Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 36 September 2014

'We the Citizens of Singapore, Pledge Ourselves
as One United People….' But What If I'm Gay?:

The Homosexual as a Discursive Citizen in Singapore

Melvin Chng
  1. In October 2007, a gay activist in Singapore initiated an online letter petitioning for the removal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, a piece of legislation that criminalises gay sex between males. This coincided with the release of a video on YouTube entitled ‘Repeal 377A,’ featuring local celebrities championing for this cause. The letter was later presented in parliament by a nominated Member of Parliament, which spawned heated parliamentary and public debates over the issue presented. Although the repeal attempt failed, it was nevertheless the most visible and concerted attempt at dismantling legislated discrimination against sexual dissidents, based solely on supposedly private acts by LGBT activists in Singapore. As with previous campaigns for LGBT rights, this episode again raises questions of how sexuality is constituted and managed in the state’s citizenship (and by extension political) discourse and the rights of the LGBT community in being accorded the full civil and political liberties promised by citizenship status. In this paper, I will address the ways in which sexuality is discursively constituted and policed by the State through discourses of national survival and excessive pleasures that perpetuate a particular ideology of ‘nation’ and ‘identity’ for Singapore. Such discourses are enacted through Singapore’s people, who are widely defined as Singapore’s only natural resource, producing the LGBT community as at best marginal citizens whose acceptability and visibility are confined to the economic sphere, in accordance with the governing principle of economic pragmatism as practiced by the State. This in turn has had the effect of dampening radical activism in the social and political spheres, maintaining the legitimacy of the government of the day, whilst preventing the LGBT community from fully enjoying the political, social and cultural rights of citizenship, thereby strictly circumscribing the citizenship experiences of the LGBT community in Singapore.

    Sex, gender and sexuality
  2. Contemporary popular understandings of sexuality, influenced greatly through western discourses are strongly tied to sexual identity. The western conception of sexuality is intimately bound up with gender, such that understandings of sexuality are often inflected through sex and gender.
  3. Throughout the history of the west, Christianity[1] had been an important paradigm within which sex and sexuality had been conceptualised. Through various influences,[2] Christianity developed into an anti-materialist religion propounding a body/soul split that instituted a disdain for the body.[3] The material world was considered inferior to the spiritual world and sexual pleasure, being located in the body, was regarded with suspicion, as it represented ‘the extreme of corporeal pleasure, an animal-like sensuality that reason shrinks from.’[4] The rational will of the rational subject represented God’s will, while sexual desires contradicted the divine will of God, for God created sex for procreation. Sex is emblematic of human beings’ desires to follow their own pleasures[5] and not their rational will,[6] therefore necessitating the control of human bodies and indirectly, mortal desires by the church. Also, since the purpose of sex was reproduction within marital contexts, sex outside marriage was conceived of as for pleasure and was marked a sin.[7] One’s sexuality thus served as a marker of morality and a means of population management that had to be closely monitored (particularly women’s sexuality) as a form of behaviour. The effective management of sexuality as behaviour signalled a concomitant management of one’s identity and marks religion as the first instance in which sexuality, identity and gender (derived from one’s sex) are conflated. In the period between the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, sexology[8] produced a range of writings that were influential in scoping the understanding of sexuality.[9]
  4. Heterosexual norms, against which a discursive taxonomy of ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour (sexual inversion), were thus established.[10] By the early twentieth century the term ‘sexual inversion’ became synonymous with homosexuality and was generally understood as a congenital condition,[11] casting sexuality in purely physiological terms. Consequently, (hetero)sexuality was viewed as part of the biological and genetic component of all individuals, which forms the core of humanness and acts a source of motivation for human behaviour.
  5. From the turn of the twentieth century, the perspective of Sigmund Freud dominated the western understanding of sexuality beyond sexology,[12] through his dissociation of eroticism from biological mechanisms[13] and his situation of sexuality outside the realm of reproduction. In Freud’s theorisation, sexuality is conceptualised as an innate drive/instinct possessed by all human beings by virtue of their biology.[14] The sexual drive or libido does not possess a single purpose nor is it directed at any specific object. Whereas sexologists constructed the sexual instinct as naturally heterosexual and reproductive, Freud argued that it is oriented to pleasure.[15] This orientation to pleasure places individuals in conflict with social norms of respectability and self-control,[16] as it sanctions forms of pleasure apart from (hetero)sexual intercourse.[17] The sexual instinct as a drive for pleasure problematises the boundary between normal and abnormal (sexual) behaviour and surfaces sexuality,[18] which ‘resides’ in individual bodies as a tool for psychological and social control.
  6. In the process of conceptualising sexuality, ideologists[19] also articulated the spheres of its operation: gender, reproduction, the family, socialisation, love and intercourse.[20] The arena in which sexuality operates coincides with the ‘private sphere’ of life, contrasting it with the ‘public’ realms of work, production and politics.[21] Other forms of duality have developed in conjunction with the broad understanding of sexuality as ‘private,’ supporting the public/private (sexuality) dualism, such as production/consumption, culture/nature, heterosexual/homosexual (the latter terms in the dualities being associated with sexuality).[22] The mapping of sexuality onto the ‘private’ reinforces the idea that it is a separate category of existence, affirming twentieth-century assumptions about sexuality as a fixed essence located within individuals,[23] as though sexual categories are universal, static and permanent, fallaciously facilitating unproblematic trans-spatial and trans-temporal analyses of human beings and societies.
  7. The discussion above clarifies the narrow theorisation of sexuality through the conflation of gender and sexuality—sexuality is understood as a direct expression of gender that assumes an automatic emergence of particular forms of desire from the acquisition of a feminine or masculine gender.[24] In order words, sex, gender and sexuality are understood as an unproblematic and unchallenged linear trajectory.[25] The complexities within which sexual desires are formed are ignored. Intersections with class, race and other social divisions in sexuality formation(s) are effaced, producing and often times reifying an essentialist conception of sexuality by positing sexual desires as monolithic entities fundamental to an individual’s identity—an identity that assumes a unity through time. My article focuses on how this particular modality continues to (problematically) influence contemporary discourses on sexuality, particularly in Singapore where the State still relies on this modality to legitimise its socio-political control of sexuality.

    Sexuality and citizenship
  8. A critical engagement with citizenship discourse(s) is necessary because of its numerous problematic dimensions, including, but not limited to, its history(ies) of exclusions, resultant inequalities and hierarchical structures.[26] There have been calls within academic theorisation to approach the study of citizenship from perspectives wider than the traditional state-centric locus, conceptualising citizenship as a set of processes[27] to be ‘analysed in the context of contemporary processes involving globalisation, theories of international relations, changes to the state and political communities, multiculturalism, gender…equity, social and public policy, welfare and the reorganisation of public management.’[28] Clearly, wider political and economic transformations have altered the contexts for citizenship studies and the experience of citizenship, thereby necessitating a reworking in the theorisation of citizenship. Citizenship can no longer be seen just as a state conferring legal status to political subjects, but also involves how and where the constitution of a political subject is enacted, given that citizenship may no longer be the primary category through which people fashion themselves as political beings.[29] Citizenship has become something that is taken, as much as it is given (in the sense of a gift from the state),[30] thereby positioning itself as a prism through which the political may be addressed.[31]
  9. Diane Richardson has noted the increased attention paid to the relationship between sexuality and citizenship as an important theme in studies across a number of disciplines, from political theory to Geography to Sociology.[32] These studies, although located in various disciplinary contexts, similarly point to the heteronormative and patriarchal norms and practices through which citizenship is usually constituted. Citizenship is revealed as a productive and disciplinary regime deployed within formal and informal relations of power that construct gendered narratives of power hierarchy,[33] which in turn establish hierarchies of citizenship in and through sex and sexuality. These have been co-opted into individual identity formations in very much the same ways that citizenship has been discursively (re)produced. What follows implicitly and/or explicitly from this are hierarchies of disadvantage, marginalisation and exclusion.[34] The ‘normal citizen’ in citizenship discourse is that of a heterosexual man, who forms the basis of an individualistic analytical perspective commonly deployed in citizenship analysis. The notion of citizens as individuals generates a series of questions that are often missed in the dominant discourses of citizenship, but which need to be engaged: Who are the individuals who can claim themselves as citizens? Who are the individuals likely to be excluded? How are they excluded? Do self-identified political groups (gay men and lesbians for instance) necessarily displace themselves in the articulation of citizenship, especially with regards to the political agenda set by the state? These are the questions that I address, in a bid to answer the call to re-examine citizenship as a set of processes that discursively produce desirable subjects as citizens and to (re)imagine the experiences of citizenship(s) as polity.

    (Homo)sexuality and the (Singapore) State
  10. In Singapore, like in most other Commonwealth states, judicial ruling on homosexuality follows the tradition in England prior to the latter’s decriminalising Sexual Offences Act in 1967, which was premised on the problematic western discourses that define sexuality as an integral component of one’s identity that needs to be surveyed and managed to effect a desirous society. This was a legacy of the early years when Singapore was a British colony administered by the East India Company from Calcutta.[35] As noted by Laurence Wai Teng Leong, in former British Colonies like India, Malaysia and Singapore, ‘the specific section of the penal code that punishes homosexuals [is] the same—Section 377,’ while ‘the linguistics particulars of that section are also similar, phrased as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and “gross indecency.”’[36] Homosexual acts are charged under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in Singapore:

      Section 377 (Unnatural Offences): Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence in this section.

      Section 377A (Outrages on Decency): Any male person, who in public or private, commits, or abets the commission by any male person, of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.[37]

  11. Both sections carry a mandatory punishment of jail and it is immaterial whether acts occur in private or public,[38] or between two consenting individuals who have attained sexual self-determination—these terms of punishment are the same across Singapore, India and Malaysia.[39] While Section 377 covers both men and women, Section 377A specifically covers indecent acts between men.[40] In short, Singapore outlaws homosexuality and this has led to immense social stigmatisation of homosexuals in the state, buoyed by a prudish attitude towards sexual morality, with ‘strong cultural prohibitions against homosexuality.’[41] The social climate produced for homosexuals in Singapore has been and remains highly problematic and discriminatory, for explicit sexual behaviour or sexual identity perceived to be gay is rarely an option to be exercised. Instead such behaviour and identity has to be negotiated within the Singapore society by a certain level of deception, stealth and anonymity. Visibility can be compromising, leading to a variety of risks, ranging from imprisonment, public humiliation, corporal punishment and loss of career advancement.[42]
  12. Despite a review of the penal code in late 2006 that saw the decriminalisation of consensual oral sex between men and women,[43] the legislation against homosexual acts remained intact, much like in India, although there, the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (Anti-AIDS Discrimination Campaign) known as ABVA had been actively petitioning against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, declaring it unconstitutional.[44] This paints a very different scenario when contrasted with former British outposts like Australia, where, ‘in 1972, South Australia became the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalize some homosexual acts.’[45] In subsequent years, other Australian states including the Northern Territory, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia implemented legislative reforms that sought to decriminalise some homosexual acts between consenting adults.[46] Those legislative reforms often included a minimum age of consent at which homosexuality is legally permissible, with appropriate provisions designed to protect the under-aged or mentally impaired from exploitation, as well as those who might be involved in non-consensual sexual acts.
  13. The continued criminalisation of homosexual acts in Singapore thus provides a jarring, perhaps even inconceivable point when pitted against legislative reforms in Commonwealth countries such as Australia, and especially against England’s own decriminalisation efforts in 1967. However, I argue that Singapore’s insistence on criminalising homosexual acts needs to be understood within the state’s particular deployment of sexuality in its political, social and economic rhetoric in constructing a ‘nation’ and a Singaporean identity. One of the key hegemonic ideological apparatus of the state is its ‘national survival’ discourse.[47] which, according to Souchou Yao, has been translated into Singapore’s ‘culture of excess,’ referring to the government’s often rigorous and robust response to perceived threats to its legitimacy,[48] and is largely the principle that guides public policy formulation. With statehood thrust onto her abruptly in 1965, Singapore has had to battle a host of potential and real problems from the outset: economic survival; domestic, social and political unrests (given her multiracial population); regional and international recognition as a sovereign state. One of the most insidious and entrenched rhetorics for Singapore’s survival is the ideology of people being the only natural and greatest resource the island nation-state possesses—hence the crucial urgency to develop and politically commodify this resource effectively to ascertain the sustained survival of Singapore. It is within this purview that the state’s interest and intervention in sexuality is located.
  14. The (re)generation of the country’s population as the key to national survival has consistently been posited by the state. Hinging on what Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan describe as ‘a wishful fantasy of exact self-replication,’ the (re)generation of population should ideally mirror the ‘original’ (yet imaginary) ratios of class and race at Singapore’s founding moment, introducing a highly politicised (classed and racialised) dimension into the discourse of economic survival.[49] A narrative of reproductive crisis usually accompanies the state’s deployment of a demographic strategy in her ‘national survival’ discourse. At the height of the application of this strategy, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1983,[50] relying on the old eugenic mantra of ‘like breeding like’[51] levelled a grave charge against the nation’s mothers, accusing them of endangering the country’s future by wilfully distorting patterns of biological reproduction.[52] According to him, the nation’s highly-educated women, defined as those with a university degree, were not producing enough babies to meet the nation’s replacement birth rate. Conversely, poorly-educated women (defined as those who do not complete the equivalent of an elementary school education) were generating birth rates far above that of the replacement rate.[53] This spelled impending doom for the nation as genetically inferior future citizens would come to dominate the population in a few generation’s time:

      If we continue to reproduce ourselves in this lopsided way, we will be unable to maintain our present standards. Levels of competence will decline. Our economy will falter, the administration will suffer, and the society will decline. For how can we avoid lowering performance when for every two graduates (with some exaggeration to make the point), in 25 years’ time there will be one graduate, and for every two uneducated workers, there will be three?[54]

  15. It is worthwhile to note that while the issue of child-bearing affects both men and women, the ‘problem’ of reproductive crisis has been largely framed and presented by the government and the media as one faced by women alone, particularly by graduate women. The implicit gendered bias of the narrative of reproductive crisis can be understood within the Singapore state’s emphasis on the family unit as a cornerstone of its governance. The role of the heterosexually constructed family unit is envisioned as a key social structure that will provide the internal stability for the state to progress socially, economically and politically. This was outlined explicitly in a government policy statement published in April 1999 entitled Singapore 21, where ‘Strong Families: Our Foundation and Our Future’ clearly identified the family unit as one of the state’s key focus area in the twenty-first century:

      Strong families are the foundation for healthy lives and wholesome communities. They give security and meaning to life, and are the ‘base camp’ from which our young venture forth to reach for high aspirations. They are also the conduit through which our elderly pass on the values and lessons they have learnt in life. Strong families ensure that our children grow up happy and well, and that our elders enjoy respect and dignity. They are an irreplaceable source of care and support. We are fortunate that our families remain strong. But we cannot take them for granted. We must ensure they strengthen further because the 21st century will bring greater pressures on them.[55]

    As noted by Lenore T. Lyons, Asian values provide an important context for the state’s scrutiny of and, in effect, intervention in the family and by extension, sexuality.[56] Women became important actors in this gendered scrutiny owing to their constructed roles as mothers and as imparters of the Asian culture and reproducers of the ‘Asian Family.’
  16. When constructed as a means to national survival, sexuality became inextricably tied to procreation and women in fulfilling the demographic needs of the state (and in doing so also fulfilling the political needs of the state).[57] Given this great national responsibility, women’s sexual enjoyment in particular has to be curbed[58] (although this invariably applies as much to men’s carnal enjoyment as well) and any forms of sex acts other than vaginal intercourse (e.g. fellatio) that do not lead to conception are thereby deemed ‘unnatural’ and ‘against the order of nature,’ as encapsulated by the spirit of the Indian Penal Code. The narrow framing of female sexuality by the state facilitates the functional removal of (female) orgasm from the economy of (female) reproductive sexuality and marks it as superfluous and irrelevant[59]—the obliteration of desires in sexuality and sex acts. At the same time, it registers non-(re)productive sexuality as driven by pleasure and governed by a refusal by participants to rightfully discharge their proper citizenship duty of progeny leading to ‘unproductive…social and economic efficiency.’[60] Following on from this argument, homosexuality therefore constitutes a threat to the state, as same-sex unions usually do not result in procreation. Instead as Leong puts it, ‘they subvert the cause of genetic engineering,’[61] thereby endangering the long-term survivability of Singapore as a political entity, as well as derailing her carefully orchestrated economic success since independence.
  17. To understand sexuality from the perspective of population planning, situated within the rhetoric of national crisis (the lack of optimal continuous population growth) and survival is one way of conceiving the relations between sexuality and the state in Singapore. Another way is through an examination of the way in which the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) gains political legitimacy for its rule.[62] It does so by generating ‘a culture of gratitude’ among its people to ensure its continued return to parliament with a sizeable majority term after term.[63] Since independence in 1965, Singapore has made ‘national enjoyment’ a central component of its policy, often combining tough policies with tangible benefits that people recognise and enjoy. To this end it also reveals the people’s complicity in determining their own political fate.[64] Examples of ‘national enjoyment’ include the delivery of good health services and education, peace and order, employment and economic growth.[65] These are often positioned as ‘entitlements’ and not ‘rights’ to be enjoyed along with the dutiful discharge of the obligations of citizenship, such as population reproduction. This helps to create the culture of gratitude that is pivotal to securing the continued political legitimacy of the PAP.
  18. ‘National enjoyment’ is likened to the Romantic vision of pleasure as one of moral and social sensibility that emphasises the benevolent influences of pleasure in constructing a virtuous and contemplative self—a self that has in mind duties to society.[66] This contrasts with the self-regarding sensuality view of pleasure that is ‘taken as an end in its own right’[67]—in other words, private pleasure enjoyed in excess. Yao argues that if pleasure is enjoyed in excess, it has the potential to ‘undermine other values, other ideas of individual obligations and duties to the state.’[68] At stake here is the safeguarding of the all-important Asian values through the formations of (heterosexual) family units that form the cornerstone of the state’s governance and that inform her nation-building project. The rhetoric of western versus Asian values has been frequently deployed by the state as a policy instrument in nation building, where the Singapore government is positioned as the archetype of Asian traditions and values,[69] protecting the state against the influx of western values that run contrary to its governing principles. The ‘western’ value of individualism, with its implications on individual privacy and individual space[70] is one such antithetical value that the Singapore government is always wary of, and consequently always assiduously guarding against, as it is seen to instigate a culture of extreme excesses and non-conformity that threatens to upset the state’s social and political stability and derail its economic progress.
  19. Sex against ‘the order of nature’ is seen as encouraging self-indulgence (enjoying excessive pleasures), inciting alternative ideas and forces that may influence the people against the ruling PAP, such that people tend to forget what ‘national enjoyment’ is supposed to be—an astute instrument of state rule that provides PAP with its political legitimacy. This therefore necessitates state intervention. Michel Foucault reminds us that sexuality and its discourses are closely connected with power and knowledge of all sorts.[71] Non-(re)productive sex challenges the boundaries of the rules of power and conceptions of moral normality[72] articulated by the state (PAP). Hence what is at stake is a regulation of the flows of different forms of pleasure and enjoyment in line with the wide designs of the state, to ‘guide pleasure from the shadow of lustful, self-regarding appetite to the light of enjoyment [my emphasis].’[73] The discursive management of the erotic thus becomes a central strategy in PAP’s recruitment of collusive support for its political agenda in shoring up a nation of self-styled patriotic citizens fully committed to the State’s nation-building endeavours and has consequently caused sexuality, (re)production and patriotism to intersect in constructing models of ‘good’ citizens and citizenship.

    Homosexuals as marginal citizens
  20. Michael Hill and Kwen Fee have argued that the practice of citizenship in Singapore is in line with the civic-republican tradition outlined by Adrian Oldfield, where citizenship is defined as a ‘duty’ as opposed to a ‘right’ commonly articulated in liberal-individualist accounts.[74] This means that an individual only becomes a citizen through performing the duties of the practice of citizenship and contributing to the demands of the political community whose interests are assumed to be shared by the citizens.[75] In light of this, sexual dissidents (defined as those who engage in non-procreative intercourse sexual acts)[76] in Singapore are decidedly non-citizens for they indulge in non-(re)productive excessive desires that do nothing to alleviate the narrated crisis of population quality decline and the continuation of economic progress as well as, social and cultural stability. They belong to a group of individuals who are not participating in the life of the nation in a responsible and desirable manner, potentially thwarting the State’s nation-building efforts, hence necessitating the curtailing of their civil and welfare rights, as politicians and policymakers scramble to redefine the moral boundaries of the state brought into disarray by them. This brings to bear the prominence of sexuality, particularly the issue of hegemonic sexual morality in the definitions and operation of citizenship in Singapore.
  21. In addition, the lifestyles and erotic practices of sexual dissidents directly contradict two of five shared values that inform an explicit national ideology guiding the governance of the ‘nation’ and behaviour of the population of Singapore: nation before community and society before self; family as the basic unit of society.[77] This inadvertently places a very sharp focus on a diverse range of social figures—the single mother, the spinsters, the errant father, not forgetting the homosexuals—who can and should be demonised as ‘bad citizens’ in different ways and at different times in order to reify what is ‘normal’ and ‘desirable behaviour.’[78] Normative heterosexuality, for the sake of national progeny, is in this instance being assiduously defended through the maintenance of Section 377A that legally prohibits ‘errant,’ non-reproductive (homo)sexuality.
  22. However, this is not to suggest that sexual dissidents in Singapore are denied the rights of citizenship proposed by Thomas Humphrey Marshall. The civil, political and social rights of citizenship are available and exercised to various, though limited, degrees by sexual dissidents in Singapore.[79] For example, the rights to own property, to justice and to vote are enjoyed by sexual dissidents, albeit without public declaration and knowledge of their sexual orientation and practices. While there is no overt legislation that prevents their full participation in civil society, the construction by the state of the ‘normal citizen’ (a heterosexual),[80] whose adherence to the aims of the political community (the practice of heterosexuality) constitutes the basis for full citizenship, places limitations on sexual dissidents’ citizenship experiences. In order to enjoy their full civil, political and social liberties as citizens, sexual dissidents need to fulfil their ‘duties’ in their practice of citizenship through for example, ‘passing’ as heterosexuals (non-disclosure of their sexual orientation and acts), at best securing their place in the national imaginary as marginal citizens,[81] with spurious citizenship experiences that inflect and curtail their identities as ‘Singaporeans’ who contribute little to nation-building.

    Moving forward: a place for the homosexual citizen?
  23. The petition to repeal Section 377A generated a huge public debate which saw a slew of published letters supporting or objecting the petition on the ‘Forum’ page of the Straits Times.[82] Several editorials were also published along with the letters. Understandably, the fiercest and most concerted exchanges occurred over the Internet (which has become the only social space where the gay community in Singapore can be visible without the risk of social disapproval and associated discrimination) with the construction of two websites related to this petition: ‘Repeal’ and ‘Keep—It’s Time We Speak.’[83] In the open letters to the Prime Minister found on the respective websites, the intellectual support to repeal Section 377A appears to rest on appealing to Singapore’s founding principles of justice and equality in her nation-building endeavours, written into the state’s national pledge that is recited by school children nation-wide every morning. The fact that Section 377A contravenes the state’s Constitution that grants equal rights to treatment and protection for everyone was also invoked to highlight the deliberate discriminatory intent of the Penal Code:

      Singapore’s social fabric has always been built upon the ideal of tolerance and harmony, as evinced in the opening words of the Pledge—‘We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people.’ By retaining S377A, a source of discrimination against homosexual individuals, this would serve to undermine the founding principles of this nation. The repealing of S377A would safeguard and protect social fabric rather than lead to the latter’s disintegration—by repealing the act, we’re giving the homosexuals reassurance that they possess equal rights under our laws, whose fundamental purposes are to ensure that justice is being served, and that the citizens feel that way.[84]

  24. On the other hand, the preservation of prevailing social mores through institutions of heterosexual marriages and families were the main arguments buttressing supporters of Section 377A.[85] This camp supported the continuation of the clause in the Penal Code by deploying the discourse of moral panic that the state can then use to reassert its right to power, in order to secure the moral values underpinning the construction of the nation-state:

      Sexual preference is not about civil rights and has nothing to do with equality or tolerance. Repealing S377A would in fact be the first step towards mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle, which has been shown elsewhere to lead to:

        * Calls to specify the minimum age for consensual homosexual sex
        * A public education system that teaches acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle under the banner of ‘tolerance’
        * The redefinition of marriage to include (gay) civil unions and same-sex marriages, and to extend marriage and parenthood benefits to them
        * Adoption by same-sex parents

      In short, repealing S377A could lead to the modification of core family values and the family unit as we know it. The majority of Singaporeans want our children to grow up in a traditional environment that espouses healthy and wholesome traditional family values. We do not want the homosexual lifestyle to be promoted or celebrated.[86]

  25. Additionally a discourse of what John P. Hewitt and Randall Stokes call ‘disclaiming’ (in this instance of homophobia) was employed by proponents of Section 377A,[87] similar in approaches to discrimination in other contexts (e.g. racial discrimination) observed by scholars such as Chris Brickell and Teun A. Van Dijk.[88] For example, Brickell observes that within contemporary western societies: ‘overt statements about the inferiority of any social group are increasingly frowned upon…opponents of homosexuality must strategize rhetoric which accommodates this shift.’[89] This was certainly the case in Momin Rahman’s and Joseph Burridge’s research which showed how the discourses of equality and citizenship were pre-empted by supporters of Section 28[90] of the Local Government Act in England and Wales in the year 2000.[91] For example, in an attempt to deny homophobia, supporters of the keep the clause campaign made the association of homosexuals with people who were HIV positive, thereby engendering homosexuality as medically unhealthy to substantiate their arguments against the repeal of Section 28: ‘I am supposed to love my neighbour and I try to do that as much as I can, but I will not stand for this kind of behaviour which is now being regarded as wholesome and healthy.’[92] In the case of Singapore, supporters to retain Section 377A often relied on the discourse of disclaiming to buttress their arguments, invoking the view that they are not doing so out of homophobia, but instead are coming at it from a national interest perspective. In their open letter to the Prime Minister, supporters of Section 377A claimed: ‘We would like to make clear that we do not hate homosexuals who are our fellow citizens. What we oppose [are] those who lobby for the homosexual agenda which will undermine the interests of our society [emphasis added].’[93] Van Dijk further explicates that those advocating discrimination ought to manage it such that it appears to be consistent with ‘general values of tolerance’ (through a discourse of tolerance),[94] as has been done by supporters of Section 377A,[95] as well as Section 28. Ultimately, the discourses of disclaiming and tolerance help discursively reinforce a particular object of citizenship—that of a heterosexual subject with pro-creatively geared sexual desires, which in turn displaces the citizenship status of sexual dissidents to the margins of a wider state-led conceptualisation of citizenship.
  26. The eventual failure of the repeal runs contrary to a nascent liberatory public rhetoric first advanced by the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in an interview published in the July 2003 issue of Time magazine. In it, he welcomed the hiring of gay men and lesbians in the civil service, even in sensitive government positions, so long as their orientation is disclosed.[96] This was bolstered as recently as 2007 when Minister Mentor Lee suggested the genetic basis of homosexuality, which potentially signalled its decriminalisation.[97] Although taken collectively, these might point to a more liberatory public policy turn in the issue of homosexuality, the presumed increased acceptance of homosexuals in Singapore society has to be viewed through an economic lens. The perceived shift in the treatment of gay men and lesbians by the state has its roots in the adoption by the government of Richard Florida’s argument that creativity is ‘the decisive source of competitive advantage in the contemporary global economy.’[98]
  27. Florida’s thesis (albeit a controversial one)[99] emphasised the emergence of a new socio-economic class that will drive economic growth in post-industrial cities. This emerging class, defined as the ‘creative class’ comprises intellectuals and various types of artists that span different fields. In his own words, this class includes ‘people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content’ in order to solve problems.[100] Through analyses of census and economic data, Florida argued that cities that managed to attract and retain the creative class prospered, while others that did not stagnated. For example, he demonstrated that American cities like Buffalo and New Orleans have tried to attract the creative class, but to a much more limited degree of success compared to San Francisco and Seattle, which were argued to possess the three main prerequisites of creative cities that will help fuel an entrepreneurial culture, hence engendering strong economic performances—the 3Ts, ‘Talent, Tolerance and Technology.’[101] Such an argument has gained great traction among urban policy makers and politicians and has set in motion the articulation of a specific ‘creative ethos’ discourse that revolves around the 3Ts, which underscores the attractiveness of their respective cities to the creative class. Ultimately, ‘it is cities that are, among other things, tolerant of gays and lesbians that are most likely to exude creativity, and hence, economic dynamism’[102] that will be able to attract the creative class to enable cities to leverage on them to drive their economic development. Translating this to the economically pragmatic form of governance practised in Singapore, she needs to re-brand herself as a cosmopolitan metropolis possessing the 3Ts so as to attract foreign skilled individuals to come to the country to help her sustain her economic prosperity.
  28. The need to re-brand Singapore as a dynamic cosmopolitan city to attract the much needed ‘creative class’ in order to remain economically robust has taken on a great deal of urgency in recent years, not least because Singapore’s low birth rates seriously threaten to reduce productivity as a result of a dwindling workforce. Despite the state’s solidification of its nodal position in what Chris K.K. Tan described as ‘the global circuits of capital and information in the past forty years,’[103] recent changes in the global economy threaten Singapore’s pole economic performances. The rise of China and India as Asian economic powerhouses, as well as economic recessions triggered by external events like the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 9/11 terrorist attack and the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, the SARS outbreak in 2003 and, more recently, the collapse of the global investment firm Lehman Brothers in the United States in 2008 have brought Singapore’s vulnerability as an open economy into sharp focus. As a solution, former Prime Minister of Singapore Goh Chok Tong therefore proposed the attraction of a class of ‘creatives’ that was suggested in Florida’s thesis—that cities must attract the ‘creative’ class to secure economic prosperity, as a key to the state’s future economic growth. The argument that states are increasingly expected to attract their own capital investments instead of relying on the central government for the provision of economic aid is now becoming commonplace among globalisation experts. Van Ham for instance argues for the rise of the ‘brand state’ and asserts that local states now need to act entrepreneurially and actively market themselves to attract foreign investments.[104] The role of the state is therefore to foster spaces of/for consumption in order that cities (like Singapore) become desirable places for the ‘creative’ class.[105]
  29. The ‘creative’ class is similar to what Engin F. Isin and Patricia K. Wood termed the professional citizens which comprise bankers, lawyers, architects, managers and other professionals who emerged in the late-twentieth century and who largely ‘identify with a cosmopolitan imaginary centred on consumption practices.’[106] These professionals are highly mobile, being more focused on their jobs than concerned about national interests, and are likely to gravitate towards places deemed most tolerant of diversity. In order to effectively compete against one another, there has emerged a trend of ‘me-too-ism,’[107] where cities have created sites of cultural diversity such as gay villages, ethnic enclaves and cultural festivals in what Anan L. Tsing terms ‘the economy of appearances.’[108] Ironically, in a bid to become unique, cities have in fact become more alike. However, there do not seem to be any other alternatives, as not having the aforementioned markers of cultural differences means not being in the race.
  30. Gay-friendliness has thus become a valuable form of cultural capital deployed by powerful groups and by cities themselves as they jockey for top positions on the global urban hierarchy.[109] Gays are now seen as vital attractors of global venture capital:

      To some extent, homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society, and thus a place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people…openness to the gay community is a good indicator of the low entry barriers to human capital that are so important to spurring creativity and generating high-tech growth.[110]

    With the pragmatism that guides Singapore’s policy formulation, gay and lesbian Singaporeans have been necessarily conscripted into its urban transformation, as the state tries to (re)fashion itself into a desirable site of/for consumption by Florida’s creative class, through the establishment of sites of cultural diversity.[111] This brings to light the centrality of consumption in the definition of citizenship—consumer citizenship.[112] Neoliberal discourses point to identity constructions, management and disciplining of the self through choices we make as paying consumers in modern capitalist societies. In light of this, cities are establishing their identities, as part of their (re)branding schemes through the market, where sexual ‘others’ (e.g. homosexuals) with their sexualities and (politicised gay) purchasing power are constituted as the basis for a probable social, political and commercial identity.
  31. Given Singapore’s incessant emphasis on the market, which accounts for recent government’s justifications for the relaxation of social controls,[113] an economic framing in support of reforms towards furthering LGBT citizenship experiences, rights and culture might be more productive than radical activism.[114] In fact, Richardson has noted that, paradoxically, when it comes to defining citizenship as consumerism, ‘non-heterosexuals’ seem to be most acceptable as citizens, as consumers with identities and lifestyles which are expressed through purchasing goods, communities and services.[115] Indeed expressing a (homo)sexed political identity through the act of economic consumption seems to be the only avenue for the LGBT community in Singapore to lay claim to any form of citizenship right here, albeit a tenuous claim.
  32. Although employing economic rationale to advance the LGBT political agenda in Singapore might prove to be more palatable to the government, it also suggests that there is an implicit hierarchy of political equality and rights that works through an equivalent hierarchy of (sexual) morality. As Rahman argues, hierarchies of morality that privilege a particular form of heterosexuality—expressed in the institution of marriage—become the translation matrix for hierarchies of political equality.[116] Hence, while the marketplace seemingly provides a discursive space and ally for LGBT activists and the community at large, operating in this space might further entrench the discourses of disclaiming (of homophobia) and tolerance (of homosexuality) in limiting the enjoyment of the fullest extent of citizenship rights and experiences by the LGBT community in Singapore. Besides, homosexuals may be free to consume lesbian and gay lifestyles, but only by those with access to time and money and within restricted spatial and cultural boundaries as delineated by the boundaries of (heterosexual) tolerance.[117] Hence, as advanced by Meredith Weiss, ‘the market can be as exclusive as inclusive if “gay” is seen as an identity reserved for those with actual purchasing power.’[118] What then for the less economically affluent gay man and lesbian?
  33. Deep structural changes are currently hard to pursue in Singapore, particularly with respect to articulating LGBT citizenship rights as part of human rights, not least because of Singapore’s approach towards human rights discourse that runs counter to that expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Chew has argued, ‘human rights in Singapore have been characterized as being framed by a culture of survival based on an ideology committed first and foremost to economic development.’[119] The state’s policies have consistently privileged interests of the majority over the rights of individuals, with the latter being seen as ‘inextricably bound up in family and kinship, neighbourhood, community, nation and state.’[120] (Homo)sexual rights, a private right, is thus inevitably problematised in Singapore, as the notion of the ‘private’ individual clashes with the state’s communitarian ideology with regards to the individual. Located in the human rights discourse of Singapore, (homo)sexuality is simply not a right. As evinced by the failure to repeal Section 377A, the state continues to err on the side of social conservatism,[121] which is premised upon a larger national ideology of ‘a traditional Asian society fighting to preserve its essence against attrition by undesirable Western influences’[122]—among these undesirable influences is the principle of individualism and the resulting indulgence in excessive pleasures that are not geared towards growing the only natural resource the State owns, her people. That ‘essence,’ supported by the institution of the family, is construed as a pre-requisite to national survival and is crucial for the success of the State’s nation-building project, which operates through a particular moral (heterosexual) economy that discursively (re)produces the heterosexual subject as the only socio-political entity that will be legitimately ascribed citizenship rights.

  34. The petition to repeal Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code has surfaced once again the state’s heteronormative conceptualisation of citizenship, informed by (problematic) western discourses on sexuality that articulate an essentialist sex, gender and sexuality model in measuring and understanding (sexual) behaviours and identities, emplacing heterosexuality as the implicit norm in society through naturalising the relationship of domination/subordination to homosexuality observed by previous research.[123] The deployment of procreative sexuality in the state’s discourses of nation building and national survival provides the basis for a discursively heteronormative construct of a ‘normal’ citizen. Not only is the regulation of (re)productive sexuality constructed as a condition for economic survival of the state (to ensure that the State continues to enjoy the only natural resource at her disposable—her people) and the continuation of Singapore’s nation-building project, it is also a means by which the PAP maintains its political legitimacy by utilising sexuality as a trope to actively contain any forms of ‘excesses’ or alternative ideas arising from those who may challenge the ruling party. Through these, the homosexual citizen in Singapore is interpellated as one who does not dutifully discharge his/her citizenship duties since he/she does not contribute effectively to nation-building. The homosexual citizen then becomes a displaced citizen, low in value as a developmental resource, who is legislatively curtailed in his/her citizenship experiences, while being excluded from a full enjoyment of citizenship rights. The homosexual citizen is at best a marginal citizen confined to a superficial acceptance (or more accurately a kind of tolerance) and functional visibility in the economic realms, as products of a consumption-led citizenship model and pawns deployed to attract global venture capital into Singapore to help sustain her economic prosperity. However, these citizens fashioned out of economic consumption continue to be stripped of full citizenship rights (political, social and cultural citizenship). This results from discourses of morality, disclaiming and tolerance that pre-empt arguments of equality and non-discrimination advanced by LGBT activists and supporters, in the construct of a ‘good’ citizen (and ‘good’ Singaporean) that continue to perpetuate a state ideology that privileges and foregrounds normative heterosexuality in the on-going quest of nation-building.


    [1] One cannot speak of Christianity in a homogenous sense since it is a movement that spans a very wide period, from the Roman Empire to the medieval world, to the Renaissance and Reformation, to the Enlightenment and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when it was a turbulent time for Christianity. See Roger Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

    [2] Such influences included Greek philosophy and religious movements like Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.

    [3] Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 4. Christianity’s other-worldliness could also have been developed out of a disdain for the sexual mores of pagan societies, religions and cultures.

    [4] Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 6.

    [5] Exemplified by the original disobedience of Adam and Eve.

    [6] Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality.

    [7] Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality, London: Routledge, 1986.

    [8] Sexology is the science of the laws of sexuality that aim to construct a nomenclature of diverse sexual types and desires. It was instrumental in bringing into light figures of the bisexual, homosexual and heterosexual in public discourse. See Jon Bristow, Sexuality, London: Routledge, 1997.

    [9] Steven Seidman, The Social Construction of Sexuality, New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003.

    [10] Laura Doan and Chris Waters, ‘Homosexualities: introduction,’ in Sexology Uncensored: The Documents of Sexual Science, ed. Lucy Bland and Laura Doan, London: Polity Press, 1998, pp. 41–72.

    [11] Doan and Waters, ‘Homosexualities: introduction.’

    [12] This perspective has since come to be known as psychoanalysis.

    [13] Bristow, Sexuality. The major paradigm shift made by Sigmund Freud from an organic view of sexuality to a psychological one can be seen as part of the development of modern thought from the nineteenth to twentieth century. See Horrocks, Introduction to the Study of Sexuality.

    [14] This assumption by Freud can be contextualised by the intense debates of the nature of sexual desire, the differences between men and women and the nature of sexual deviation that occurred for a large part of the nineteenth century. See Horrocks, Introduction to the Study of Sexuality. Sex forms the basis of one’s selfhood.

    [15] Seidman, The Social Construction of Sexuality.

    [16] Seidman, The Social Construction of Sexuality.

    [17] These include kissing, touching, caressing and other activities that would form our contemporary understanding of foreplay.

    [18] Following from this, sexuality defines particular types of persons through specific embodiments and people define themselves as different with their difference constituted around their sexuality, as suggested by Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality, London: Routledge, 1986. The urge to self-definition in turn precipitated the proliferation of sexual types and identities that are premised on object-relations—the homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, transvestite and so on.

    [19] Thus far the church, scientists and psychoanalysts.

    [20] Robert A. Padgug, ‘Sexual matters: on conceptualizing sexuality in history,’ in Radical History Review, no. 20 (1979): 3–23.

    [21] Padgug, ‘Sexual matters.’

    [22] This is not to suggest that slippages do not occur within dualities.

    [23] Padgug, ‘Sexual matters.’

    [24] Stevi Jackson, ‘Heterosexuality as a problem for feminist theory,’ in Sexualizing the Social: Power and Organization of Sexuality, ed. Lisa Adkins and Vicky Merchant, Explorations in Sociology, London: Macmillan, 1996, pp. 15–34.

    [25] However, queer theorists have challenged the assumed sex, gender and sexuality linear trajectory by re-conceptualising sexualities as categories of knowledge (as opposed to just fixed identities), reframing them as normative ‘languages’ inflected with broader social meanings to be uncovered in specific locations that shape particular boundaries and organise particular hierarchies. For discussions on this see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1990; and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

    [26] Peter Nyers, ‘Introduction: why citizenship studies,’ Citizenship Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (2007): 1–4.

    [27] Bryan S. Turner, ‘Citizenship, reproduction and the state: international marriage and human rights,’ in Citizenship Studies, vol. 12, no. 1 (2008): 45–54.

    [28] Nyers, ‘Introduction: why citizenship studies.’

    [29] Barry Hindess, ‘Citizenship for all,’ Citizenship Studies, vol. 8, no. 3 (2004): 305–15.

    [30] Bonnie Honig, Democracy and the Foreigner, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

    [31] Nyers, ‘Introduction: why citizenship studies.’

    [32] Diane Richardson, ‘Sexuality and citizenship,’ in Sociology, vol. 32, no.1 (1998): 83–100; Shane Phelan, Sexual Strangers: Gays, Lesbians, and Dilemmas of Citizenship, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001; Jon Binnie, ‘Invisible Europeans: sexual citizenship in the new Europe,’ Environment and Planning A, vol. 29, no. 2 (1997): 237–48; Kenneth Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change and Social Worlds, London: Routledge, 1995.

    [33] Terrell Carver, ‘Sexual citizenship, gendered and de-gendered narratives,’ in Politics of Sexuality: Identity, Gender and Citizenship, ed. Terrell Carver and Veronique Mottier, London: Routledge, 1998, pp.13–24.

    [34] Carver, ‘Sexual citizenship.’

    [35] Souchou Yao, Singapore: The State and Culture of Excess, London and New York: Routledge, 2007.

    [36] Laurence Wai Teng Leong, ‘Walking the tightrope: the role of Action for AIDS in the provision of social services in Singapore,’ in Gays and Lesbians in Asia and the Pacific: Social and Human Services, ed. Gerard Sullivan and Laurence Wai Teng Leong, New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995, pp. 11–30.

    [37] ‘Gross indecency’ here is a broad term which covers, by virtue of past charges applied, mutual masturbation, indecent contact at the groin, lewd proposals—even when they do not lead to an anal penetrative act. See Leong, ‘Walking the tightrope,' p. 12.

    [38] Not all former British colonies institute jail time as punishment for those charged with the practice of homosexual acts. In September 2009, an Anti-Homosexuality Bill was presented before the Ugandan parliament that proposes the death penalty for two ‘classes’ of same-sex acts: ‘aggravated’ homosexuality and ‘serial’ homosexual acts. The former is defined as gay sex with under-18s or disabled persons and gay sex by a person in authority or by a person with HIV, even if they use a condom. The latter is defined as repeated same-sex-relations between persons, that is, more than once or twice. This Bill was introduced for debate as a measure to contain the spread of what the Ugandan government perceived as growing external and internal threats to the traditional heterosexual family in Ugandan society. See Bill no. 18, Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, Bills Supplement to the Uganda Gazette, No. 47 Volume C11, online:, accessed 4 December 2013.

    [39] Leong, ‘Walking the tightrope.’

    [40] As noted by Laurence Wai Teng Leong, ‘Singapore,’ in Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality: A Multi-Nation Comparison, ed. Donald James West and Ronald Green, New York: Plenum Press, 1997, pp. 127–44, Section 377A refers to males and only men have been charged under this act thus far. There has yet been a case where lesbians have been tried. However, in principle, certain lesbian acts are punishable under Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act (Cap. 184), referring to ‘riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour’ in a public setting, liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one month. It was previously invoked by a journalist who reported two women kissing and fondling each other in a public swimming pool. See Tang Wai Tin, ‘Girls kissing in public pool,’ the New Paper, 14 October 1993.

    [41] Gerard Sullivan and Laurence Leong (eds), Gays and Lesbians in Asia and the Pacific: Social and Human Services, New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995.

    [42] Baden Offord, ‘The burden of (homo)sexual identity in Singapore,’ Social Semiotics, vol. 9, no. 3 (1999): 301–06.

    [43] As part of an extensive review of Singapore's primary criminal legislation, the new Penal Code proposes to de-criminalise anal and oral sex, as long as it's done 'in private between a consenting adult heterosexual couple, aged sixteen years and above.’ Julia Ng, ‘Penal code review to add protection for minors, flexibility for judges,’ ChannelNewsAsia, 8 November 2006.

    [44] Ruth Vanita, ‘Homosexuality in India: past and present,’ in In Her Own Voice – A Support Group for Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgendered Women in Eastern India, 2008, pp. 1–8.

    [45] Melissa Bull, Susan Pinto and Paul Wilson, ‘Homosexual law reform in Australia,’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, vol. 29 (1991): 1–10.

    [46] Bull, Pinto and Wilson, ‘Homosexual law reform in Australia.’

    [47] Lily Kong and Brenda. S.A. Yeoh, The Politics of Landscape in Singapore: Constructions of ‘Nation,’ New York: Syracuse University Press, 2003.

    [48] Yao, Singapore.

    [49] Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, ‘State fatherhood: the politics of nationalism, sexuality and race in Singapore,’ in Nationalisms and Sexualities, ed. Andrew Parker, New York: Routledge, 1992, pp. 343–65.

    [50] Widely thought of as the founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1991. Due to his eminent status nationally and internationally, his comments are often received with a great deal of attention and treated to much scrutiny. He is presently Minister Mentor.

    [51] Richard Soloway, Demography and Degeneration, Eugenics and the Declining Birth Rate, Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina University Press, 1989.

    [52] Heng and Devan, ‘State fatherhood.’

    [53] A closer scrutiny of Lee’s anxieties reveals that class and race, in addition to gender, also figure prominently in the State’s framing of a national crisis, for women of recalcitrant fertility were by and large Chinese (the majority race in Singapore), upper and middle-class professionals, while those with indiscriminate fertility rates were of Malay and Indian descent (the minority racial groups in Singapore). See Heng and Devan, ‘State fatherhood.’

    [54] This was Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's assessment of the consequences of a declining birth rate among highly educated women at his National Day Rally speech in 1983.

    [55] This was the argument for the establishment of strong (heterosexual) family units presented in the policy statement published in April 1999 entitled Singapore 21: Together we make the difference, 1999, p. 15, online:, accessed 21 April 2008.

    [56] L.T. Lyons, ‘Sexing the nation: normative heterosexuality and the “good” Singaporean citizen,’ The Nation of the Other: Constructions of Nation in Contemporary Cultural and Literary Discourses, ed. A. Branach-Kallas and K. Wieckowska, Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika (Nicolas Copernicus University), Torun, Poland, 2004, pp. 79–96.

    [57] In this instance, the burden of procreation seems to fall squarely on women as, according to Lee’s 1983 statistics, Singapore women generally selected mates of equal or superior academic standing. Therefore, graduate mothers alone could be relied upon to guarantee the genetic purity of the nation. See Heng and Devan, ‘State fatherhood.’

    [58] Yao, Singapore.

    [59] Thomas Laqueur, ‘Orgasm, generation and the politics of reproductive biology,’ in The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur, Berkeley: University of Californian Press, 1987, pp. 1–41.

    [60] Heng and Devan, ‘State fatherhood,’ 347.

    [61] Leong, ‘Walking the tightrope.’

    [62] The PAP has been in power in Singapore by overwhelming majorities since 1959, hence throughout this essay, the PAP is treated as being largely synonymous with the state. The relationship between the state and its ruling party in Singapore has been variously described within the literature as a dominant party system—Thomas. J. Bellows, The People’s Action Party of Singapore: Emergence of a Dominant Party System, New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series, 1970—the administrative state—Heng Chee Chan, ‘The PAP and the structuring of the political system,’ in Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore, ed. Singh Sandhu Kernial and Paul Wheatley, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1989, pp. 70–89—and the corporatist state—David Brown, The State and Ethnic Politics in Southeast Asia, London: Routledge, 1994. There are however, critiques to these models. See Michael Hill and Kwen Fee Lian, The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore, London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

    [63] Yao, Singapore.

    [64] Yao, Singapore.

    [65] Yao, Singapore.

    [66] Lionel Trilling, Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

    [67] Fredric Jameson, ‘Pleasure: a political issue,’ in Formations of Pleasure, ed. Formations Collective, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983, pp. 1–14.

    [68] Yao, Singapore, p. 107.

    [69] Lyons, ‘Sexing the nation.’

    [70] Offord, ‘The burden of (homo)sexual identity in Singapore.’

    [71] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Harmondsworth: Peregrine, 1984.

    [72] Yao, Singapore.

    [73] Yao, Singapore, p. 112.

    [74] Hill and Lian, The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore; Adrian Oldfield, Citizenship and Community: Civic Republicanism and the Modern World, London: Routledge, 1990.

    [75] Hill and Lian, The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore; Oldfield, Citizenship and Community.

    [76] The divide between sexual dissidents and non-dissidents is arbitrary and not definitive for there may be individuals who engage in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or engage predominantly in one set of the aforementioned sexual activities while occasionally dabbling in the other.

    [77] Kong and Yeoh, The Politics of Landscape in Singapore. The remaining three values are about regard and community support for the individual; consensus instead of contention; and racial and religious harmony. The notion of an explicit national ideology was first raised by the then First Deputy Prime Minister and Minster for Defence, Mr Goh Chok Tong in 1988 when he argued that ‘there had been a clear shift in…values from communitarianism to individualism, especially among younger Singaporeans.’ This transformation of values of Singaporeans was deemed to be of concern to the government as it was believed to ‘determine [her] national competitiveness, and…prosperity and survival as a nation.’ Goh Chok Tong, 'Our National Ethic,' Speeches, vol. 12, no. 5 (September–October 1988), p. 13, quoted in Jon S.T. Quah, ‘National values and nation-building: defining the problem,’ in In Search of Singapore’s National Values, ed. Jon S.T. Quah, Singapore: The Institute of Policy Studies and Times Academic Press, 1990, pp. 1–5.

    [78] Lawrence Knopp, ‘Sexuality and urban space,’ in Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities, ed. David Bell and Gill Valentine, London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 149–64.

    [79] See Thomas Humphrey Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class, and Other Essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950.

    [80] Lisa Duggan, ‘Queering the state,’ in Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture, ed. Lisa Duggan and D. Hunter Nan, New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 178–93; Richardson, ‘Sexuality and citizenship.’

    [81] Phelan, Sexual Strangers.

    [82] Singapore’s only official mainstream broadsheet English language newspaper.

    [83] These websites wereSingapore, Repeal 377A NOW!, 2007, online:, site accessed 24 April 2008 (no longer available); and Keep 377A, It's Time We Speak, 2007, online: /Default.aspx, site accessed 24 April 2008 (no longer available).

    [84] This was the argument put forth by supporters on the online forum Repeal 377A to revoke section 377A of the penal code that criminalises homosexual sex act.

    [85] ‘Letters to the Prime Minister,’ Keep—It’s Time We Speak, 2007, online, accessed 24 April 2008 (no longer available).

    [86] Keep—It’s Time We Speak.

    [87] John P. Hewitt and Randall Stokes, ‘Disclaimers,’ in American Sociological Review, vol. 40, no. 1 (1975): 1–11.

    [88] Chris Brickell, ‘Whose “special treatment”? Heterosexism and the problems with liberalism,’ Sexualities, vol. 4, no. 2 (2001): 211–35; Teun A. Van Dijk, ‘Discourse and the denial of racism,’ Discourse and Society, vol. 3, no. 1 (1992): 87–118.

    [89] Brickell, ‘Whose “special treatment”?’ p. 214.

    [90] Section 28 became law as part of the Local Government Act (1988) passed by the UK Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher, after an intense period of intense controversy over what was best described as ‘the promotion of homosexuality in schools.’ This clause prohibited the promotion of homosexuality as a ‘pretended family relationship’ in ‘any maintained school’ in Burridge, ‘“I am not homophobic but…”,’ p. 328.

    [91] Momin Rahman, ‘The shape of equality: discursive deployments during the Section 28 repeal in Scotland,’ in Sexualities, vol. 7, no. 2 (2004):150–66; Joseph Burridge, ‘“I am not homophobic but….”: disclaiming in discourse resisting repeal of Section 28,’ in Sexualities, vol. 7, no. 3 (2004):327–44.

    [92] Rahman, ‘The shape of equality,’ p. 155.

    [93] ‘Letters to the Prime Minister.’

    [94] Van Dijk, ‘Discourse and the denial of racism,’ p. 115.

    [95] A discourse analysis of the arguments put forth to support or object the repeal of Section 377A is not the aim of this essay.

    [96] Simon Elegant, ‘The lion in winter,’ in Time, 7 July 2003.

    [97] Lee Kuan Yew, dialogue session with the young PAP, 21 April 2007.

    [98] Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, New York: Basic Books, 2002.

    [99] For examples of critiques on Florida’s Creative Class thesis, see Michelle Hoyman and Christopher Faricy, ‘It takes a village: a test of the creative class, social capital and human capital theories,’ Urban Affairs Review, vol. 44, no. 3 (2009): 311–33; and Jamie Peck, ‘Struggling with the creative class,’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 29, no. 4 (2005): 740–70.

    [100] Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, p. 8.

    [101] Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, p. 249.

    [102] This is known as the ‘Gay Index’ that proves a good indicator of the sort of openness and diversity that attract high-tech, extremely mobile workers, businesses and other talented people due to its low entry barriers to human capital, in Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class pp. 255–58.

    [103] Chris K.K. Tan, ‘“But they are like you and me”: gay civil servants and citizenship in a cosmopolitanising Singapore,’ City & Society, vol. 21, no. 1 (2009): 133–54.

    [104] Peter Van Ham, ‘The rise of the brand state: The postmodern politics of image reputation,’ Foreign Affairs, vol. 80, no. 5 (2001): 2–6.

    [105] David Bell and Jon Binnie, ‘Authenticating queer space: citizenship, urbanism and governance,’ Urban Studies, vol. 41, no. 9 (2004):1807–20.

    [106] Engin F. Isin and Patricia K. Wood, Citizenship and Identity, London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1999; Tan, ‘“But they are like you and me”.’

    [107] As observed by Bell and Binnie, ‘Authenticating queer space.’

    [108] Anna L. Tsing, ‘Inside the economy of appearances,’ Public Culture, vol. 12, no. 1 (2000): 115–44.

    [109] Bell and Binnie, ‘Authenticating queer space.’

    [110] Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, p. 256.

    [111] Such sites of cultural diversity may themselves be critiqued as being mere tokenism—empty sites fabricated for the sole purpose of place marketing in what Anna L. Tsing suggests as a burgeoning economy of appearances. Tsing, ‘Inside the economy of appearances.’

    [112] As noted by Nikolas Rose, ‘Governing cities, governing citizens,’ in Democracy, Citizenship and the Global City, ed. Engin F. Isin, London: Routledge, 2000, pp. 95–109.

    [113] Meredith Weiss, ‘Who sets social policy in metropolis? Economic positioning and social reform in Singapore,’ in New Political Science, vol. 27, no. 3 (2005): 267–89.

    [114] The confluence of economics and queer community-building have been explored in several works: John D’ Emilio, ‘Capitalism and gay identity,’ in The Gender/Sexuality Reader: Culture, History, Political Economy, ed. Roger, N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo, New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 169–78; Dennis Altman, ‘Rupture or continuity?: The internationalization of gay identities,’ Social Text, vol. 48 (1996): 77–84; Peter A. Jackson, ‘Gay capitals in global gay history: cities, local markets, and the origins of Bangkok’s same-sex cultures,’ in Postcolonial Urbanism: Southeast Asian Cities and Global Processes, ed. Ryan Bishop, John Phillips and Wei-Wei Yeo, New York: Routledge, 2003, pp. 151–66. All three studies explicate the similar theme of the growth of free markets and relations of capitalism forming the basis for an emergence of homosexual identities and cultures.

    [115] Richardson, ‘Sexuality and citizenship,’ p. 95.

    [116] Rahman, ‘The shape of equality.’

    [117] Richardson, ‘Sexuality and citizenship.’

    [118] Weiss, ‘Who sets social policy in metropolis?’ p. 287.

    [119] Melanie Chew, ‘Human rights in Singapore: perceptions and problems,’ Asian Survey, vol. 34, no. 11 (1994): 933–48, quoted in Baden, ‘The burden of (homo)sexual identity in Singapore,’ p. 301.

    [120] Chew, ‘’Human rights,’ p. 935.

    [121] Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterates that although ‘gayness is mostly something in-born’ and ‘a personal matter,’ Section 377A will be retained because ‘that’s the way many Singaporeans feel’ it should be so: ‘Singapore PM: Gay Sex Laws Retained Because “That’s the Way Many Singaporeans Feel”,’ the Straits Times, 24 September 2007. In addition, shortly before the parliamentary debate on Section 377A began, the Straits Times published an attitudinal study towards gay men and lesbians in Singapore: Benjamin H. Detenber, Mark Cenite, Moses K.Y. Ku, Carol P.L. Ong, hazel Y. Tong and Magdalene L.H. Yeow, ‘Singaporeans’ attitudes towards lesbians and gay men and their tolerance of media portrayals of homosexuality,’ International Journal of Public Opinion Research, vol. 19, no. 3 (2007): 367–79. It was reported that 68.6 percent of the respondents expressed negative attitudes, compared to 22.9 percent who expressed positive attitudes. Therefore it insinuated that a majority of the public was still not accepting of homosexuality.

    [122] Russell Hiang Khng Heng, ‘The before and after of the increasingly visible gay community in Singapore,’ Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 40, no. 3–4 (2001): 81–97. The idea of ‘Asian values’ as the basis of Singapore’s culture is a regular and predictable part of the state’s political and public rhetoric (as articulated in the earlier part of this essay). The fundamental opposition between ‘Asian’ and ‘western’ values has been appropriated to construct the former as the ‘cultural ballast’ of the nation, distinguishing them from the culturally polluting ‘western’ values that include individualism, teenage pregnancy, radical feminism and the legitimisation of sexual deviance: John Clammer, Singapore: Ideology, Society, Culture, Singapore: Chopman Publishers, 1985; Heng, ‘The before and after of the increasingly visible gay community in Singapore.’

    [123] Brickell, ‘Whose “special treatment”?’; Carol Johnson, ‘Heteronormative citizenship and the politics of passing,’ Sexualities, vol. 5, no. 3 (2002): 317–36; Momin Rahman, Sexuality and Democracy: Identities and Strategies in Lesbian and Gay Politics, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000; Diane Richardson, ‘Claiming citizenship: sexuality, citizenship and lesbian/feminist theory,’ Sexualities, vol. 3, no. 2 (2000): 255–72.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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