For the first time ever I am going to Pink Dot on 1st July, because it is important I do so

I feel there is an urgency now to be there, and I cannot neglect to be part of it anymore. It’s funny that I’m finally going mainly because I am so annoyed by the behaviour of the anti-Pink Dot (and therefore anti-LGBT) people who had called for the removal of a banner for the Pink Dot event that is displayed at a mall, and even called for police involvement. What’s worse is that subsequently, The Advertising Standards Authority had asked the mall to remove the tagline “Supporting the Freedom to Love” from the banner.

Related links about that:

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That there are people who have a problem with the words “Supporting the Freedom to Love” just blows my mind! I mean, c’mon, really? Relating to it as a gay man, I just can’t imagine how rotten and decaying a heart needs to be, how possessed with seething hatred do you need to be, to have a problem with a man LOVING another man. Does your dirty mind immediately turn to sex, because you think that’s all we are all about, that that’s all being gay is all about? If that’s the case, not all gay men engage in anal sex by the way, and even if we do it is none of your business. And hey, women have anuses too, don’t they? How do you know if your straight sibling or parent or best friend or neighbour or teacher or that leader you look up to, engage in what you consider right or wrong in bed? You don’t, because it is none of your business. And you would never dream to ask them what they do or don’t do in bed, would you? And yet you consider us fair game, and you consider it perfectly normal and justified to associate us in terms of nothing but sex sex sex, as if we are animals who do not have feelings, who do not need emotional and romantic love and companionship, and who do not have interests and concerns and a life outside the ‘gay’ part of ourselves as human beings.

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It’s funny and silly it has taken the spite of some anti-gay people to finally spur me to attend Pink Dot, but there you have it. Their action has backfired with at least one person. Because previously I wasn’t going, but now because of them I’m going. Because, you know the expression, “when push comes to shove“? Well for the first time in all my life of 43 years as a Singaporean gay person in Singapore, I feel I am being shoved, and now the seeds of trepidation are sown in me. I am now uneasy and apprehensive, but I also feel upset, and I’m dealing with that by making sure I am part of Pink Dot on 1st July.

What on earth is going to happen to us gay folks in Singapore in the years to come? Do I have to start thinking of migrating to another country, when all this time I have taken for granted that I will grow old quietly here with my partner of 23 years because this is where we belong, this is where I intend to live for the rest of my life? Not that I have the means to leave in the first place, but even if I do, why should I ever? It’s crazy I’m starting to think I might have to leave. Singapore is my country. And Singapore is where my family is too, so this is where my heart is. I’m not going anywhere.

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I’m a bit nervous, though, I have to admit. I know, it’s not like I’m doing anything dramatic or heroic, it’s just a little token gesture of showing up to show my support, and a way to finally express my thanks and gratitude to the organizers for bravely organizing Pink Dot all these years. 2017 is their 9th year.

It’s just that, firstly, I’m going not so much because I wanted to, not so much because I was planning to, but to make a point to the haterz and that annoys the crap out of me. Does it make sense to feel that way? I never went to a Pink Dot in previous years simply because I never wanted to and never felt I needed to. I don’t celebrate being gay, just like I don’t celebrate or rejoice being Malay or being Muslim, or feel the need to reaffirm my Malayness or Muslimness. These are just some of the things that make me who I am, so I just quietly and privately live my life as who I am, including as a Muslim, Malay and gay man. Oh whatever that means. Well you know what I mean. And I hate crowded events.

* Crowded *

Just thinking of them, or worse, thinking of attending them, gives me a headache. I’ve never even been to a concert before my whole life. I’d rather stay home and listen to the CD. When I say I like a singer, I mean I like their talent and music. I don’t care for their personal lives or gossip about them, and I don’t feel a need to see them in person. So, as much as I love Mariah Carey or Andrea Bocelli for instance, if somebody offers me free tickets, I’d say no thank you. As much as I love these two singers, enough to have almost all their CDs in their considerable discography, I still don’t love them enough to actually haul my ass to a crowded venue to watch them sing live.

I just can’t stand crowded places, period. I can block out the people around me in say, a crowded shopping mall, because I just zoom straight to the shops which have the stuff I’m there for, grab what I need and get the hell out. But to go to an event which I imagine will last a couple of hours? And not to mention in this case: while wearing something pink? PINK? Oh my God. Alright, fine, whatever.

* Alone *

It will most likely be awkward for me as I will be going alone. The one Singaporean gay friend I know to ask and who wants to go too will be away on a work trip on 1st July. So I will go alone, and I’m a bit nervous about that, truth be told. I don’t know what to expect in such an event. I’ve been to things like museums and art galleries and the cinema by myself many many times, and blissfully happy in my own company each time. But in a joyous busy-bee event filled with many happy shiny people, I’m sure I’m going to look like a loser being alone, looking uncomfortable and unhappy and with no one to talk to. Just sullenly stand there with my arms crossed, or pretending to be busy with my phone. In a pink shirt, no less. Pink! Shit.

* Pink *

Actually I don’t mind the colour all that much, come to think of it. And considering my favourite colour is purple, which had gotten me some teasing and ribbing, it’s really not my place to turn my nose up at pink.

* Identification required *

This too has riled me into wanting to attend Pink Dot, perhaps even more than the anti-banner people I mentioned earlier. The newly-installed restrictions sadly mean that foreigners are strictly not allowed to be present at all (which feels so incredibly mean to me because we want their tourism dollars and we want them to come and work here to contribute to the economy but we don’t allow them to support the freedom to love?), so checking the identification of attendees is a way of making sure only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents get past the checkpoint and barricades to gain access to the event. Yes, barricades.

Related links about this:

But surely anyone can see that it will also deter some local folks, gay or straight, from attending? Will our identification be registered and recorded in some way? That would scare off many people. Not only gays who need or choose to stay in the closet for whatever personal reason. What about other people like me, who choose to be open only to family members and friends, and not to casual acquaintances? What about civil servants, even if they are not gay but just big-hearted enough to want to go support a loved one like a family member or a friend, who could very well NEED that support? Wouldn’t having to show their Identity Card make some feel hesitant?  I think it’s reasonable to guess that some people will be put off from attending. And that’s just so damn heartless.

* I still want to go *

I’m still going. I will be there, God willing. Pink shirt, crowds and noise, being awkward and alone. Barricades! Manned by security personnel! Having to show my photo identification to them and perhaps judgmental eyes. Whatever, whatever. I still want to go.

When push comes to shove.

I have been shoved into going, so go I will. It’s the absolute, absolute least I can do. For the community, for myself. And not to be dramatic, but really it’s for the country as well when you think about it, for us Singaporeans as a whole nation, regardless of race, language or religion. I have no choice but to take this first step. I owe it to everyone including myself. It’s like a duty, I see it that way.

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Jack Andraka

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Image from the tumblr blog Faith In Humanity Restored. Click to go there.

Reading about 16-year-old American Jack Andraka, the scientist who developed an early-detection test for pancreatic cancer, and what he has achieved through curiosity, determination and hard work is powerful stuff. I first came to know about him from the Facebook page of Pink Dot SG a few days ago, when I read about him being honoured by the Pope with an award in Rome. The International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, which is given to young adults the Vatican considers to be positive role models.

A few years ago when Jack was 13, a close family friend passed away from pancreatic cancer, and Jack felt compelled to learn more about the disease. He went online to find answers, and was shocked to learn that over 85% of pancreatic cancer patients were diagnosed late, and that the current tests used for this are terribly outdated and more than 60 years old. Not to mention prohibitively expensive at US$800 per test, and inaccurate, missing 30% of all pancreatic cancer.

If I watch only one video a year, that’s fine as long it has the same significance of Jack’s TED talk below. I felt impressed and hopeful for the future, yes, if more young people are like him. But also scared and angry about the current state of testing for pancreatic cancer. If people in so-called First World countries who have the means to pay for their medical tests and treatments can still be so screwed, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The Advocate.com article also mentioned that Jack is “in negotiations with a couple of biotech firms to refine and market the test, which would likely be available to the public in five to 10 years.” I hope that it will still be affordable and accessible to everyone by the time it does reach the market.

From his bio page at Ted.com:

After Andraka’s proposal to build and test his idea for a pancreatic cancer detector was rejected from 199 labs, the teen landed at Johns Hopkins. There, he built his device using inexpensive strips of filter paper, carbon nanotubes and antibodies sensitive to mesothelin, a protein found in high levels in people with pancreatic cancer. When dipped in blood or urine, the mesothelin adheres to these antibodies and is detectable by predictable changes in the nanotubes’ electrical conductivity.

In preliminary tests, Andraka’s invention has shown 100 percent accuracy. It also finds cancers earlier than current methods, costs a mere 3 cents and earned the high schooler the 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize.

And according to Wikipedia:

Jack has been openly gay since he was 13,and discussed that in interviews with The New Civil Rights Movement,the London Evening Standard,and Washington’s MetroWeekly,among others. When asked to be interviewed about his sexual orientation, Jack responded, “That sounds awesome! I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]. I didn’t have many [gay] role models [in science] besides Alan Turing.”

Related:

Pope Francis

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Photograph by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency, via Wikipedia. Click to go there.

Pope Francis was born to Italian parents in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 17th December 1936, and named Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He is the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church. He worked briefly as a chemical technician before entering seminary and ordained a priest in 1969. He became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. Following the resignation of Pope Benedict in February 2013, Pope Francis was elected. He chose the papal name Francis in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi.

I first read about him honouring American teenage (and openly gay) scientist Jack Andraka on the Facebook page of Pink Dot SG a few days ago. I’m happily stunned by this news. I don’t know where to begin. A sixteen year old scientist? Wow, that’s amazing. Who made a breakthrough in cancer research? Oh my God, that’s incredible. Pope Francis honouring his achievement? That’s wonderful.

Jack was honoured with the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, which is given to young adults whom the Vatican considers to be positive role models. On Advocate.com I read that Jack Andraka had said in an interview:

“It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist. I mean this would be unheard of just a few years ago. To be part of this bridge of progress is really amazing. It just shows how much the world has grown to accept people that are gay and are LGBT. It’s really amazing.”

A few months ago, I also came across on the blog Bryan Patterson’s Faithworks on Pope Francis touching on homosexuality when he said, “Who am I to judge them?”.

Huffingtonpost.com quoted the Wall Street Journal that the Pope’s comment about homosexuality was in context of a question about gay priests. He was on the plane back to Rome from Rio where he had visited slums and prisons, and presided over a Mass for three million people at Copacabana Beach. On the plane, he was taking questions from reporters and he spoke about gays and the reported ‘gay lobby’.

“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Pope Francis is much admired by many people around the world, myself included, for his humility and his concern for the poor, for his compassion for others regardless of backgrounds and religious beliefs, and for his choosing to live more modestly when he has access to luxuries at the Vatican. Long before he became Pope, he was already known for his humility and leading a simple lifestyle. For example when he was Cardinal in Buenos Aires, he was taking public transport to get around, and chose to live in a small apartment rather than in an elegant bishop’s residence, and cooked his own meals.