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Queer Singapore

Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures

Edited by Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow

Publication Year: 2012

Singapore remains one of the few countries in Asia that has yet to decriminalise homosexuality. Yet it has also been hailed by many as one of the emerging gay capitals of Asia. This book accounts for the rise of mediated queer cultures in Singapore’s current milieu of illiberal citizenship. This collection analyses how contemporary queer Singapore has emerged against a contradictory backdrop of sexual repression and cultural liberalisation. Using the innovative framework of illiberal pragmatism, established and emergent local scholars and activists provide expansive coverage of the impact of homosexuality on Singapore’s media cultures and political economy, including law, religion, the military, literature, theatre, photography, cinema, social media and queer commerce. It shows how new LGBT subjectivities have been fashioned through the governance of illiberal pragmatism, how pragmatism is appropriated as a form of social and critical democratic action, and how cultural citizenship is forged through a logic of queer complicity that complicates the flows of oppositional resistance and grassroots appropriation.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Series: Queer Asia

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

The genesis of this collection began in 2009 during Singapore’s annual pride season, IndigNation, when Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow met and talked about the possibility of putting together a book that captures the new energies and voices that are emerging in the nation-state...

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Introduction: Queer Singapore: A Critical Introduction

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pp. 1-26

Singapore remains one of the few countries in Asia that has yet to decriminalise homosexuality. Yet it has also been hailed by many as one of the new emerging gay capitals of Asia. This paradox has underpinned the telos of its postcolonial development, and rose to fore in 2007 when the penal...

Part 1: Cultural Citizenship and Queer Politics

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1. How to Bring Singaporeans Up Straight (1960s–1990s)

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pp. 29-44

Michel Foucault demonstrates, inter alia, two concepts pertinent to being queer in Singapore. Discipline and Punish (1995) uses Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon as a metaphor for post-industrial civilization. Much like surveillance cameras in stores that prevent theft even though they may not even be switched...

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2. Enforcement of 377A: Entering the Twilight Zone

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pp. 45-58

It is unusual that the government of Singapore, known in all other respects for its hard-headed rationality, should admit that official policy in a matter of public concern is “messy” (Channel News Asia, 2009); a state that has to be tolerated because it is the best that can be done under the circumstances...

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3. Sexual Vigilantes Invade Gender Spaces: Religion and Sexuality in the AWARE Saga

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pp. 59-70

In his comparison of Malaysia and Singapore, media scholar Cherian George (2006) noted that public discourse in Malaysia is much more vibrant and activist-oriented, correlated with democratic participation and grassroots social movements (Weiss, 2006). In contrast, public discourse in Singapore is somewhat muted and tame...

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4. “Oi, Recruit! Wake Up Your Idea!”: Homosexuality and Cultural Citizenship in the Singaporean Military

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pp. 71-82

In this chapter, I shall examine gay life experiences in another fundamental pillar of Singaporean society—the military. Since 1967, all able-bodied male citizens are legally obliged to serve their National Service (NS) upon reaching the age of 16½ years. Enlistees perform a minimum of two years’ full-time duty, followed by ten more years in the part-time reserves...

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5. TransnTransnational Lesbian Identities: Lessons from Singapore?

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pp. 83-96

Lesbians in Asia have come under scholarly attention within the study of nonnormative sexualities. This is due to the theoretical insistence on including accounts of non-Western sexualities and sexual identities that disrupt hegemonic Western practices and meanings as embodied by the globalised lesbian and gay subject. Understandings of sexuality...

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6. Both Contagion and Cure: Queer Politics in the Global City-State

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pp. 97-114

Alex Au has described the regulation of queer rights and cultural expression in Singapore as being unpredictable, even arcane, in nature. He writes of “reading the tea leaves” (Au, 2007b): of attempting to extrapolate from official pronouncements the range of queer identities, spaces and behaviours that will be tolerated by Singaporean state managers...

Part 2: Queer Media Cultures

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7. Photo Essay: A Brief History of Early Gay Venues in Singapore

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pp. 117-148

Where could a young gay adult go to meet like-minded people in Singapore in the 1970s? This was the predicament the author of this chapter found himself in, in an era when there was no ready information available on the subject. The situation may have been vastly different...

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8. The Negative Dialectics of Homonationalism, or Singapore English Newspapers and Queer World-Making

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pp. 149-160

When one reads the story of Anna forty years after it has been published, one wonders what has become of her today. One very much hopes that she has found and remained with the woman who loves her. Uncannily, if the word ‘nation’ is substituted for ‘woman’ in the same statement, national love for homosexuals becomes equally a kind of waiting...

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9. Impossible Presence: Toward a Queer Singapore Cinema, 1990s–2000s

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pp. 161-174

To map the film history of queer sexualities in contemporary Singapore cinema is to articulate the artistic struggles, negotiations, compromises, and persistence of filmmakers and producers in a conservative cultural and political environment that often resists or actively works against queer representational presence. A quick scan of the historical, political...

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10. The Kids Are Not All Right: The Curious Case of Sapphic Censorship in City-State Singapore

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pp. 175-186

The recent banning of Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right starring Julianna Moore, Annette Benning and Mark Ruffalo sparked off a furore in the Singapore Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community.1 The most talked-about movie at the 2010 Sundance...

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11. “Singaporean by birth, Singaporean by faith”: Queer Indians, Internet Technology, and the Reconfiguration of Sexual and National Identity

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pp. 187-196

On a warm evening in August of 2007, I made my way through the congested bylanes of Chinatown towards my familiar haunt, the Backstage Bar, one of Singapore’s openly gay nightspots. I had been spending several evenings a week there in that it afforded me an easy way to network...

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12. “We’re the gay company, as gay as it gets”: The Social Enterprise of Fridae

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pp. 197-212

In 2001, the inception of the Singapore-based gay web portal, Fridae, created a buzz in the local gay and lesbian community.1 Unlike the now delisted and then more ostentatious PlanetOut and Gay.Com which peaked alongside the dotcom bubble and queer commodity boom...


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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-250


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pp. 251-254

E-ISBN-13: 9789882208766
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139330

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 38
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: Queer Asia