Saturday, May 30, 2015

"Family", "Marriage" and Heterocentrism

As always, I get quite irritated at the use of "family" and "marriage" rhetoric to discriminate against people who do not identify as cisgendered or heterosexual.

There are 2 commonly used statements that deserve attention and scrutiny.

"Gay marriage and the gay agenda seeks to redefine marriage."

"We won't be able to have children if everyone turned gay."

First, it is same-sex marriage, not gay marriage. You could say your marriage is gay/happy.

As for the gay agenda, just do a historical study of the term. It is a term created and used by the conservative segments of Christians in America. Their purpose is to seek to judge, dehumanise, denaturalise, trivialise, pathologise and demonise fellow human beings who identify as gay.

Judge = wrong, sinful, immoral.

Dehumanise = don't deserve equal rights.

Denaturalise = a wrong and immoral behaviour, behaviour can be changed. "Alternative", "Lifestyle", "Against nature"

Trivialise or demean = jokes about sexuality, sissy, "be a man/lady".

Pathologise = it's a condition, sickness, it can be cured.

Demonise = (slippery slope arguments) will cause moral degradation and the whole population to be wiped out.

If you want to rely on something that is so emotionally stirring and unquestionable as religious faith, just to justify why you should do any of the above to someone who you perceive as different from you, just because such acts are based on "values" that resonate with your community, do you think it is right and responsible?

Historically, the term "gay agenda" was coined in desperation and frustration that some conservative Christian segments, with their siege and bunker mentality, in reaction to civil rights movements and greater awareness on gender and sexuality issues. It - very opportunistically - leverages religious piety/fervour to affirm homophobic prejudices, and what better way to validate it than with unquestionable faith and socio-religious affiliation.

In another trajectory, on the idea that there is a "natural" and thus divinely mandated order of things, we get rhetoric on "alternative" and "lifestyle", since we would very conveniently choose to believe that being in the majority and having the privilege of centuries of socialisation, ritualisation and institutionlisation, and common heterocentric experiences, that well, heterosexuality is natural, thus normal, and endorsed (rather reinforced) by socio-religious institutions.

In Singapore, you see alliances being forged across secular and religious communities, doing their very best to manipulate, leverage and normalise rhetoric of the family and marriage. Imagine trying to pass off the political ideology and religious dogma of one community as something that is universal. Imperialism?

Marriage is not the issue, but sex. But conservative circles don't like to talk about sex. They are sex-negative and, ironically, are observed to be frequently infatuated with their imaginings of homosexual sex.

Religion has to make sense of sex, and religious communities therefore have to institutionalise it in order to subsume it under the cosmos of the mythology that binds the community emotionally, so they won't question it. The conceptual duality of sacred-profane can only persist with enforcement. You enforce it with laws, social norms/normatisation and violence. When these processes occur over generations, people develop less a capacity to question/challenge, while at the same time - in this case - succumb to the naturalisation of heterocentrism.

Some religious communities are far too concerned about survival of dogma in the context of mortality. Procreation fits the puzzle. And the act of procreation is ascribed a certain set of meanings that make it the gold standard of sex.

This is why you have hate-mongering nuts flapping their gums on the importance of procreative sex, in the process trying to demonise non-procreative sex. And same-sex couples become a convenient target. What better way to enforce the idea of procreative heterosexual marriages than to create environments in which people feel bad/guilty they don't fit in or feel "incomplete" - e.g. premarital sex, cohabitation, single parent, infertility, etc.

Gay people and gay marriages do not threaten straight marriages. Straight people threaten straight marriages.

In religious mythology, there is the common theme of inherent human weakness and the susceptibility of succumbing to temptation. And we rationalise human beings to be simply imperfect, compared to another higher level of being(s) that would fit or transcend our humanly idea of what constitutes "perfection" - seems like something one can aspire towards.

That discourse takes on a heterosexist/homophobic tilt when LGBT people and the topic of same-sex marriages are publicly positioned as weaknesses to which our imperfect selves have succumbed. So put on your iron-spiked chastity belts, eat your Kellogg's and think pure thoughts.

It is ridiculous to charge that if everyone turned gay, our human race will die. This belief is a combination of the uncritical assumption that people can turn gay and are destined to get married and procreate. This is compounded by the lack of understand of sexual orientation and attraction.

Religion, if it provides the comfort in appreciating the workings of the world and people, of life and death, has its place in society. But what irks me is that there are some folks who use it to influence communities to either reinforce existing or create new biases, to varying extents of oppression and violence.

Any way, no, there will be no gay apocalypse in which everyone turned gay and we won't be able to procreate. There will be lots of heterosexual people who remain comfortable with their different-sex attraction, their different-sex lifestyles and their different-sex marriages, and these folks will see no necessity in putting down others just to justify and validate their belief systems and lifestyles.

To deal with our mortality, we respectively attempt to storify our existence, rationalising them into phases/milestones, e.g.:

  • Born, die
  • Born, suffer, reborn, suffer again
  • Born, reborn, transcend
  • Born, marry, die
  • Born, marry, children, grandchildren, die
  • Born, hardship, success, , die
  • Born, get love, give love, , die
In the process of rationalising our mortality, we colour them based on prevailing discourses that shape our worldview and ideas that resonate with us at various points in our lives. When some start believing that their story is universally applicable to all, and feel the need that others should share the same beliefs, we get defensive people who don't appreciate a diversity and plurality of belief systems, and will resort to oppression and violence to ensure alignment.

Who made it compulsory that "family" and "marriage" undergo a heterocentric audit? Why is compulsory?

In championing straight procreative families and marriage, is it really necessary to put down homosexuality and same-sex marriages? The same logic applies to validating one's masculinity through the trivialisation of femininity, is that really necessary and what are the achievable sustainable results?

Are people not sold on the intrinsic value of straight procreative families and marriage, that they require external and unrelated demonised same-sex examples?

What is more damaging to Singapore then? Gay people? Or self-proclaimed straight defenders of the straight family and marriage who doggedly believe homosexuality is inherently wrong and can be "solved", who opportunistically leverage (the fault-lines of) culture and religion to validate their positions and publicly justify their bias against fellow Singaporeans who identify as a homosexual? Who is being divisive here?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tweaking mindsets before tweaking "family" policies

In his maiden major speech as Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF), Tan Chuan-Jin talked about the declining trend of nuclear families in Singapore, and how policies can be more inclusive to non-nuclear family structures.

It would appear the government is ready to reevaluate the paradigm with which it approaches its policies.

This is also significant for people who advocate equality regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation. But I believe, to appease (or rather, not provoke) some segments of society that claim to be representative of the silent conservative majority, the policies will continue to communicated in a way that is sufficiently heterocentric enough for a homophobic proponent of the "one man/father, one woman/mother" rhetoric.

It's a bit early to say, but I think this may signal an inclusive set of policies that may be a lot more inclusive that it can seem. (and in case your vendor's robots are crawling this article, MSF, you can label it as a "positive" article when you report to your bosses, ya?)

This is also a good time for MSF to intensify engagement with academics and researchers in the social sciences, and hopefully, the mindset with which MSF defines and approaches "family" will be more inclusive and (family)-structure blind.

At the same time, Singaporeans need to have a change in mindset that non-nuclear families are not "alternative" families. If our state were to do any nanny-ing for the good of Singapore, it should educate and sensitive its citizens to have a more holistic understanding of "family".

I think we've just been far too occupied with the form of the family (who's in it), rather than its function (what it provides - care, support).

And we should adapt our policies to bring the best out of function of the family, rather than myopically focus on its form. Since how a family functions does not have a direct, tangible and immediate impact on our much valued productivity and GDP, it'll be good to see how these policies can bridge those gaps.

I'm sure when it comes to being that proverbial building block of society/nation, "how well a family functions" would be a lot more relevant than the prescriptive "what a family should comprise".

The times they are a Chuan-Jin'?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A look at Dick Lee's Our Singapore

Our Singapore. And we have yet another National Day celebration theme song recently released. It's written by Dick Lee, known for writing that song, Home.

Singaporeans are a hard bunch to please, looking at the spectrum of comments aimed at the song.

To be honest, I used to hate Home, because having been acclimatised to guitar-driven Brit rock for the last 15-17 years, I thought the song was way too "Sino", which was probably why a majority of Singaporeans liked it. Just a matter of taste.

I held that impression till 3 months ago, when I was doodling Home on the Electone and piano. I played it in C major because that was the most accessible key signature for me on the keyboard. It's a forgiving one too, because in playing most oldies and pop-rock numbers, you wouldn't have any business playing the black keys (C#, D#, F#, G#, A#) unless you really need to. It was also a good way to make out the chords of a song I happen to hear, before transposing it to its intended key.

Home is well-written and I actually enjoyed playing it on the piano.

Kit Chan's recorded version is in A. Her live version is in G, I think. Dick Lee sings it in F, and I figured that's his range. As if moving from G to F would allow for a "grander and more inspiring arrangement" (i.e. our National Anthem... eh hem). Any way, to my knowledge, key signatures are meant to suit the singer.

Dick Lee's use of F/A (F major on A, not "fuck all") is, in my opinion, the masterstroke of Home. It opens the pre-chorus ("I will always recall the city..."). It makes the transition to Bb a lot smoother than say the old school F major on F. He could have used Am, but he chose a happy hopeful sounding chord in F/A. If I've the opportunity, I'll ask him why.

That F/A in prechorus of Home is as significant as the C/Bb chord in the chorus (2nd chord) of Count on Me Singapore, which also happens to be in F major. For me, they define the songs.

Okay, so back to Our Singapore. I wasn't interested at all, but was asked for comments from a friend on Facebook. So decided to blog about it.

Do correct me if I'm wrong. Here is what I think are the chords (will update when I give the song a few more listens):

F Bb F-C Dm
Am Bb F/A Gm C

Fsus4 F Bb Am
Bb Dm Gm-C F

Bb F/A Bb C
Bb F/A Dm-C F

Db Eb Db Eb
F Db Gmdim C

Somehow I feel Our Singapore doesn't seem to stand out. I mean, we all listen with our tastes and biases.

For me, maybe it's the repetitive use of Bb. Maybe that's the whole idea for the song - build it around Bb.

In contrast to Home, if I have to use it as an example, what makes it good is that you spend most of the song trying to return to equilibrium, which is that F chord. You start the journey with F, then you traverse a bunch of chords, make a pit-stop at the not-so-F F/A chord, and then, you finally hit F on the first chord of the chorus. F starts the verse, starts the chorus and ends the post-chorus.

You can tell stories with chords too, because like every story, there's an equilibrium state, a state of conflict, climax, resolution and a return to the equilibrium, or in some cases a new equilibrium (e.g. transpose to a higher key). That's why songs like My Way and Can't take my eyes off you sound pretty good, even when played as instrumentals - and that probably explains why some hit Chinese songs happen to resemble Canon in D.

The problem with Our Singapore is that there's an abundance of F/A (not helped by the fact it's built around Bb), and it is used quite frequently. The build (to the chorus) is rather short, which means the journey along which you take your listeners, is short.

Even the bridge is short, repetitive and uninspiring, in my opinion. Ok, maybe the length of the bridge doesn't matter. Just look at say, the bridge of No Doubt's Don't Speak:

(From a chorus in F minor key) Pre-bridge transition: Fm Eb C Ab
Bridge: Db Ab B Gb Adim Ab

Again, it's just a preference over repeating Db and Eb. Ya, that sequence creates a grandiose feel, but it feels dated and somehow the "come down" to C - to end the bridge - sounds quite abrupt. I can't figure out how it could have been done better. Maybe drag out of the bridge, double its length. I don't know. Look at Corrinne May's national day song; I think she did the bridge (which also contains the 6b and 7b chords) better.

The whole song sounds a little bit stiff. Should probably throw it more sus4's (like what Elton John did with Something about the way you look tonight, the live version of which happens to be in *gasp* F major) to loosen it up.

The combination of Gm-F/A (or Am)-Bb-C (I call it the 2-3-4-5) has been a success formula in Count on me Singapore and Home, since they're so tightly bunched together any way, so I guess Dick Lee was trying something different. Unfortunately, Our Singapore stills uses a different permutation of that 2-3-4-5 combo.

The only part of the song I thought stood out was the last line of the chorus, which had the chords Dm C and then back to the equilibrium F. Straightforward but effective.

It's not as if he spammed chords in between Dm to C, say Dm, F/C, G7/B, Bb, C, F like the last 2 lines of the chorus in Home. He did it differently and achieved a different effect for Our Singapore, which seems to be characterised by the quicker return to F.

I think we need a different songwriting style. Corrinne May (2010) and her Bittersweet Symphony-esque Song for Singapore broke the mould. Heck, so did Electrico's (2009) What do you see. Hopefully we'll get something different in the next couple of years.

In the mean time, I guess we can appreciate Our Singapore for what it is - a decent piece that very unfortunately sits in the shadows of Home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

IKEA’s magic show decision opposes its stand on diversity

(Published - Today Apr 23, 2015)

I read with concern the reports on IKEA Singapore’s decision to continue its tie-up with a magic show performed by Pastor Lawrence Khong.

I believe IKEA’s explanation that it respects diversity, equality and the right to opinion has not seriously considered the fact that Mr Khong has been vocal against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

I respect the fact that there are safe platforms in Singapore for people such as Mr Khong to express their opinions. However, I cannot endorse the nature and intention of his views because they are harmful, discriminatory and demeaning to sexual minorities, some among whom I consider my friends.

IKEA’s decision here appears to be different from its global stand that the company welcomes all families and is LGBT affirming, as stated in its sustainability report last year. Also, IKEA Singapore should understand that the right to opinion comes with the responsibility to observe that the expression of that opinion does not come at the expense of the rights and welfare of others.

We should especially consider that principle in a case such as this, when we have an influential religious leader with a noted history of publicly discriminatory speech against sexual minorities.

The views advanced by leaders in socio-religious communities have implications on social perceptions and policies, and this, in turn, continues to systematically disadvantage sexual minorities and non-heterocentric families.

The magic show that Mr Khong headlines deserves support only from businesses that share those views. In supporting the magic show, I see IKEA Singapore as supporting not only Mr Khong, but also his views. My family and I hope IKEA Singapore will carefully consider its position on similar matters involving such individuals in the future.

Ho Chi Sam