Gay film banned; wives cry

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In the previous essay, Local media can write about gay pride events in China, not Singapore, I wrote about Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao reporting on gay pride events in China. In a way, our local media was only following the lead of western media. For example, the New York Times too had a long story about Shanghai Pride and took the opportunity to describe something about the social conditions faced by gay people in China:

For most gay men and lesbians in China, revealing their sexuality to their families is unimaginable. Parents expect their sons and daughters to produce heirs, an obligation that has become even more intense in a society where single-child families are the standard.

— New York Times, 14 June 2009, Gay festival in China pushes official boundaries

The story also told about cover-up marriages like Huang Jiankun’s:

To assuage his parents, he orchestrated a fake wedding to a lesbian friend, but eventually the truth came out. “The problem is when you lie, it becomes connected to another lie and you can’t keep it up,” he said.

— ibid.

* * * * *

This was the subject of a blogpost I stumbled upon last month. It sprang out of a seminar the blogger attended. The post discussed the problems faced by women who only found out after their marriage that their husbands were gay. The following is a merged translation by my friends Russell Heng and Petrus Tan of the relevant portion of the blogpost:

Caring about homowife

I attended a forum that discussed the problem of “homowife”. The so-called “Homowife” (tongqi) is the wife (qi) of a homosexual (tongzi). It has been said that China has 20 million male homosexuals, of whom 80 per cent would marry a woman. These women are the “homowives”, and there would be 16 million people.

The homowife phenomenon is a phenomenon characteristic of China, seldom witnessed in other countries. In other countries, homosexuals would remain single or live together or marry other homosexuals. Very few would contract a heterosexual marriage. This difference comes about because Chinese culture places such a great emphasis on marriage and reproduction, as to make them compulsory.

During my visit to Hungary, I found out that only 10 per cent of people of marriageable age got hitched. The rest fell into three categories: single, cohabiting (living together), LAT (lovers who live apart). In this kind of society, homosexuals do not have any need at all to enter into a heterosexual marriage. People would not gossip about them and parents do not apply pressure. Unfortunately our Chinese culture is oppressive with its dictum on men and women having to get married when they reach a certain age and naming the lack of progeny as the most serious breach of filial piety – “there are three kinds of unfilial behaviour and the greatest is have no descendant”. It thus forces a community of male homosexuals to marry women to have children.

The situation of the “homowife” is extremely tragic. At the seminar, there were homowives who burst into tears as they spoke, leading all of them to hug each other for a good cry. Most days, they wash their faces with tears. I heard what I considered the most shocking testimony that from a woman who told of how she even doubted her ability to attract men — why wouldn’t her husband even want to look at her or touch her? Am I really that unworthy as a woman? She assumed that all men would treat her like that, not knowing that this is far from the truth. She did not dream that her husband would be gay. Under the circumstances, even the most beautiful and accomplished woman would not arouse him.

Homowives have started to get organized in an effort to help themselves and help others. They have started a website and a helpline to assist fellow women who have fallen into the same predicament.

Their highest priority is to prevent women from marrying homosexuals, help those who suspect the sexual orientation of their boyfriends to analyse their situation better; and in the event that the other party is a confirmed homosexual, to persuade the woman not to proceed with the marriage.

Secondly, they would like to extend a helping hand to those women who are already married to homosexuals and who would like a divorce. This includes helping them to make up their minds, relieving the pressure on them and reduce the financial and psychological damage that comes with divorce.

Thirdly, they would like to address the problems of homowives who do not want a divorce for a variety of reasons. This would include helping them to analyse the cost of keeping such a marriage going, how to communicate with their husbands and how to get along with their children.

They proposed a slogan: “Homowife ends with me”. This slogan is full of hurt and also extends concern to those who may follow in their footsteps. The slogan gives one a feeling that it is a noble cause.

I hope the majority of male homosexuals do not enter into heterosexual marriages any more and spare a thought for the feelings of the homowife.

As you can see, social pressure to maintain the pretense of heterosexuality has tragic effects of people. So long as we maintain stigma and disadvantage people for being gay though law, policies and custom, this problem will continue.

* * * * *

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Yet, that is exactly what we do. For example, the Media Development Authority banned the film “Boy” by Filipino filmmaker Aureus Solito, from the Singapore International Film Festival earlier this year, accusing it of “normalising” homosexuality.

The second film, Boy, revolves around a teenager who is attracted to a young dancer in a gay bar and ends up having a homosexual relationship with him.

The film includes a prolonged and explicit homosexual love-making sequence between the teenager and the dancer.

The panel was also consulted about the film. Members felt that the film normalised homosexuality and that the homosexual scene was prolonged and explicit and filmed in a romanticised manner. The panel chairman, Mr Vijay Chandran, observed that ‘the homosexual love-making scene has exceeded the guidelines and the board, by allowing it, will shift the markers set by the community’.

The board agrees and hence Boy has not been passed for classification.

— Letter by Amy Chua, Chairman of Board of Film Censors, published in the Straits Times’ forum, 11 April 2009.

Get real. Normalising homosexuality is exactly what we need to do. Shifting the markers is exactly what we need to do.

No doubt, some readers will say, why is there a need to portray two gay men in an explicit love-making scene? While I haven’t seen the movie myself, I can understand an artistic purpose — that of taking the audience into the romance and joy of a budding relationship. Filmmaker Solito, described “Boy” as a “coming-of-age” story about a young poet who “discovers his sexuality and falls for a macho dancer.”

More about the film “Boy” and MDA from this site:

“Boy” is enjoying rave reviews from moviegoers and critics alike. One critic praised the film for its “nuanced sociopolitical commentary to a lengthy, lovely, languid love scene…” A viewer from the 2009 Torino GLBT Film Festival, where the film held its world premiere last April, noted that the film has “the most beautiful love scene in the festival.” The Seattle International Film Festival calls the connection between the two central characters “sweet and fragile in a way that brings a freshness to the film.”

The film is also attracting a different kind of attention in some parts of the world. The government censors in Singapore banned the film from being shown in that country in March, after organizers of the international film festival there selected the film for its competition. According to the Singapore government censors, “Boy” was banned because members of the censorship board “felt that the film normalised homosexuality and that the homosexual scene was prolonged and explicit and filmed in a romanticised manner.”

According to Solito: “Initially, I was so happy that the film festival in Singapore selected the film for competition. It however became a great disappointment that the censors in Singapore disallowed the film from screening in the festival. The phrase “normalises homosexuality” and “romanticise” very clearly articulates their homophobic view. To the censors, I want to send the message: “Gay people also make love.”

But more importantly, the point is this: whether you agree or disagree with his artistic decision, why should the film be banned? Classify it for adult audiences if need be, but why ban it? Why are we afraid that it might change people’s minds about homosexuality?

12 Responses to “Gay film banned; wives cry”


  1. 1 Robox 23 June 2009 at 03:02

    Re: “Why are [they] afraid that it might change people’s minds about homosexuality?”

    I took the liberty to change the “we’ in the above poser to “they” even though I understand the spirit in which you meant the original.

    To answer the question, “they’ don’t want people’s mind on same-sex attractions/relationships to be changed because by allowing for the screening of the film, any depiction of tenderness and normal human emotions would humanize us. On top of normalizing us, that is.

    From the PAP government’s standpoint, which just so happens to coincide with the Christian Lions’ Food one, this would be antithetical to their true intentions of demonizing LGBTs.

  2. 2 Robox 23 June 2009 at 03:31

    Re: “The panel chairman, Mr Vijay Chandran, observed that ‘the homosexual love-making scene has exceeded the guidelines and the board, by allowing it, will shift the markers set by the community’.”

    Going by the definition in community development studies, a community is one in which people come together to solve problems that they hold in common; the problem to be solved here is that of LGBT affirmation, empowerment, acceptance, and respect through the medium of film.

    Why does Vijay Chandran speak of Singapore society as if it comprised only one undifferentiated mass that he should refer to us one community? In all likelihood, the film would have mostly been attended by LGBTs and others who may be LGBT-friendly; that is the community that a film like this is intended to attract. (Of course, we may also expect attendance by a couple of Lions’ Food who will be there to gather material that they and their ilk may distort in a future witchunt-cum-smear-campaign agaisnt LGBTs.)

    This is exactly the kind of totalitarianizing of Singapore, beginning with the totalitarianizing of our social spaces. This would then predispose the population to the type of totalitarianizing that we saw during the AWARE saga in which only heterosexual students are deemed to be deserving of a proper sex education in the schools.

    I might also add that the Board’s guidelines, while falling under the category of policy and not law, are nevertheless required – in jurisdictions that respect the rule of law, that is – to be in line with the law and not contradict it.

    This is yet another foul move by the PAP government.

  3. 3 Larry 23 June 2009 at 05:07

    In response to the question “why is there a need to portray two gay men in an explicit love-making scene” I ask of straight films “why is there a need to portray a heterosexual couple in an explicit love-making scene”.

  4. 4 Lee Chee Wai 23 June 2009 at 11:42

    If I am not wrong, I read that homosexual men in “the West” also frequently married women to avoid the stigma back in the past.

    A pity it may be difficult to find strong conclusive evidence of the influence of conservative social stigma in such decisions. There may be many more Ted Haggards (well-known conservative pastor in the US who publicly denounced homosexuality but was himself gay) around in the conservative world, but unless they get caught (like Haggard), it would be hard to hear of their stories. I am inclined to believe, however, the anecdotal evidence that a conservative society is likely to force homosexuals into unfortunate “norms” just to “prove” they are not homosexual and avoid the scorn heaped on them.

  5. 5 Syle 23 June 2009 at 15:04

    Precisely, Singapore is TERRIFIED of its citizens changing its mind about homosexuality.

  6. 6 Anonymous 24 June 2009 at 00:05

    So MDA has banned an artistic film invited by SIFF for competition. Well, when the word goes round as it surely will, Singapore can kiss it’s creative media hub dreams goodbye!

  7. 7 FYI 24 June 2009 at 06:25

    I’m baffled? Singapore censors did allow the showing of Brokback Mountain, why not this movie?
    The fact remains that with all of this homophobic behavior, this will only increase closet gays in Singapore, which is a self-defeating purpose, in my opinion.
    Here in America, it will only be a matter of time when all states will recognize gay civil unions.
    The conservative state of IOWA has done it.

    Gay people have rights too!

  8. 8 Mouth of the Beast 24 June 2009 at 20:48

    Gay men marrying women certainly happened in the West and probably still does, though not to the extent it did.

    An elderly friend of mine in the UK, when younger, was advised to marry as a “cure” for his homosexuality, and so he did. I don’t know if he told his wife he was gay. This merely had the effect of making two people miserable, and his wife ultimately had a nervous breakdown. Since accepting his homosexuality, he has been in a very happy gay relationship for over 35 years, which has now been recognised in UK law with them entering a civil partnership.I don’t know what happened to his poor wife.

    My view is that it is immoral for a man who knows he’s gay to marry a woman who doesn’t know, or doesn’t realise he can never love her physically or emotionally in the way that she has a right to expect.

    As for the film festival censorship, whatever the general rules, clearly a film festival is a special event, and a liberal “space”, and I wonder if the “panel” and board comprised the right people, or even if they should have any say in what gets shown at a festival.

    How does the panel and board get selected? Does it include representatives of the film and gay community? Why is the fundamentist language of “normalising” homosexuality used by them?

    I thought the government had made it clear its view was that homosexuality is inborn; yet it seems to be making censorship and education decisions based on the propaganda of fundamentalists that removing prejudice against gays (“normalising”) will somehow encourage heterosexuals to become gay.

    The decision to show this film should be purely on artistic merit. I haven’t seen it so I have no view on its merits. Festival audiences are mature and the subject matter is not an issue.

    I guess the larger question is, is Singapore mature enough in its approach to have a real prospect of becoming a hub for the arts? I suspect the approach and attitude will have to change significantly to be successful.

  9. 9 quantum 27 June 2009 at 00:25

    http://www.asiaone.com/Digital/News/Story/A1Story20090626-151108.html

    Parents unhappy about rape scenes in local TV dramas

    Recent local drama serials are employing rape scenes more often in their plots.

    This has raised the attention of parents who feel that their children might influenced by these scenes, Lianhe Wanbao reported on Thursday.

    A parent pointed out that three recent primetime serials – “The Ultimatum” showing on Channel 8, and Channel 5’s “Red Thread” and “Fighting Spiders” – all contained rape scenes. The scenes were not fleeting ones, but drawn-out depictions which emphasised the pain and trauma the characters were going through.

    Felicia Chin’s character Sun Min in “The Ultimatum”, for example, was raped by three men and was on the brink of mental hysteria after the incident.

    Characters played by Celest Chong and Ezann Lee were both subjected to similar predicaments, in their respective shows,”Red Thread” and “Fighting Spiders”.

    Doing it for the ratings?

    A parent commented online: “Isn’t ‘Fighting Spiders’ supposed to be a show suitable for the young to watch? If so, why does it contain a rape scene? Children are simply too young to understand what they see.

    “Are producers trying to prepare our children for such horrible things? Are they brainwashing them by saying that rape is so common that they should just simply ‘move on’ when it happens?”

    Being the school holidays now, many parents feel that these primetime serials will be watched by children and the rape scenes contained within are highly inappropriate.

    Another netizen pointed out that Joanne Peh’s character in the Channel 8 hit TV series “The Little Nonya” was also raped and sexually abused. The netizen noted that Joanne went on to win the “Best Actress” title in this year’s Star Awards.

    Some parents are worried that producers will make the content of local drama serials increasingly explicit in order to achieve higher ratings.

    What the expert thinks

    A counsellor told Lianhe Wanbao that scenes from dramas can affect the development of young children and even influence their actions.

    When interviewed by the Chinese daily, Miss Li Hong said that there are possible negative effects on children who are exposed to such violent and sexually explicit scenes on TV.

    After watching dramas containing violence, young people and children may imitate the violent acts.

    She feels that young children are sometimes not discerning enough, so parental guidance is essential.

    Miss Li also points out the fact that television is a form of mass media. Everyone has access to it. Hence she advises broadcast regulators to rate these violent or sexually explicit serials as “PG”, where parental guidance is required.

    “In the past, such violent or explicit scenes were fleeting ones. Now, these scenes are more gruesome and are relatively longer, thus they are not suitable for the young.”

  10. 10 Mouth of the Beast 29 June 2009 at 23:26

    Interesting article posted by Quantum, though some sort of comment relating it to this discussion in some way would have been useful.

    It looks like these programmes were shown to allow people to empathise with and better understand what the victims of rape go through rather than to “normalise” rape.

    But it is interesting that while there are so many dramas and films around that contain violence, murder, terrorism, rape, robbery etc., as a matter of course, and no one seriously believes these “normalise” those actions, yet Singapore chooses to single out the showing any loving, happy,consensual,relationship between two gay people as unnacceptable.

    Weird.

  11. 11 Anonymous 1 July 2009 at 23:54

    I have an answer to FYI’s queries as to why Brokeback Mountain is allowed to be shown but not the Filipino film.
    Because in Brokeback Mountains, the protoganists are tortured and they are in pain. This fits with society’s hypocrisy that as long as you are in pain, I can telerate you, with many people in society at large think that as long as “you” are in pain, I can tolerate you because it shows that “I” am leading a better life than you. The present society has not matured to come to accept that “you” can be openly gay, have an open gay relationship and yet be completely happy.

  12. 12 Anonymous 2 July 2009 at 00:40

    Asian societies have a higher tolerance for films that depict violence, rather tan films that depict sex while it is the former that will actually do more harm. If people are desenstitized to violence, they will condone violence in society and it will actually do more harm to society. Whereas if people are too sexually “pre-occupied”, the major issuesare only the person’s private self-control. It usually does not lead to harm for other people. Anyway, many psychologists would agree that that rape is seldom about sex. It usually has more to do with power.


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