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22 Aug 2006

we, the citizens: a gay/straight speakout

Singapore's GLBT Pride Season comes to a close this week with We, the Citizens: TalkingCock in Parliament, a light-hearted forum for people of all orientations, hosted by husband-and-wife filmmakers and satirists Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen.

It's been a mad month of talks, parties and censorship battles at IndigNation 2006, Singapore's own Pride Season. Now, for the closing event on Thursday August 24, the organisers have pulled in a homo-fabulous straight married couple; Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen. They'll be hosting a light-hearted forum on how so many of us - gay, hetero, bisexual and transgendered - just don't fit in with the official portrait of Singapore.

Filmmakers and founders of TalkingCock.com husband-and-wife team Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen will host We, the Citizens: TalkingCock in Parliament on Aug 24, as part of IndigNation, Singapore's gay pride festival.
We, the Citizens: TalkingCock in Parliament will be a free evening of hilarious speeches by a variety of guests of all orientations. These include Hossan Leong, Singapore's favorite son and comic; Sam Wu from Not Another Drag Show; award-winning poet Teng Qian Xi; teacher and performer Ruby Pan; Malaysia Today editor and pugilist Imran Johri; plus a host of other un-average Singaporeans.

Colin and Yen Yen themselves are two of Singapore's foremost filmmakers and political satirists. Six years ago, they started a fake news website named TalkingCock.com to celebrate and poke fun at life in Singapore. Since then, it's become one of our most popular sites for open criticism of government policy - as well as a laugh-until-you-wet-your-pants stop for local humour.

But the husband-and-wife team didn't stop there - they've also taken care to raise social issues in their movies. Their newest production, Singapore Dreaming, will be screened as a benefit for AWARE, Singapore's primary women's rights organisation, on Aug 30. They've also written the foreword for SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century, the country's first collection of coming out stories. We at Fridae think you should get to hear them in their own words:

æ: So, what's a nice straight couple like you doing at a gay pride festival?

Colin: We've always been gay-friendly. We have many, many gay friends, and frankly, it's never been an issue. We got involved with IndigNation because we were having dinner one night with OogaChaga's Clarence Singam, and were telling him about our attempt last year to hold an event to mark the 5th Anniversary of TalkingCock.com. We had to cancel the event because we were also filming Singapore Dreaming at the time, and it would have been too complicated to do both.

Yen: Anyway, something clicked in Clarence's head, and he thought it would be a fun event to include in IndigNation. So he started persuading us to revive the idea. He even found potential dates and everything! We thought IndigNation was a great idea, and also for a great cause. And we've always been the type who feel people should give back to the community, so okay, lah!

æ: Tell us about your talk, We the Citizens.

Colin: It's not a talk. It's an evening of ordinary Singaporeans sharing personal stories. It's kind of loosely based on this Spoken Word event in New York City which we love, called 'The Moth', which is like storytelling meets standup comedy meets a poetry slam meets speech-making.

Yen: We thought it would be fun, because after all the National Day hoopla, it would be nice to put away all the flag-waving and fireworks, and take a personal, reflective look at our beloved country. In a quiet, low-budget way.

Colin: We see it as a nice mellow cup of late-night Milo amongst good friends after a wild night of partying.

æ: I know that the two of you used to be a successful, middle-class lawyer and teacher in Singapore , until you gave it all up to get married and study in New York City. Tell us about this turning point in your life.

Colin: Wah lau, that's a long story. You can read it at: http://singaporedreaming.com/blog/?q=node/6

æ: What are the most important issues you're trying to tackle right now?

Yen: You want the whole list or just the top ten? Joking, joking

Colin: We don't have any laundry list of issues we want to tackle.

Yen: But we do have an overarching orientation to our work, which is to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness. So we do think it's necessary to raise awareness about the experiences of GLBT folks amongst us. We see it as an integral part of forming a more diverse and inclusive society. And our stand on Singlish and dialects has a lot to do with reclaiming culture and expression for ordinary Singaporeans from the so-called elites.

Colin: I think we actually need to get over differences quickly, so that we can all work towards tackling the really big problems in society, like violence, war and poverty.

æ: Your first film, Talking Cock, premiered for an Action For AIDS benefit, and now Singapore Dreaming is premiering with AWARE - both of them societies that have been really supportive of gay and lesbian rights. Why did you choose these groups?

Colin: I wanted to benefit AFA with TalkingCock right from the start. This is because when I was in NS, I was asked to draw a comic for the Ministry of Health's AIDS awareness campaign. But when I submitted it, to my utter horror, I was asked to remove all references to condoms, and suggest that abstinence was the answer! It was so outrageous that I felt I needed to make it up somehow. And TalkingCock seemed like the right opportunity.

Yen: As for AWARE, Singapore Dreaming is the first Singaporean movie, in our humble opinion, with real women characters, dealing with real women's issues. It's not solely a woman's movie - it's an ensemble piece where the male characters are all crucial, but it's just that it's the first time in Singapore film where there are women leads who play fleshed out characters and not just stereotypes like a prostitute or one-dimensional mother.

æ: And why might a Fridae reader want to watch this?

Colin: The film is very much about the imposition of other people's dreams, and I'm guessing that Fridae readers will have very strong feelings about this.

Yen: It began with an article we wrote waaaay back in 2000 for the Singapore International Foundation's 10th anniversary book, where we distinguished between the "Singapore Dream" and the "Singapore Plan." (Read it here). We didn't expect anyone to read it (does anyone really read the commemorative books of Government-linked agencies?), but somehow, it struck a chord in someone. It got posted on the Net, and soon, it went round like crazy!

Colin: We're still getting mail about it, six years later. We're very, very touched by everyone who've felt compelled to share with us their stories of heartache, success and struggle. We thought a movie would get to the soul of it better than any article, so we distilled the emotions and stories that were shared with us into forming the characters of the Loh family.

Yen: We also think Singapore Dreaming has the strongest ensemble acting in any Singaporean film. We really focused on the acting with this movie and I think the cast - Richard Low, Alice Lim, Serene Chen, Lim Yu-Beng, Yeo Yann Yann and Dick Su - did an outstanding job. And, it is a rare movie that everyone can take their parents and grandparents to see. I hope that it will inspire cross-generational dialogue about how we impose our dreams on each other.

æ: Okay, random questions. What's the most homophobic thing you've known to happen/witnessed in Singapore?

Colin: I was in the Army, when a fellow unit mate told me that his friends would go hunting on Saturday nights for an ah quah (Singlish equivalent of "faggot" or "fairy") to beat up. That idea really chilled me to the bone.

æ: What's the most homophobic thing you've ever done yourself?

Yen: Oh god, I once advised a confused gay relative to go to Choices, thinking it was a general counseling centre for gays and not realising it was a conversion centre! I was so mortified when I found out the truth!

æ: What's the most homo-fabulous thing you've ever done?

Colin: As a good Peranakan boy, I did once dress up in a sarong kebaya (traditional figure-hugging embroidered blouse and skirt) for a drag party - complete with kerosang (traditional brooch) and all. Oddly enough, that scored me a date. Go figure

Yen: I wear comfortable shoes.

æ: If you were gay/lesbian for a day, who would you date?

Colin: Let's see, if I were a lesbian for the day, I'd definitely date Yen amacam, darling?

Yen: But if I were to date you, then would that make me a fag hag or okay, my brain hurts just thinking about it.

æ: What do you think would happen if everyone in Singapore turned gay overnight?

Colin: Maybe we'd have more interesting National Day Parades.

Yen: And we'd have to hold the Ching-straight Festival.

æ: Anything else on your mind tonight?

Yen: There is a question I am pondering right now, and that I'm trying to find answers to. How can activism itself be more inclusive? For me, real change doesn't come through revolution, but through education. And that to me means dialogue as equals. How can we conduct activism in a way that's more inclusive instead of just challenging the same old authorities or preaching to the choir?

We, the Citizens: TalkingCock in Parliament will be held on Aug 24 at 8pm at the Arts House (Old Parliament House), 1 Old Parliament Lane. Admission is free, but seats are limited. Come at 7.30pm or earlier to mingle.



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