Law has weighed on my mind since I was a kid. I was barely 10, and my early sexuality was beginning to dawn on me. As a Christian boy, I sought answers in the Bible, nosing through “H” in the index and finding “homosexuality” and then finding “Leviticus” and “abomination” and finally “put to death”.
Not long after, I looked to the laws that governed my country and there 377A sat, not too different from Leviticus. And this was in the ’90s, by the way, so it was not at all a law that was un-enforced. So essentially I grew up with two laws hanging over my head. Imagine that, barely 10, and already aware of the law, already frightened of hell in both the mortal world and the afterlife.
People seem to think that because 377A isn’t enforced, it is symbolic, ~merely~ symbolic, not malicious, nor powerful, simply a nod to public graces. I have heard other writers say this, as if writers did not know that symbols have power.
When I first got into Singapore from London three weeks ago, I started feeling what others who’ve lived abroad have described as that certain “something about this country”. Especially if you’re someone living on some kind of margin for which there exists a sudden vastness of freedom elsewhere. For me, this “something” is a strange anxiety in my stomach that I wake up with every morning. It’s come back after a year, every morning, as if the body remembers.
I’m convinced some aspect of this weird feeling is the law. You feel the law slick against your skin like a membrane being draped over you as you arrive. You feel watched, if not by enforcers of the law, then by other Singaporeans. You are made to feel constantly subject to the law, the way it conditions your behaviour and your body in public.
Don’t tell me a law is merely symbolic when we all live constantly dampened by law, practically drowning in it. And if this law is “symbolic” of social attitudes, then these are social attitudes that make it shameful for lovers to hold hands on the street, make it hard for essentially married couples to plan for their future, for the ill to seek affordable treatment, for queer individuals to be their full selves in public. We cannot call on the law to have our backs.
And we know without having to take a survey that the proponents of this law are people who otherwise preach love and forgiveness and compassion. I grew up with them. I’ve sat through prayer meetings thanking God for Thio Li Ann.
These people are well organised. Their leaders are swept up in a seductive political language that comes from the darkest pits of the United States. They live in the end times; they have no view of the future except that it will crash and burn, and that they alone will survive. This is the vision with which they shape our current reality.
I’ll leave you to judge, from the wealth of knowledge we have of their beliefs and behaviours, if these are the “unacknowledged legislators” we want running our country’s moral affairs. Because not enforcing the law but leaving it there for keepsakes creates the moral environment in which these people can enforce the law on the state’s behalf: by censoring our media and our art, by deciding what books are not in the national interest, by governing sex education, by reporting people to the police at Pink Dot. They are far more creative, zealous, and far-reaching enforcers of homophobic law than the state could ever be.
This is all to say that after all these years since my first encounter with 377A, I’m still very angry. Angry at how much of my childhood and teenhood was conditioned by that law. How throughout my youth, I grew up believing that like my god, my society found me abominable, my desire punishable if not by death then by prison. How, as a result, my teen years were spent weeping in bed asking to be cured.
I’m very angry at how in 2018, surrounded by all the landmark legislation being passed around the world, “the majority of Singaporeans” apparently still think that this colonial era law is relevant. Or indicative of values they want to align themselves with.
I’m very angry that this is an issue that defers to the opinion of a strawman majority. I’m very angry that my elected officials have outsourced this debate to online echo chambers like this one instead of the parliament to which we’ve elected them. I’m very angry that the strongest opposition party we have has no real position on the subject.
And I’m actually really glad to be back home for this now, whatever ~this~ is, whether or not this, like every other time ~this~ comes up, will peter away into heartbreak and frustration, or finally be the conversation that gets our leaders thinking like leaders. Sign, write, call, talk to those who disagree, or shout fury into an echo chamber, whatever, let’s send something good into the universe.