I find this offensive on many levels, not least of which is musical. Elton John is banned from Singapore’s heartlands, but Kenny G most certainly isn’t. It’s rare to step in a suburban office or shopping mall lift without hearing his saxophone bleeding through my screaming ears.
My refusal to acknowledge the simplistic, after-life demarcation of Heaven and Hell gets challenged whenever a middle-aged American with a permanent wavy perm sticks that golden phallic symbol in his gob and warbles ‘Songbird’ for the millionth time in a shopping mall lift.
That’s Hell, or a sort of execrable purgatory at least, a place where the floating voters of humanity must wait before a decision is taken on their postcode for all eternity. Are they heading somewhere hot or cold? Their gods are still deliberating so, in the meantime, please wait in this suburban lift as Kenny G dribbles embalming fluid into one’s cold, dead eardrums.
But there is no place for Elton John, not in Singapore’s suburbs.
His recent autobiographical movie, Rocketman, didn’t reach my neighbouring cinemas of Sengkang, Punggol and Seletar as the film arrived stamped with an R21 rating.
The rating was hardly surprising as the singer himself admirably insisted on not downplaying his sexuality. Perhaps he was aggrieved at the sanitised neutering of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, where the central character was essentially gay-shamed. (But, hey, the movie played great with suburban families.)
But Rocketman didn’t play to such families in Singapore because R21 movies don’t play in the suburbs, just the cool, cosmopolitan downtown areas, where gay men and women engage in hedonistic orgies to rival the Roman Empire, shoot up every available drug and then shoot each other with sub-machine guns before watching all of the above depicted on the silver screen.
Whereas in the Singapore suburbs, it’s a picturesque scene of normative families wearing stiff, starchy shirts, holding hands and singing Kumbaya whilst watching re-runs of Little House on the Prairie.
In each idyllic Pleasantville, everyone is gay because everyone is happy and not sexually repressed or obsessed in any way. Homosexuality is unknown.
Everyone loves each other, in an asexual kind of way, because everyone is a neighbour and, in Pleasantville, everyone loves thy neighbour, which is easy and uncomplicated because what other love is there? Homosexuality is unknown.
Homosexuality doesn’t exist on screen in the heartlands. Aliens do. Evil clowns do. Purple-headed monsters with scrotums for chins do. But gay men do not, not in our pure and puritanical suburbs.
They are neither seen nor heard, thanks to that R21 rating. Rocketman received an R21 rating because of homosexual content and the need to be “sensitive to community values”. And generally speaking, film classification should be “sensitive to the concerns of… religious groups”.
Last year, Singapore’s religious groups made no secret of their sensitive concerns.
In September, the Catholic Archbishop of Singapore said Section 377A of the Penal Code—the law which criminalises sex between men—should not be repealed.
Shortly after, the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association agreed, adding that the repeal of Section 377A could “threaten the importance of the traditional family unit as the foundation of a society”.
I’ve often wondered how Elton John, tinkling his ivories and singing ‘Benny and the Jets’ whilst wearing a feather boa, has the power to threaten the foundation of a society. I’m still waiting for a news story about American families sheltering behind Walmart shelves, fearing for their lives as a lone gay man runs through the aisles singing Kylie Minogue’s greatest hits.
In his pastoral message last year, the Catholic Archbishop of Singapore emphasised this apparent, latent power within the gay community, a power that will unleash itself the moment that Section 377A is repealed. The “future of our families, humanity and society” was supposedly at stake.
If I might be so bold, this apocalyptic claim gives gay men far too much credit.
Climate change is a threat to humanity. Trump, Brexit, white supremacy and sugary, fatty foods are all greater threats to humanity. Elton John singing ‘I’m Still Standing’ in a Sengkang cinema really isn't.
In any case, I’m not entirely sure how much protection our nationwide resistance to the gay community will provide when it really matters.
When the ice caps finally melt and the tsunami comes crashing towards our tiny, equatorial island, I’m presuming families will cling together and say: “It’s all right, kids. We opposed the repeal of Section 377A and we’re a straight, conservative family. In fact, your parents haven’t had sex of any kind since our third, unwanted child. So we’ll be able to hold our breath under water much longer than the gays next door.”
Of course, this hypothetical family lives in the hypothetical cosmopolitan downtown area of Singapore. Gay couples do not exist in the heartlands.
But they do. Of course they do. And we either love our neighbours, unreservedly and without judgement, or we don’t. If compassion comes with caveats, then it’s not compassion. It's intolerance and dogma, no more, no less.
Whatever one’s faith, whatever one’s personal belief system, if it is true, devoted and unshakeable then sexuality—particularly the sexuality of a stranger who may not even share that faith—shouldn’t matter a jot.
Unless every Singaporean adult is free, in every sense, to love whomever he or she wants, we can’t say we love thy neighbour in our society because we don’t, not unconditionally. Only the end of Section 377A can end that hypocrisy.
Besides, we really do have more pressing, ecological issues to deal with.
When the rising oceans thunder towards Singapore, I won’t care if the bloke beside me is gay, straight or Australian as long as he’s got a spare snorkel and he’s not Kenny bloody G.
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