Beginning of last week, I told my friend Junfeng (who produced the two promotional videos for Pink Dot) that I didn't want to be part of Pink Dot.
This was due to my personal politics. I thought that the event would be meaningful, and it was pitched at a tenor which I felt was powerful enough to demystify the stereotype of the militant, aggressive, 'forcing others to accept their lifestyles' homosexual.
But I couldn't help but feel that there was something hollow about the campaign's pro-diversity message. One of the most inspiring images that I took away from the whole AWARE saga was the Old Guard lineup - consisting of women of various ages and ethnicities.
I wondered if the gay community in Singapore, as we have right now, could boast of a similar diversity within its ranks. As it is, the active committee does not consist of a single lesbian woman, and only two ethnicities are represented - Chinese and Malay. I don't subscribe to the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) framework myself but it did make me wonder about the undeniable hegemony of English-educated Chinese males within the gay community.
I continued lugging the placard around, and used it as an opportunity to reconnect with many old friends. There was Juliana, an installation artist in cancer remission. There was Isrizal, who was in jail a few months back for wearing a kangaroo T-shirt near the Supreme Court. Through Ellen, I found myself eavesdropping on a gorgeous group of lesbians whose conversations consisted of various repetitions of the words 'cat', 'jealous' and 'closure'.
There were Zizi and Izmir - a married couple. Zizi had asked me in Malay before I took a shot of them: “Alfian, is it sinful if I do this?” A minute later, she said: “I don't even know why I asked that. Nonsense lah.”
At a few instances, I was afraid that I was imposing - especially among my straight friends. I'd rarely discussed my sexuality with them - it's clear as day, and for me to suddenly whip out this placard and assume that I'm not violating their comfort zones was sometimes a risk.
The fact that all of them responded so readily moved me. I knew that they tacitly accepted the fact that I was gay, but then it always seemed to me to be an acceptance where my gay identity was subsumed under other identities - as fellow artist/writer, Malay/Muslim. It was a place that they overlooked, even ignored.
'Acceptance' of my homosexuality among these friends used to be: 'You know it doesn't matter to us.'
But when they held that placard up, close to their hearts, I also heard, 'I know this matters to you. It matters to us too.'
And that was why I came back into the fold. I know there are many housekeeping issues that need to be done within the community. I used to be the 'only gay' in school. And there will be times when I am the 'only Malay' in the gay room. Once, a gay person asked one of my friends: “Why is Alfian writing all these gay plays? Isn't he Malay? Why doesn't he write about Malay issues?”
Well, that wasn't the only reason. I also knew I couldn't, in the final analysis, let dear friends like Ash and Junfeng down.
I believed, and still do, that people come to the theatre as individuals, but leave as a community. And that is because they have shared a collective experience together, embraced by voices that reach out in the darkness to touch the person sitting right at the back.
Of course there are places where gay people gather, but it never amounted to a real community to me. Transient moments - a singalong to a chorus, cheers as balloons fall, but you still could see the hierarchies of power and desire - cliques, factions, networks, beauty's pecking order.
I just want to say how inspiring it has been to sit at the table at the Fridae office, surrounded by people at the top of their fields, sharing from their own specialisations. Law, media, admin, PR, arts, entertainment, graphic design, photography, advertising, IT, networking, marshalling, and of course the hardest bit of all: actual legwork... it was civil society capacity-building unfolding in front of my very eyes.
I don't want to get carried away with self-congratulation, but I want to at least say that I think you've all been doing an incredible job. I just sit in awe as Izzie passes round the crisis management plan, as George lectures on copyright, as Alan picks up the phone and makes a call, as Roy confirms purchases and bookings.
I only wish it was a younger me, though, sitting there, because there were role models in outrageous abundance.
All I hope is that all this energy finds its way into the actual event on Saturday. I saw an almost utopian form of community developing around that table. To think of that community expanding, dot by dot, person by person, until it forms the mass display we're dreaming of at Hong Lim Park is what all this means to me.
Date/time: May 16, Sat, 4.30pm
Venue: Hong Lim Park, Singapore
You can register your attendance on the event's Facebook page: The first-ever official LGBT public gathering in Singapore! For updates, visit Pinkdot.sg
Alfian bin Sa'at is an award winning Singaporean writer, poet and playwright. He published his first collection of poetry, One Fierce Hour in 1998 when he was 21. A year later, he won the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award with his first collection of short stories, Corridor. His second collection of poetry, A History of Amnesia, won him both the inaugural National Arts Council-Singapore Press Holdings Golden Point Award and the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award for Literature in 2001. He is best known in the LGBT community for his Asian Boys Trilogy [Asian Boys Vol. 1 (2000), Landmarks: Asian Boys Vol. 2 (2004) and Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol 3 (2007)].