by Nate Eileen Tjoeng
It has been about a week since Pink Dot, an annual movement in Singapore that promotes “the freedom to love”. More specifically, it advocates love that transcends heteronormative borders.
Yearly, it has created furor amongst haters, which includes some religious and racial groups. However this year, what caught my attention was a defamatory article by a Janelle Faye, a self-proclaimed transgender woman, who wrote I’m a transgender in Singapore, and I don’t Support Pink Dot. The relatively neutral tone in this article also does not do the Pink Dot justice, and there is a need of a balanced view.
Although I identify as queer myself, I am not an avid Pink Dot supporter. I have only been to the event twice, out of nine years it has occurred. However, after reading Faye’s article, I feel the need to show readers how myopic her statements are.
Pink Dot’s main agenda is not to be proud, like in other countries’ pride parades, although being confident of your choices should be one of the positive effects from being part of the event. Pink Dot’s maxim is to advocate inclusiveness in our embryonic society, that has been borne on traditional roots that our forefathers have brought with them. Read more about Pink Dot here.
I would say I can be considered an onlooker and not so much a participant of Pink Dot, but I know very well why an event like that is important. The social psychological effects of solidarity and camaraderie cannot be downplayed, and reduced to a claim of just spending thousands of dollars on fanfare. To also make that statement is just being rude to the hundreds of volunteers who helped out without any monetary motivation.
Every country celebrates its national day. Being a Singaporean, I can only attest to how much tax payers are miffed about how much money is spent on the ostentatious display of fireworks each year at our national day parades. If the country decides to save that money instead of creating a jubilation every year, what consequences will that be for Singaporeans years down the road? Will they still be reminded of Singapore’s identity and achievements? I have never attended a national day parade, but I understand there are people who would ballot for tickets just to be part of the celebration.
Celebrating identity has its importance, and in a macro perspective, Pink Dot is not celebrating the existence of gay people, but heralding the fact that there are people out there, gay, straight or whatsoever, is happy to have you as a friend, as a fellow resident in our small country.
It is true that the law 377A is not actively enforced, and I do agree that we should leave the law there to appease the multi-racial and –religious society that we have in the name of peace. I also concur that we have it much better than other states, like in Russia, where homosexuality is illegal, and homosexuals are persecuted. However, that does not mean that discrimination and resistance do not exist. In fact, unfortunately for males and not so much for females, those who appear or behave more effeminately do experience bullying when they are especially in primary or secondary institutions. Even our local news acknowledges that.
Yes, we do have many helplines, but how many people would actually pick up the phone to dial it? How many depressed people turn to the SOS hotline? Or how many turn to the available counselling centres like Oogachaga?There needs to be more prominence about how these emotionally isolated individuals are not alone. That is why Pink Dot exists. Even if one doesn’t attend it, one will hear about it. For closeted individuals, nobody is urging you to step out of the closet, but at least you know that there are people out there who could feel like how you do. The subtle effects of having Pink Dot is more prolific than you know.
Institutional discrimination is harrowing, but that does not mean that resistance and non-acceptance from the root – at home – is easy. The truth is, even acknowledge by Faye – that is the main area of discrimination we experience. Our families are usually traditional or religious, and they may even threaten to disown their children if they find out that they are gay. So where does Pink Dot come in?
From a conversation with one of the organisers of Pink Dot, a middle-aged Malaysian woman, who is your typical auntie, was standing outside the barricades at Hong Lim Park, trying to peer in to look at the activity there. One of the volunteers spoke to her and realised that she was there out of curiosity, because she wanted to find out more about what is it like to be lesbian, as her daughter who is now studying in Taiwan told her mother she is one. Heartened by this lady’s efforts to understand the struggles that her daughter might face in society, attendees went over to speak to her and answered her questions.
Ching, 34, who was part of Pink Dot, has identified as lesbian for 15 years. Her mother has always opposed to the idea of her daughter being ‘different’. Over the years, Ching’s mother has been dishing out homophobic statements and Ching felt hopeless about making her mother accept who she really is. However, things took a turn of late. Her mother was involved with Ching’s friends for work a few months ago, and her mother was introduced to the amiable crew before she found out that many of them identified as part of the LGBT community. When Ching revealed that, her mother was astonished. Ching then tried her luck to invite her mother to Pink Dot this year, and incredulously, her mother showed up. Overwhelmed, Ching was in tears of joy.
“The walls between my mum and I are crumbling. Although not completely gone, we have become closer. I want to encourage others that if they have been trying to get your parents to accept you, there is hope, and sometimes it will pay with effort, even though it will take time.”
Ching attributed her mother’s resistance to non-heteronormative lifestyles to our local media, that has been portraying gays and lesbians in a neutral, if not negative, light. The mother who receives her news from the Chinese papers, has read articles that have been injurious to Pink Dot’s reputation. After realising that people who identify themselves as LGBTQIA are just like any other straight person, Ching’s mother started to open to being around them.
This is yet another point that Pink Dot brings. Being part of it and wearing pink does not make you different or boastful of your identity. The straight allies that were present are important participants to broadcast that we look just like them, and we can live together harmoniously. Everyone there is human, and this year we can say, everyone within the barricades is Singaporean, and we all have dignity and a choice of who we want to be and who we choose to love.