February 11, 2009 – Fridae.com
Updated: 6 men charged in teen sex case (Singapore)
by News Editor
The first of the six men who were charged last week has been sentenced to four months imprisonment. According to the LianHe Zaobao today, Quek Hock Seng, a 42-year-old former travel agent, pleaded guilty to one charge under Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises "any act of gross indecency" between male persons. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment. The maximum penalty is two years.
The following report has been updated on Feb 6, 2009: Singapore’s Mandarin-language daily LianHe Zaobao reported today that the six men were charged on Jan 29, 2009 for sexual acts against the order of nature and gross indecency with the same 15-year-old boy in 2006 and 2007. It is not known when the men will be sentenced. According to a media background brief published by the Attorney-General¡¯s Chambers, the six accused persons are believed to have met the student while chatting on the Internet.
The news report stated that the men were charged under the old Section 377 as the offences occurred before the Penal Code (Amendment) Act took effect on Feb 1, 2008. Under the old statute which has since been repealed, Section 377 criminalises any person who "voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals." The new Section 377 criminalises necrophilia. According to a media background brief published by the Attorney-General¡¯s Chambers, Balasundaram S/O Suppiah and Ng Geng Whye are each charged with ¡°carnal intercourse against the order of nature under Section 377¡± of the Penal Code. If convicted, they face life imprisonment, or jail term of up to 10 years, and are liable to be fined. The report further mentioned Ng to be a former deputy director of the Central Narcotics Bureau, former president of the Singapore Amateur DanceSport Association, and former manager at concert organiser Unusual Productions.
Quek Hock Seng and Song Choong Chen were each charged under Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises "any act of gross indecency" between male persons. If convicted, they face up to two years of imprisonment. Muhammad Hafashah bin Mohd Aslam faces two charges of ¡°carnal intercourse against the order of nature¡± under Section 377 and Ng Yong You, two charges of gross indecency under Section 377A. Neither the report nor the media background brief provided any information about the specific sexual activities between the men and the teen nor did it explain why the men were charged under different laws. It is should however be noted that the penalty under Section 377 is much more severe than 377A.
The brief stated: The Public Prosecutor will prosecute persons who exploit a young victim who is a minor, irrespective of the gender of the victim or whether the act was consensual. A young male victim, who is a minor, deserves to be accorded the same protection of the law as that given to a young female victim who is a minor.¡± Currently, under Section 7 of the Children and Young Persons Act, any person who commits or abets the commission of any obscene or indecent act with any child or young person aged 15 or younger may face imprisonment up to two years and/or a fine up to S$5,000 for first-time offenders. The new Section 376A of the Penal Code provides for more severe penalties with imprisonment of up to 10 years or with fine or with both for more serious sexual offences including oral and anal sex with minors under 16 years of age.
In October 2007, Section 377 which criminalised "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" between persons of non-specified gender was repealed as a result of a wide ranging Penal Code Amendment Bill. Section 377A which criminalises "any act of gross indecency" between male persons with a penalty of up to two years jail was however retained despite a high profile campaign by the gay community and Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong. He tabled and presented a parliamentary petition signed by 2,519 Singaporeans and Singapore residents who support the repeal of Section 377A.
12 February 2009 – Fridae.com
by Alex Au
The issue of sex with teenagers below legal age is a thorny one with discussions typically generating more heat than light, says Alex Au. On the one side, there will be those who take a hard stand against it, but their hard arguments tend to be brittle ones too. To merely argue that it is illegal begs the question of why it should be illegal, and why the age of consent has been set where it is. When pushed, sometimes these strong opponents of sex with teenagers resort to hurling names e.g. "paedophiles" which does not add to any further understanding of the issue.
On the other side are those who recognise that reality is complex. Some teenagers are precocious and very resourceful. They know to trawl for sex, and when encounters between adults and minors take place, it isn’t always clear who the initiator is and who the respondent. Yet other teenagers are clueless, but easily seduced. And then there is an eternal fact: teenagers experiment sexually with each other. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to be bogged down by all that complexity and end up with no coherent view on the matter.
There is also the question of the socio-cultural context: How does the society in which the teenagers grow up view sex? It is not true that all societies view sex in the same way. Societies heavily influenced by Christianity and Islam, sometimes through secondhand routes, e.g. middle-class India that has absorbed Victorian prudishness without absorbing Christianity itself, tend to see sex as dirty and socially destabilising. Typically, these societies see accord great social value to virginity and fidelity. For convenience, I call these the sex-phobic societies, even though the term is not quite accurate.
Yet sex-saturated contemporary culture is everywhere, not to mention peer pressure and the rush of post-pubescent hormones. In societies that are sex-phobic, the contradictions between social expectations and desire are greater, hence teenagers are typically more troubled by the choices they face, and if they make a choice that they later regret, that regret runs more painfully than for a similar teenager in a culture that does not treat sex with deterministic importance. That said, let’s turn back to the question of law. Actually, let’s not turn so quickly to law, for law does not exist in isolation. It is more fruitful to examine the ethics of sex with teenagers, and then to see whether the laws of our country are consistent with it.
Adults have many advantages over teenagers. We generally have more money and better social skills, but very importantly, maturity brings with it better control over our own emotions, resulting in more deliberate decisions and actions. We also have a wee bit more insight in the psychology of teenagers, having been ones ourselves. Any relationship between an adult and a teenager is therefore an asymmetrical one, and naturally, responsibility for how that relationship is manifested must fall much more on the adult than on the teenager. Asymmetry means the potential for exploitation is there.
Ethical behaviour requires us to be cognisant of this asymmetry and to avoid putting others in disadvantageous situations. It is fair to expect self-control. The general rule is this: the greater the asymmetry in maturity, the greater the asymmetry in responsibility. A 15-year-old experimenting with a 14-year-old is one thing; a 40-year-old having sex with the same 14-year-old is quite another. Even an adult over 30 having sex with a 17 year-old, while legal in many places, would be quite borderline ethically-speaking.
Unfortunately, the law is a blunt instrument; it has only two states – legal and illegal – when the world is analogue. Yet, in practice, the law can be nuanced. Therefore a meaningful discussion of this topic requires attention not only to what the law says, but also how it is used. What do we look for when we want to evaluate if the law is consistent with ethics and social reality? First, there is the age of consent, and once again, it is necessary to be discerning. In Singapore, there are generally two ages of consent. For example, the age of consent for lesbian and heterosexual sex is 16; likewise for heterosexual marriage under Syariah law it is 16 too. For heterosexual marriage under civil law, it is 18; for commercial sex, it is 18 too.
The anomaly is male-male sex. It remains illegal regardless of age, but the government has openly said the law will not be "pro-actively enforced" in consensual situations between adults. However, it has never defined what "adult" means. Is sixteen an appropriate age of consent? I think so. By that age, the most turbulent phase of adolescence would be passing, with emotional maturity beginning to set in. The individual should also be sufficiently informed, either through schooling or by parents, of behavioural norms and health risks. Sixteen too is the age when it is legal to work in Singapore – this means money in the pocket, mobility around the city and a socially recognised independence.
But this doesn’t mean the law should treat a 16-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old the same way as a 46-year-old and a 15-year-old, though both relationships may be technically illegal. Common sense tells us the risk of exploitation is much greater in the latter case than the former. This is where the law has to be nuanced by intelligent sentencing. Similarly, the law should not treat a 28-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old the same way as a 28-year-old with an 11-year old. We should of course recognise that a 15-year-old has more capability to stand up for himself or herself than an 11-year-old. Again, differential sentencing should reflect this. So, the second thing to look for in your jurisdiction is the pattern of sentencing. Is it one-size-fits-all? Is it carefully differentiated depending on circumstances and the age gap? Does it take into account coercion, inducement and deception? Does it take into account mental age in cases where the younger person is intellectually impaired?
Even when sentencing is differentiated, yet another question arises: How much penalty is enough for each situation? There is no easy answer to this, unfortunately. I think much depends on a society’s cultural bias. How much does a society value teenage abstinence and virginity? If it values it highly, then any teenager who does not live up to it may suffer severe social and emotional costs. This would argue for heavier penalties on adults who breach the law, the better to deter. Conversely, in societies that are more tolerant of sex, one can argue that the social and psychological damage to young teenagers is less, and highly punitive sentences would be disproportionate.
In conclusion, what I’m saying is this: This subject, lying as it does at the intersection of law and human behaviour, does not lend itself to easy answers. Adopting a black-and-white, moralistic tone is never helpful. Neither is adopting an attitude that refuses to recognise that young people are vulnerable however "grown-up" our modern culture may cause them to appear. We must recognise that we have a responsibility towards them, both at a personal level and socially, through our laws. What is needed is critical thinking, coupled with the caveat that ultimately we are dealing with social constructs. But most important of all, there has to be a sense of humanity. After all, sex resides at the heart of our lives, and as much as we think we are wise, in this world, each of us also takes turns at being foolish.
Alex Au has been a gay activist and social commentator for over 10 years and is the co-founder of People Like Us, Singapore. Alex is the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site.
April 10, 2009 – Fridae.com
Anti-gay Christian fundamentalists hijack Singapore women’s group
by News Editor
Singapore newspaper reveals anti-gay agenda of a group of new members that won majority seats in AWARE, a women’s advocacy group, at its annual general meeting last month. In what has been described as "nothing short of a leadership grab," a group of new members challenged and eventually won nine out of 12 executive committee spots at the recent annual general meeting of Singapore’s main women’s advocacy group, Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).
According to a report by the (Singapore) Straits Times on Friday, more than 100 people – the majority of whom had joined only in recent months – turned up at the meeting on Mar 28. Ordinarily, the meeting would be attended by no more than 30 or 40 members. Nearly every position was challenged by new faces who won by wide majorities. It was reported that barely a week into her new term and making her first statement as the new president, Claire Nazar – an older member nominated by outgoing Aware chief Constance Singam – quit suddenly this week.
Longtime members were quoted as saying that they were shocked by the turn of events when veterans were challenged and defeated by wide margins. Former president Tan Joo Hymn told the paper that 80 of the 102 who turned up were new members who joined between January and March this year. Attempts to have the new members state their position on several issues during the meeting were unsuccessful.
The paper further highlighted that some members of the new committee and outspoken members from the floor during the meeting have written to The Straits Times Forum Page to oppose the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sexual relations between men. One member who identified herself as Angela Thiang said questions about the new office bearers’ religion and their stand on homosexuality were not relevant.
AWARE was one of a number of non-governmental groups in Singapore alongside Action for AIDS, Free Community Church and People Like Us which have called for both Sections 377 and 377A of the Penal Code to be repealed completely in 2007. Former president Tan was also one of the three main signatories of the parliamentary petition along with human rights laywer George Hwang and Fridae CEO Dr Stuart Koe. Thiang and another member Dr Alan Chin who was present at the AGM both wrote to the same newspaper between August and October 2007 cautioning against the risks of promoting the homosexual lifestyle. Blogger Alex Au wrote on Yawningbread last year that Thiang is a lawyer working in TSMC Law Corporation which is headed by Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann’s mother, Thio Su-mien.
The report also identified New honorary secretary Jenica Chua Chor Ping who had written to the paper on Oct 17, 2007 saying that NMP Siew Kum Hong had overstepped his non-partisan role and advanced the homosexual cause by tabling a petition in Parliament to repeal Section 377A. A week later, she wrote a second letter taking issue with a Straits Times report which said NMP Thio Li-Ann had been ‘visibly distraught’ when she opposed Siew’s petition vigorously. Instead, Chua said that Thio had dealt with several points succinctly, with humour and passion.
18 Apr 2009 – Fridae.com
Singaporeans to make a stand against prejudice and bigotry, May 16
by News Editor
The LGBT community and its allies are urged to come out and be counted at what organisers call "the first-ever official LGBT public gathering in Singapore." Organised by a group of Singaporeans calling themselves Pink Dot Sg – a reference to Singapore being frequently referred to as a little red dot, the event is scheduled to take place on May 16 at at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park, the only locale where outdoor demonstrations are permitted.
Organisers however stress that the event is "not a protest or a parade – just a simple call for open-minded Singaporeans to come together to form a pink dot, of which aerial photographs will be taken." It adds, "This pink dot is a celebration of diversity and equality, and a symbol of Singapore’s more inclusive future."
Last September, Roy Tan, a gay Singaporean man and well-known member of the community, registered with the National Parks Board to stage an event on Nov 15 to "set a precedent to make subsequent gay pride parades easier." He told the media that even if he were the only one at the park for the event, he would march round the place holding a placard on Section 377A – a section of the penal code that criminalises gay sex. The event, which was to be the first LGBT protest, eventually morphed into Pink Dot Sg when more individuals hopped aboard.
All Singaporeans and Singapore permanent residents are legally allowed to participate in the event, which has already been approved by the National Parks Board. Permanent residents need only apply for a police permit if they want to organise a demonstration themselves or make a speech at the event. Foreigners are welcome to observe from the sidelines even though under current regulations, they must not take part.
Pink Dot Sg issued a press release on April 17 to announce the event: All Singaporeans should have the freedom to love, regardless of their sexual orientation. With this belief, a group of like-minded volunteers are encouraging Singaporeans to gather at Hong Lim Park on 16th May 2009, in support for an inclusive Singapore – free of bigotry towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Singaporeans.
Through the event, Pink Dot Sg hopes to show that Singapore can be a better society if it breaks down the barriers to understanding. The event on May 16th will be Singapore’s first public showing of support for an LGBT cause. However, it is open to everyone – young and old, straight and gay. The topic of homosexuality was last broached openly more than a year ago, during Parliamentary debates on Section 377A – the penal code that criminalises homosexual acts. Not much has changed for LGBT Singaporeans since then, many of whom continue to live secret lives, afraid of compromising relationships with their family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
Today, many Singaporeans harbour negative impressions about the LGBT community. Pink Dot Sg believes this may be due to a limited understanding amongst the populace. Discordant laws and policies aside, ignorance and fear are potent catalysts for prejudice and bigotry. This goes against the grain of a diverse and inclusive Singapore. Everyone assumes that all Singaporeans have the freedom to love… The event on May 16th invites all Singaporeans to ponder this basic freedom and what it means for those who live their lives, hiding their true selves from the people they love.
Roy Tan, a member of the Pink Dot Sg organizing committee, says, "As Singaporeans, we have come to accept everyone’s right to love across racial, cultural and religious barriers. The only line left to cross is that of sexual orientation. The event is for everyone, regardless of their age, sexual orientation and political beliefs. It is a gathering of people who believe in the freedom to love and to lend their support towards open-mindedness and understanding. No prior registration is required. Just show up and if possible, come dressed in pink!"
Date/time: May 16, Sat, 4.30pm
Venue: Hong Lim Park, Singapore
You can register your attendance on the event’s Facebook page: The first-ever official LGBT public gathering in Singapore! For updates, visit Pinkdot.sg
17 May 2009 – BBC News
Singapore gays in first public rally
by Sharanjit Leyl – BBC News, Singapore
Halfway across the world, as police moved in to break up a gay rights protest in Russia, another country known for being equally as restrictive on liberal ideals was holding its first gay rally undisturbed. Some 2,500 pink-attired supporters of gay rights gathered in a park in Singapore on Saturday, to form a pink dot, which was photographed from a nearby building. The organisers of the event, pinkdot.sg, say the event was held to commemorate love in all forms and between people of every orientation.
It came after Singapore loosened law on public gatherings last year. Currently any gathering can be held that does not touch on topics of race or religion. Multi-racial Singapore last saw race riots in the late 1960s. The city-state still has a ban on homosexual sex that has been in force since its colonial days under the British even though many countries in the region, and the UK itself, have repealed the law. According to Jack Soh of pinkdot.sg, there was no overt political message being sent to the government.
"It was not a protest or a political rally. The event was for Singaporeans in general – to affirm our respect for diversity and the freedom to love, regardless of sexual orientation. We recognise that many Singaporeans are conservative… so we planned an inclusive event that would reach all Singaporeans, straight and gay," Mr Soh says.
Participants – ranging from families with children to men and women from different orientations – added to the carnival atmosphere of the event. “ Meeting together and seeing each other is empowering and liberating ” Gilbert Cheah, magazine publisher Many picnicked, danced and clapped to cultural performances from Singapore’s various ethnic groups.
Gilbert Cheah, a magazine publisher who was a gay rights activist in the US before returning home, was at the event. He says Singapore was repressive and homophobic just a decade ago but that it has come a long way. "The space given to gays has grown: there are clubs, bars, businesses that were unimaginable in the 1980s and 90s. Meeting together and seeing each other is empowering and liberating, and for many – who grew up feeling isolated and fearful – this is an important and defining moment."
Many at the event shared his views. Ivan Heng, the Singaporean actor and producer who recently played Lady Bracknell in a local version of Oscar Wilde’s "Importance of Being Ernest", was one of the many familiar faces in the crowd from the city’s theatre community. ‘This is really a landmark event," he said. "I do feel that in spite of what the government says, that Singaporeans have a great understanding of diversity." Still Mr Heng acknowledges that it is a "strange anomaly" that gay Singaporeans are being allowed by the government to live their lives but still be "criminal under the law".
Singaporeans and permanent residents were also for the first time free of worry that authorities would monitor their activities. However, the earlier restrictive rules requiring permits to hold public gatherings still applied to foreigners. According to Singapore’s National Parks division, in charge of events held at Speakers Corner where the gathering took place, local organisers can now register online and carry out their activities immediately. "Our officers do not patrol the area any more often than they would patrol other parks. Activities can be held round the clock," says Kalthom A Latiff from the National Parks Board.
12 June 2009 – Fridae.com
Living with HIV – A gay man’s personal journey (Part 1)
by SL Yang
First in a series of six articles on living with HIV/AIDS – this first-hand account of what it is like to be gay and HIV+ is written by Singaporean SL Yang, who has lived with the virus for more than 10 years.
Testing & Getting Tested
I’ve been living with HIV for more than 10 years. It’s been a journey that has taken me from the depths of despair, through the valley of darkness and up the rocky road of self-empowerment and self-belief – finally emerging to a hard-fought place where I know there is hope and acceptance. Yes, yes, very HBO tele-drama you say – but trust me, if you’ve got the virus and live with it everyday, you learn to become a survivor and you don’t take things for granted any more.
It all began as a routine request – I was asked to go to a lab for tests following the signing of an insurance policy. That was more than 10 years ago – it was a pivotal moment for me, but I did not know it then. When I got to the lab, they asked me to sign a form to OK an HIV test – and they took my blood. When asked when I would get the results, they said in about a week’s time, and that they would call me to inform me. I then went back into my usual routine, and did not think about it – I just pushed my anxieties to the background, telling myself I would deal with the results when they came out.
Then, one day at work, I got a call. The caller identified herself as a staff from the Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) – she said she had got my blood test results and asked me to go back for a further interview. She informed me I was HIV+. I just froze, numbed, trying to take it all in. Luckily it was lunch and I was the only one in the office, having opted to stay in to do some work. The rest of the day passed by in a haze, I remember just going home, going to my bedroom, switching off the lights and then lying on the bed in a foetal position, my head still reeling from the news.
The next few days passed by in a blur. I did things mechanically, barely functioning, and was still in a numbed state. My colleagues noticed the difference, but they kept a respectful distance. I finally went to the CDC for my appointment and was greeted with a battery of very personal and invasive questions, administered by a medical social worker, probing every aspect of my sexual behaviour – from my practice of anal and oral sex to the number and types of partners I had over the years.
My condition was explained to me – and I was registered for treatment at the CDC with a future appointment penned in. I felt like a trapped animal. Back in those days (the early 1990s) – the medical establishment could only offer hope. On the market was only one anti-retroviral and the mortality rate was still alarmingly high – patients were dropping like flies and in a horrible way, too. Getting diagnosed as HIV+ was like being given a death sentence, then. But even then, I never regretted getting tested – it’s probably what saved my life. Too often, I have seen patients being diagnosed only when they have fallen very ill and typically succumbed to an Opportunistic Infection (OI)* associated with HIV/AIDS. This means their immune systems are severely compromised already – and even with treatment, the long, hard journey ahead is even made more arduous.
I was diagnosed when my immune system was not as damaged, and I have not succumbed to any nasty OIs that would put me in hospital. I had managed to survive until more anti-retrovirals were developed – I am now on antiretroviral therapy for more about 10 years. So I consider myself lucky – and that’s why I said testing saved my life. During the time when I was first diagnosed, I had to go through various psychological stages before reaching a resolution. The Kübler-Ross model, first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying", describes, in five discrete stages, a process by which people allegedly deal with grief and tragedy, especially when diagnosed with a terminal illness or catastrophic loss. These are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Denial is a defence mechanism – expressed as a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts. I went past this step real fast – after all, on self-reflection I had acknowledged my past actions and could not deny the number of times that I had penetrative sex without condoms. I was not about to lie to myself and just accepted that these actions had made me vulnerable to HIV infection. So I moved on to the next step – anger. At this stage, the person can either get angry with himself and/or others… I used to be an angry teenager – having already dealt with being gay and the discrimination that comes with it. I realised that it was a useless emotion – very draining and not very productive, so I again moved on… to bargaining.
At this stage, depending on your personal beliefs, you can bargain with God and seek to negotiate some sort of compromise. I was atheist at this point, and realised that for this life and death situation I was in, there wasn’t going to be any sustainable solution, and no miracle would happen… I had to rely on myself to pull through. And so I sank into depression. This I did very well, having a predisposition to the morbid and dark side of life. I wallowed in inertia and inaction – barely functioning beyond the mechanical duties of life. I would keep to myself and barely communicate with anyone, preferring to stay in my room all day and not go out at all. This happened for several months, until one day, I was rudely forced out of it quite unexpectedly…
One of my siblings took me aside one day and asked me how I was. As brothers go, we are close but not chummy, and my being gay used to be a sticking point with him at school as it embarrassed him to his friends – that’s water under the bridge. He didn’t seem satisfied with my monosyllabic answers and kept insisting to know how I really was… and then he asked if there was something I wanted to tell him.
It was then that it dawned on me… the insurance agent who had handled my account also knew him. Here I was wallowing in depression and a little self-pity… and my brother had come to burst this bubble. Already, I was in turmoil. I was dealing with my own grief and the baggage that comes with being HIV+ – the discrimination and the stigma. And now, this. Confronted with a very insistent brother who was prompting me to tell him something he thought I should… what was I do to? I had barely accepted my condition, and here he was, insistently asking me to reveal my condition to him, refusing to go away…
I will reveal what happened next in the second part of this series…
* An opportunistic infection is an infection caused by pathogens that usually do not cause disease in a healthy immune system. A compromised immune system, however, presents an "opportunity" for the pathogen to infect. Some common AIDS-related OIs include: Pneumocystis jirovecii, Candida albicans and Kaposi’s Sarcoma
6th July, 2009 – samesame.com
Singapore Still Not Ready For Gays
by Christian Taylor
While India’s gay community is celebrating the recent demise of Section 377, a law which used to outlaw homosexual sex, now the eyes of the world are on Singapore, who shares the same Penal Code inherited from colonial British.
Under Singaporean law Section 377A renders sex between two men a crime. According to the Channel News Asia, Law Minister K Shanmugam has publicly confirmed that Singapore will not be following suit, as homosexuality is still deemed unacceptable by most Singaporeans.
“We have the law. We say it won’t be enforced. Is it totally clear? We, sometimes in these things, have to accept a bit of messiness. And the way the society is going, we don’t think it’s fair for us to prosecute people who say that they are homosexual,” Singapore media quoted Shanmugam as saying today.
He added that the legal courts in Singapore have the power to decide how Section 377 is interpreted and applied. Singapore held its first gay pride rally this year. There was a political push back in 2007 to repeal Singapore’s Section 377A, the law that renders gay sex illegal. While it caused heated debate, and at times even boiled over into nasty attacks and allegations, the law remains in force.
31 Jul 2009 – fridae.com
Leona Lo: An Ah Kua shows and tells
by Sylvia Tan
Leona Lo, possibly Singapore’s best known transsexual, will take to the stage from Aug 6-8 to tell her story in the controversially titled Ah Kua Show.
Having offered to conduct gender diversity workshops for bouncers and staff at a club that had asked her to leave as it did not welcome "lady boys," Leona Lo has not let up in trying to educate the public about transgender issues since the incident two years ago. The Ah Kua Show is Lo’s latest attempt to bring transgender issues to the forefront. And determined to “attract attention” and take-back-the-word, Lo and director Emeric Lau decided to name the play after the most commonly used Hokkien epithet to refer to transsexuals and effeminate gay men.
The one-woman play is based on her 2007 memoir From Leonard to Leona: A Singapore Transsexual’s Journey to Womanhood which was written over a course of 11 years. The book traces the major milestones in the 34-year-old PR consultant’s life from suffering a nervous breakdown while performing compulsory military service, surviving a suicide attempt at 19 to using his tuition money for her sexual reassignment surgery in Bangkok in 1997 whilst she was a first year student at the University of York in the UK.
Emeric and Leona tells more about the Ah Kua Show, Singaporean men and being a transsexual in Singapore where on one hand transsexuals are able to legally marry but on the other, misconceptions and stigma abound. Limited tickets are available on Thursday, Aug 6 while performances on Aug 7 and 8 are sold out. A matinee at 3pm on Sat, 8 Aug 09 is being considered. To indicate your interest, please email email@example.com.
æ: Tell us more about what to expect at the Ah Kua Show.
Emeric: Our production highlights the main features of Leona’s growing-up years – there’s a lot of pain and hurt, but also joy, laughter and courage. But this is definitely not a mere pathos-laden trip! You’ll find out which Singapore schools nurtured Leona, her National Service experience, her blossoming into a ‘real’ woman, and also challenges faced at the start of her career, and her perspective on love and romance. There’s also a lot of self-reflecting going on, often with hilarious results. There is a word to sum it all up, but I won’t use that word here, because Leona is using it in the play.
æ: Why did you decide to dramatise it?
Emeric: Leona’s story is a truly unique one about growing up transsexual in Singapore. It needs to be told so that we have a record for posterity from a representative of an oft-overlooked minority group here. It needs to be told so that others who find themselves in similar situations as she did can be assured that they are not alone. Leona’s story works theatrically because it gives her the chance to speak out directly, in the flesh, to both her supporters and those who view her as an object of curiosity, and to those who care to know more about the life of a transsexual. With Leona playing herself, both the story and story-teller is conflated – something we can’t achieve outside of theatre.
æ: I know you’ve probably been asked a thousand times but why the name – given it’s an oft-used derogatory word used to refer to transsexuals, transvestites and gay men?
Emeric: Yes, ah kua is about the most common insult hurled at transsexuals. From a marketing point of view, we know the brazen title Ah Kua Show would surely attract attention, which is good! The title was also chosen because it is our way of re-framing a term that has a negative connotation into something positive. Ah Kua Show is a triumph of one woman’s determination to go against the odds and live life on her terms – it takes strength and courage (or you can say, ironically, that it takes balls) to be an ah kua!
æ: Having worked as a corporate communications manager at a government agency and currently running your own public relations company, how well or badly informed do you think the Singaporean public of transsexuals and transsexual issues?
Leona: Largely ill informed. Apart from the occasional spurts of news in the media, there’s a dearth of information on the subject. There’s still such a huge stigma attached to being ah kua, I don’t know where to begin. Just recently, two transgender women were allegedly humiliated by the bouncer and lady GRO at Zirca on ladies’ night on 15 Jul 09. I’m still investigating the matter. Zirca still hasn’t responded to me despite repeated emails. But the transgender ladies who wrote to me have also not replied to my emails for further clarification. So there’s nothing much I can do. I can only help those who wish to help themselves.
æ: On one hand it seems pretty progressive that in Singapore transsexuals are recognised as their reassigned sex and are able to legally marry (someone of the opposite sex) but on the other, you say you are still being called ‘bapok’ or ‘ah kua’ by strangers. What misconceptions about transsexuals do you most often hear in Singapore?
Emeric: One common misconception is that transsexuals are all prostitutes who hang out at Orchard Towers and Changi Village, soliciting for customers with certain perverse preferences. It’s similar to the thinking that gays all love rave parties where they do drugs, get naked and have sex. Just because one group within a community with certain lifestyle practices happens to be most visible at the time does not mean that their conduct applies or is representative of the whole community. We want to show that transsexuals lead responsible lives and contribute just as much as anyone else to Singapore.
æ: Are Singaporean men generally accepting of transsexuals as romantic partners? What are the biggest challenges that you face with Singaporean men compared with non-Singaporean men (and vice versa)?
Leona: Singporean men? Let’s not even go there. The cute ones are mostly gay, the straight and cute ones are too short. Lol. It’s neither race nor ethnicity, I believe. It’s what’s down there – I mean the heart.
æ: Have you found Mr Right?
Leona: No, it’s up to Mr Right to find me.
æ: You have corresponded with "US army officers, professors and even corporate high fliers who felt there was no way out of their gender identity crisis." What do you think are the biggest challenges transsexuals face universally (or is there no such thing as individual circumstances differ)?
Leona: There’s definitely some universality – they all feel "it’s not right," and hope that there’s someone out there who can prove them wrong. They are happy to chat with me because I make it seem so… natural, like it’s my birth right. Amen!
æ: What do you think is the best thing someone who is questioning his or her gender identity should do?
Leona: Listen to different perspectives. Start with the established websites like lynnconway.com. Read positive stories. Read negative stories. Make an informed opinion based on facts and not what people think is right or wrong for you. You know yourself best.
Ah Kua Show M(16)
Date/time: Aug 6-8, 2009 / 8pm
Venue: The Substation Theatre
Tickets: $25, free seating.
Student Concession: $18, free seating.Please show your student cards when collecting at the door. Concessionary rate applies to online bookings only
Venue tel: 6337 7535
21 August 2009 – Fridae
Getting “Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology” to press
by News Editor
“Lame” submissions, pushy contributors, secret identities… Amir Muhammad, publisher of Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology, shares the challenges of getting the first book of its kind in Malaysia to press.
Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology, the first book of its kind to be launched in Malaysia, sold some 260 copies at its launch last weekend at Seksualiti Merdeka – the second sexuality rights festival to be held in Kuala Lumpur.
Edited by Jerome Kugan and Pang Khee Teik, the 240-page book – a collection of 23 fiction and non-fiction essays – tells of “Malaysian queer experiences, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, with stories ranging from coming out to coming home, breaking up to breaking down, changing sex to changing heart.”
Body 2 Body will be launched in Singapore on Aug 22 as part of Indignation festivities, Singapore’s month-long pride season. Kugan, Pang and three of the contributors’ Ann Lee, Brian Gomez and O Thiam Chin will be at the launch to talk about the book.
Amir Muhammad of Matahari Books, the book’s publisher, reveals that the project had been in the making since 2003 but didn’t get off the ground until 2008 after a second Call for Entries was made, and the challenges he and the two editors faced including the lack of submissions, “lame” submissions from contributors who insist on being anonymous, and deciding to demonstrate not just sexual diversity but also linguistic diversity.
A false start in 2003
Amir: The germ of this idea actually began in 2003 when two friends of mine, Jerome Kugan and Pang Khee Teik, started an Internet mailing-list (yes, kids, this was before Facebook groups!) devoted to the idea of publishing a local gay anthology. There was a lot of discussion on the group but not many people discussed the actual anthology! When it came to submissions, the book (which didn’t have a confirmed title then) received 15 but the editors decided that most were too lame. The anthology never happened.
Fast forward five years, and the country had changed. Well, the three of us had changed, at any rate. In 2003 I was making little documentaries; Jerome and Pang shared the same Brickfields flat (with two other free spirits). In 2008, I was now publishing books; although Jerome and Pang no longer lived in the same place, they now worked together, thus providing the opportunity for even more mischief.
I floated the idea of resurrecting such an anthology by sending out a fresh Call for Entries. Jerome was quite skeptical at first, saying we won’t get many entries, and that most of them would be lame. But I said we should give it a shot and see if we had a book on our hands.
So in November 2008, we sent out a Call for Entries. It appeared only online, through blogs such as mine and Sharon Bakar’s, and of course on Facebook. The only print publication to give it publicity was KLue. I decided to stick to the deadline and not give extensions. We were pleasantly surprised that we received 59 entries. Since I wanted each of the editors to have a story in there (because they write so well!), we can say it’s 61 entries.
What were we looking for? Our Call for Entries included these lines:
Writings should depict queer or alternative sexuality in Malaysia, or of Malaysian queers’ experience in the world.
Possible Genre: fiction, true-life accounts, essays, memoir, excerpts from novel or play. We do not accept verse.
Queer includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite, transgendered, intersexed.
Writers can be Malaysian or non-Malaysians. Writers can be queer or straight.
Writers should use their actual names. A pen name is allowed when the writer has been publicly associated with that name.
Why QUEER was chosen over GLBTQ for the book’s title
Amir: The word ‘queer’ was chosen because it’s catchier than the politically correct GLBTQ, which stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer. We figured that most Malaysians probably didn’t even know what LRT [Light Rail Transit] stood for, so we couldn’t expect them to recognise GLBTQ.
Someone complained about the word ‘queer’ in her blog, saying that the book will then perpetuate the idea of ‘weirdness’. We encouraged her to write an essay about this for the book itself, and she agreed but never submitted. But this is an expected hazard for any anthology.
The whole process of getting entries involved a bit of drama that, when looking back now, had the tinge of slapstick. Three of the writers in particular kept bugging me online, literally on a daily basis, to find out two things: when the selection would be made, and whether the book was going to be banned. For the first question, I kept giving the same date; and for the second, I said that I lacked a crystal ball. Despite their eagerness, these were the three men who kept expressing reservations about appearing in such a book, and kept threatening to withdraw, and then changing their minds. Talk about drama queens!
Luckily for my mental health, the editors (from whom the identities of the writers were kept a secret) decided that the entries sent by these three were too lame for inclusion. There’s a moral in there somewhere, I guess.
No anonymous contributors, please!
Amir: By insisting on no pseudonyms, this anthology actually received a much better response than the earlier, aborted 2003 one, which had indeed allowed anonymity. Perhaps the 2008 political tsunami had made Malaysians braver? Or perhaps the era of Pak Lah [a commonly used term when referring to former PM Abdullah Badawi] did herald a new openness? Or maybe it’s just a happy coincidence.
Insisting on real (or at least identifiable) names helped to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. When we floated the Call for Entries in a gay personals site, the thread had hundreds of comments. Many of them were by people who wanted to submit, but under a fake name. We told them that we would make an exception only if the entry was particularly strong. Guess what? Not a single entry was sent.
But then again, we weren’t seeking a book BY gay writers. (“Don’t worry,” I told a blogger friend, “we won’t check your credentials.”) The pieces could be written by anybody, as long as they related to queers and queer issues.
I was disappointed that we didn’t get many essays. The few that we received were in the ‘coming out of the closet’ subgenre but in whiny, corny form; we felt like shoving the writers back in the closet, where they could do some reading to improve their prose.
Not just sexual diversity but also linguistic diversity
Amir: A minor but thematically significant point: we decided, while editing, not to italicise non-English words. So you can read about ‘pondan’ [a Malay term to mean a gay or effeminate man] and ‘pengkid’ [origins unknown but typically taken to mean butch lesbian], for example, without having their ‘foreignness’ shoved in your face. I think it’s important because this isn’t merely an English book but a Malaysian English one. And also to show that it’s about time we accepted that we have difference (or to use the Tourism Malaysia word, ‘diversity’) in our midst, whether sexual or linguistic!
This is the first anthology of its kind in Malaysia. Homosexual sex is, according to the Penal Code, illegal. And although transvestites and transsexuals are very much part of the Malaysian fabric, discussions about them are deemed taboo, thus allowing discrimination to fester.
This collection of 23 pieces (19 fiction, 3 essays, and one really strange mock-essay) perhaps isn’t going to change any laws or even many perceptions. At the time of writing this, it wouldn’t even have been launched, so I have no idea how people will take to it. But it’s a worthwhile idea whose time had come, and what better way to find out than by doing it?
Any anthology is a mixed bag: so you get the raw and the cooked, the rough and the smooth, the cat and the canary. But we think it’s a fun package. There’s merriment, murder, mutton curry and even massage – but not actually of the ‘body 2 body’ type. Perhaps some things should be kept off the printed page, after all.
18 September 2009 – Fridae
Counterfeit sex drugs: 11 deaths and 24 coma cases
by Sylvia Tan
Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority recorded a total of 302 adverse reaction reports including 11 deaths and 24 coma cases associated with the use of counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs and other illegal aphrodisiac products in the country in 2008 and 2009.
Ray (not his real name) was until recently an engineer working in Singapore. He had lost his job not because he had fallen victim to the economic crisis but because he was no longer able to perform his job after the brain damage he had suffered after consuming counterfeit Cialis. Like Viagra (sildenafil) and Levitra (vardenafil), Cialis (tadalafil) is a prescription drug used to treat genuine erectile dysfunction. Studies have found that such drugs are being increasingly being used by gay men who do not have erectile dysfunction, and often with recreational party drugs. The 30-year-old gay man slipped into a coma and was hospitalised in a high dependency unit for almost a month due to complications he had suffered due to a severe drop in blood sugar levels. The counterfeit drug was found to contain dangerous levels of glibenclamide, a powerful prescription drug used to treat diabetes.
In a separate case, 26-year-old Brandon Boh and his German partner Rene Daniels, 45, were both found unconscious and foaming at the mouth by a friend in separate rooms in the latter’s flat in Singapore. The older man survived but Boh died – 16 days later after he was found – of pneumonia and swelling in the brain. According to the Singapore Straits Times, a coroner’s court in July heard that the pair is believed to have taken counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs. Glibenclamide, which is also known as glyburide, was found in Boh’s body.
The two are not isolated cases. A well-connected Singaporean gay man Fridae spoke to says he knows of six gay men being adversely affected by such drugs in 2009 alone although he declined to reveal personal details about the individuals.
Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) reported on its web site that they have recorded a total of ten deaths (excluding the case mentioned above) associated with the use of illegal aphrodisiac products and 24 coma cases in 2008 and 2009. HSA told Fridae in an email interview that it had received a total of 302 adverse reaction reports associated with the use of illegal aphrodisiac products from February 2008 to June this year. Of these 302 reports, 76 were confirmed cases while 226 were suspected cases (the patients did not admit to taking of any such products).
Hong Kong’s The Standard newspaper on May 20 last year reported two deaths and 51 cases in connection with the consumption of unregistered impotency drugs; and that similar cases have been reported in Japan.
Researcher Shih Ling Kao from Singapore’s National University Hospital wrote in the February 12, 2009 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that a total of 150 non-diabetic patients with severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) were admitted to the five public hospitals in Singapore between Jan 1 and May 26 last year. All the patients except one were men, and they ranged in age from 19 to 97. Seven patients remained comatose as a result of prolonged neuroglycopenia (shortage of glucose in the brain), and four subsequently died.
When consumed by healthy, non-diabetic patients in high doses, glibenclamide causes severe lowering of blood sugar which can lead to serious adverse effects such as seizures, coma and worsening of existing medical conditions in susceptible patients. The symptoms of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia may include shakiness, palpitations, nervousness, sweating, sleepiness, hunger, dizziness, confusion and/or having difficulty speaking.
HSA says it has recorded cases of patients who have become permanently immobile, uncommunicative, and had to be put on tube feeding. “Some of these patients were admitted to hospitals in a comatose state and passed away without gaining consciousness. Those who came out of coma suffered permanent neurological impairment such as requiring tube feeding, or lose their ability to communicate. The pain and suffering experienced by the patients and their families are really not worth any short-term effects that people think they can get from consuming these products." Said Ms Chan Cheng Leng, Director of HSA’ Pharmacovigilance Branch.
Fake Viagra, and fake Cialis, display beside the real tablets, center during a news conference after a 2006 counterfeit drug bust in Hong Kong. The counterfeit or unapproved drugs were at one point so easily available in Geylang – Singapore’s best known red light district which is also popular for its eateries – that even street side diners were offered the pills for several dollars apiece. A check with several clinics in Singapore revealed that a pack of four Viagra or Cialis tablets costs an average of S$80 not including consultation fees. (As all three erectile dysfunction drugs are prescription-only medicines, a consultation with a doctor is necessary.)
Roy Tan, a healthcare professional in Singapore, recounted that his former boyfriend became dizzy and went into a daze for several days after consuming what is believed to have been a counterfeit ED drug offered by a friend. “Even though he managed to turn up for work, his colleagues told him that he was in a daze for a few days and he, himself, could not recall what he did during that period.”
While some counterfeit drugs may be packaged identically and at times almost indistinguishable to be passed off as the real thing, the fake drugs are more often than not made under poor manufacturing conditions with no proper quality controls or professional oversight. HSA has since February 2008 seized 650,000 units, amounting to more than S$1.6 million (US$1.15 million) of illegal products in more than 40 major enforcement operations targeted at illegal sexual enhancement products.
Other than counterfeit drugs such as Cialis and Viagra, other illegal products HSA has flagged include Power 1 Walnut, Santi Niubian – also known as Santi Bovine Penis Erecting Capsule – and Zhonghua Niubian, some which have been found to contain up to six times the recommended dose of glibenclamide used to treat diabetic patients.
Researchers and the authorities cannot be sure if the presence of glibenclamide in the counterfeit drugs is deliberate or due to accidental contamination. Shih and his co-researchers have speculated in the same NEJM cited above that “simultaneous contamination of several brands of drugs is consistent with a common manufacturing source” given that the drug packaging contained names of fictitious overseas factories which cannot be traced.
Tan who is medically trained suggested that if the addition of glibenclamide is deliberate, the counterfeiters might have intended for the drug to lower the consumer’s blood sugar level as it would cause one’s adrenal glands to secrete more adrenaline. “This makes your heart pump faster and harder. The increased blood pressure forces more blood into one’s penis and gives a harder erection.” He however warned: “But they are playing with fire, since the patient may go into hypoglycaemic (lower than normal level of blood glucose) coma and develop brain damage.”
Key advice for consumers (Source: Health Sciences Authority, Singapore)
– DO seek professional medical advice for medical conditions
– DO report suspicious sales of illegal medicines to HSA [Enforcement Branch at Tel: 68663485] or your local police or health agency.
– DON’T buy and/or consume medicines from dubious sources, including the internet and peddlers
– DON’T gamble with your health.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia:
Shakiness, palpitations, nervousness, sweating, sleepiness, hunger, dizziness, confusion and/or having difficulty speaking.
How can hypoglycemia be treated?
The acute management of hypoglycemia involves the rapid delivery of a source of easily absorbed sugar. Regular soda, juice, lifesavers, table sugar, and the like are good options. In general, 15 grams of glucose is the dose that is given, followed by an assessment of symptoms and a blood glucose check if possible. If after 10 minutes there is no improvement, another 10-15 grams should be given. This can be repeated up to three times. At that point, the patient should be considered as not responding to the therapy and an ambulance should be called. The equivalency of 10-15 grams of glucose (approximate servings) are: Four lifesavers, 4 teaspoons of sugar or 1/2 can of regular soda or juice. Read more
5 October 2009 – Fridae
Gay poet-playwright Ng Yi-Sheng axed as arts mentor
by Alex Au
Poet, playwright and winner of the Singapore Literature Prize last year for his poetry anthology Last Boy, Ng Yi-Sheng has been dropped by the Ministry of Education as a mentor in the Creative Arts Programme one month into his mentorship. The cloak that is "I don’t have to give you any reason for my action" is very useful to those who wish to act unreasonably. It enables civil servants to abuse their official positions behind a shield of opacity.
We can’t say that they have abused their position every time they wield such an excuse, but the point is, when they do abuse their positions, we won’t know. Acclaimed playwright and poet Ng Yi-Sheng has been terminated by the Education ministry from his role as arts mentor. He asked the ministry for a reason, and as The Straits Times reported, got none. It is a matter of public interest when someone is terminated like that, even if it is someone appointed for a casual position like Yi-Sheng’s. The Straits Times obviously thinks so too. That’s why they reported it. How can it be then that the reason for the termination is not of public interest, especially when it is an act of the state, paid by taxpayer’s money?
Yi-Sheng himself believes that it has something to do with "his involvement with political and gay rights activism." The Straits Times, for its part, mentioned his play, 251, which portrayed Singapore’s best-known porn actress Annabel Chong sympathetically. "But of course they knew all this before they invited me," was his comment, packed with irony. Either the ministry did know and was fine with his history before, but panicked when some anti-gay extremist complained , or the ministry really didn’t know about Yi-Sheng’s background and panicked when they found out. Neither possibility speaks well of them.
It may be some totally different reason, a few people might say. But if you are aware of the series of purges carried out by the Ministry of Education on gay people in the teaching profession, you will immediately sense that this is part of a pattern. His sexuality is the most likely reason.
I have been trying to document cases of the Ministry’s purges that I have informally heard about. Unfortunately, many of the victims did not want to further jeopardise their careers even when they were inexplicably moved from a frontline teaching position (which they were passionate about) to a dead-end desk job. They nurtured the hope that they’d be able to go back to the classroom one day and did not want to make an issue of the injustice visited on them. Hence, they have generally been unwilling to reveal details of their case histories to me for documentation.
The problem is this: If we can’t credibly document a series of abuses that show a pattern of discrimination, then how do we prove it? If we can’t prove it, how do we end it? Let me call upon anyone who thinks he has suffered job discrimination in the civil service on account of his sexual orientation to approach People Like Us with your story. Silence perpetuates injustice.
In any private company, when an employee is demoted or removed, it is recognised as only fair that due process should followed. The employee is given a reason and permitted to contest that reason. The Ministry of Manpower, on the Good employment practices and guidelines page of its website even says this:
Employers should adopt good employment practices such as: Recruiting and treating employees fairly and equally, without prejudice or discrimination. The Manpower ministry also has an Industrial Arbitration Court to resolve disputes fairly. Employers are expected to be open and forthright about their reasons for action against employees, for if not, how can arbitration proceed? On the Manpower’s website too is this statement:
If an employee was dismissed on the ground of misconduct and feels that it was without just cause and wishes to seek redress, he has to appeal to the Minister in writing for reinstatement to his former employment, within one month from the date of dismissal.
This is the irony: The Manpower ministry puts its weight behind the principle of due process, and as I have noted above, due process must include the employer providing an honest reason for his action. Yet, this standard of due process has not been observed in Yi-Sheng’s case. Nor was it observed in Alfian Sa’at’s case a few years ago when he was terminated from his relief teacher’s job, also without a reason . As many readers would know, Alfian is gay as well.
Like I said Alfian’s case, this is one more reason why we need a Freedom of Information Act. Such laws enable a citizen to ask the government for information and puts an obligation on the government to answer that question truthfully, so long as there is no overriding reason, such as national security, for that information to be kept secret. Of course, such laws also have a rule that governments should not be releasing personal information about anybody, unless it is personal information about the requestor.
In other words, even with such a law, I might not be able to request for details of Yi-Sheng’s case, but Yi-Sheng himself or his attorney should be able to. In fact, it is considered good practice to permit a citizen to ask government departments what information they hold about himself. Why is it good practice? There have been cases in many countries where government departments have erroneous information on record about people. When these persons apply for a government job, a passport or some disability benefit, they find themselves inexplicably refused. If the government is allowed to simply say, "We don’t have to give you a reason", then the erroneous information (e.g. that he was suspected to have donated money to terrorist groups, or to have imported child porn) that blackmarked his application will never come to light. It will never be cleared up, and the person will suffer unjustly for the rest of his life, slapped with one refusal after another, each time with no reason given.
A Freedom of Information Act that gives citizens the right to know what information is being held about themselves provides the little guy with recourse against the powerful. And if civil servants know that their actions cannot be hidden behind a cloak of willful opacity, they will be more mindful about being fair and non-discriminatory. It can only be good for Singapore.