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!”

Seriously?

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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The Singaporean Fairytale: A Critical Reading, or, MAKE IT STOP I DON’T EVEN–

Fairy tales are usually read to kids and end happily ever after. But a group of students are using fairy tales to encourage dating and newly married couples to have kids earlier.

The Straits Times (11 Feb ’13)

My favourite part about this introduction is that it (unintentionally?) implies that these new “Singaporean fairytales” don’t end happily ever after — which, y’know, is probably the truth, but also probably not the angle they were gunning for.

When news of this project first hit my corner of the internet, my reaction was that of mild amusement. Given the incredulity of the idea that stories written by a bunch of students would actually do anything for the fertility rate, and the multitude of problems already inherent in conventional fairytales, I couldn’t take it seriously enough to muster more than a curiosity as to how the Three Little Pigs could be adapted for populationist propaganda.

Now the website is live, and my bemusement has turned into something far less benign.

Before any of you jump down my throat for going after a bunch of well-meaning undergrads, I’d like to say that of course I believe these students meant no malice by any of this, and that they’ve undeniably put a lot of effort into it. None of the criticism of their project should be read as an attack on them. But good intent does not magically erase the ability for words & actions to cause offence (and to be called out for it), and given the media attention & government funding this has gotten, this goes way beyond the scope of an ordinary school project. It’s fair game.

Okay? Okay. Now I give you:

 
THE TOP 5 WORST SINGAPOREAN FAIRYTALES
[as objectively evaluated by this one very distressed Singaporean]
 

#5 — ALADDIN & JASMINE

I’m going to start with pitching this at a pretty low level, because that seems to be the approach the website’s taking here too: sex will make you feel better, you guys.

Sex will make you feel better.

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Family 101, or, Look At All the Shiny Smiley People!

So we’re talking sex now. But we’re not doing it. Or we’re talking about not doing it and we’re talking about all the horrible terrible no good very bad things that lead to doing it, like porn and godless lust and internet predators, and we’re talking about all the horrible terrible no good very bad things that come from doing it, like STIs and losing brownie points with the deity of your choice and the irreversible destruction of our nation’s very moral fibre so DON’T DO IT, okay? Just don’t. Promise you won’t?

(Oh but just fyi here’s how to use a condom. Y’know. In case.)

 

Since MOE announced its move to rework sex ed (ostensibly due to the Book of Face), there has been a lot of srs biz + some not-so-srs biz about its new requirements, particularly the “core of at least 10 specially-selected teachers in each school to teach sexuality education” who “must practise mainstream values that are aligned with MOE.” All good stuff, but I can’t believe everyone is overlooking this vital new development:

Breaking Down Barriers, the programme jointly run by MOE and Health Promotion Board, has been re-named “eTeens” or Empowered Teens programme.

eTeens, you guys. eTeens.

Even #virginMOEteachers couldn’t make me laugh as hard as this one. It really doesn’t boost confidence levels about your ability to educate today’s hormone-ridden adolescents when you’re still using the language of those belonging to two generations before.

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Leftist Bullshit is Not Actually Bullshit, Except for Bullshit About It Being Bullshit

Slate’s article on Sweden’s new gender-neutral pronoun, alleging that the nation is “[trying] to banish gender,” has been making its rounds on (my) Twitter (feed) today. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were FOX News, but Slate is a publication I hold in high esteem.

People love it when the left is wrong. Yes, we are sometimes wrong and should be called out for it – and yes, when that happens, you will have the pleasure of wiping the smug grins off our self-righteous faces. The right’s righteousness, on the other hand, is borderline invincible and I don’t know why we even try. When the facts and circumstances change, we too change our minds: this lies at the very heart of progressivism.

But so much of how the left is characterised is wrong. Sure, the right-wing gets a lot of unfair coverage too, but as defenders of the status quo they generally have more collective representation and visibility. With the US context in mind, I am tired of centrist policies (see: healthcare) being celebrated as major left-wing progress, and I am tired of anything even vaguely genuinely liberal being dismissed as “radical left.”

You know what’s far-left? Ecoterrorism. Anarchist extremism. These guys.

You know what’s not? Gender-neutral pronouns.

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