Test 2

Please select your preferred language.





Remember Me

New to Fridae?

Fridae Mobile


More About Us

14 Jul 2010

Policing propriety as an abuse of human rights

Different spaces and even a different context of the use of the spaces have different behavioural conventions inscribed on them, and people have generally come to respect the prevailing convention. Should the police leave cruising grounds alone if the unwitting public is very unlikely to stumble on any activity?

In Entrapment and implied consent of police decoys, the ethical issues surrounding entrapment were discussed. This was in relation to the arrest of a Malaysian for cruising an undercover police officer who stationed himself in a well-known cruising ground off Victoria Street. 

Outside of entrapment, the other problem that I have with the police operation is what I’d call the enforcement of homogeneity. The concept is like this: In real life, our behavioural landscape is never homogeneous. We humans are very good at reading customary norms for a particular time and place and we tailor our own behaviour accordingly when we find ourselves inserted into such situations. We shift registers in our language use depending on situational context. We don’t munch popcorn and potato chips in places of worship, even though we might do that in a cinema. How we dress and expect others to dress on a beach is very different from in a concert hall. It is acceptable to strip off one’s underwear in a locker room in full view of others when it is not at a clothes shop. 

Every space has its conventions, which may even vary by the hour; for example, people around you are more indulgent if you’re tipsy and over-impulsive in a pub at 2 am than at 2 pm. How these conventions come about is almost totally evolutionary. Only in very specific situations, e.g. dress code in a concert hall, is it (sometimes) specified and policed. 

And so different nooks and crannies of any city have different behavioural conventions inscribed on them, and we know it. Even if we’re new to a place and thus did not know beforehand, as a social animal we are very good at reading the cues once we notice other people and we generally respect the prevailing convention. 

It is the person who demands that his standard should override the established convention whom we see as the troublemaker. We think it is absurd to demand that comedy clubs eschew ribald humour, that people should wear ballgrowns to the beach or that shoppers should stop talking and observe silence just because a cultural group has been parachuted into a shopping centre atrium to play music. If anybody demands that his standard of propriety be applied over the established convention, we ask: What’s his agenda? 

Imposing a homogeneity of behaviour on all places is absurd; it would run counter to the human use of spaces. Moreover, it is impossible to police behaviour everywhere. Thus, any policing must necessarily be highly selective, both as to where and as to what standard to enforce. But selectivity is the breeding ground for discrimination. At a herd level, it is most commonly seen in the enforcement of class stratification, when insiders demand adherence to certain norms of behaviour, for no rational reason than to exclude those whose background does not equip them with the same manners. At the level of the state, sexual policing is more frequently seen. 

More specifically, my argument about the cruising ground that was the scene of the arrest is this: It is an old, disused cemetery. In daylight hours, men who live in surrounding tenements us it as a park to relax in and socialise — I know that because I walked through it, taking pictures of people when I was doing my photo essay on the Bugis district. After nightfall, it becomes an area for a different kind of socialising — homosexual, bisexual and even heterosexual men cruising for sexual relief. It’s been known as a cruising ground for years. Nobody else would walk through the cemetery at night; it doesn’t provide a shortcut anywhere. In other words, a convention has developed over the years that this is a place where cruising takes place after dark and if you accidentally find yourself there and are approached, you may excuse yourself, but you don’t demand that your personal idea of propriety should override the social convention that has been in place for a long time. 

So why is the police suddenly doing that? Why, as a matter of comparison do they not mount entrapment operations in other green areas that have a reputation for opposite-sex couples making out at night? Why aren’t there constables male and female standing inside and outside Orchard Towers with handcuffs at the ready, while waiting to be propositioned?

My point is this: Leave that cruising ground alone. It disturbs no one, and all who participate do so consensually. The same people who look for sex in there would know to behave quite respectably once they walk out of its confines. To enforce the standards of the shopping belt on a cruising ground is to demand that certain activities inappropriate for the shopping belt must never be permitted anywhere; it is to confine our own humanness to prescribed actions and desires, leaving no space or legitimacy to any other. We reduce ourselves to uni-functional robots. 

I know the retort. It goes like this: It’s a public space, the standards of a public space must apply. Sex is not unpermitted (the continued life of Section 377A that criminalises gay male sex notwithstanding); it’s just that it should be done in private. 

Reality is not as neat as that. I’ve already argued that it is simplistic to speak of a single standard for public spaces: They vary. I would also argue that there is no clear line between public and private. Usage makes a huge difference. Is a lockable lavatory in a shopping mall a private or public space? Is the inside of a van a private or public space? Is the balcony of your flat a private or public space? The greyness of the public/private boundary and of standards make simple maxims problematic. 

* * * * * 

My next point is: What if, for certain socio-economic classes, there is no private space they can call their own? By enforcing the morality of the middle-class, who have the benefit of private spaces to indulge in their hypocrisy, on the poorer off, is this not class discrimination? Is this not a violation of human rights when what the middle-class consider essential to their being is effectively denied to others? 

You see, that cruising ground off Victoria Street mostly serves our migrant workers from India and Bangladesh. These are people who live in dormitories, six or twelve to a room, each with little more than a bunk bed and a lockable box to call their own. They are here in Singapore for two years or more at a time. You expect them never to have sexual relief all this while? How many middle-class people would agree to be denied sex, even masturbation, for years on end?

So where are these men going to get sexual relief, if they have no private spaces? In public of course. And if they have the sense to do it in a secluded area, we should thank them for their consideration rather than arrest them.

Look at the photo below. What you see are migrant workers using a public space — a parking lot — as a socialising arena and dining room. But look behind them, at the portaloos. The authorities have taken the trouble to provide because we know that if we don’t, people will urinate and defecate at random. Being essential bodily functions, we know we can’t say “Don’t do it.” So we come up with money to provide.

Should we therefore provide little cabins where migrant workers can have sex too? The principle’s the same as providing toilets. Except that if they have evolved a practice of doing sex in a secluded park after dark concealed by thick foliage, it costs our public purse nothing. Shouldn’t we be grateful for that? Why don’t we just leave them alone rather than spend money sending police decoys in to entrap them?

* * * * *

I have one more picture as a parting shot. This was taken along Rowell Road in Little India in broad daylight (two faces have been pixelated).

The migrant workers from India are looking at and possibly negotiating with one or two women inside the gated stairway. At a few other stairways, other groups of men are gathered. The women offer sex. For money. This along a street where quite a few other people, including children, walk past.

(Other times, the women — sometimes transsexuals — are out on the sidewalk.)

But we know this is Rowell Road, parallel to Desker Road. Both streets have a long history of housing brothels and we accept that this is part of the variegated nature of a city’s topography. Why is this tolerated when what we cannot ordinarily see — hidden in the bush after nightfall — is not?

Alex Au has been a gay activist and social commentator for 14 years and is the co-founder of People Like Us, Singapore. Alex is the author of the well-known Yawning Bread website.

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-07-14 19:13  
I think engaging in activities in secluded private places where the general public are bound not to enter is way better than having it in the open (like in the article above - Rowell Road)

I dont see any harm in the guys cruising at night in secluded areas for other cruisers; whereby the chances of other people entering is minimally low..

2. 2010-07-14 21:27  
Alex, I really like the way you argue.

I totally agree with every single argument that you have put forth, but in the end it's all about acceptance. Would a judge accept your argument if, say, you were the guy who got entrapped? I don't think so...

Until such time that homosexuality has been decriminalised, all arguments are, eventhough all of us agree, are useless.
3. 2010-07-15 19:41  
i think taking pictures of the migrant people that have sex and their life on the street is really creepy and kinda of entrapment and really hypocritical and stupid... what's the point here? do these people know they are ending up on a gay website or being used as acedotes?

is the point to have gay men go down to the level of those less fortunate? shouldn't leaders in our community be pushing to help us strive to be something better? is that really empowerment? is Alex an advocate of sex in parks, i have no idea what his message is?

gosh, if you would advocate gay or straight sex in Central Park in NYC, all the Upper East Side Gay Dads and even the great Gay Married Men in Chelsea would scorch your reputation and make you even more irrelevant than you are now

when I was at boarding school with six guys to a room, I still found a way to quietly and efficiently jack off under the covers and get all my school work done, its not my right to have my sexual needs take precedent over the sensitivities of my room mates

Alex you come across as no champion for the poor only, God only knows how profitable the gay sauna business has become for you

I think as a gay dad I need to deploy my four year old twins to give you a swift kick in the balls

You keep trying to bring down my classy and upwardly mobile gay brothers and sisters and use fear and stupid tactics to keep us in the parks and saunas when we should be striving to bring our boyfriends back to our parents house to have sex or respecting a guy by taking him to the Four Seasons for some fun...

please Fridae go back to articles by younger people with a vision for the future and a better life than these old fart gay leaders who are bitter and haven't accomplished anything in years beyond a blog that no one reads
4. 2010-07-15 22:20  
Hey lagunabro, relax man, or you gonna raise a self-hating homosexual kid much like yourself. Nobody is asking you to jack off all over your six roommates. If you don't get the point that Alex is making, just go back and re-read it again. It's not hard to understand.

Being a gay dad doesn't make you better than everyone else, nor does having a Victorian attitude toward sex. Not everyone can afford to spend USD$300 a night at Four Seasons. Go have sex in a park and donate the hotel money to charity instead.
5. 2010-07-16 11:33  
I think Alex's argument is solid. He doesn't jump into conclusion or making up stories on any of his example. It is presented analytically, deeply, yet logically based on facts.

To those who disagree because you miss Alex points, especially those narcissists and those who prefer younger people in everything, you'll probably need Alex as your lawyer if and when you are caught by police decoys. Not just some lawyers who goes half way.

Get a clue!
6. 2010-07-17 12:12  
@lagunabro - classism is a rather unsavory trait. just because you have the means to own property does not mean that you should flaunt it. just because you're a member of the gentrified UES/chelsea club doesn't mean that you're a better person - in fact, let's not forget that the middle class gays were asleep in their beds when stonewall occurred, paving the way for gay liberation in the united states.
Comment #7 was deleted by its author on 2010-07-18 15:57
8. 2010-07-18 15:57  
@alex - thanks for sharing. you are a leader and a thought-leader in our community and my hat goes off to you for your contributions to the greater cause.

@lagunabro - not to single you out, but i think it would be beneficial for you to re-read alex's well-thought out and well-researched articles. i find that, not just you, but a lot of other people in our community are oftentimes quick to judge and are "intolerant" of differences within our community. i think we need to, as a community, try harder at not judging each other. for example, some people in our community discriminate and are intolerant of transsexuals, drag queens, bears, people who are into fisting or rainbow/brown showers, or even people who have a preference for others outside their community and hateful terms like rice queen or potato queen result. one kind of behavior may or may not be for you (including public sex), but come on people, everyone is entitled to their own preferences and living the life they want as long as it doesn't hurt others (if you want to have public sex then just be mindful to do it in a secluded spot and clean up after yourselves). it is no different from asking the straight community to accept our cock sucking as acceptable behavior as long as it's consensual. instead of trying to look down upon and squash out behavior that is not to your liking or to which you think is "less" palatable to the straight community, we should learn to stand together and stand up for one another.

i was really upset last year when people in our community, and particularly in this forum, talked badly about that middle-aged man that was beaten to death by 5 male teenagers at orchard towers because he supposedly propositioned them. so what? if it were the other way around, if it was an old straight man propositioning a 20yo girl or if it was an older woman propositioning a 20yo guy or if it was a straight man propositioning a lesbian woman.... we all have the right to say "no." there is no need to do physical harm to someone for exposing themselves to you (if that was even the truth... the man is dead so he can't speak for himself). seems to me that the above entrapment story is similar in more ways than one. in both cases, people rushed to criticize the behavior of the victim simply because the victim's behavior wasn't what they would do. my point is that we are all different and if we want others (straight people) to accept us for who we are, then perhaps we should try to first be more accepting of other members of our own community.
9. 2010-07-19 08:21  
Laguna, sorry but we know you are not real.
10. 2010-07-19 18:44  
Raar and Sevendragons present compelling arguments and valid points. Well done guys!
11. 2010-07-20 04:30  
hmm, i am real and i did re-read the article and all i see is Alex Au still bringing down the gay brand, i grew up having to make excuses for stupid reckless behavior from assholes like him-- he is advocating sex in parks which is totally tacky

i saw Toy Story 3 with my son the other day and I think Alex is kinda like Lotso

Lotso (“The Lotso-Huggin Bear”) seems to welcome us gay men into his day centre, but Lagunabro thinks they should escape and find their way back manly way to gay utopia and self growth and development

It turns out Lotso uses fear and stupid tactics to run Sunnyside like a prison the gay toys are trapped with idiots who forget what love is like, its like the zombies in a gay sauna or having meaningless sex is a park

Lagunabro is an advocate for strong gay relationships and sex and love in that context, that's my agenda and the new gay elite is in town and yes we are real and well heeled and educated

we just don't gay leaders bringing us strong gay men down to the level of the pond scum in those well kept Singapore parks
12. 2010-07-21 14:23  
Lotso is not happy he compared to Sex in Park Advocate like Alex. Even Ken has sex in his Dream House. Alex is really stupid about how he is perceived. None of the gay toys respect he only more, but we only polite to listen to him.

Lotso always thinkg WWART?

What would Ayn Rynd think?

Ayn Rynd quote

When you consider the global devastation perpetrated by Sex In Park Advocates, the sea of blood and the millions of victims, remember that they were sacrificed, not for 'the good of mankind' nor for any 'noble ideal,' but for the festering vanity of some scared brute or some pretentious medicocrity who carved a mantle of unearned 'greatness', Sex in Parks is dirty

Lotso is gonna plant some poison ivy there cause Alex wants us gay bears to be mediocre and we not going to listen to someone who is not successful at any thing except complaining.
13. 2010-07-21 14:24  
Lotso is not happy he compared to Sex in Park Advocate like Alex. Even Ken has sex in his Dream House. Alex is really stupid about how he is perceived. None of the gay toys respect he only more, but we only polite to listen to him.

Lotso always thinkg WWART?

What would Ayn Rynd think?

Ayn Rynd quote

When you consider the global devastation perpetrated by Sex In Park Advocates, the sea of blood and the millions of victims, remember that they were sacrificed, not for 'the good of mankind' nor for any 'noble ideal,' but for the festering vanity of some scared brute or some pretentious medicocrity who carved a mantle of unearned 'greatness', Sex in Parks is dirty

Lotso is gonna plant some poison ivy there cause Alex wants us gay bears to be mediocre and we not going to listen to someone who is not successful at any thing except complaining.
14. 2010-07-21 19:51  

lagunabro is as real as the unwashed pussy hair on lotso's behind. Nice try. Looks like Fridae is now the playground for multiple fake profiles. Boring boring! Zzz
Comment #15 was deleted by its author on 2010-07-21 20:02
16. 2010-08-01 03:34  
The Los Angeles Police Department announced at a press conference Friday that officers would be cracking down on lewd activity in the city’s parks — primarily Griffith Park, Elysian Park, and Sycamore Grove, KABC TV reports.

There have been 90 lewd conduct arrests in Elysian Park since January, the officers said, adding that the people arrested on these charges are typically men engaging in same-sex sexual activity.

The officers were careful, however, to state that they weren’t targeting gay people, but anyone who chooses to have sex in public parks. “Gay, straight, bi, or whatever sexual orientation they are is not our concern,” said Sgt. Lisa Phillips. “Our concern is to stop this activity or at least attempt to abate it.”
17. 2010-08-17 16:36  
It's an open secret "Morality policing" is an outdated trick common constables pull whenever they're under pressure by their Superintendants to produce 'results'.
Such practices -while employed by incompetent policemen everywhere from time to time- are common only in third-world societies where the govt treats their own citizens & the migrants who toiled so hard to keep it working little better than scum- or devloping societies where religion has a direct influence on domestic policies. ;-) Is Singapore sliding into 3rd-world status?
I sincerely hope that is NOT the case.
18. 2010-11-04 01:32  
Is this website brave enough to lead the world forward to champion and release by every country, politcians, leaders, statesman, industry and celebrities (the latter, if we have to read about them again) and make the global community realise that being "gay" is not a choice. There are many fine people in the world and private lives are not a tabloid or boardroom issue. Thank You

Please log in to use this feature.


Select News Edition

Featured Profiles

Now ALL members can view unlimited profiles!


View this page in a different language:

Like Us on Facebook


 ILGA Asia - Fridae partner for LGBT rights in Asia IGLHRC - Fridae Partner for LGBT rights in Asia