March 2003

Breaking taboos
Academics, professionals and gay Singaporeans contribute to book on a long-taboo topic - homosexuality in Singapore

source: The New Paper, 2 March 2003, by Angeline Song





When the editors asked if they could include my paper in the book, I agreed. Issues like this are no longer a stigma, most Singaporeans will be happy to discuss it. If my paper was championing or condemning homosexuals, then there will be a stigma, but I was not trying to make a political statement. I was also doing it on a private basis, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. 

-- Professor Tan Kim Huat, 40, lecturer at the Trinity Theological College who contributed to the book

Academics, top professionals, experts -- these are  some of the people behind a recently-published local book on gays.

They include a National University of Singapore lecturer, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, a lawyer, a professor at a bible college, and a professor at an Australian University.


Foreword by Yawning Bread

The book 'People Like Us: sexual minorities in Singapore' was launched on 22 February 2003, after a 4-year gestation. The intention behind this compilation is to provide a snapshot of the various strands of thought about Singapore's gay and lesbian community at this point in time.

Yawning Bread is one of the contributors

The book is published by Select Books. 


Entitled People Like Us: Sexual Minorities in Singapore, the first two sections of the book are a compilation of papers that were presented at two closed-door forums held in Singapore on gays and gay-related issues.

The two forums were held at the Substation in early 1999.

Part three is made up of articles written specially for the book -- as well as two interviews, and a listing of writings on a similar topic.

Said co-editor, Mr Joseph Lo, in an email reply to The New Paper: "All th authors (in the book) willingly used their real names, and were very supportive."

Mr Lo, who is in his 30s, is a co-ordinator for a United Nations project in Tibet.

Added one of the contributors, lawyer Mr T Ng: "This is a serious book. It is educational -- not scandalous."


Mr Ng's paper is entitled Law and Homosexuals.

"If (after reading it) people were to ask me if I am homosexual, I will say yes! If they have the guts to ask, I will have the guts to tell them. But knowing Singaporeans, they won't."



Local books do not require a permit to be published. 

Said a spokesman for MDA's publications unit: "There is no requirement to seek approval for publishing books locally. If the contents of the book are objectionable, action can be taken after sale and distribution. The Censorship Review Committee 1992 endorsed this policy as it felt that pre-vetting would impede the creativity of local writers."


Only newspaper and magazines require a newspaper permit, as they are published regularly, added the spokesman. Books are considered one-off publications.


He said that the paper was written in "my personal capacity".

"I am not representing any organisation, so I do not have to get permission from any one."

Mr Ng added that he did not expect much adverse reaction from his friends or colleagues. However, mr Ng wanted only the initials of his first name used.

Professor Tan Kim Huat, 40, lecturer at the Trinity Theological College, said: "I was invited to give a talk at the (second) forum by my friend, Professor Ho Kong Chong, who teaches sociology at the National University of Singapore.

"He was chairing the proceedings and he felt that it would give the forum some balance to have a Christian perspective."

Prof Tan's article is entitled Christianity and Homosexuals. If explains how some religions, which do not allow for homosexual behaviour among their members, are not necessarily intolerant.

"There is a bigger picture behind it. I am also against branding homosexuals as a group of perverts," he added.

However, the bible college lecturer thinks he might get some flak from the more conservative Christian churches -- simply for his association with a "gay" book.

Can't please everybody

"I might be considered too liberal for their liking!" he said.

"But in life, one can't please everybody."

When asked how he would respond if people asked him whether he was a homosexual after reading the book, Prof Tan said with a laugh: "Well, I'm not gay!"

The lecturer, who has been with Trinity College for seven years, got married more than a year ago.

The editors also had a tough time persuading local publishers to publish the book.

Recalled Mr Lo: "We went to at least five publishers -- no one wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole! One publisher said it was not under their 'theme'."

So he and co-editor, librarian Huang Guoqin, went to Select Books Publishing.



QUESTION: What is a 'potato queen'?
ANSWER: A gay Asian male who prefers a gay Caucasian male.

This is one of the lighter topics found in the recently published local book: People Like Us: Sexual Minorities in Singapore.

It is written by NUS sociology lecturer Dr Laurence Wai-teng Leong, who touched on inter-racial gay relationships and how food metaphors are often used to describe the sexual tastes of gays.

Most of the other topics in the book are serious and written in a discursive -- even academic fashion. They include issues such as gay identity, culture, religion, responsibilities and values.

Prof David Birch's essay is on the cultural politics of being gay in Singapore, while Dr Russell Heng's interview with local artist Jimmy Ong on "Sex. Equality, Activism and Censorship" forms a chapter. Dr Heng is also a playwright.

Some articles are frank aNd based on personal experiences. For example, computer programmer Christopher Low writes about "Self Discovery, Coming Out and Morality" while club owner Alex Au tackles gay sexual values.

The $15.60 book was launched at Select Books bookstore on Feb 22. it is available at Select Books, MPH and Kinokuniya Bookstores.

Another book on sexual minorities to be published soon is My Sisters -- Their Stories, a coffee-table book which focuses on the experiences of 10 transsexuals. It will be available at Select Books from April 5.



Said its managing director Ms Lena Lim: "We assessed it just as we would assess any other manuscript -- and published it based on its merits. It was also vetted by our lawyers, as is the procedure with manuscripts we take on.

"If the authors were brave enough to talk candidly, I saw no reason not to publish it just because it dealt with a sensitive subject."

The grandmother said she is a "working grandmother with a head of grey hair", is a member with the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

"Aware has never shirked from issues just because they are controversial. I thought the book was a serious attempt at a highly sensitive issue."

Select Publishing is part of Select Books, a bookshop in Tanglin. It has been around since 1976, and was described in a local business newspaper as a bookstore specialising in high quality books, focusing on the Southeast Asian region.

The 13 contributors to the book include Dr Laurence Wai-teng Leong, NUS sociology lecturer, Dr Russell Heng, senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Prof Tan Kim Huat of Trinity Theological College, and Prof David Birch of Deakin University, Australia.

As it is now the university term holidays, The New Paper were unable to reach Dr Laurence Leong despite leaving several messages. Dr Russell Heng is also on holiday overseas.  













People ask him: 'Why rock the boat?'

When gay activist Alex Au Wai Pang wrote frankly about gay sexual vales being different from that of straight guys, he got a lot of flak -- from other homosexuals.

"My friends supported what I said, but others in the gay circle were most displeased.

Said Mr Au, 50, who owns a members-only club in the Tanjong Pagar area: "Even though privately they agreed with what I wrote, they would rather have the more politically correct, acceptable version -- that like most straight people, most gays form long-lasting relationships."

Male tendencies

Both of Mr Au's articles in the book talk frankly about how many homosexuals are more promiscuous than their heterosexual counterparts.

"Couplehood is not the most common state that gay men... find themselves in."

His rationale: Men are more oriented towards "physical gratification" than women.

Added Mr Au: "On the other hand, there are disincentives for straight married men in Singapore to be unfaithful, even if they are in a loveless relationship.

"For instance, even our public housing policies are built around the assumption of happily married couples.

"Break up and you might lose the roof over your head.

"So they stay married even though love, fidelity and emotional attachment have long gone.

"Gay folks, faced with such heartbreak, would walk away from the relationship..."

Mr Au said he wrote about this because "sex is what distinguishes a gay man from a straight one".