Book Review: Queer Singapore – Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures

Authors: Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow
Title: Queer Singapore – Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures
Call no: 306.766 YUE

Editors Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow have curated a solid collection of essays looking at LGBT Singapore from multiple perspectives, examining in particular the coexistence in the nation of institutionalised repression and tolerance of the gay community.

Having finished the book, I’m pleased to report that it’s solid stuff. I’d even venture to say it’s the most comprehensive non-fiction title to have emerged on this subject so far, examining our culture through the perspectives of anthropology, sociology, law, political science, history, film studies and queer theory. In addition, the vast bulk of twelve essays are in fact written by Singapore citizens, which means that we can regard this as an insider’s take on our identity rather than a foreign interpretation.

Queer Singapore is a remarkably coherent collection: one gets the sense that many of the authors are familiar with one another’s work, and are thus engaging in a mutual dialogue through their writing. There are, however, some obvious shortcomings, and they must be addressed.

The first problem is scope. Though deliberate efforts have been taken to ensure the inclusion of gay women as well as gay men in the volume, scant mention is made of the historically important transgender community, let alone the elusive non-community of bisexuals. One also wonders if more attention should have been paid to Singapore’s ethnic diversity. Robert Philips’s essay “Singaporean by birth, Singaporean by faith” is a vitally important look at gay Indian men here, but almost no mention is made of Malay queers of either gender.

Second, it’s surprising how dated the book is. Michael Hor’s otherwise commendable “Enforcement of 377A” lacks any mention of the ongoing constitutional challenge to Singapore’s anti-sodomy law, led by lawyer M. Ravi and defendant Ivan Tan Eng Hong since 2011. Furthermore, there is only a cursory mention of the phenomenon of the Pink Dot rallies, despite their importance in Singapore and beyond as non-confrontational alternatives to the gay pride march.

Nevertheless, these are mere quibbles in the light of this book’s accomplishment. For the first time, it formalises a framework for queer Singapore studies through a medley of voices on the subject, all in support of the model theory of illiberal pragmatics.

I expect many scholars to reference this text in the coming years, just as I foresee further volumes, updating and deepening the field of studies that Yue and Zubillaga-Pow have drawn out. May we never lose the hunger to know what they have to say.

Source: Reviewed by Ng Yi-Sheng