Thursday, August 03, 2006

Censored?

The Media Development Authority of Singapore, which is tasked with media censorship, licensed ContraDiction, a gay poetry reading, on the condition that one of my poems would not be read. The offending poem was "Come On, Straight Boy." MDA did not stop the printing and distribution of the poem, together with all the poems read that evening, in the event pamphlet but it drew the line at performance. I don't understand what logical and consistent rationale could be given for prohibiting the reading, but not the distribution, of a poem. Under the law, a poetry reading is considered a performance, and not a talk/lecture. Recent changes to censorship laws allow for the latter, in a private venue to an audience of a certain size, but a performance still requires a MDA license. What did the MDA fear I would do while reading the poem? Pull down my pants and waggle my dick at the audience? Go up to a straight boy and seduce him into a public same-sex act? Or does a performance, unlike the private reading, of a gay poem insidiously and conspiratorially undermines the precarious heterosexuality of straight members of the audience? It's all laughably outrageous. It seems to me that in its half-hearted approach to opening up a tight-arsed society, the government is forced to make untenable and illogical distinctions and categorizations. And to patronize its citizens, as is its wont.

Anyway, here's the poem, warts and all:

Come On, Straight Boy

Come on, straight boy, and make gay love with me.
One night of loving will not turn you queer
if queer is not what you will bend to be.
Loving a man is but a change of gears.

Why do it with a girl, an undulating
waterbed, and stress leaks pinched too late?
Why with an oven she loves regulating,
you stick your tray of cookies in, and wait?

Men love themselves when they love other men.
Loving themselves, they know well how to give
each other head, maneuver two or ten
round the bend of straightforward relief.

What have you got to lose? Leap, acrobat!
You can still fall back on pussy cat.



The night, billed as the second annual gay poetry reading in Singapore, was a significant event. It showed that there is an audience, gay and straight, for poetry that is personal and well written. It made gay writers more aware of each other's work, and thus feel less isolated. I'm glad to have read my work last night, to an audience who knows what Tiger Balm Gardens is or how important the oil refining industry is to the country, and so is better placed to understand additional dimensions to my poems, "Hungry Ghosts" and "Blowjob." The organizers deserve a lot of credit for their effort, courage and creativity. Thanks, people. Please do this again next year, or sooner.

10 comments:

Harry said...

The impenetrable mind of the censor. Why that one should be so much more inflammatory than the other two, I can't imagine.

Eloise said...

Wow Jee, I am so sorry. It makes me so angry when small-minded bureaucrats censor art because they cannot differentiate between the artifice of the poetic narrator and real intentions. I would have flyered the streets with copies of the poem, but that would probably end badly.
At least you got to distribute it, and to read the other two so your message wasn't entirely whitewashed.
It's important that these things happen, even if you are fighting against the bigots all the way.

Well done,
Eloise

Greg said...

I love that poem Jee Leong! especially the first line & the part about being too late pinching up leaks. & I'm sorry it couldn't be heard, though also very glad to learn that that kind of event is now taking place in Singapore.

Rob Mackenzie said...

I guess it isn't even meant to be logical, Jee. Probably they decided to censor something just to show they have the power to do so and to show other concerned citizens that they take their job seriously.

Be proud is was one of your poems that got censored!

Jee Leong Koh said...

Harry,
my guess is that, unlike the other two poems, "Come On, Straight Boy" is not tragic. The argument is similar to why "Brokeback Mountain" is acceptable to a mainstream audience: the gays come to grief in the end. The censor may have intuited that though he/she would probably expressed it in the more conventional formula of "promotion of a negative liefstyle."


Eloise,
your words gave me a wonderful mental picture of the poem plastered on so many lamp-posts, in the way that election posters are in this country! What a picture!

Thanks, Greg. A straight friend also reminded me that the event itself is a sign of progress. I guess the pace feels glacial to me: I don't expect to live beyond a hundred years.

Rob,
my problem is that I think of it as a question of rationality, and not an issue of power, when it is patently the latter. As a gay friend said last night, gay people and the government face off from positions of extremely unbalanced power; in any clash, we can only end up crushed. It is a despressing thought...

monkey said...

Hi Jee Leong,

Eloise's explanation of the bureaucrats' decision seems more plausible than Rob's to me. If (1) they're afraid that gay people can convert others to homosexuality, or (2) they think a poem is like an essay, or (3) they have trouble recognizing humor and irony, then the decision might seem perfectly rational to them. (1), (2), and (3) are deeply entrenched tendencies all over the world, but scientists, writers, and teachers can help open people's minds.

Larry said...

It is pathetic, the censorship thing. The poem is hilarious.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi monkey,
your points (1) and (3) are so right on the money, I think. Not so sure about (2) because the censor allowed the printing of the poem. Their objection seemed not so much directed at poem-as-essay as at poem-as-performance, if I understand you rightly. Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts.

Hi larry,
you make me go fuzzy inside.


Jee Leong

Jee Leong Koh said...

Alex Au, of People Like Us, comments on the ban of my poem here: www.yawningbread.org/arch_2006/yax-632.htm

Jee Leong

Greg said...

I respect your impatience Jee Leong.