the politics of being queer in Singapore

“You can tell us that you’ll let us be, that you won’t do anything to us, but the fact remains that you could if you wanted to (and you do, often).” Fikri, on the unequal power dynamics between queer and hetero-normative people in Singapore. For Autostraddle. 

This queer family doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It requires legal and societal permissions to exist, especially in a small (and intrusive) country as this.

It’s fair to say this arrangement is technically possible in Singapore – if you’re wealthy. If you can afford to live in a space bigger than HDB’s cubicles (which are themselves impossibly expensive). If you can collectively afford to sustain yourself, your partner/s and your dependents without the numerous and substantial government financial grants thrown at the feet of married heterosexual couples. If you can afford to run the risk that should something go wrong – say someone falls ill, a relationship falls apart in a bad way, or a biological-but-uninvolved relative decides to stake a claim in your family – you can find the individual means and legal avenues to protect the ones you love. Few of us can hope for this.


Hear me on this: surviving on the margins takes all but everything out of you. Having to continually justify your existence and experiences is exhausting. Scraping together new communities while still knee-deep in the ashes of the bridges you’ve had to burn is hard work. Losing people doesn’t get any easier.

Every day is a struggle up a path strewn with shards of microaggression and blocked by walls of homophobic policies and institutions. I wonder how much the metaphor of the “uphill battle” works here – does it really get downhill from any point, does it get easier then, and am I now closer to the summit or to the ground? Is this a climb worth taking? What does it mean to reach the other side?


Last month I attended a roundtable hosted by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) discussing discriminatory public housing policies. (Tl;dr if you’re not married, preferably with children, and/or above 35, you’re never going to own a house.) Someone in the audience stressed that it was an issue of a lack of flats rather than ideological bias, to which I replied that regardless of the availability of housing, it’s still discrimination to privilege a single type of family unit in access to that housing. He countered, “If there were a housing shortage and if I had to choose, of course I’d choose the heterosexual family.”

Therein lies the problem: he does get to choose.

People like him – straight, married, affluent, Chinese, English-educated – get to choose. People like him get to decide what is “good for society”; people like him get to decide what (and who) “society” is, period.

Homosexuals work in all sectors, all over the economy, in the public sector and in the civil service as well. They are free to lead their lives, free to pursue their social activities. But there are restraints and we do not approve of them actively promoting their lifestyles to others, or setting the tone for mainstream society. They live their lives. That is their personal life, it is their space. But the tone of the overall society, I think remains conventional, it remains straight, and we want it to remain so.

PM Lee Hsien Loong, Parliamentary Speech on 377A, November 2007

You can tell us that you’ll let us be, that you won’t do anything to us, but the fact remains that you could if you wanted to (and you do, often). I am not interested in living on borrowed graces. I will not be swept under the carpet, and I do not want to be merely “allowed” to carry on with my “lifestyle.” I will not be tolerated.


This country does not plan for a future with people like me in it. This country does not have a future for people like me. It will permit me to exist, it will have me learn how to cope, but it will not allow me to live.


Read the full post, originally published on 30 August 2013 at Autostraddle.

Featured Image: Greh Fox Flickr


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