Date: 1st August 2006
Time: 1930 hrs
Venue: Theatreworks, 72-13
by Richard Chua
Singapore gay and lesbian advocacy group People Like Us (1) has organized a series of events in the month of August, entitled Indignation 2006 (2) . The title of the event makes me want to ask a question: Why did the organizers choose the word “Indignation”? Looking it up will reveal its meaning: to have a righteous anger towards something.
Russell Heng, in his interview with Fridae.com, puts it plainly, “Gay activists are not prepared to accept the unfair status quo without a fight.(3)”
With such a claim, Indignation 2006 seems to be an angry call to the state to grant more space, political or otherwise, to the gay people, assuming “status quo” refers to the current state of recognition gay people are receiving from the state.
Anger has many different registers: There is the anger of the threat; the anger of moral outrage; the anger of desperation. Anger, if well directed, can be an effective strategy for negotiation. What kind of anger is behind Indignation 2006? I would prefer anger if it also acts as an impetus for self-reflection.
I was an audience member in Alex Au’s talk. But, I did not stay through the talk from start to finsh, because I felt uneasy with the voices talking about the greater force in this island state. I moved away and walked around for a little bit. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered an alternative “voice” in the midst – Elvin Ching’s graphic illustration Pride and Prejudice (4) , which provided a real voice for an individual gay man. The illustration spoke to me more than what Alex Au and members of the state opposition parties could. Like a schizophrenic, I heard two voices in the room. One, the picture that seemed to be telling me something, and the other; the political voice in the background. This essay is an attempt to sort out the different voices, both tangible and intangible, and hopefully, in the process show that Pride and Prejudice is a warning sign for much needed reflection among gay activists in Singapore. I will also attempt to try understand the level of anger in Singapore gay activism today.
Artist Elvin Ching seems to be offering a critique on gay activism from another perspective with his artwork Pride and Prejudice. It emphasizes the necessity to perform self-reflection. This work sums up a gay man’s life. The upper half of the image shows him engaged in the simultaneous activities of shopping, gym routines, fine dining as well as sex. They are mirrored by his prejudices on the other side, the insecurities suffered by gay people: the need to be loved, the need to deal with one’s insecurities by embracing strong female icons and powers of comic superheroes, the need to re-affirm their masculinity in National Service and suicidal tendencies. These elements are presented through two Buddhist dharma wheels. These dharma wheels have two gay men as the centre, both connected to a central “69” symbol, representing a sexual position. A further compelling reading comes from the artist’s statement (5) that draws on the need to look within oneself before moving out of oneself to try and save the world. It is indeed a piece of work that fleshes out every aspect of a gay man’s life. Elvin’s message is clear – there is a need to take a critical look within us in order to fully understand ourselves before embarking on other pursuits.
When I returned to the talk where important issues were still being discussed, with my mind slightly peaceful and quiet, and less angry; I started to look around. People spoke passionately on the need to engage the state on various issues, notably gay causes as oppositional politics. Chee Soon Juan(6) , Secretary General, Singapore Democratic Party rose to speak as well. All of them tried to rally support, but do they know their strategies are in fact unworkable in present day Singapore?
I am not sure if the lukewarm response from the audience indicated reluctance in engaging the issues at hand. If we were to critically look at Singapore now, we would know that gay activism has to overcome a hurdle before going on to tackle larger issues. In this country, the government has clearly provided Singaporeans a good life – ample jobs to go around, peace and prosperity, and not to mention, the very environment which allows activists to discuss strategies to advance their causes.
How are these activists going to negotiate their positions with the government under these circumstances, especially when the government has clearly provided them with such endowments?
Instead of answering the above question, political voices went round and round in a loop. They could be effectively summarized with Stuart Koe’s (7) statement in the talk – the government has been trying to put down gay voices in this country.
In the same context, I have my doubts when anger is translated into an offensive strategy. The only way to put the state on the negotiating table with the gay community is to encourage understanding between both sides, through diplomacy.
I believe that the way forward for gay rights is to champion means of including the existence of the gay community into the national blueprint, and this can only be achieved through mutual respect by the government as well as gay people.
But, I reckon the political voices within the gay community will be angry at my choice of the word “include”. Some might ask, why do gay people need to be subservient to the state in order attain their rightful space?
But, I think, even if Indignation is justified, reflection is more than ever urgently needed.
It seems that Pride and Prejudice did provide a certain kind of peace I needed, away from these political voices. Upon returning to the talk afterwards, I sort of gained an understanding of the situation. Pride and Prejudice is a mirror for political self-reflection; to build the ability to accept the status of gay politics today and move on. The development of a non-threatening strategy that strives to negotiate more space with the state is necessary, and only through acceptance of oneself at an individual level can gay people unite as a community, and build resilience and strength.
Russell Heng, co-organiser of Indignation, in an article published in Fridae.com (3), lamented the no-show by PAP MPs was a “let down”. I think there is more than just no-support. An absence of members from the ruling People’s Action Party is telling. This absence could perhaps be a counter-strategy to allow this event to remain merely an insignificant hodgepodge of indignant voices against the state.
Perhaps the PAP is also wary: Who wants to visit the house full of angry individuals, when clearly there is no room for negotiation and understanding amidst all that rage?
The People Action Party, in its 41 years of governance, has gone through many trials and tribulations in order to achieve political survival. The PLU group has also tried many ways to engage the state through these years. If someone were to ask me if successful gay activism does exist in Singapore, I would cite Fridae.com as an example, with its excellent economic strategy as a form of gay activism. Nation party is one good instrument of gay activism. While Singapore tried to shut Nation party down, it suffered economic losses as the party moved to Phuket, Thailand. In my opinion, it is a victory for gay activism – by depriving the state from economic gains. But, this strategy will not reap long-term benefits for the gay people in Singapore, as it will only benefit Fridae.com, a profit-making entity by nature. Success in gay activism could manifest itself in many different forms. Anger with the state could be refocused through self-reflection, through the questioning of one’s own pride and prejudice.
(1) PLU represents People Like Us, a gay and lesbian group whose mission is public education with respect to sexuality and non-discrimination. More information on the group could be referenced at http:/www.plu.sg
(2)Indignation, a series of events to mark Gay and Lesbian Pride Season in Singapore, was inaugurated in 2005. Indignation 2006 is the second Gay and Lesbian Pride Season. It started on 1st August 2006 and comprises of 20 events.
(3)See http://www.fridae.com/newsfeatures/, article dated 2nd August 2006.
(4) Pride and Prejudice is an artwork by Elvin Ching, curated by Miak Siew and Brandon Goh. It is a group exhibition involving 13 artists, of which Elvin Ching is one of them.
(5)The artist statement has been attached at the end of this essay for information.
(6) Chee Soo Juan is a well-known opposition political leader in Singapore.
(7) Stuart Koe is the founder of Fridae.com, an Asian gay and lesbian web portal.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – Only a male perspective
Medium: Digital Illustration
Size of Work: A0 ( H118.8cm x W84cm)
Togetherness begins from within. We cannot even begin to start thinking of saving our relationship with the rest of the world until we master our individual relationships with ourselves. Gay pride may ask for harmony but even the name “Indignation” suggests a war cry that perpetuates ideas of peace through hostility and retaliation. Indeed, prejudice is an issue that should compel fire in our hearts but not with sticks, stones or words (and for that matter, not letters and petitions fighting for the right to hedonistic indulgences) And when “pride” becomes “proud” to the point when vision is narrowed to underestimate, while prejudice blinds vision entirely, inducing false perceptions, what are we left with? Perhaps the necessity of acceptance lies not only in those with prejudice, but those with pride as well. Then through humility, both may begin to bridge an understanding.
I think about how Storm, Phoenix and Wonder Woman are choice icons for the stereotypical gay man – It’s the Goddess mentality.
Storm, Phoenix, Wonder Woman, Elektra, Buffy, Madonna – These are female icons whose stories and abilities reflect superiority to men. And that is what the typical gay man, having grown up in a world particularly shunned by ideals of their own sex, see the need for – a need to seek solace and acceptance from ideals of the opposite sex and also to be superior to the ordinary man in his abilities. A need to be a Goddess, placing spirituality as being superior to Power, but nevertheless seeking superiority. It is no surprise all the above-mentioned icons are at the height of their powers when they are angry and provocative. (Again though, I do not mean to generalize these reasons as being the sole reasons, but I merely isolate the respective relevance)
And if generalization rings true, male ideals see themselves as godly architects of the world, having created wonders and wars over the centuries.
So if we spend our lives busy being either Gods or Goddesses, who’s left to be mortal? When we begin placing ourselves on pedestals, then where is the space for mistakes, self-reflection and progression?
I must confess a lack of understanding from a female perspective, gay or straight, and thus must refrain from commenting though if anyone has any related perspectives to offer from a female point of view, I would be most happy to hear them. And this in itself presents the problem in another light – Have some of us been too busy with being either one category or another that we’ve never learnt how to work all the gears?
Gay men who hang out with Gay men,
Gay women who hang out with Gay women,
Straight men who hang out with Straight men,
Straight women who hang out with Straight women,
Straight men who hang out with Straight women,
Gay men who hang out with Gay women
Straight men who hang out with Gay men,
Straight women who hang out with Gay men,
Gay women who hang out with Straight men.
(And we haven’t even started bringing religion and race into consideration)
If our social lives lack any 2 of the last 4, then how can we even begin to ask for togetherness? Equality will come when we truly believe ourselves equal.
DISCLAIMER: This is merely a single point of view from one who still wonders about answers (or the closest thing thereof). If there is any part that you disagree with, It would be productive for you to take it up with yourself as well. Truth is after all meant to empower oneself, not merely empower.
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