what they are willing stand up for, I think it’s a success.

I think my contribution, with respect to Pink Dot, is relatively insignificant. Maybe less than 40 hours in the span of 3 years. Outside Pink Dot, I blog, meet up with folks and talk about LGBT and SOGI issues, attend events/talks – takes maybe less than 60 hours a year. Still nothing much. There are many activists, social workers and community leaders who give so much more. And they’re still present at Pink Dot having fun, and being part of the collective bargain.

I feel having values is one thing, but doing something that reflects your values is another. Pink Dot provides that platform for people who believe in equality for LGBT folks and want to stand up for it, whether they do it every day or once a year.

There are many fuckers in Singapore who go out of their way to put down gay people (nevermind other sexualities). They try to tap on the rhetoric of marriage, children, nature, sanity, sin, just to justify discrimination and monger hate. These are channelled into the mainstream. They claim to be straight too, so it becomes my problem because I really don’t want to be associated with them.

In my capacity, aside from writing to the newspapers, one good platform that provides access to the mainstream is Pink Dot. It’s not the most complex, intellectual or disruptive SOGI movement, but it does more than enough to let Singapore know that there are gay-affirming Singaporeans out there.

It’s polarising, says the PAP government as it tries to justify its inaction – yup, working very hard to do absolutely nothing for social justice. What is so polarising about acceptance of Singaporeans regardless of SOGI? I think hate-mongering and discrimination are causing the polarisation. But if a party wants to stay in power, you have to balance between doing what is “right”, and doing what a majority of your voters will think is right in their personal individual opinion.

In some circles, there’s the focus on what Pink Dot is not and probably never will be. I say, horses for courses, and we should be happy (not complacent, a government buzzword by the way) there are many groups and communities that aim to reach out to Singaporeans of varying SOGI.

If we find ourselves wanting to intellectualise and problematise Pink Dot, I would encourage some grounding of the textual analysis (that results in the articulation of complicities and paradoxes) in the heterocentric socio-political conditions in which we reside. Got to balance implications with prevailing contexts. For one, given the myopia and pig-headedness of heteronormality/centrism, the bargain for gender diversity (as opposed to equal rights and protection for self-identified homosexual citizens) will be dismissed before the first sentence can be uttered.

That said, I feel SOGI advocacy is not linear and neither prioritises one community over another nor labels one as the “baby step” and the other as the “next step”. The dominant discourse may make it seem like SOGI advocacy is coerced into a certain rigid formation with a fixed roadmap, but that is not the case. It just has to simply appear in a form that is coherent enough to be understood, but its contents (I never say “essence” ah, I never say ah!) will be what these advocates want them to be. There is another way to be look at it and be a little bit more optimistic.

Being a subject in a dominant discourse and using the very same logic and rhetoric to subvert its dominance need not necessarily be viewed with pessimism (i.e. your agency is an illusion). Even if we replicated “values” and rhetoric of heterocentrism/normality but achieved a substantial improvement in the lived daily realities of a segment of the LGBT community, I personally see it as a progress.

And if the “progress” of one segment comes at the expense of another – in the form of continued or deeper marginalisation – we should then look at how the replication of these “values” and rhetoric (since we’re moving on the pessimistic post-structuralist track) can pluralistically address their challenges. After all, our “straight” society has proven to be able to handle pluralism by having policies and safe spaces for heterogeneous communities to do what they do.

The romantic in me would say that queerness is beyond the heterocentric tribalism and all its trivial and childish shenanigans, but to gain any ground and momentum, you have to play by the prevailing set of rules. For instance, the PAP imposed the GRC system to ensure its political longevity, but the opposition played by those rules and won a GRC. (Of course, one can also argue that because of PAP’s stringent requirements for political leadership, the WP may well be a subject of the PAP discourse. But we should look at how Singaporeans are served and if things have been “better” too.)

The road to equality regardless of SOGI requires a combination of perspectives:
-          “I don’t care who you are, as long as you do good”
-          “LGBT citizens are citizens too, therefore should have equal rights”
-          “If straight people can marry, gay people too”
-          “I’m straight, and I think homophobia is disgusting”
-          “Stop assigning binary gender!”
-          “The government gives me privileges as a straight person, so I think it is only fair queer people enjoy the same privileges, since they contribute to society too.”
-          “Let’s just gather 20,000 people and form a dot to show they support freedom to love regardless of SOGI”
-          Etc.

Some perspectives have more mainstream traction, others appeal to the radical or the intellectual. Ultimately, we have different people who are able to agree on maybe one or two things, and ask for a change together.

Okay. 2,000 words. I’m done. Stay optimistic. Do good.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Passion of the Kitty-Hunter

Today is an important day. No, not referring to Kevin Rudd’s second stint as Australian Prime Minister, at the expense of Julia Gillard. We’re talking about the end of the McDonald’s Singapore Hello Kitty promotion.

McDonald’s Singapore always has excellent marketing machinery. Their messaging, timing, promotions and deals reflect something about the team that is better than your ordinary marketing team. Although some may see it as a privilege, it is even more challenging when your target market is what appears to be the masses (but in fact, it’s more of a heterogeneous mix of demographies with varying aspirations and behaviours).

And with one snap of a finger signalling the start of a 5-week campaign, the Hello Kitty promotion proves to be a major catalyst for that familiar craze that occasionally sweeps our sunny (or hazy) shores.

There were long queues, formed way ahead of the promotions that started at 12am. There were those with an entrepreneurial eye, who seek to sell their collected Kitties for a profit. There were queue-cutters and even the police was called. Of course, we’re nowhere near the glass-shattering shenanigans of the 2000 Hello Kitty promotion.

Because of these episodes, immortalised through media and conservations, we have come to conclusions about the “ugly” side of Singaporeans. We are kiasu, petty, ungracious, opportunistic and have a warped sense of self-entitlement. The list goes on.

At the same time, don’t you think it is really too convenient to direct attention and adjectives to a strange and uncommon phenomenon – as it appears to be misaligned with how we want and aspire Singaporean-ness to be?

I noticed some Singaporeans criticising and ridiculing others for battling the haze and displaying uncharacteristic patience by queuing up at odd hours for the Hello Kitties, attempting to provide sociological and psychiatric explanations for the phenomenon, tinted with negativity, and later distance themselves as wiser and trend-immune persons from the crazed “masses”.

For the record, I got 3 Hello Kitties from this campaign and waited 5-10 minutes for each of them. My daughter plays with them, so they’re worth it. I attempted to get the fourth one, but was put off by the snaking queues and rumbling tummy.

So, having been on both sides, I think there’s no need to take the “know it better” higher ground to ridicule those who queue for the Hello Kitties. Most of the Kitty-hunters are peacefully queuing up and generally not exhibiting any anti-social behaviour.

The episode presents an interesting yet overlooked sociological insight – the fascination with the uncommon and the disruptive. Little to no attention is given to the mundane, because of how deeply we are immersed into it and how we continue to implicitly and overtly sustain it.

For a change, why not let’s focus our sociological imagination and discourse analysis lenses on the persons who attempt to rationalise in such a way to impress upon others the claim of moderation, well-adjusted-ness, measured-ness and normal-ness in attitude and behaviour? The claim of being “normal” also empowers one to use behavioural and social mechanisms to other-ise and stigmatise.

There is an impatience, a sense of urgency and at times a very conscious effort to claim to be a normal and moderate person. But why?

For the Kitty-hunters, their behaviour and actions do say something about our consumerist culture, among other wider phenomena. But that doesn't mean that those who toe the lines of measured-ness and mundanity with attempts at impressions of well-adjusted-ness, are themselves not symptomatic of similar or other types of phenomena (obviously) related to modern urban life in Singapore.

I think it is just too convenient to use the truckload of theories to (re)frame, (re)rationalise and (re)imagine the Hello Kitty craze. It is also convenient to link it to our social, cultural, economic, material, historical, political, geographical or sexual conditions.

On the other side (bad binarist assumption, but heck), what is it about the conditions that underpin the claims to normal-ness and the overt rejection of consumerism and fetishism? Is the repeated and almost ritualistic claim to and exhibiting of normal, moderate and generally socially conformist behaviour or even claims to “good taste” not fetishistic? Are these claims and behaviours not reflecting a state of being subjected to larger middle-class urban discourses (oops, falling outside sociology here)?

In other cases, there are people who are quick to claim to be heterosexual and cisgendered. There are those are desperate to claim they are moderate. There are those who attempt to laugh a little less harder at a really dirty joke.

“Because normal people don’t do that!”

That means, do “normal” people subject themselves to more disciplinary mechanisms and prevailing/dominant discourses which produce and re-produce marginalities and of course paradoxes? Now that is very shaky ground to be on.

In fact, most Kitty-hunters reproduce the norms in their quest for the promotion. The queues, the smartphone time-killing entertainment, the passive demeanour while queuing  and the displays (generally) of patience. Most of them don’t actively seek to be different as a life of normalcy awaits them after the extra value meal purchase. But they become subjects of exercises by people who seek to internalise (link to psychology and psychiatric conditions) and externalise (link to wider phenomena and institutions) this behaviour.

The mundane is never sexy, never attractive, so we tend to question it less. That means, we end up taking it for granted, and normalising it in the process.

Well, think about it. If you thought "Does that mean we're all freaks and perverts?", all I can say is "You say one ah! I never say anything ah, I never say ah!"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Save my world, Saving Gaia, Saving music

Amidst the NEA-WP hawker centre saga, the dengue situation (please do your part, guys) and the government's move to control the web, there is something that deserves far greater attention.

You're right! I'm talking about that irritating campaign song from Saving Gaia. As Mediacorp puts it, it's a Mediacorp initiative.

Initiative. Check.
Thought put into songwriting. Hmmm.

First off, I find it difficult to connect with the music video, since I'm not a skinny middle-class electric car-driving ah beng who's trying to taunt you into better environmental ownership.

"No! Sorry sir. Sorry! I thought I paid my protection money last month liao!"

And since we're into ah beng cultural imaginings fueled by nostalgic stereotypes...
*flips the table and runs to a nearby hedge to retrieve a 20-inch parang*

Might as well have a video that shows a person who litters and is later set upon by a gang of 6-7 teens armed with sharp plastic combs, pocket knifes and parangs, chanting "GAO SAH GAO! GAO SAH GAO!" (the last three numbers of Mediacorp's postal code, what were you thinking?) to promote civic consciousness and environmental awareness.

No wonder those back-up kids are shitting their pants, and on the vocals. I'd rather just have a couple of kids sing the song, solo, duet, whatever.

Musically, this year's version is as bad as the previous. It's bland and reeks of the contrived attempt to use hip-hop so that the random teenager on the street will suddenly open his/her eyes and exclaim, "WOW hip-hop! That is something I sure can identify with! *wink*"

Kudos to MDA and their use of hip-hop to connect with the younger generation, because everyone in that demography sure as hell listens to hip-hop and speak like they're from the 'hood, ya'll.

At least the first Saving Gaia version, no matter how stomach-churningly awful it was, was a better attempt with some choral singing. Not Corrine May choral, but still there was some attempt at technique. It came across as earnest, but didn't help much with Singaporeans perception and attitudes toward having children. "Damn, the government wants us to have kids and after looking at this video, hell, keep your baby bonus, I'm going DINK! YOLO"

And with this year's video, potential parents will be like, "I'd rather my teenager not separate his recyclables than have that get-up and demeanour in the video."

Since we're on the topic of music, this song is irritating because it has the ingredient of irritation. No, not just the sharp-sounding kids' vocals. It's the melody.

The melody, in C major key signature I believe, is obsessively repetitive in tune and in the use of the C note. Just like the PAP's vice grip on every day Singaporean life, this song clings onto the C note a little too tightly.

Let's look at the pre-chorus melody:
A(la) B(ti) C(do) C(do)
A A B C C B B A A G G (holy shit, that's Grammy-standard music there)

And the chorus:
C C B (that's probably how I feel about the song)
And rinse and repeat.

The melodies for each of the song's movements (verse, pre-chorus and chorus) are all tightly clustered. Only the verse has some range (within an octave but one note shy).

But the irritating factor is, as mentioned, the use of the C note. The pre-chorus builds to nothing and the chorus is anti-climatic. It's far too simple to be a singalong, never mind an anthem.

You want a proper build to a climatic chorus and then begin your chorus with a base note, then use that note (high note) sparingly, rather than abuse it. This songwriting debacle is what makes the song irritating.

And yes, monotonous too. The song is so monotonous it makes Gregorian funeral music sound like a heavy metal cover of an ABBA disco song.

No idea who wrote that song. You know what, JJ Lin's Youth Olympic Games cheer/ditty "You are the one, Singapore" is way better and has nuances that are telling of his songwriting pedigree. Some may think it is irritating probably because of its incessant presence, but if you listened carefully to the chord work and songcraft, you can tell a lot more thought has been put into it. Want to write a song that targets the masses next time? Email that guy first, pay him well, listen to him, and not micromanage (the production) too much.

Even one bar of another local song, Count On Me Singapore, has more quality than the entire production of the Saving Gaia song. I like to apologise for using Count On Me Singapore as a comparison, but to elaborate, just look at just the first bar of the chorus, the melody similarly starts with a high note but is climatic and charming, at the same time yearning and aching for something - that's artistry. Next up, the chords (in C major key signature) - F to G/F (before going to C or C/E depending on the rendition of the song). That mere sequence is a touch of class in the whole song.

Ok. Count On Me Singapore chorus' melody begins with G, the fifth note. You want to know about climaxes that begin with the base note (i.e. C)? Look at Fun's We Are Young. The verse and pre-chorus are very understated, which magnifies the crescendo that is the chorus. Not just 1, but 2 Cs to explode into the chorus. Saving Gaia has 2  Cs too but the chorus' delivery is as feeble as its build-up.

By the way, (Count On Me Singapore's chorus) G/F means G chord on F, but you could think it's "fucking good".

As for the Saving Gaia song, it is only as good as the first line of its chorus - C C B.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Understanding Christian-motivated Homophobia in Singapore (2006 essay)

Would you like to read more than 5,000 words? I'm sure you do, because it has a sexy topic.

Below is an essay I wrote for a sociology class in 2006 (I think), which would later inspire me to write an Honours Thesis on sexual minority representation in the Straits Times. The essay is so imperfect and at times contrived, but the sense of pride in completing it rivals both that of my Honours and Masters Theses.

The professor told us to get into groups to write an essay that concerns religion. Being the bubbly extroverted life-of-the-party ol' me, I went solo and had a great time writing the long essay (great training for thesis writing). The most rewarding part was doing the research prior to writing the essay, and opening my mind to what scholars, community leaders and laypersons have written and said.

The whole experience moved me from being an indifferent person to someone who got a little frustrated with being misrepresented as a narrow-minded hateful bigot, as most silent straight people are (you never say, my fault issit?). When self-identified heterosexuals shut up, they are complicit in the hate their homophobic counterparts spew.

In the first place, why should straight people go out of their way to put gay people down, and furthermore use institutions and communities to dehumanise others? What's perplexing is that some of these bullies have the cheek to talk about love and grace.

Looking back, I think this essay talks about the difference between the articulation of homophobia and the premise for homophobia in Singapore. But in (that brand of facial-haired-white-man-inspired) sociology, you jolly well don't talk about articulation, okay? Ya la, but in my Masters Thesis, I still give credit to sociology k.

Any way, was still grappling with the language (I was young then, k?), but here it is, with loud title and all. Mai plagiarise ah!

Gays Go To Hell:
Understanding Christian-motivated Homophobia in Singapore

“Homosexuality in any religion, not only Christianity, is a sin, and morally it is wrong.”

Joanna Hoe-Koh
Focus on the Family, Singapore

“Sexuality is just a small part of life, like schooling, working and getting up to brush your teeth. We just want these biases to be removed.”

Siew Ming Ee
Pro-temp member
People Like Us, Singapore
a Christian

“What is there’s a Hell and I’m going there because I’m a faggot…”
“The Bible has been used against us…”

Gay and lesbian respondents (Rodriguez 2000:333)

“Some Christians believe that (HIV AIDS) is God’s punishment for (homosexuals)”

Interviewee (for this research),

“You have to make decisions according to policies, what is right for Singapore, and Singapore is secular.”
“Yes, could be (explaining his response that gay sex is not natural and whether this is attributed to his religious beliefs). Well, I won't attribute it directly. I look at it more as a family bedrock thing, that a family is based on a man and a woman. I think all the main religions in Singapore believe it's how we are made.”

Ho Peng Kee
People’s Action Party member
The Straits Times (Singapore), October 28, 2005

In my interview with Focus on the Family Singapore’s vice-president Joanna Hoe-Koh last year, she expressed homophobic sentiment when asked about her stand on homosexuality. She added that this was congruent with the beliefs of her organisation, which is fundamental Christian.

The encounter raised the issue of Christian-motivated homophobia in Singapore, something this essay will attempt to understand. Firstly, the essay will briefly explore the history of religion, namely Christianity, and the shaping of sexual identity. This facilitates the understanding to how peoples and societies made sense of their sexual identities in the sphere of religion. Secondly, we will look at how Christianity became institutionalised. Thirdly, we will observe some case studies that will lend some contemporary relevance to the discourse. This essay will also look at Christian-motivated homophobia and sexual-religious negotiation of identity in Singapore for contextual relevancy.

It is essential the writer speaks of his background and stand, lest he be deemed as biased and not objective. This is especially so for a globally controversial topic involving religion and sex, each of which on its own is already controversial. Moreover, the issue with homosexuality and religion in a conservative Singaporean society has been perennially controversial[1]. Taking heed from Leong’s thesis (1980), it is acknowledged the writer can be construed as biased, rendering his study invalid and incredible; thus there lies a need for necessary clarifications.

As a heterosexual non-religious media-disciplined scholar, I am intrigued by the topic. A sociological imagination (see Mills, 1967) is adopted in my study, but it is equipped with perspective from the discipline of media studies (or cultural studies). Understanding the religious and political structures that cause homophobia in society is only a fraction of the study. I will also look at power relations, state and media messages, and the hegemonic ideology of gender roles as artifacts, which in McLuhanian tradition are called “extensions” (see McLuhan, 1967) of Singapore society. The “medium is the message” (see McLuhan, 1964), and with a sociological imagination, the message is social, as does the medium; both of which are products of power relations and hegemonic ideology. Religion and homophobia, in this sense, have to be understood as extensions of man, whether or not he is viewed as a subject of the superstructure or an agent capable of meaning-creation and sense-making. Since knowing that analysing and theorising are merely sufficient, recommendations are put forth to solve the identified and analysed problem (i.e. homophobia).

Homophobia was originally defined by Weinberg (1973) as “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals”. Young-Bruehl (2002) sees homophobia as a form of prejudice. Raja and Stokes (1998) mention the various correlates of homophobia: individuals who hold authoritarian beliefs and emphasize adherence to authority over individual freedom; sexual conservatism; religious fundamentalism; negative attitudes toward women and African Americans – sexism and racism. This essay simply defines homophobia as the fear of and dislike for homosexuals. Such sentiment can lead to social and institutional marginalisation of gays.

Religion, power and sexual identity
Durkheim (1915) sees religion as separating the sacred from the profane. In this perspective, religion crafts the socially desirable identity. Whichever attribute that falls out of the desirable, will find itself on the opposite end of the dichotomy. Hence, with respect to sexual identity, an attribute alien of heteronormativity will be a deviant sexuality. Religion serves to maintain an orderly distinction between the desirable self and the undesirable other – the heterosexual being and the homosexual deviant.

Primarily, most religions demarcate clear definitions and boundaries for their respective worshippers. It is evident in the form of the dichotomous symbolism, for example the God-Satan binary in Christianity. This provides the framework for a Christian worldview. Definition of the “other” is based on the definition of the given. The presence of contradictions will only render a belief system incredible. With contradictions, orthodoxy will be undermined given such a system of beliefs can be vulnerable to numerous interpretations by the influential and the powerful.

Religious leaders are important in maintaining the continuity of religious orthodoxy and societal observation of religious values. Religious leaders, being pious “vessels” for their respective religious ideologies, will be most concerned to condemn deviant sexual practices, which basically are anything but a man-woman sexual relationship. The presence of leaders brings to light the notion of power relations and power disparity within the religious community, and also the issue of surveillance and discipline (see Foucault, 1975; Rabinow 1984). Wesolowski (1962) believes the unequal distribution of authority is a necessary condition for the regulation of social life in groups. Relevant to this discussion, homophobia in society can be, in one way, understood through the relationship between the Church, the congregation and the sexual deviants.

Althusser (1998) mentions the Church as part of the ideological state apparatuses in society, but clarifies that though they function mainly by ideology, ideological state apparatuses “function secondarily by repression” (1998:154). The Church, for example, will discipline its subjects and enforce its ideology – the ruling ideology. The issue of power relations is evident. It is however, not exactly a Marxist definition of stratification owing to economic disparity; but rather Weber’s (1946) notion of ‘status’, a component of social stratification, as produced by religion. Dahrendorf (1966) believes that societal norms and associated sanctions, both manifestations of societal power structure, are causes of social stratification. Sexual deviants are normatively discriminated against, with the application of sanctions by the Church and the societal governing body. In the case of the modern-day context, based on these theoretical perspectives, the marginalisation of gays is justified by the authority of religion. This theoretically legitimises the punishment for sexual deviance.

But what constitutes sexual deviance? Christie Davies (1997) identifies homosexuality, bestiality and transvestism as forms of deviant sexual behaviour and goes on to claim that these break down the boundaries between two of the most fundamental categories of human experience – human and animal, and male and female (1997:40). Through condemnation and punishment, leaders are able to maintain strong, clear and rigid social boundaries between their members and people of other religious persuasions or between priests and laymen (1997:39).

Davies (1997) notes a socio-political side to religiously motivated homophobia. He believes that establishment of socioreligious boundaries in society separates sacred from profane, clean from unclean. Societies that live with weak or ambiguous socioreligious boundaries, or wherein the boundaries are safe and unassailable, prohibitions against homosexuality will be much weaker or even absent (1997:40).

A culturalist perspective is adopted by Davies (1997) in his comparison of attitudes towards homosexuality among the Jews and the ancient Greeks. The Jews are described by Davies as displaced wanderers who suffered bondage and exile in Egypt, and later in Babylon, with all these turmoil being their “social vaccination”. In response to their loss of a territorial and political identity, they created for themselves “a unique religious identity in which the ethnic and religious boundary of the people were indissolubly linked” (1997:42). Like the Parsees who survived centuries of exile, the Jews evolved a form of religion and morality that reinforced their identity. This identity is shored by socioreligious boundaries and buttressed by strict laws of holiness. The Jews view homosexuality as a destruction of definition of the two sexes, each of which is defined in relation to the other (1997:41), hence the staunch views against homosexuality.

The Greeks on the other hand, did not have strong and consistent taboos against homosexuality. In fact, homosexuality was acceptable in some cities during the classical period for those of higher social status (Davies, 1997:43). The Greeks defined appropriate male and female behaviour in terms of its utility for the survival of the family. Weak sanctions were only imposed on homosexuality in the interests of protecting family life. This bore no ritual or religious significance. Dover (1997) points out the correlation between the Greek’s generally tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality, and a lack of shared, coherent, religious identity. In contrast with the Jews and Parsees, the Greeks felt their culture was superior and were confident they could conquer and spread their culture throughout the known world. There was no apparent need of the concern with religious identity, survival, socioreligious boundaries and sexual taboos, relative to those that so obsessed the Jews and Parsees (Davies, 1997:44). Greek religion was not organised with common scripture nor had a professional hierarchy of priests, and thus had a relatively weak religious sense of belonging. When their boundaries, religion and social order were threatened, they, unlike the Jews, failed to survive.

Davies (1997) mentions the Jews, Parsees and Greeks as examples of the close connection between strongly maintained socioreligious boundaries and strong sexual taboos. He then talks about the fluctuations in intensity of sexual taboos in Christianity against homosexuality across space and time, and concludes that Christianity is a sexually ascetic religion and has “always tended to be hostile to the wanton forms of sexual deviance” (1997:44). Ultimately, the presence of strong authority can cause homophobia.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Esposito (2002) notes that Islam defines homosexuality in terms of heterosexual union, and that the former is contrary to the ideal state of affairs. Thus, homosexuality is considered abnormal and in some areas, is a crime punishable under Islamic Law. There are also areas where homosexuality is tolerated but gays are set apart socially (Esposito, 2002:146; Dossani, 1997:236). These are signs of authority playing a part in the enforcement of socioreligious boundaries within societies. Dossani (1997) goes on to mention that gay intolerance is more sociological and cultural than religious. This is true to an extent considering that leaders and society are the ones that carry out the punishment, ostracism and disciplining.

In Alberta, Canada, there was a weekly magazine initiated by Alberta’s Social Credit Party that used moral-theological, medico-moral and human rights discourses to denounce homosexuality. Unsurprisingly, the party is known to be steeped in fundamental Christian conservatism and was in power provincially for 35 years till 1968. The magazine however, ceased publication in 2003. Filax (2004) observes that Christian fundamentalism, a primary motivation for homophobia, continued to exist under the successor party. He says there is a struggle over what constitutes a “proper, normal Alberta identity” (2004:88). Governed by Christian doctrine, the local state creates its set of ideals for governance of its peoples.

Olson and Cadge (2002) discover that homosexuality is the most divisive topic in churches. The clergy, pastors and religious leaders are more concerned about denominational struggle, split and membership loss and choose not to discuss such a topic. Clammer (1997) observes the addition of services by churches in Singapore to “control the movement and retain members” (1997:193). All these show concerns over the sustenance of authority and power of the religious leaders in society.

Though the church is still considered relevant and spiritual, a high percentage of gay Christians feel that churches have contributed to the perpetuation of homophobia in society (Yip 2002). Christianity also shapes the worldview of people in how they attribute sexual deviance, for example, attributing homosexuality to a lifestyle choice or a state of confusion which could otherwise be solved by God. Wood and Bartkowski (2004) discover that attribution style is a robust predictor of homophobia. In their study, it is said that fundamental Protestants adhere more strongly to stereotypes and are thus more homophobic (2004:68). This proves that Christianity is a significant determiner of homophobia in society.

In sum, the role of the political and religious elite plays in integral role in the enforcement of laws and punishment for sexually deviant practices. Homophobia and its accompanied hostility are social, and is a manifestation of power relations. Christian doctrine manipulates and can be manipulated to create homophobia.

It is recognised that gays have spiritual needs (Rodriguez, 2000; Thumma, 2005), but many are conflicted, psychologically and socially. Christianity, with its embedded hegemonic meanings of sexual conservativeness, has formed a structure that governs how people feel about gays and how gays feel about themselves.

Melton (1991) found in a study that 72 percent of surveyed churches and organisations view homosexuality as “an abomination in the eyes of God”. Rodriguez (2000) summarises, citing from various studies[2], that many conservative Christian denominations refer to the sexual minority as “unnatural”, “evil”, “sinners” and “perverts”. This, he believes, leads to a situation of identity conflict for gays who want to be or already are Christian, and Christians who want to “come out”[3].

Rodriguez (2000) identifies four strategies in dealing with being both homosexual and religious, namely 1) rejecting the religious identity, 2) rejecting the homosexual identity, 3) compartmentalisation – i.e. rigidly keeping the two spheres separate –  and 4) identity integration (2000:334). The first three points are actions that are still contained within the aforementioned hegemonic meanings of religious sexual conservativeness. It is best we adopt a Gramscian perspective before we can appreciate the notion that Christian gays themselves act out any of these three strategies, only to maintain the continuity of this Christian hegemony. Like Rodriguez’s focus of study, this section concentrates on the last point. This, like the first three strategies involves negotiation, but is perceived to be of greater agency.

Thumma (2005) talks about identity dissonance[4] as a motivational mechanism for identity negotiation of Christian gays. Thumma believes that the attempt to hold the incongruous identities, that of Christianity and homosexuality, results in tension, guilt and confusion (2005:72). Identity negotiation is a facet of adult socialisation, a process by which the self internalises social meanings, reinterprets them and subsequently responds back upon society (Thumma 2005:68).

The fundamental Christian concept of salvation ties in with the championing for reparative therapy for homosexuals, whereby they “convert back” to heterosexuals. The basis for this lies in the belief that man is born a sinner but is able to make the necessary corrections to seek salvation. Once the concept of salvation is interpreted by the religiously powerful, there are social consequences. Homosexuality is seen as a sin and proper sexual (re)configuration is the remedy. Gay Christians thus have to negotiate this.

In Singapore, we have the gay-positive Free Community Church (FFC)[5], a socioreligious negotiation with the structure of the conservative – and homophobic – church. This shows agency in the sexual minority to decide their own interpretations and sense-making of Christianity, something that is usually in the power of pastors and priests, majority of whom are conservative. “Jesus teaches love and acceptance”, one member of FCC says, opposing the humorous yet sombre conservative reasoning of “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. The meaning and intent of the previous-mentioned statement is interpreted by religious authority and consumed by their congregations. Ideally, when substantial numbers in a democracy internalise these values, the state will naturally adopt them.

The state’s criminalisation of homosexual practices and continued homophobic stands are a constant reminder of its stand against homosexual lifestyle, which many (mis)understandably associate with crime, degradation of family values and the spread of AIDS. In fact, there has been criticism of groups that promote hatred, homophobia and heterosexism under the guise of “family values” (Broad, Crawley & Foley, 2004). In this way, on top of having and wanting to share common values, the relationship between the state and Christianity strengthens, for one institution’s beliefs and actions justify and validate the other; hence statements like “homosexuality is wrong and sinful” surface. Both institutions also happen to subscribe to the same notion of “order of nature”. Agency will then be at odds with the existing structure and hegemony.

The growing number of gay-positive Churches around the world indicates the possibility of pluralism, where one can be comfortable being gay and Christian at the same time. This does not serve to soothe inter-church conflict and majority of Christians around the world still find it difficult to accept gay-positive churches.

The main cause for homophobia in most societies with a Christian-majority is linked to Christian doctrine. Owing to this, Christian opinion leaders make sense of the world and sexual identities and draw the boundaries for their flocks. Those who consciously transgress these boundaries will seek to negotiate the meanings they were prescribed. From a symbolic interactionist perspective, meanings have been ascribed to the socioreligious boundaries and continual subscription only serves to maintain them. Those who break away from these hegemonic meanings form their own congregations, taking with them fellow deviants, non-subscribers and the excommunicated. The Mennonites, the Amish, the Protestants and the sexual minority are just few examples.

The persistence of faith among homosexuals goes to prove gays’ need for religion, even if religious doctrine and conservative clergy reject them. Such persistence results in the negotiation with the Christian power bloc that is the Church and its teachings. This is their negotiation with fundamentalist Christianity. The tension between the break-away gay-affirmative church and the fundamentalists spill over into the socio-political spheres of society, which each side championing their own causes. 

Homophobia in Singapore
There has been few studies pertaining to homosexuality in Singapore, but there is none done with regards to understanding the relationship between religion, Christianity in particular, and homophobia. Leong (1980) observes a relationship between homophobia and one’s ideological belief in a traditional family, and another between homophobia and sexual conservativeness. However, his research does not cover homophobia and religion.

The previous section sheds light on the relationship between religion and the state in the proliferation of homophobia. However, modern-day Singapore presents a totally different context. Nevertheless, we still find some similar concepts that tie these cases together. Perhaps it would help if we see homophobia as both a social artifact and an extension of Singapore society. From here, we can investigate the factors that contribute to and that make up homophobia.

In January this year, Channel News Asia[6] reported the Singapore government, through the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports gave one hundred thousand dollars to Liberty League[7]. The organisation was recommended by Focus on the Family, Singapore[8]. One of Liberty League’s agenda was to provide public education on homosexuality and reparative therapy, using Christianity as a solution in the process. Along with its supporter Exodus International, and Focus on the Family, Liberty League is part of the present-day “ex-gay” global movement (Silverstein, 2006:252). These organisations are part of the larger Christian religious right, which wants the reinstitution of shame in gays and to re-pathologise homosexuality (Silverstein, 2006), other than harbouring many other political aspirations (see Bruce, 2000).

The implications are huge. Public funds are invested in a fundamental Christian organisation to provide, for a diversely cultural and multi-religious Singapore, public education that intrinsically promotes homophobia. Moreover, it is of concern that there exists marginalisation of sexual minorities in a nation-state that emphasizes equality and frowns upon hate speech. Homophobia is a consequence of hate speech, which both indoctrinates and influences people in thought and action, just like racial riots can be a consequence of hate speech.

The issue with hate speech is highly debatable considering last year’s prosecution of 3 racist bloggers in 2005[9]. Hate speech is recognised by the constitution as something that can cause society to be divisive and fragmented, especially one of diverse community identities such as Singapore’s. The failure or lack of recognition of the hate speech towards gays is a result of the state’s inaction and silence. The lack of recognition of gays as possible victims of hate speech just indicates the structural embedment of homophobia in our political and social spaces. This reminds us of post-Nazi Germany’s refusal to recognise homosexuals as victims of Nazi annihilation (see Stemmeler & Clark, 1990). These serve as implications of double-standards occurring in the People’s Action Party (PAP) government and constitution. Saying that homosexuality is contrary to “God’s plans” or is “unnatural” can have serious divisive effects on the local community.

The media has not helped either. The Straits Times have also adopted a conservative stand on the issue of homosexuality[10], either providing conservative yet suggestively homophobic reports, or keeping mum on the issue of gay rights in Singapore; all these, despite letters to the editor from gay rights group People Like Us[11] demanding for fairness and openness. To date, the paper has not reported on the issue and has continued to frame its agenda conservatively. While religion plays a part in creating basic gender roles and identity, it is media that creates and continues the stereotyping of gender roles (Jagosh 2002).

The political and media institutions, two influential and powerful spheres in society, seem to be in apparent accordance with the religious institution in agenda-setting and the marginalisation of gays. Interestingly, Pereira (2005) notes the role of the state in promotion of religion and religiosity. Studies[12] have indicated a correlation between religiosity and homophobia. Other studies[13] also show how totalitarian systems and religious fundamentalism are predictors for such prejudice and homophobia. The authoritative government, the media and homophobic religious doctrine[14] thus combine to form a hegemonic structure with a dominant ideology that will be central to the sustenance of hegemonic meanings of traditional family values (Broad, Crawley & Foley 2004) in society. This can cause detriment to and divisiveness within families and communities with gay people among them (Jagosh 2002).

Delving into the Singapore context, we need to know that Singapore is multi-ethnic. We may have already established the relationships between Christianity and homophobia earlier the essay, but most of the referred studies involve Western and European Christianity and their respective histories. Christian values have long been embedded into most of American and European political and social culture, but the same cannot be said for that in Singapore.

Sullivan and Leong (1995) acknowledge that most of the literature on homosexuality in Asia and the Pacific are written by Westerners, many of whom observe that “the lack of legal proscriptions against the behaviour and presence of homosexuals who, in contrast to many Western societies, are integrated into their communities and have a positive status”. After claiming that this scope is limited, Sullivan and Leong proceed to mention the often overpowering social pressures that compel people to marry and procreate. However, these social pressures are motivated by many elements that make up Singapore society, and Christian values can definitely not claim exclusivity.

About 325,000 of the 365,000 Christians in Singapore are ethnic Chinese[15] and we shall focus on this demography henceforth. The Chinese came to Singapore as immigrants from China, before settling down and calling the island their home. We cannot discount the fact they brought along with them, their Confucian values and religions, namely Taoism and Buddhism. Christianity was introduced through proselytisation and conversion. Moreover, there were schools that had religious affiliations, such as the convent schools, increasing the exposure of impressionable children and youths to Christian doctrine.

Christianity in Singapore is adapted, not adopted. It is adapted pluralistically with familial and communitarian values that are dear to Chinese Confucianism. With that in mind, it becomes problematic when we attempt to link homophobia in Singapore with Christianity alone.

Religious leaders may maintain doctrinal orthodoxy, but it is complicated when we try to diagnose Singaporean Christians’ homophobia, whether motivated by Christianity itself, Confucian values or a combination of the two. There is evidence of Christians who celebrate Chinese New Year, observe Chinese wedding rituals like tea ceremonies and even subscribed to patriarchal prescriptions of society. Though these practices are not entirely representative of Confucianism, the examples provided indicate the possibility of cultural pluralism and with regards to the essay; this implies the possibility that Christianity might not be the singular motivation for homophobia. In that sense, we cannot assume it to be absolute when someone mentions Christianity as an explanation and justification for his homophobia.

It is difficult to discern the religious from the cultural and traditional. Pereira (2005), in his study of modern-day Singapore and sustained religiosity, mentions about the deep embedment of religion in society. To make a generalisation – linking Christianity in Singapore to homophobia – will be a mistake, but the religion cannot be defended for the creation, spread and continuity of homophobia among Chinese Christians.

From conversations with individuals, it is discovered that many cite the Bible as a source of reference to justify their rejection of homosexuality and homophobia, supporting John Clammer’s (1997) observation[16]. On the surface, it appears that religiosity shapes their perceptions and attitudes. Christianity and the Bible provide a tangible justifying source, in contrast to pre-existing social structural values which are assumed to be outside Christianity. In order to distill the study, more research has to be done pertaining to the relationship and combination of Christianity and socio-cultural pre-dispositions in Singaporeans (such as Confucian conservatism) that governs their perceptions of gender identity and of course, homophobia. The non-Christian Chinese values that lead to homophobia may have long been entrenched into the mindsets of some, so homophobia in this case might not be a Christian reconfiguration of social behaviour.

With the problem noted, we now see that avowed Singaporean Christians will generally fall back on their religion to justify their homophobia. Christianity in Singapore and among the Chinese, may not be the sole and absolute motivation and cause for homophobia, bearing in mind media, political, institutional and familial forms of socialisation, that may be independent of Christian dogma. All of these, along with Christianity, are amalgamated in the upbringing of the Singaporean. Furthermore, this essay has not and will not mention the globalisation of perceptions of gender identity and homophobia.

Since a Singaporean’s upbringing can be influenced by an amalgamation of beliefs and ideologies, I would like to put forth the possibility that Christianity in Singapore may itself be a combination of both Christian ideology and Confucian conservatism. If Christianity is viewed as a socially constructed artifact, it has gone through attrition and strengthening over time and space. Hence, there lies the theoretical possibility that Confucian sexual conservatism has fed back into Christian doctrine among the Singaporean Chinese.

What is certain is that religion plays a prominent role in homophobia, providing consistent and tangible references for the individual to make sense of his environment. As such, as Geertz (2002) points out, there is an “aura of factuality”, in this case, with regards to a Christian’s homophobia. In respect to sustained religiosity in modern Singapore (Pereira, 2005), Christians find their religion to be credible in the provision of a moral system that legitimises their homophobia. This could be a result of religion (other than Christianity) itself, or non-religious factors, or even a mix of both. “God said so”, in this sense, is perhaps more relevant and meaningful than “mummy said so” or “Mr Lee said so”.

Conclusion and recommendations
With Singapore being a secular state, there should be a line drawn between the state affairs and public education, and religious institutions and their dogma. As such, homophobia in a nation can be better tackled as the state seeks to be coherent and consistent under the very constitution it created which emphasizes equality and non-discrimination. A secular state cannot fault homosexuality based on personal biasness and religious dogma. While it may preach to its citizens its ideal concept of a family, it should, as a democracy, respect minority perspectives, so long as they do not harm national security.

The support for religious organisations lent by the government and media should be re-looked, for while these organisations encourage tolerance, they do not account for the marginalisation they create. The disrespect of, and subsequent inconsiderate and marginalising (in)action towards the minorities will only contribute to the incoherence that is the democracy being practised in this city-state. The media must be equally responsible when being a vessel for religious ideology, whether or not it is guided by the fatherly arm of the state. This way, “mis-information” and “mis-education” that result in social and institutional homophobia can be minimised.

How can multiculturalism be celebrated when divisions in societies are unnecessarily created by marginalisation; and more so, marginalisation stemming from religious-motivated homophobia? Ironically, new problems are created when religious conservative views are disregarded in favour of respect and recognition given to the sexual minority[17]. That will forever be a problem in a multicultural society. However, in a democratic multicultural society, there can be affordances for pluralism, such as media pluralism and socioreligious pluralism. That however, rests in the hands of the state and civil society – if the latter exists – to regulate religion.

Religion is important to the social sphere, but should not meddle or mix with political affairs. As such, religion should not govern the constitution with dogmatic concepts of “order of nature”, as found in Section 377 of the Penal Code. The use of “order of nature” has a strong religious and presumably Christian slant[18] to the code. A modern secular state has to re-define its laws such that it is explicitly and implicitly independent of Christian dogma. If not, fundamental Christian organisations in Singapore can use these laws to their advantage in the propagation of hate speech towards the sexual minorities.

Nevertheless, in the Singaporean context, if gays were to go to hell, the construction of this hell may not be entirely influenced by Christian aesthetics, but also that of the pre-existing secular cultural aesthetics of the Singapore social fabric. Although recognition should be given to the condition of multiracial Singapore and the many efforts by the PAP government to maintain peace and status quo, it is felt that inconsistencies in the constitution and laws must be ironed out, especially in a country that competitively strives to be number one in everything. With a better attempt towards removal of homophobia on the part of the state and the separation of the state from religious affairs and vice versa, more clearly will we see a real Christian effect on homophobia.

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The Straits Times (Singapore), June 22, 2000, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), July 6, 2003, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), December 10, 2003, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), December 15, 2004, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), March 19, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 15, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 17, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 18, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 22, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), September 24, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), October 9, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), October 27, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings
The Straits Times (Singapore), November 24, 2005, Singapore Press Holdings


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Free Community Church, http://www.freecomchurch.org/ (accessed September 1, 2006)

Liberty League, http://www.libertyleague.com.sg/tpl/ (accessed September 4, 2006)

New Sintercom, http://www.newsintercom.org/index.php?itemid=398 (accessed September 4, 2006)

Singapore Department of Statistics, http://www.singstat.gov.sg/keystats/c2000/adr/t15-18.pdf (accessed September 19, 2006)

People Like Us, http://www.plu.sg (accessed September 17, 2006)

Yawning Bread, http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2005/yax-507.htm (accessed September 17, 2006)

[1] The Straits Times (Singapore), June 22, 2000; July 6, 2003; Dec 10, 2003; Dec 15, 2004; Mar 19, 2005.
[2] Clark, Brown & Hochstein (1990), Greenberg & Bystryn (1982), Keysor (1979), and Scanzoni & Mollenkott (1978)
[3] Short form for “coming out of the closet”, a reference to an announcement of one’s sexual orientation.
[4] This conflict is better understood in terms of Festinger’s (1957) cognitive dissonance theory.
[5] Free Community Church, http://www.freecomchurch.org/
[6] Channel News Asia, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/189332/1/.html
[7] Liberty League, http://www.libertyleague.com.sg/tpl/
[8] New Sintercom, http://www.newsintercom.org/index.php?itemid=398
[9] The Straits Times (Singapore), Sept 15, 2005; Sept 17, 2005; Sept 18, 2005; Sept 22, 2005; Sept 24, 2005; Oct 9, 2005; Oct 27, 2005; Nov 24, 2005.
[10] Yawning Bread, http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2005/yax-507.htm
[11] People Like Us, http://www.plu.sg
[12] See Agnew, Thompson, Smith, Gramzow & Currey (1993); Berkman and Zinberg (1997); Black , Oles & Moore (1998); Laythe, Finkel, Bringle & Kirkpatrick (2002); Snively et al. (2004); Wood & Bartkowski (2004)
[13] See Laythe, Finkel & Kirkpatrick (2001)
[14] On a personal note, this is adapted from what I term as the Holy Trinity of postmodern society, which I derived from a media studies perspective. The Holy Trinity refers to the inter-relationship of the state, the media and the citizen in influencing the socio-cultural, political and economic spaces within, between and around them. Understandably for Singapore’s case, the state and media are apparently as one. These perspectives, though providing a framework for disciplined analyses, are debatable and can be disputed.
[15] Singapore Department of Statistics, http://www.singstat.gov.sg/keystats/c2000/adr/t15-18.pdf
[16] Clammer (1997:189) mentions of the Bible as a “fixed point of reference” for Charismatics in Singapore.
[17] The Straits Times (Singapore), March 19, 2005.
[18] This is owing to how our constitution is adapted from British colonial constitution.

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