Gay in Singapore (circa 1997)

I am fuming mad! I basically got told by another gay man that by maintaining this webpage which does nothing short of declare that I am an out and proud gay man, I am in fact jeapordising the entire gay movement in Singapore. His rationale was that Singapore was in no way ready for people to be out, and that each person who ‘flaunts’ his sexuality is giving the authorities more fodder to clamp down on us, discriminate, and carry out other forms of unspeakable acts.

“Ridiculous”, I thought. This man has in other words rationalised that it is better to stay in the closet, rationalised that by staying in his unhealthy and musky closet that he is helping everyone around him because it wouldn’t be ‘rocking the boat’. He explained that we were fundamentally on the same side, that he wanted to see Singapore a more gay-tolerant state, but that this would take time. Perhaps 50 years, he was willing to wait. Hello. 50 years ago, we were just out of WWII. He can wait if he wants. I don’t think the rest of us are going to.

“Just what is the situation in Singapore?” some of you may be wondering. The way I see it may be quite different from most others here, but I think I have a good handle on things. The Singapore governtment is basically a pragmatic one. It tries to award people based on merit, not seniority, and it will recognise those who have made a contribution to society. However, one of its primary roles is to govern a society which it has engineered from 1965. A society which is guided by a certain set of principles and morals – the so-called moral fabric of Singapore. Now, part of this dogma is the unwritten “No Homosexuals” rule. Why “no homosexuals”? Because we threaten the traditional social/family structure. The moral conservatives have always found it hard to rationalise the existence of gay men and lesbian women in modern society, no matter how “natural” we come, and the Singaporean leadership is no different.

Homosexuals’ existence threatens Singapore‘s moral fabric, at least as we now know it, and at least it’s as much as the government leads us to believe. However, they probably know and understand that we are not going to go away no matter how they try, and that the more we are pushed to a corner, the more we will fight back. So, the current status quo is this: Gays in Singapore have been left alone for the most part. There has been a steady increase in the number of gay films, gay-themed books, etc surfacing in Singapore. The scene is more active than it has ever been, with social outlets popping up faster than you can unroll a condom. However, all this has to be done with one caveat. Political and social invisibility. Under no circumstances can all this be a public issue. Breach this unwritten rule, and be sure of a clampdown. It’s been seen. Keep quiet and go about your business, and you will be left alone. If someone complains, then sorry, they have no choice but to do something about it. That “something” has included raids on cruising spots, books being taken off the shelf, etc.

Now, please don’t be mistaken. This not indicate that Singapore is the backwater that some of you may think. In fact, this conservatism may well be a Western import. Nevermind, that’s another issue for another time.

An organisation in Singapore known as PLU (People Like Us) has long been seeking registration as a society in Singapore. However, they have met with countless rejections, most without a word of explanation. I personally don’t think they will EVER get what they want. Simply won’t happen. If the government allows PLU to register, it would be a public contradiction to their social policy. 

So what does this all mean for the average gay person in Singapore? Several things. If you’re happy with remaining invisible, and with the occassional inconvenience (fallout after an indignant member of the straight public complains about some indiscretion or other), then this is the best era for gay people Singapore has ever seen. It is positively flourishing. However, those of you who are with me in frustration and anger that gays are constantly being treated as 2nd class citizens, discriminated against (institutionally and otherwise), forced to be invisible in the media (well, rarely, if ever, mentioned in a positive light anyway)…then hear this:

We in Singapore need to foster change. This change is not as drastic as some of you may believe. I am not talking about loud demonstrations, about Pride marches, nor about political upheaval. This change has to come from within. It’s all about building a community based on understanding and love and compassion. It’s about personal PRIDE…about being sure of who you are, and NOT BEING ASHAMED. It’s about standing up for yourself whenever you hear someone utter something homophobic. It’s about not tolerating another moment of abuse (physical or psychological or otherwise) no matter where you are, because of who you are.

Come out, come out, wherever you are. The closet is an awful place to be, but even if others have placed us there, we have the power to open those doors and step out. Coming out is a personal journey…the first person you have to come out to is YOURSELF.

Singapore won’t change until there is a critical mass of self-respecting, proud gay men and women. No matter how loud the few shout. No matter how many gay plays are written and staged. No matter if the entire government were to change tomorrow. The greatest revolution is within.

It’s time to stand up for yourselves, brothers and sisters.

(note from 5 Jan 2007: Ok – now I know we’ve come a long way.)