Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Review: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century

Some hours before this book was launched, its publishers received a call from the government department responsible for control of publications in Singapore.

Complaints had been received about the book. The public servants thus needed to investigate if there was a need to control the circulation of this book in light of the complaints.

On the surface, a complainant could put forward some valid reasons.

The cover of this book is brave yellow, a colour which the people of Thailand wear to show their love and loyalty to the Thai monarch.

It has a bold title "SQ 21: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century". SQ21, as the author of the book writes in his afterword, "is the world's only direct flight between New York and Singapore" operated by Singapore Airlines.

The stories in the book capture experiences faced by a diversity of people - about 15 of them - in telling others they are homosexual.

To the ill-informed public servant, this would be much cause for concern.

It could have repercussions on an international Singapore brand. It could spark off bilateral tensions. It could also affect other national interests such as the family values which Singapore so proudly cherishes.

But as one delves into this book, one will be struck by how much this book is not an attempt to discredit Singapore and its national interests.

In fact, two themes are striking about the many stories in this book: love and courage.

Heterosexual couple Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen readily highlight this in their foreword.

They share, "SQ 21 is ultimately a book of stories about love... We found ourselves smiling as we read these stories, because love is very much like that for the two of us as well."

It is about "love for one's partner" and loving your parents and children. It is also about being true to yourself and those around you.

As importantly, this book is about saying the things that need to be said but that are difficult to be said. And it is about living with the consequences of decisions one has made.

To do all these, one needs courage and this courage is seen in the many persons who contributed to this book.

One will also find this book an exploration of living in Singapore.

Another interesting highlight of this book is how it shares the plight of other minorities. For example, the deaf person that found difficulty in securing a suitable job. Or the Malay lad who aims to rise the ladders of success and inspire a new level of confidence among Malays in Singapore. Or the woman that is beaten up and gang-raped.

This book has the potential to take reflections about both the Singapore identity and being minority in society forward.

There are some assertions in the book, which are topics of a raging debate in Singapore and elsewhere. For example, the acceptance of homosexuality in religion or therapies to help a homosexual become heterosexual.

This publication will inject new energy to such discussions.

Earlier this month, an encyclopedia was launched to serve as "a reference book for anyone seeking to understand Singapore's history and culture".

Channel NewsAsia reported, "The "Encyclopedia of Singapore" has been launched in conjunction with National Day celebrations. Written by an Australian of Singaporean descent, it is the first of its kind here, featuring an A to Z of Singapore's history, people and culture. It is Singapore's first comprehensive reference source."

There was glaringly no topic on "homosexuality" in that encyclopedia.

"SQ 21: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century" is therefore an attempt to fill a missing page in the Singapore story. This will certainly help complete the Singapore story and facilitate appreciation of a lesser-known aspect of Singapore's history, people and culture.

Dharmendra Yadav

1 comment:

benedict jacob-thambiah said...

Thanks for your review. I read the book and I think it's well written and has to a large extent captured the mood of the characters interviewed.

Now if only the book had been written by a straight person. that would have been interesting too.