by James Leong
Learnings from my First Foray into Hong Lim Park
I get Pinkdot but it did not resonate with me, but action does speak louder than words and Pinkdot is in its 11th year. That’s more than a decade’s worth of action, so they must be doing something right. I suspended all beliefs and decided to brave the crowds for the first time.
My first impression was the volunteers’ genuine exuberance, raising their palms to invite high fives from attendees moving through the queue. Drag queens and muscle Marys were posing for pictures and others were just posing, but Singapore youths made up the majority. I felt like that cool Uncle lending support to their niece or nephew when their parents didn’t approve, but the energy was palpable and nothing like I have experienced before in Singapore.
I stood still at one spot to make sense of this energy. Clearly, everyone from the volunteers, organisers and attendees wanted to be there, but there was more. This wasn’t just a pink-themed picnic or a “peaceful” protest.
I didn’t have to look very far.
Amid the crowds of revelers, I spotted a rather morbid-looking young teen holding up a sign that read, “I was called a she-male and faggot”. I honestly cannot fathom the teen’s gender, but I was taken aback by how young he was. No more than 15?
He was giving a video interview to the Pinkdot crew about his brush with discrimination in school. But the interview looked more like a desperate plea as his innocent childlike voice competed with the thumping music and cheers of “Welcome to Pinkdot!” No one was by his side. I think he was alone.
I hope we get to hear his full story because such courage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It must come from a place of intense hurt and betrayal.
Then I bumped into an old friend recruiting singers at his booth. Our 20-year friendship is founded on our love for music and food, but I saw a new side to him that day. It didn’t feel awkward because just a month ago I told him how unfulfilled he looked in his day job. Instead I couldn’t help but notice how Pinkdot made him feel alive and happy. Our friendship reached a new level of awareness and understanding that evening.
I think the power of Pinkdot is not in the solidarity it produces, but in its rejection. The stoic rejection by the church, conservatives, friends, families and colleagues, and, yes, the authorities’ refusal to repeal S377a. Whether intended or not, this rejection has propelled Pinkdot to push for change, but it has also allowed for the stories of this young teen and many others to be told.
Dr Brene Brown of Tedtalk fame defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
In this respect, rejection births connection. For just one day of the year, the LBGT community and their loved ones can be brave and vulnerable. They know that as scary as it is to tell their stories, there are hundreds of others out here at Hong Lim Park to make them feel less alone. But what happens after the music dies and the lights go out on Pinkdot? Where do people go then to re-connect in their day to day grind of living and discrimination?
I don’t really know but as long as the LBGT community faces rejection more stories will be told and even more will come along the way to lend their support, even if it’s just one day of the year.
I get it now. Pinkdot isn’t just about the repealing S377A. It is really about the persistent rejection and the power of connection that comes from that rejection.
Pinkdot is connection.
James Leong is a private counsellor at Listen Without Prejudice.