The Care and Studying of Queers

It’s not news that studying Singaporean LGBTs (it’s always “LGBTs,” because obvs “LGBT people” is just too much) is the Academy’s latest flavour of the month and a particular favourite of young’uns looking to do something ~edgy~ and ~interesting~ for their group research projects. (It’s also always group projects. Why?) Friends have fielded earnestly misguided questions from “how do you feel about gay jokes?” (love them) to “how do you deal with crushes on straight people?” (oh, honey) and I’ve done my fair share of interviews, spilling my guts about every shitty thing that’s ever happened to me because of The Gay over tea or Skype.

I can’t totally blame researchers, baby ones or otherwise: it’s a relevant, timely topic, an area of curiosity to most folks, and of course, queers are fucking awesome. Who wouldn’t want to talk to us? What I’d underestimated is the extent to which this fad has come to take root in the minds of academics-in-training brainstorming on which social phenomenon is worthy of their course grades today. I’m here sitting in an IRB training 15,000km away from Singapore, in a department in which I’ve not met a single other Singaporean, when to illustrate a point about the complexities of international research the facilitator quips, “for some reason undergraduates are really ambitious — they always wanna go study LGBT youth in Singapore, where it’s illegal!”


In response: 1. yes it’s “illegal” but also not really, and 2. ok calm yo’ tits, undergrads.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s been plenty of really good research done and I’m not opposed to more. I also understand that people gotta learn and everyone makes mistakes. But you guys, so much out there is just bad. Not just bad, but sometimes actively harmful. This is especially true for class assignments that “won’t get anywhere” because having minimal supervision and no real benefit come out of your studies doesn’t mean you get to be blasé about how you go about it; instead it means you have to be extra careful about the little things and be extra grateful to your research participants for taking time to further your learning when it’s likely they’re not getting anything out of it. And the very least you could do is not be ignorant or insensitive about things that matter to queer folks.

So here are a few tips for those planning on or currently studying LGBTs, the first one being: if you still unironically use “LGBTs,” please go stand in a corner and think about what you’ve just done. I’m writing this from the perspective of a queer person who’s often studied, but for full disclosure, I’m also a queer person considering studying other queer people.

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Purple Light: Myths, Misinformation & Misogyny

It’s essay season from now till the end of term and so in celebration(/recovery) of a week spent successfully keeping on top of deadlines, plans for the weekend included “watch loads of terrible TV,” “play Real Racing 3″ and “abso-fucking-lutely nothing.” But I guess, at a stretch, I could squeeze in a little time for “engage with Singaporeans on the internet.”

The misogyny of “Purple Light” has been brought to well, light, and clearly this marks the end times for men and masculinity and everything that patriarchy holds dear. WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ, they cry. But what about the menz. I wasn’t going to comment on this at first because it really didn’t strike me as a big deal but whoa, people are angry, aren’t they? Hats off to every single person who has been slogging it out on the AWARE FB page and elsewhere since yesterday – I just read through most of it because I hate myself, but I sincerely admire those who’ve had the patience to engage with the ugly, ugly vitriol that’s been spewed all over the place since then, especially since so much of it has come in the form of personal attacks.

Here I’m going to do a quick sketch of the main arguments (“arguments,” some of them) that have been put forth by those who oppose the ban, and why they’re problematic or misinformed. Because the initial move might not have been a big deal, but the backlash definitely is.

I do not speak on behalf of AWARE or “feminism.” I believe in a plurality of feminisms, and I’m speaking as a feminist who happens to be sometimes an AWARE volunteer. These are also not all original points – a lot of it is skimmed from the online discussion threads, and in putting this together I’m working to (a) help those who don’t want to go through all of that (and I strongly recommend against it) get a sense of what’s going on, and (b) put into words what people might identify as problematic but don’t know how to respond to.

Now here we go.

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Allies & Assimilation: The Complexities of “The Complexities of Coming Out”

Earlier this week an op-ed I wrote in connection with AWARE about Sayoni’s Come Out, Come Home campaign, titled “The Complexities of Coming Out,” went up on The Online Citizen. (I know, right, that’s not one place I thought I’d ever see my byline.) In it I briefly cover the potential personal and political motivations for coming out — insofar as they can be considered separately — as well as several reasons why people may not be able to or will not do so.

Now I know it’s bad form to publicly contradict your editor/s, but there is a very important clarification I need to make and this is the best platform I know to do it on:

As a nation, Singapore does not judge or discriminate against anyone because of their gender, ethnicity, or religion – sexual orientation should be added to this list.

I did not write this line and I am not okay with it. Because (a) it’s a lie, (b) horizontal comparisons (“you wouldn’t do this to [other marginalised group], why would you do it to us?”) are oppressive, not progressive, and (c) it’s a lie. I speak entirely for myself here, but also keep in mind that AWARE works to counter gender-based discrimination (and related issues) — and a lot of this comes in the form of state policies and institutions.

I am ambivalent about coming out, and more specifically, coming out as a priority in queer activism. I am, as you know, an out queer woman. I stepped out of the closet not to “be honest” with myself or those around me — I’d found ways to manage on that front way before ever saying the words “I’m gay” — but to make a political point: to put a real face to a “debate” in which people like me are often made abstract and dehumanised, and to leverage on a piece of information about myself that could otherwise have been used against me so long as it remained a secret. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but it was the right decision for me.

At the same time, I am growing skeptical of “coming out” as the queer coming-of-age ritual. It gets even messier when you conceive of coming out as a way of garnering sympathy and support through visibility, i.e. they can’t hate us if they know us, right? But how do we, in good conscience, ask our youth and those further marginalised within LGBTQ populations (women, poor people, trans* folk, ethnic minorities, etc.) to come out when for so many of them this means violence, exclusion and harm? Why do we ask queer people to take their chances with coming out, instead of asking what we’re doing that makes it risky in the first place? If “visibility” is to be a core tenet of queer activism, how is it impacted when the public face of the LGBTQ movement is the privileged minority — the Dan Savages and Alex Aus of the world — who can be out?

It is these tensions, in part, which informed that op-ed. Beyond problematising the spectacle of “coming out,” what I did not do (and what I’m gonna do now) is critique the campaign itself.

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(Trying To) Keep On Keepin’ On

This blogpost has been months in the making. Tonight I am tasked with the singular objective of dusting the cobwebs off hitherto neglected corners of my(?) internet, which does then beg this rather important and yet rarely addressed question: why? Why do I keep coming back, when I’ve proven again and again to be incapable (or unwilling) to keep at this constantly?

I don’t have a ready answer to that, I don’t think. Just that I hate spiders maybe.

I’ll freely admit that the internet is a massive source of anxiety for me. Echo chambers exist online, yes, but the idea of safe spaces — aside from highly moderated, selective and relatively private forums I’ve had the occasional privilege of participating in — is a laughable myth. I go back and forth on whether I’d be able to handle the dully aggravating noise of Facebook, only very briefly entertained the thought of Tumblr as a thing that might be useful to me, and periodically delete Twitter off my various iDevices to restrict my access to it (with limited success). Online spaces have always been an invaluable support of support and growth for me, but on balance the internet is no safer or more affirming than the anti-feminist, whitewashed, and heteronormative spaces I occupy in real life and there is very little to be gained from pretending otherwise.

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Springing Forward, Falling Back

There is probably something to be said about that middle ground between doing too much and too little that I am most definitely not striking right now. Balance what balance? I’ve only lifted a pen/cil to fill in a US Border Agency customs form since concluding Lent Term at 4pm on 22 March with the most hastily-written, last-minute coursework submission of my university career thus far. My life at present is a gloriously unproductive mesh of springtime New England temperatures & sunshine, terrible Les Mis singalongs (and even worse spontaneous adaptations), and the continued invalidation of my dignity as a human being in this neverending game of pussyfooting in which my civil rights are punted as a political football. So y’know. The usual.

Well hi, internet! A month of silence seems like just about enough time to make y’all doubt my existence. Perhaps in that time you have perused my unsatisfactorily ambiguous About page, or attempted to Google-stalk me? (I can see the searches that lead here, by the way. Jsyk.)

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Campaigning & Coming Out: A Chronology

In view of the words I have written & the words I should be writing now that I am not, I’m publicly archiving some of the stuff from my campaign here. I might take it off in the future, I don’t know — this was also the first week I put my real name to this blog. What use is the internet if not to publish words others can take apart and me regret writing years down the road, eh?

(This isn’t a chronicle of the campaign as a whole, since it leaves out all the stuff done on-campus, but just the words, some of which have relevance beyond the elections.)

The decision to come out publicly was not made for the LSESU elections. I empathetically do not recommend anyone else takes this path, if that’s really the only reason they’re considering it. It’d been something I’d been mulling over for a while (for lots of reasons I won’t talk about here) and the timing of the elections just gave me a convenient timeframe I could work with.

And as to why I ran: why not, right?

(Well tbh I had a million reasons why not. But I am nothing if not impulsive, and when someone raises the vague possibility of something — as Rach did in this case — I almost always say yes.)

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