Queerness scares people – that’s the truth. But the truth is rarely pure and never simple.
What does it mean to be queer? If you wanted the pure and simple truth, then it just refers to being anything other than heterosexual or cisgender. But the world we live in doesn’t abide by dictionary definitions – neither does judgement nor discrimination. To be queer is to be invisible, to be seen through pejorative glances, to be the antipode of normal. In the small city-state of Singapore like anywhere else, the history of queerness is the history of marginalisation.
Although many assume homophobia and queer condemnation in Singapore is relatively mild, or non-violent in nature, that assumption is problematic in itself. The status of queer individuals in Singapore has always been chaotically murky. It is true that as compared to the past, things have changed for the better with the Singaporean public having a greater understanding in general of the LGBTQIA community. However, it would be a stretch to say that queerness is accepted in Singapore. Queer rights and legal recognition remain out of reach for queer individuals and there are no laws in place that specifically offer protection, unlike other countries.
In a country where OB markers and civil society are watched carefully, the ways in which queerness is engaged with by the relevant authorities, mainstream media is marked by a distinct sense of muted murkiness. There is never any explicit condemnation and outright homophobia is frowned upon— not in a civilised polite society like ours. Yet herein lies the problem; the Singaporean mind is adapted to brush aside unpleasantness and to vigorously sweep it under the carpet if it doesn’t concern the self.
Daryl, our Executive Director, just marched at San Francisco Pride with Professor Khoo Hoon Eng, co-founder of SAFE -…
Queerphobia hides itself insidiously, sometimes taking refuge in harmless humour and at other times, it slithers into the spaces of our conversation. It is implicit within our everyday lives and so it is hard to confront queerphobia, only because it is hard to confront ourselves.
Our misconceptions and biases affect us and everyone around us whether we are aware of it. The cultural premium placed on masculinity, and the casual misogyny that continues to be unwittingly propagated makes for toxicity that can attack you when you least expect it. Everything that is associated with femininity, is by default seen as a sign of weakness that should be weeded out.
For one, growing up with a voice higher in pitch than the average Singaporean male thus invites all sorts of curveballs. Sometimes it’s simply being mocked for it, other times, it could mean having your sexuality assumed wrongly and later on being confronted about it publicly. It doesn’t have to happen every day; it just has to happen enough to make you feel bad for being you.
We had a visit from one of the Pink Dot SG organising committee members who was busy working!
Society continually prides masculinity above all else and this is reflective of the language that we use in everyday lingo—don’t cry like a girl, don’t run like a girl, don’t talk like a girl. The underlying message that we then perpetuate is then of course:
“Don’t be a girl.”
In the same vein, this leads to a fundamental fear of coming across as “gay” for straight men. Is this gay? Is that gay? Am I gay?
The predatory policing of our behaviours and thoughts lead to unnecessary fears and insecurities that drive hatred for themselves and others. As obvious as it sounds, you’re only gay if you’re gay.
And let’s be real, in a world that’s so unforgiving and quick to judge, who doesn’t fear to come across as “gay”?
Nobody can be anything other than themselves. So why do we keep shaming people for arbitrary standards of masculinity and heterosexuality?
It is impossible to talk about queerness in Singapore, without talking about Section 377A, the most symbolic Singaporean indictment of queerness. A vestigial law adopted from British colonial rule, it criminalises sexual activity between men even when it is consensual. It is oft cited as being rarely enforced when the crux of the matter is that it can be enforced at all. Section 377A’s continued presence in the Penal Code is the most quintessentially Singaporean way of saying that queerness has no place in Singapore. Queer discrimination in Singapore doesn’t take the form of overt violence seen in other countries, but is instead almost elegantly professional and tacit in its various guises here.
LGBTQIA individuals face discrimination in many aspects of life. Recent high-profile cases have made sure to highlight the lack of basic queer rights in Singapore. From the denial of adoption for a gay couple, to the sudden voiding of a same-sex marriage, the state of things is a state of sorrow that begs the question of just what can queerness expect from tomorrow?
Advocacy for queer rights has reached a height that would not have been possible without the Internet or social media. Since 2009, Pink Dot, the local version of a Pride event has seen a meteoric rise in attendance. Public awareness and understanding of queer rights in Singapore is much more developed than in the past. Pop culture and social media have ensured an increased visibility and interest for queerness, with shows like Drag Race and Queer Eye hitting immense popularity. More importantly, Pink Dot 2017 came to be a watershed moment for queerness in Singapore. Despite new government stipulations that foreign funding and participation were unilaterally banned from Speaker Corner’s events, local companies stepped up to the challenge and so did local residents. Taken as a litmus test, the Pink Dot formed that night was wholly Singaporean and wholly full of love.
Some people think that queerness already has enough space in Singapore. After all, the queer community has got bars, they’ve got clubs, and they’ve got their very own little Pink Dot every year, shoving all that queerness in our faces. How dare they demand more?
However, as far as spaces go, bars and clubs aren’t ideal to elicit more positive attitudes and tend to skirt around the public eye. Fears of reprisal and condemnation add to the dearth of safe queer spaces in Singapore, typical of any community that’s been forced to exist underground.
It is also a grandiose irony to think that Pink Dot only belongs to queer people.
As Pink Dot celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2018, the call for an inclusive society where the freedom to love is a freedom for all has never been stronger. The repealing of Section 377A is only one aspect of the solution that Pink Dot is advocating for. The freedom to love also calls on us to support alternative family structures, to move beyond the false dichotomies of gender roles that hurt who we are.
The freedom to love a romantic partner, the freedom to love your family, the freedom to love yourself—these are the freedoms that Pink Dot stands for and which should be granted to everyone, period.
As Pink Dot arrives again on July 21, we are asked as a society once again, if we believe that the freedom to love is a freedom for all.
I know I do.
But what about you?
Cover Photo courtesy of Charlotte Butcher.