Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The big bad word

Xena - Mama, do you know, some children in my class say some bad words...

Me - Oh yeah? Like what?

Xena - Like... the S word.

Me (alarm bells ringing inside my head but keeping a perfectly calm exterior) - What's the S word?

Xena - It's a bad word. We should not say it.

Me - Yes, but what's the word? What does the S stand for?

Xena (leaning closer and whispering) - Stupid.

Me - Hmmm yes, that's not a nice word. We should not use it.

Xena - There is another bad word they use...

Me - What's that?

Xena - It's very bad.

Me - What is it?

Xena - The F word.

Me (alarm bells going a bit bonkers, but still maintaining the calm exterior) - Oh. What does the F stand for?

Xena - I can't say it.

Me - But what's the word? You can tell me the word. That's not the same as using it.

Xena (whispers inaudibly) - F...

Me (horrified, thinking that I'd heard what I'd expected, but still wanting to confirm) - Sorry, what's that? I didn't hear it properly.

Xena (whispers very loudly) - FART.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Money's worth

Me - So Xena, when you're a teenager and you have long holidays, are you going to take up a job?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Where?

Xena - Where can I find a job?

Me - Well, you can work in a shop, or a restaurant, or a fast food place like McDonald's.

Xena - Okay. I can work at McDonald's.

Me - Okay.

Xena - Will you come to eat there when I'm working?

Me - You wouldn't want me to?

Xena - No, I want you to!

Me - Oh yeah?

Xena - Yeah. You should come.

Me - Really? Why?

Xena - Then I can serve you food. And I can also give you my salary. You can take it home first. Because I will only go home later.

Me - Oh. Wow. You will give me your salary?

Xena - Yes. You can give it to me later.

Me - Oh, I have to give it back to you later?

Xena - Yes.

Me - And what will you do with it?

Xena - I will buy something.

Me - Like what?

Xena - Like... if you are at NTUC (supermarket) buying something and you don't have enough money, I can pay for it.

Me - Oh. Really?

Xena - Yeah. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

In the pink

There are men and there are women. All men like women and all women like men. And oh, there are also the half&half -- the hijras. They are the 'abnormal ones'. They dress like women and they lust after men. And they clap their hands when they dance, and they sing in their hoarse voices and it's damn funny. 

This was the state of oblivion I was in, growing up in small towns in India in the 80s and 90s, under the influence of one too many Hindi movies that featured the hijras for 'comic relief'. And I laughed. Oh, how we all laughed. Such was the social conditioning. That was how we were.

Even at the age of 18, when I stepped foot in Singapore, I was quite clueless about the concept of gender and sexual orientation. I thought 'gay' was just another word for 'happy'. In fact, on day one, one of my seniors introduced himself to me as "Hi, I'm XYZ and I'm gay." while his friends guffawed in the background. And I was left wondering why this guy I had just met felt the compelling need to tell me that he was happy. Turns out he wasn't even gay. It was all a big joke.

Over the years, even though I was eventually introduced to the concept of what being gay was, it was still as a source of amusement. "That is so gay!" Someone would say and everyone would laugh.

I had a colleague who I'm pretty sure (now) was gay, but I had no idea back then. Whenever he'd go on a vacation, we'd tease him that he was going bride-hunting and when he'd return we'd ask him for pictures and stories of his bride-hunt. I feel SO ashamed now, just thinking of those days, us laughing around him, with zero consideration for what he must be feeling. It was all fun and jokes, wasn't it? Ha ha.

Except that it was not.

And I have only started to realise the gravity of the matter. My ignorance and insensitivity of those days leave me ashamed. Things like inequality and injustice are not to be laughed at. Discrimination is not funny. The only thing 'abnormal' about the hijras was that no one would give them a 'normal' job. And though the realisation came to me very very late, I need to make amends. I need to make sure the prejudices I grew up with do not spill over into Xena's childhood. I need to raise her to grow up with an open heart and mind, and a strong sense of equality for everyone.

And that was one of the big reasons why we took her to Pink Dot this year. Pink Dot is a social movement to garner acceptance for the LGBT people in Singapore. They have a gathering every year at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim park to raise awareness about LGBT issues and to spread the message of inclusiveness. (Speakers' Corner is the only area in Singapore where citizens and permanent residents of Singapore can hold demonstrations and speak freely on all most topics. After prior registration on a government website, of course. You can't do all this in any other part of Singapore. You'd be arrested in a heartbeat.)

Pink Dot is in its 9th year, but this year is different. Amendments made to the Public Order Act now prohibit foreigners from participating in assemblies and processions at the Speakers' Corner. Sponsorships from foreign companies for such events have also been restricted. This means that past sponsors, aka the big guys -- Facebook, Google, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg and Twitter can no longer show their support for Pink Dot. It was therefore, even more important that locals and local companies turned up to openly show their support this year. And how they did. A mind-boggling 120 local companies came forward as sponsors, and 20,000 participants, dressed in pink, gathered to show their support towards the freedom to love.

And we did too. The last two years, we showed our support by simply wearing pink on the day because Xena was too young to be taken to such a crowded and noisy place. But this year, we knew we could. We had to.

Since there were barricades all around Hong Lim Park and they were checking IDs and bags before letting people in, we had to stand in the queue for almost an hour before we got in. Thankfully, Xena didn't complain at all. Soon, we had joined the massive sea of pink. A friend was there and he introduced us to others who very kindly shared their picnic mat, snacks and drinks with us. They also thanked us and shook hands with Xena for turning up to show our support.

Last night, a friend sent me the post-event official Pink Dot video. This morning, three others sent it to me. Viv's friends and colleagues have been sending it to him. The reason? We are in it! Well, it's a blink-and-miss appearance, but yes, we are there at the 26-second mark. Xena tells me that even her teachers were talking about us being at Pink Dot with her.

It's a very powerful video. Check it out.

Of course, to Xena, Pink Dot 2017 was pretty much just a pink picnic in the park, but we had started talking about all this much before, so she has a fair idea. I'm glad that she thinks that it's okay for 'an uncle to love and marry an uncle' and 'an aunty to love and marry an aunty'.

Though she's too young for an in-depth understanding of what all this means, I'm glad the conversation has started early. And we will be taking it forward. The law will change some day, it surely will. And when that happens, I want all of us, especially Xena, to look back and see that we were on the right side. That we supported what we believed in, and we stood for equality for all.