Gender and Sexuality

Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow (editors). Queer Singapore: Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures. Hong Kong University Press, 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.

John Lee. “How Discrimination Kills Gay Men in Singapore,” New Naratif, November 19, 2017.

  • The gay man, or more precisely, someone perceived as a cisgender male person who is attracted to one or more cisgender male person/people, is the target of systemic cradle-to-grave discrimination in modern Singapore. This essay discusses five aspects of such discrimination – law, military, housing, education, and health – and explain how gays attempt to retain agency, dignity, and autonomy in the face of these respective constraints.

Lynette J. Chua. Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State. NUS Press, 2014.

  • From private meetings in living rooms in the 1990s to the emergence of annual rallies and decriminalization campaigns in the past six years, Singapore’s gay rights activists have sought equality and justice in a state that does not recognise their rights to seek protection of their civil and political liberties. In her groundbreaking book, Mobilizing Gay Singapore, Lynette Chua tells the history of the gay rights movement in Singapore and asks what a social movement looks like under these circumstances. She examines the movement’s emergence, development, strategies, and tactics, as well as the roles of law and rights in social processes. Chua uses in-depth interviews with gay activists, observations of the movement’s activities, movement documents, government statements, and media reports. She shows how activists deploy “pragmatic resistance” to gain visibility and support, and tackle political norms that suppress dissent, while avoiding direct confrontations with the state.

Terence Chong (editor). The AWARE saga: Civil society and public morality in Singapore. NUS Press, 2011.

  • In March 2009, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) was briefly taken over by a Christian faction. Their coup was overturned within a matter of weeks, but the episode highlighted a variety of issues, including the role of religion in civil society, sex education, homosexuality, state intervention and media engagement. Although the immediate issue was control of an activist group concerned with women’s rights, it has implications for the agendas and concerns of NGOs, ‘culture wars’, the processes of citizenry mobilization, mass participation and noisy democracy, and liberal voices in contemporary Singapore. In this book, academics and public intellectuals examine the AWARE saga within the context of Singapore’s civil society, considering the political and historical background and how the issues it raised relate to contemporary societal trends. In addition to documenting a milestone event for Singapore’s civil society, the authors offer provocative interpretations that will interest a broad range of readers.

Robert Phillips. Virtual Activism: Sexuality, the Internet, and a Social Movement in Singapore. University of Toronto Press, 2020.

  • In Virtual Activism: Sexuality, the Internet, and a Social Movement in Singapore, cultural anthropologist Robert Phillips provides a detailed, yet accessible, ethnographic case study that looks at the changes in LGBT activism in Singapore in the period 1993-2019. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted with activist organizations and individuals, Phillips illustrates key theoretical ideas – including illiberal pragmatics and neoliberal homonormativity – that, in combination with the introduction of the Internet, have shaped the manner by which LGBT Singaporeans are framing and subsequently claiming rights. Phillips argues that the activism engaged in by LGBT Singaporeans for governmental and societal recognition is in many respects virtual. His analysis documents how the actions of activists have resulted in some noteworthy changes in the lives of LGBT Singaporeans, but nothing as grand as some would have hoped, thus indexing the “not quite” aspect of the virtual. Yet, Virtual Activism also demonstrates how these actions have encouraged LGBT Singaporeans to fight even harder for their rights, signalling the “possibilities” that the virtual holds.