This article I wrote was read and performed as part of the Amorph14 International Performance Art Festival in Helsinki. Shawn Chua Ming Ren, a student at Oxford University, devised an installation in the subterranean annex/dungeon of the Muu Ry gallery and performed there. The piece "Corresponding with Differences" was inspired by the release of the Tom of Finland stamps in Finland in September 2014. Shawn had asked me to write to someone in the future, as if we're sending a message forward in time, so I decided to write to LGBT people living in the year 2024.
"Dear LGBT men and women in the year 2024,
As I write to you, I am embarking on another incredible journey. I won a six-month Fellowship at the Centre of Quantum Technologies in National University of Singapore.
I met a research student with an IQ of 150, 50 above the average IQ, and I asked him what is his dream.
“My lifelong dream,” he replied, “is to discover the nearest habitable planet to our solar system.”
That kind of dream puts a perspective on how petty some of our more Earthly pursuits - such as the pursuit for material wealth - is on a cosmic scale.
I am also learning about how subatomic particles can behave in ways that are unimaginable to our daily experiences. In theory, these particles can go back and forth in time, communicate with other particles at great distances and travel through space at unimaginable speeds. They are not subject to the classical space-time physical laws governing large particles and molecules.
I bring this up because once these particles cluster to form suns, planets and living organisms on Earth, they lose the ability to travel as freely. Human beings are made up of billions of subatomic particles. In exchange for our earthly experiences, we gave up our subatomic superpowers. For lack of a better metaphor, we left Eden at the Big Bang, where subatomic particles began to cluster into larger masses. We became subject to the laws of gravity, and could only travel forward in time. We cannot travel back in time, and much of the past becomes irreversibly lost to us hurtling forward in time.
Discrimination amongst human beings – by sex, race, nationality, sexual orientation – is meaningless on a cosmic scale.
Discrimination imprisons the human race, attempts to keep us in a state of survival like the rest of the animal kingdom. Fortunately, we invented technology, and made it possible for women to be modern leaders in almost every field. “The weaker sex” became a thing of the past. Science also proved that people of different races are inherently equal, and no single race can claim to be superior.
Technology also frees LGBTs. It allows us to connect, to find communities where there were previously none, to organize, to share our ideas and dreams. It allows others to see past our orientations to recognize the CEOs, sports heroes, scientists, artists, families and human beings that we are. It renders national propaganda and bias ineffective by giving us voices in the form of blogs, videos and internationally-circulated information.
It's worth reminding everyone that the Father of Modern Computing, Alan Turing, was also a persecuted gay person.
Like the research student with an IQ of 150, I also believe our destiny lies in the galaxies. I also believe that one day, we will have put aside all random labels and set forth into the stars. Technology will allow us to overcome the laws of gravity and we will once again travel at currently unimaginable speeds through space, like the subatomic particles that we all are made of. We will see and experience the universe like we never could on Earth. We would have regained some of those super powers we gave up when we became molecular clusters.
We are far from that future. You, in 2024, are still far from that future. But you are nearer than we were. Before we can embark on that future, there are smaller steps towards that lofty goal. Before we can explore the universe, we must make discrimination a thing of the past.
How do we do that? How do we make sure this smaller project succeeds? How do we complete this small step so that we can proceed towards a larger goal?
We remind ourselves of the past. We forgive, but we should not forget.
In 2024, Singapore is likely more liberal. At least Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam would have same-sex marriages. Singapore cannot afford to be too far behind. The generations after the Internet would have grown to understand LGBT people, and would have followed in their Western and SE Asian counterparts’ footsteps to allow LGBTs to be a part of daily lives.
Younger LGBTs like you would have little experience of the decades we spent in the closets. You might have no idea what the closet is like. You might not know the pain and anguish we suffered living invisible lives and dying silently as if we never walked this land.
So, if you’re reading this, I urge you to go into the archives, and look for our testimonials. Search for the transgender women who could only make a living selling their bodies in the 1980s – perhaps their files were in the police archives. Find out about the Fort Road raids and subsequent humiliation of gay men in the newspaper headlines. Read the many theatre pieces about gays, lesbians and transgenders in the history of Singaporean theatre, and the activists who first came out in spite of the dangers to their livelihoods. Remember those who worked behind the scenes to warn gay men about HIV and STDs, and the lesbians who stormed the United Nations conference as government officials tried to drown our voices. Read about Pink Dot, Oogachaga, AFA, Fridae.com, Blowing Wind, Wild Rice, The Necessary Stage, Drama Box, Pelangi Pride Centre and the fight to repeal 377A.
Remember those who fought to keep us disenfranchised, illegal and unequal. Remember Focus On Family, the AWARE saga, Pastor Lawrence Khong, and the former NMP Thio Li-Ann. Remember the leaders who were supposed to defend us but instead spoke against us for votes. Forgive but do not forget. Not so much that they will come for us again – bullies rarely return to the same preys once you stood up against them – but be watchful when discrimination rear its ugly head on other minorities.
Remember what it was like for us, so that you might recognize it newly-cloaked, and catch the signs that it is happening all over again for others. Just as African Americans broke through their bondage to produce Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, Barack Obama and Neil Degrasse Tyson, be the best you can be and be on the inspirational side of history. Stand against discrimination as it happens to other groups of people.
May your spirits soar like subatomic particles, communicate across the galaxies, and discover the mysteries in our vast universe."