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28 Aug 2013

Pink Dot: A sign and symbol of a day that must come

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, Singapore's only openly gay (former) political candidate, today announced his decision to quit the Singapore Democratic Party as his coming out two months earlier had caused debate. In an exclusive column for Fridae, he reveals his "one concern in mind that cannot wait for history to take its course", and his plans to get more involved in LGBT and other human rights issues.

On the day before Pink Dot 2013, I posted a Facebook status update saying I would be attending. I also ‘came out’, as the expression is, and suggested, tongue in cheek, that, notwithstanding, I do not have a gay agenda. This is a reference to the 2013 General Elections when my opponents in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC suggested that because I spoke at a forum on Section 377a, I had an ulterior agenda underlying my entry into politics and my bid for a parliamentary seat.

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha

Before most meaningful events at Hong Lim Park, I often publicise the event on my Facebook page, sometimes setting out the reasons why people should attend, and encouraging them to do so. With most events, the call to attend is generally innocuous and tends to reflect my value position on the issue being commemorated. With Pink Dot, however, it is somewhat different. It could be seen as being in sympathy with the LGBT equal rights position. Or it could be construed as an acknowledgment that I count myself in the group that the position affects. Therefore, a neutral stance was somewhat problematic.

Growing up homosexual can be an incredibly isolating experience. As a child enters the sexual phase of life, he or she looks around for signs, symbols and stories to verify and validate the experiences being encountered. For a child tending towards heterosexuality this is a natural process since most societies are hetero-oriented, meaning that the discourse, the framework of symbols and the value base of the community tend towards hetero-normality. The child grows in an atmosphere that validates her basic experience; she is normal.

For the homosexual child, the reverse is the case. Every – and I mean every – element of the society in which they exist tends in the opposite direction from those which form the building blocks of their life. The homosexual child finds no home in which to habituate himself, find value models and, most importantly, friends with whom the experiences and insights he is accumulating can be analysed, moralised and normalised. The homosexual child begins to encounter a basic element that conduces to poor mental health: alienation. His isolation and estrangement from the theatre of his lived world weakens the processes that lead to integrated, functioning adulthood.

The religious principles that were largely responsible for the antagonism towards homosexuality developed in an ancient time when knowledge of psychosomatic functioning was almost non-existent. The Bible books that contain references to homosexuality were written between the sixth century BCE and the first century CE. The Quranic references date to the seventh century CE. (The religions of India and China tend to be less unequivocal on the subject.)

During those centuries, no one knew anything of the basic framework of life that caused differences in the human genetic make-up. No one understood physical laws that caused the weather and the seasons. No one understood human psychology or brain functioning. All problems were explained by reference to the supernatural. In fact, our scientific inheritance is largely the product of only the last three centuries, about 0.2% of the entire duration of human dwelling on earth.

I mention this basic history not to rebuke religion for its role in the moral determination of homosexuality. Indeed, on the flip side, religion has been responsible for some of the highest flights of human endeavour and achievement, art and music. I have a deep regard for the transcendent; I believe that human beings run on only half-tank if they live without a sense of, and recourse to, the transcendent.

No, my purpose in my little history lesson is simply to identify that moral views on homosexuality were formed at a time when we had an almost total lack of systematic data with which to understand the phenomenon. Today, although to be sure conflicting views still exist in the scientific community, by and large there is a strong body of knowledge in favour of a biological basis for homosexuality as well as data that homosexuality is widespread in other species. The experience of LGBT people everywhere confirms that our sexuality is neither a preference nor a lifestyle but a fundamental part of our genetic coding.

I do not expect or demand that everyone should accept my views. I respect the right of those who wish to take an opposing position, whether based on the contested scientific data or their deeply-held religious views. I could not claim to be committed to equal rights if I deny those whose views do not coincide with mine.

I ask merely that they acknowledge that the position is indeed contested and, given this, that data no longer serves as the handmaiden of morality so far as mine, and the sexuality of millions of others, is concerned. I ask, in short, that they suspend their desire to act against homosexuality and homosexual people and acknowledge, much less commit to, the basic proposition, that insofar as no harm is committed – the very Golden Rule – that homosexual people be granted equal rights under the Constitution.

Because the absence of constitutional equality does not lead to a mere legal settlement on which we should, in the words of the Prime Minister, “agree to differ”. They lead, in fact, to an experience of growing up that renders young gay and lesbian children so susceptible to mental health disturbances as to destroy the potential of many of them, all of whom it should be the sacred goal of every society to nurture.

Across the world today, at a distance of between 100 and 250 thousand years of homo sapiens sapiens, the question of homosexuality is returning to the barricades, largely midwifed by fundamentalist forms of religion that seek to return the holy books to literal interpretation. When I attended a conference in Peru last year, I met activists from African nations who were campaigning to prevent the death penalty, already applied in some cases, from being extended across the spectrum of homosexual ‘crimes’. Through the internet, I have learnt of stories of men and women who have been imprisoned, tortured and executed for their sexuality.

Therefore, the issue of homosexuality, regardless of the vast amount of current data which, at least, contests the moral positions, is neither obsolete nor irrelevant. Well, certainly not irrelevant to those of my fellow LGBTs who experience the denial of housing or being sacked from their jobs or bullied while in them, denied next-of-kin and inheritance rights, all the way through to the death penalty. And what more the struggles of transgendered people.

In our own country, the LGBT community is fortunate. We do not have to fight against torture and death. Public housing is available to us albeit the criteria are more stringent that for heterosexuals. Gay-related bullying at the workplace is not, as far as the anecdotal evidence suggests, widespread. The riot police, armed with machine guns, do not come to Pink Dot. Gay-themed bars and cafes are not systematically raided. The legislature itself, although almost inert as far as the repeal of Section 377a is concerned, does not contain crusading parliamentarians bent on maintaining and widening anti-gay laws.

I am confident that, pragmatic as our government is, it will gradually weaken its resistance to the tide against homophobia in the months and years to come, particularly as the status quo continues to be challenged through constitutional applications against Section 377a, the vocal efforts of our more gifted commentators such as Alex Au, and the work of LGBT organisations.

But I have one concern in mind that cannot wait for history to take its course. In the time it takes for our government and society to come to terms with the scientific data and the moral insights of the present age, countless isolated teenagers will continue to suffer in silence, ploughing a disorientated path through a largely hostile and perplexing world that offers them no haven in which to rest a while, to be nurtured and built up into the best individuals they can be.

I was one such teenager. I also experienced a disoriented and perplexing childhood. My one recourse as I grew into adulthood was contact with people to whom my worldview, my experiences, my loneliness, were not a moral issue to be corrected or an illness to be cured but an intrinsic and real aspect of my personality which they helped to nurture and protect and heal.

After the fifth Pink Dot – and may I congratulate the organisers on what was yet another spectacularly affirming moment – I ask you, my fellow Singaporeans, to reflect on one question. Despite your deeply-held moral views or your preferred scientific explanation, could you allow your heart to open just a little bit to consider the soul-sapping estrangement that is the daily diet of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered young people, who may even at this very moment be contemplating suicide as the only way out of a life that holds no promise, a life that has no light?


Reader's Comments

1. 2013-08-29 09:18  
Well said, Doc, well said.

I would only add that, while feelings of social isolation among LGBT youth that often precedes the emergence of suicidal tendencies may be a consequence of non-inclusive mainstream social structures and societal prejudice, my belief is that a large chunk of that kind of despair could be alleviated if we, ourselves, within the LGBT community had less of the prejudices and social exclusion that we practise ourselves and that seems so prevalent. Just to illustrate, the 6-pack body image that gay men perpetuate amongst ourselves conveys the message to gay youth that "You are OUT if you don't have 6-pack abs and you are IN if you do". The fact that some of us do not have 6-pack abs already leaves us "out" and puts us in the "ugly" category. I've struggled with a poor sense of body image ever since I came out of the closet which caused me constant toil at the gym just to feel "wanted". What more teenage gay boys who chance upon what they feel is social acceptance only to be told in no uncertain terms that they "MUST" fit into a certain body type or category if they want some "luv'in"?

My point is simple: if we want the larger, mainstream community to not look at us with prejudice or scorn and not discriminate against LGBT people in employment, etc., shouldn't WE first get rid of our own prejudices and social exclusion practices? After all, WE can't tell society at large that it's full of shit when WE, ourselves, are full of crap.
2. 2013-08-29 18:48  
well thought out...
3. 2013-08-30 00:10  
Took me sometime to read your long article but i applaud your intellectual capacity, enlightened views & a covincing explaination of why the rest of society should accept us Homosexuals. Gays will always form about 10% of every society. We were born of heterosexual parents & we are here to stay.
Even in Holland, I heard my neighbour commenting that Gays are tolerated but not accepted. 2 decades later her own son is Gay. She is now divorced & lives elsewhere. I wonder if she still hold the same view.
Thanks to changes in the laws of many European countries, it is against the law to discriminate against homosexuals.
For S`pore its a question of WHEN & not if when Sect. 377a will be OUTLAWED ! This process will be speeded up when more & more gays are present at the "Pink Dot". The politicians will have to take note if that "Pink Dot" mushroomed out of proportions. When gay marriage was proposed for France, its the politicians who voted for it, even though there was much protest from various groups. This must be the FIRST goal for the organisers of "Pink Dot". This Gay lobby will succeed in Hong Lim Park !
I will join U all in 2014 .
4. 2013-08-30 10:51  
It is sad that he has decided to withdraw from political life. Change happens when those is high profile roles are prepared to stand up and be open about their sexuality. Being an openly gay parliamentarian would give him a platform from which to push forward acceptance in Singapore. It would show people that being gay is just a normal as being straight.
There needs to be debate before society changes. It is often parliament that leads change, not responds to it.

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