ALEX AU WAI PANG, 47 gay-rights activist Freelance writer Alex Au, not pictured, runs Yawning Bread, a website that deals with homosexuality and issues of particular concern to the gay community – as well as delivering an occasional sharp commentary on everything from the latest films to Singapore Telecom’s failed bid for Cable & Wireless HKT. “For readers who are not homosexual, I hope [the website] can serve as a window into the thoughts of gay people, particularly gay Singaporeans,” Au writes. “For readers who are homosexual, I hope [it] can be a catalyst to self-reflection, self-discovery, and a better understanding of where we stand in society, and why we stand where we stand. I hope it is of some help to you in breaking out of any sense of isolation you may have.”Launched in 1996, Yawning Bread (the name just appealed to Au) now has an average of 2,900 hits a month. Early on, Au decided to house the site on a server outside Singapore because he feared it might be censored. He doesn’t think he would have any problems now, but it’s just too much trouble to transfer all those kilobytes. Not that Au is about to celebrate any new openness. He and fellow gay activists keep a low profile – though nobody would describe them as being out of sight.In November 1996, they applied to the government to have a group called “People Like Us” registered as a society so it could hold group discussions on gay and lesbian issues and circulate a newsletter, among other things. In April 1997, the application was rejected. Au and his colleagues appealed twice to the Home Affairs Ministry. Both failed. Finally, they wrote to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. The petition was denied. Au believes treatment of gays is the test case of the authenticity of the government’s drive for a more open society. He is not hopeful.The government says its decision to refuse People Like Us a license merely reflects current mores, but Au and his associates complain that they have no means to plead their case to the public if they are not allowed to do so openly. The good news is that at least the bad old days of regular police dragnets to entrap homosexuals seem to be over. Meanwhile, Au keeps adding new slices of life to his Yawning Bread loaf. Recent offerings include an essay on the future of ASEAN, a humorous account of how he helped his nearly 80-year-old father get wired and a reflection on cruising public toilets. HARESH SHARMA, 35, playwright ALVIN TAN, 37, artistic director
For Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan, blurred boundaries are a good thing. Tan, right, below, is artistic director of the theater group The Necessary Stage (TNS), while Sharma is its resident playwright. The way they see it, written rules governing the local drama scene don’t actually match practice. For example, touching on such sensitive areas as race, religion and sex, particularly homosexuality, is officially discouraged, but many plays deal forthrightly with these supposedly taboo topics. “It’s good in a way that the OB (out-of-bounds) markers are blurred,” Sharma says. “Sometimes you just don’t know where the lines are. If we were to push too much and they made the rules very clear, then maybe no plays would get performed, which would be even worse.”As it stands, TNS no longer has to submit scripts to the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit, but must still pass them to the National Arts Council. The group also voluntarily slaps a rating on its own performances, particularly if a work contains sensitive material. If the National Arts Council reckons something is too on-the-edge, it may have it reviewed by a committee. “Where it goes from there, we’re not quite sure,” says Tan. “Most of the time, though, everything is all right.”Last December, a day before a presentation of sex . violence . blood . gore ., a play by twenty-somethings Alfian Sa’at and Chong Tze Chien, the censors asked for three scenes dealing with race to be cut. Tan considered canceling the show, but decided to go ahead. The contentious scenes were not performed, but Tan had the text photocopied and distributed to the audience. When the scenes were reached, the house lights were turned up and the situation was explained to the public. Actors carried on “in fast-forward” with no words. “The censorship was against the scenes being performed, but not against the text,” explains Tan. “It was a loophole, but we moved right to the brink. By being pragmatic, we preserved as much of our integrity as we could.” By censoring, Tan reckons, the government contradicts its own aim of fostering a more open society.Sharma says he doesn’t feel constrained as to what he can or cannot write. He is now working on a play about two drag queens that he wants to be performed by real transsexuals. Tan points out, however, that scriptless performance art and so-called audience-participation forum theater remain “proscribed” – not strictly banned, but unlikely to be licensed. Because organizers would have to place a $59,000 deposit with the authorities, nobody tries. But that’s not stopping resourceful playwrights. Some plays that are approved and staged include improvisation and audience participation – with no complaint……………………..
(These articles were formerly found at the following URLs: http://cnn.com/ASIANOW/asiaweek/magazine/2000/0324/cover1.html http://cnn.com/ASIANOW/asiaweek/magazine/2000/0324/cover.4people.html but have since been removed. A less well formatted version is found here: http://articles.cnn.com/2000-03-17/world/2000_0324_cover.4people_1_women-achievers-internet-speed-tax-rebates?_s=PM:ASIANOW) Acknowledgements This archiving of this article was first done by Petrus Tan on SiGNeL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/signel/message/124