Qrientation is a yearly camp held by SMU Out To Care for allies and queer freshmen. This year’s event will be held online on the 10th of August. Click here to sign up.
When I was younger, I thought I was “The World’s Biggest Ally” of LGBTQIA+ rights. Perhaps those who possess the semi-mythical ‘gaydar’(gay radar) could tell that I was more than just an ally, but it did take me a while to realise that I like women for myself too.
My time in SMU has given me more space to explore this aspect of myself and life got rejuvenated when I joined the Inter-university LGBT Network(IULN). The same thing happened when I saw SMU’s queer club, Out To Care, rise from its 2 year hiatus to carry out events like the upcoming Qrientation 2021 (a portmanteau of “Queer” and “Orientation”). You can find them via their Instagram handle @smuouttocare.
[Quick note here: Queer is a slur that has been reclaimed by the younger LGBTQIA+ folks, but history has not been kind to us. The older batch of LGBTQIA+ folks may find it hurtful.]
I would like to be hitting on women right now, but pandemic, plus all the women I meet on dating apps seem to be “just looking for friends! <3”. The latter breaks my heart a little bit more. With all that extra time on my hands, I’m here to talk about being a queer student navigating my own journey with all its questionable moments and insightful lessons.
I say I’m bisexual, but I’m not entirely sure of it. Maybe I’m just a ‘gold star lesbian’. My confusion doesn’t matter since orientations and identities are fluid and change over time. I am also not sure if “compulsory heterosexuality” is working its clutches on me. For those unfamiliar with that term, it’s when heterosexuality is assumed to be the solitary option for everyone and is constantly reinforced through societal norms and practices.
A university acquaintance I was with bemoaned that she had been single throughout her university years. Partially joking, I suggested she dip her feet in both ponds and date all genders to increase her rate of success. Statistically, I wasn’t wrong. However, she got flustered and denied the possibility and after a beat, she asked if I would ‘do that’. Eventually, she said, “that’s not natural”.
I asked her what her idea of “natural” was, and she replied, “one man and one woman”. Of course. I am ambivalent towards our exchange, my skin is thicc and she had a relatively mild reaction anyways. Unfortunately, some folks are more violent here in Singapore when it comes to dealing with queer people.
I think most people’s idea of “natural” merely points to prevailing norms, and a lack of exposure to different experiences. Beneath all our prejudices, I believe that we are keenly aware that norms always change and what was ‘normal’ was not always the best. For example, during the Industrial Revolution, a seventy-hour workweek without holidays or weekends was the norm, even for children. With Covid-19, there’s a glimpse of a possible four-day work week. In “Utopia for realists” by Rutger Bregman, he says a 15-hour work week is the optimal future and I’m fully here for that.
Consensual sex between men being outlawed and the state media’s general reluctance to touch on LGBTQIA+ issues may have led to some Singaporeans into thinking that queerness is an affront to nature, but these rules are only written by people. Mindsets and cultural zeitgeists change.
Lessons on Privilege
I have an abundance of privilege, but when it comes to love, maybe a little less so.
While I hope for more people to wake up their idea about LGBTQIA+ issues, some folks vehemently think it’s the other way around. Some even think I’m an agent of Satan. But like I said, I’m a privileged person. I am born Chinese, my childhood was spent in a relatively stable environment, and I am cisgender (meaning my sense of personal identity and gender corresponds to my birth sex, the opposite term would be transgender).
I think some of these privileges grant me special armor against certain hurtful things. Homophobic religious rhetoric like that only tickles and slides off me like water off a duck’s back, or at least I convince myself that it is the case.
That may not be true for other LGBTQIA+ folks. Some may have grown up in a religious family and face cruel rejection from their circle the moment they come out as queer. That happened to Bobby Berk, a star in Queer Eye. In Singapore, the only queer-affirming church is Free Community Church (FCC).
Some in a religious community may be forced into various types of conversion therapy, including those where they try to pray the gay away. This archaic and medically discredited practice is not banned in Singapore.
Truelove is an organisation that practices Conversion Therapy Lite(personal opinion). In exchange for salvation, participants are encouraged to suppress their desires; the goal for them is to practice abstinence or enter a heterosexual relationship. Their tagline is ‘Come Out, Come Home’. It really should be changed to ‘Be straight, or Asexual’.
It’s a free world and people are free to do whatever they want for ‘spiritual enlightenment’, but it is undeniable that there is a thick air of homophobia surrounding and pressuring them. But then again, who am I to judge? I only wish that more queer affirming churches like FCC emerge.
My work in the Inter-University LGBT network has made me realise that I am only there because I have the freedom, time and energy to do so. I am not busy trying to chase the gay away because of the environment I am in and I am grateful for that.
Diversity and Inclusion
I was a facilitator for Interuni’s Allyship Workshop for Parents, where we shared how to be supportive of LGBTQIA children. It was heartening to see a father of a young trans child in attendance. We had just introduced the concept of “intersectionality”, an idea that a person could have overlapping social categories (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) that they embody, and these overlaps can either help you or work against you.
For example, a disabled, Muslim, lesbian woman may face ableism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and sexism. The father of the transgender child said that this concept is a little hard to swallow and may come off as combative. After all, we don’t choose to be born a certain way and privilege is granted by society. He suggested that we should start off by introducing the concept of “Diversity and Inclusion”.
Businesses and universities sometimes have a diversity and inclusion department. SMU has a Diversity and Inclusion (DII) unit too. However, we don’t see any mentions of safeguarding LGBTQIA+ welfare on their web page. I asked a friend from SMUSA, and they confirmed that SMU Out To Care does not have membership in the student association.
It’s a pity in my eyes. LGBTQIA folks exist, discrimination exists, so why the erasure? Diversity and inclusion are nice concepts, but I don’t have much faith in them. It appears to be nothing more than good public relations for some firms, while in others, the diversity and inclusion team don’t even include LGBTQIA folks.
I must iterate that I don’t blame any individual person for this exclusion. I blame systems. Perhaps they are boxed in by laws that don’t allow them to openly express support, and that is understandable.
Either way, the father is still clearly an ally, one who is supportive and keen to learn about LGBTQIA folks. His love for his child is apparent – he showed up for the workshop for his child. My wish is for everyone, in spite of our own biases and prejudices, to practice unconditional love the way this man has.
I am not out to my parents, and my journey as a member of the queer community is already somewhat difficult. For instance, some people harbour bizarre misconceptions of my community. My friends from some neighbouring countries have even mentioned instances of their politicians blaming COVID-19 on the immorality of LGBTQIA folks (I didn’t know I was so powerful as to start a whole pandemic).
But beneath the hilarity of such statements, the homophobia and transphobia laced within are blatantly obvious. I can only hope that the future yields a more open, caring, and genuinely compassionate society for our community. Someone must take a leap, and having a recognised club as part of a student association is as good a first step as any to building a properly inclusive campus.
For now, though, I will be off using the depths of my power to manifest a legally recognised same sex relationship for myself.
SMU Out To Care is an SMU club for LGBTQIA+ folks and allies. They work to amplify the voices of the marginalised and hold events that provide a safe space for all to be themselves. Find them now via instagram @smuouttocare.