Understanding the LGBT-religion debate – Part 1: Lifestyle misrepresented

By Saiful Saleem

The sixth annual pro-LGBT Pink Dot event that took place a few weeks ago was marked by unprecedented vilification by certain religious leaders in Singapore. A Muslim teacher, Noor Deros, launched the WearWhite Movement which urged Muslims to mark their opposition by wearing white to the mosque on the day of Pink Dot. Lawrence Khong, who leads the Faith Community Baptist Church encouraged his members to do the same when they attended church services over the weekend, stating that the Church “will continue to resist any public promotion of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle”. Similarly, William Goh, the Archbishop of Singapore, announced, in reference to “LGBT sexual relationships”, that “this kind of lifestyle should not be promoted by Catholics as it is detrimental to society, is not helpful to integral human development and contrary to Christian values”.

The first thing that strikes me in the above comments is the usage of the word “lifestyle” and in particular the implicit assumption that there is a singular lifestyle to which people in “LGBT sexual relationships” adhere. It is also interesting to note that Khong refers to this lifestyle as one that is “alternative”, which immediately puts it in opposition to one that would be “mainstream”. Hence, the classic opposition between the “Homosexual Lifestyle” and the “Heterosexual Lifestyle”.

One should note that, as is the case with Khong and Goh, proponents of the opposition between these two “lifestyles” rarely go into detail about the distinction between them. This of course leads one to wonder if the defining factor in both the “Homosexual Lifestyle” and the “Heterosexual Lifestyle” is whether one is attracted to members of the same-sex or to members of the opposite-sex.

However, it does not logically follow to define a lifestyle based on one’s sexual preferences since a lifestyle, being a style of life or a manner of living, is the sum of what one does while one’s sexual preferences are merely a facet of who one is.

Therefore, the reason why the opposition between the “Homosexual Lifestyle” and the “Heterosexual Lifestyle” is not meaningful is because it conflates being with doing. It presupposes, quite erroneously, that homosexuals and heterosexuals conduct their lives in ways that differ significantly enough that their modes of living constitute different lifestyles.

The supposed difference is the assumption that homosexuals lead lives of hedonistic promiscuity filled with late nights at the club and an endless stream of sexual encounters. It is true that there exists a segment of heterosexuals for whom this is true, but it must also be said that the same can be said for a segment of heterosexuals.

The reality is that there is neither one singular homosexual lifestyle nor is there one singular heterosexual lifestyle. Ways of living vary greatly between individuals, regardless of their sexual preferences.

To conclude, I would like to suggest that we should not be too quick to create, and adhere to, identities that might only serve to box us in rather than to free us. Perhaps we should not consider gay rights to be separate from human rights. In that vein, same-sex marriage would not be a gay right, but, like opposite-sex marriage, a right that all humans should enjoy as long as we feel like the state should be involved in issuing marriage certificates.

Perhaps Pink Dot is one part of the problem that reinforces the notion of the gay identity, or worse the gay lifestyle and, by opposition, the straight identity or lifestyle. Perhaps talking in terms of gay rights is further falling into a divisive discourse that originates from a desire to categorize, label and box in. Perhaps, while we think that we are advancing the rights of people who identify as gay, we are operating within the very terms that have been set, defined and controlled by what Foucault would call the systems of power/knowledge.

Perhaps, the better alternative would be to recognize without exception that there often more similarities than differences between people who are attracted to the same sex and people who are attracted to the opposite sex. The boundary between “gay” and “straight” is not as meaningful as one would think. Perhaps, we would achieve more by removing ourselves from this binary.

In any case, humanity is still at a very early stage. As long as we do not destroy this planet, or each other, too soon, we still have a long way to go.

Saiful Saleem is a Singaporean PhD student in French at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His research interests include 20th-century French literature, gender and sexuality and the intersection of philosophy and literature.

This article is adapted from Saiful’s original post on his blog.

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