CNA special assignment: sex education, part 2
Part 1 of this essay dealt with the first 20 minutes of the half-hour TV program Special
Assignment: Sex Education, made by Channel News Asia. It was aired on 27
August 1999. The last 5 minutes touched on homosexuality, and this is my
specific commentary on it. I suggest you read the transcript
of the homosexuality segment before coming here.
This program was just one more example of how ill-equipped our media are in dealing with homosexuality. Increasingly we see attempts to deal with the subject, because it's becoming visible and inescapable, but every time journalists open this issue, their incompetence is obvious to some extent or other. The quality of their output is affected by these problems which they themselves may not be cognisant of:
Immediate association: AIDS
Channel News Asia got hold of a 17-year-old whom they named "Damien". The first quote they got from him -- and which only indicates the line of questioning that Channel News Asia took -- was about unprotected sex.
In all the preceding 20 minutes when Channel News Asia ("CNA") spoke to other teenagers, they never asked any one of them whether they engaged in unprotected sex. Give CNA a gay teenager, and pop comes the question about unprotected sex. This indicates quite glaringly to me how the journalists associate homosexuality with HIV, one of the litany of uninformed, prejudiced ideas that discriminate against gay people. In Singapore, there is no strong correlation between gayness and HIV. The vast majority of HIV cases here are contracted through heterosex. CNA should be asking the straight teenagers whether they had unprotected sex.
Of course unprotected sex happens, and it is risky. But the selectivity of highlighting this in association with the gay teenager, and not raising it with the straight ones, is bias, pure and simple . It is also injurious to society at large, because it feeds the illusion that straight sex is much safer compared to gay sex, and promoting a sense of complacency.
The panning shot of the gay men's URL's was also used for prejudicial effect. By including this just after Damien said, "there's also another way to find something to have a one night stand", CNA implied that gay people's homepages are meant to serve this purpose.
Did CNA check this? Because it is largely false. Gay and lesbian homepages, like all other homepages, serve an infinite variety of purposes -- sharing their interests, an exercise in learning to design a webpage, affirming their existence in this world…. To impute that gay and lesbian homepages are mainly for sex is, firstly, plain wrong and secondly, hurtful and offensive. Slanderous, even .
In contrast, the President of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association, the Deputy Principal of St Joseph's Institution (an all-boys' school) and even the two St Joseph's boys interviewed, aged 14 and 16, came over as better informed and more mature than CNA.
John Vasavan, the President of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association, said, "young people can have a liking for their own gender … doesn't necessarily mean that they are homosexuals. And our advice to young people would be they have to explore themselves, find out themselves…" Fair enough.
Brother Michael, the Deputy Principal, said, "As part of education, we try to tell our boys not to prejudge people … your rugby captain could be a homosexual, and you do not know …"
And what he said next was a sort of milestone for Singapore television: "as a major issue, it's not a problem, but for the boys who have such a sexual orientation, it's always a problem, because they are always a minority group, and you got to salvage them from self-loathing or self-hate …. non-acceptance of themselves, of who they are."
However, I am a little concerned that due to his phrasing, he could be misunderstood. He certainly intended to say that homosexual orientation per se is not a major issue; it is the social burden of being a minority that is. I wished he had been a little more explicit, because uninformed people may have a problem grasping this subtle distinction. It was also unfortunate that he used the word "salvage", because some people might think in terms of dregs or garbage. In addition, I would have been happier if he had made it clear that "salvaging" from non-acceptance of themselves, does not equate with converting homosexual persons to heterosexual. Instilling awareness and self-esteem is what is to be done. The solution to "non-acceptance of themselves" is not the illusion of remaking the self, but progressing the non-acceptance to acceptance.
Brother Micheal's position is almost certainly a minority view among educators. Damien's indictment, "they will be totally turned off by you and freak out if you ever talk to them about all this stuff", was, I am sure, more accurate of the great majority of adults. The program should have explored why this was so, and what such a hysterical reaction from teachers would mean for the quality of sex education that they deliver, especially to the 5-10% of teenagers who are gay.
But sometimes painstaking work can be swept away by one stupid statement, and this program demonstrated it to the max!
The closing frame of the program said this in text:
What a stupid, uncalled-for "redemption" statement! By putting this in as closure, CNA cast homosexuality as something to be redeemed from, in other words, that homosexuality is a "bad". This is prejudiced and offensive.
To be more specific, the closing statement had three implications. The three implications, all wrong, were:
In sum, the closing statement by Channel News Asia reinforced the idea that the right thing to do would be to try to turn straight, through counselling and through the goodness of a woman's affection. By doing so, CNA entrenches the contemptuous marginalisation of gay people. It's as if they did a program about the Malay community, interviewed a Malay person, and ended the program by suggesting that the Malay guy is making an attempt, seeking professional help, to turn Chinese!
When it comes to gay issues, I think CNA needs professional help themselves.
© Yawning Bread