This is a short excerpt from a longer piece of work that I am currently working on. It was written quite a while back, but I would like to dedicate it today to the horrific events that unfolded on June 12, 2016.
Meanwhile, the two men browsed about. They wore ordinary attires: plain t-shirts, fitting pants and one of them had a pair of sunglasses hanging from the neck hole of his shirt. It was perhaps the ordinary that stood out on this otherwise gay couple. I smiled at them and they smiled at me, one of them leaning close and resting his chin on the shoulder of the other, waving emphatically as the other picked up a book to flip through.
“What I don’t appreciate about Singapore literature,” one of them later told me, “is that every story seems to feature a stock homosexual character.”
I asked him what he meant by “stock”.
“These homosexual characters, they are contrived into fictional works, their identity always at odds with society’s expectations, their lives miserable and hype surrounding them riled up. Every damn local author sees a need to work such a character into the story, and you know why?”
I noticed that his partner wasn’t particularly vocal about this issue. Maybe he didn’t mind the attention, maybe he didn’t care for literature in general. Who knew? I gestured for him to continue.
“Because they don’t know how to write a good novel, so adding in controversy is the only way for them to sell their work. Our country is so damn sanitized that our plight is used to replace good literature. Include a homosexual in a storybook for a truly inclusive yet controversial narrative all at once. Homosexuals feel represented, the public feels uncomfortable and the government feels challenged. It’s almost too good an offer to dismiss! People read and drool, but forget that somewhere out there good literature exists, just not in their hands. Books may very well be a tool to deliver a message, but these writers like to shove sexuality in our faces like a butcher using a meat cleaver to slice garlic. If books can make a difference, this certainly isn’t the way to do it.”
I thought of the Satanic verses. 37 lives.
“What would really help is a quiet confidence in ourselves,” started the other. He had remained silent until now. “In a state like this it is all too easy to feel displaced, too easy to feel like all the attention has been focused on us because of what the public views as abnormal. Take a good look at us, and you’ll see that there’s nothing particularly abnormal about the way we work at all. These texts would never say such a thing. This isn’t what the public wants to hear. Nobody cares of the subtlety of such relationships, only the exaggerated secrets and dirt between the sheets.”
And he was right. There was nothing they could be faulted for. In fact, they were less touchy than normal couples, only glancing at each other affectionately as they walked by the shelves. Everything about them suggested a quaint state of equilibrium. They were two human beings in love. In their private spheres this was nothing to be ashamed about. It was society that placed them on the stake.
“We don’t quite like the owner of this bookstore”, whispered the more vocal of the two. “We think his works speak lowly of us. Again, it’s the same deal. It exaggerates our problems and insecurities to get attention rather than seek truth.”
“What would the truth be then?” I realised I hadn’t read any of Irfan’s plays featuring homosexual characters.
“The truth would be known to everyone if we were treated as equals. And we think this starts in the manner we’re portrayed. From homosexual artists to how gays are portrayed in art, we need to focus on creating art that is beautiful, creating art that adds value rather than subtract, that is real rather than sensational.”
“So we should tell it like it is?”
“Yes, tell it like it is. I like that. And also, writers should get off their high horses, and stop feeling like we are poor souls that need their saving. It’s hardly the case. We are perfectly capable of finding our own happiness.”
They looked at each other affectionately, before purchasing a novel by William Faulkner. They left without saying goodbye.