by Liew Kai Khiun

At the dawn of the millennium, Church of the Saviour in Singapore ran a banner outside their Queenstown premises that read “Homosexuals can Change”. Highly visible to the public, the statement underpinned the change from the traditionally quiet disapproval of what is construed as unnatural sexual identities and relationships towards a more active drive to “rehabilitate” those belonging to the LGBT community back to what is considered as the heterosexual mainstream.

While generally agnostic, I used to share the general prejudices against sexual minorities in Singapore, and had probably agreed with the underlying messages of the banner of Church of the Saviour on homosexuality a decade ago. Growing up in a typically heterosexual mainstream family, I was probably internalized to the aversion of any other types of alternative social relationships or ways of life.

Brought up with masculinist notions of manliness, I was also part of those obnoxious bullies who found pleasure in teasing boys who were thought to be more effeminate-looking. In my teens, I had displayed ideological aversion for gays and remembered writing to the British-based Economist to protest against the journal’s support for same sex unions in the early 1990s. Thankfully, the letter was not published.

My attitude towards sexual minorities, however, began to change during the past decade rather radically – perhaps through my exposure to the more critical aspects of sociology and cultural studies in my postgraduate education or the interactions with people from more diverse backgrounds. I started to see LGBT people as being integral rather than being separate from society. As I became sensitized to their presence, I began to recognize the gay identities of pop idols like Pet Shop Boys and Leslie Cheung whose music accompanied me in my formative years in the 1980 and 1990s. To my friends and acquaintances who are not necessarily from heterosexual backgrounds, I started to show greater respect and acknowledgement. I also volunteered as a mediator in the family court, which made me ponder the ideas of normality in the face of dysfunctional and abusive “legitimate” families. After which, when I was studying in the United Kingdom, I actually felt happy for my landlady’s uncle who was getting married to his partner when civil unions became official.

In 2009, I made my boldest step by volunteering with the first Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park. I was quite amused that my fellow male organizers planned and coordinated details with jargons and vocabularies from probably what they learnt during their National Service – which made me realized only when we cease to label, classify and degrade can we see a more common humanity.

In 2012, we should raise the banner that “Someday, homophobes can change”.

Kai Khiun is an Assistant Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University. He is wedded to his wife of 5 years. He also writes occasionally for the Straits Times and plays an active role in human right issues, with the most recent one concerning the exhumation of graves at the Bukit Brown Cemetery.

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