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The Activist’s Dilemma

on . Posted in Activism.

The recent hoo-haa surrounding MM Lee’s statements on homosexuality has ruffled my feathers and poked at the idealist in me. It was heartening to see so many others rise up and stand up for who they are, by writing into forums, newspapers to defend themselves and others.

It’s for the future, or so we say.

We spend our time and effort and our brain cells into mounting a suitable defense against the homophobes, against the naysayers. Furiously spending hours crafting that perfect rebuttal, hoping, with whatever slim chance there is’ that it’ll be published in the papers.

But is it enough?

We can start flame-wars from time to time. But they also die down eventually, and conveniently, the issue would be swept under the carpet again. And perhaps waiting, for another ripe moment to erupt once more in our faces.
There are many ways to be a gay activist. Some say that the courage to be who you are is bravery enough. It in itself is a form of activism. As you slowly change the minds of those around you by being true to yourself, it creates a ripple effect that will hopefully eradicate homophobia one day.

But, is it enough?

Sometimes you change minds, sometimes you don’t. Often times, we only tell a few and even then, they are already on our side. It’s a small radius of positivity only. I don’t really know exactly what the turning points in history are, but I know for sure it usually takes a significant event. A symbolic event by the truly courageous, who took a public stand. Just like Stonewall, just like Rosa Parks. It seemed you had to do something to create that significant effect. So is the personal courage to be who you are, overrated as an effective form of activism? What is really effective? The one who will topple the giant?

There are many of us GLBT who don’t feel the need to engage deeper into the community or engage in ‘direct’ activism (i.e. participate as a contributing member in any of the GLBT organizations in Singapore). Me being me, used to wonder why others don’t feel the desire as strongly as me and others do, to help. To roll up our sleeves and dig in, dirt and all. No matter how tough, it will be worth the effort. But sometimes I look around me and I see bystanders while I work. Sometimes, I see those who make light of what has been achieved. Or don’t seem to realise that the things that were created, required lots of toil and sweat from their creators.

I wondered how others could be content with living their lives with limited rights as a second-class citizen. I wondered how they could find this life and society now a comfort zone. Sometimes, it seems like a certain kind of political apathy to me. An indifference to progress (or not). So long as their comfort zone is not disturbed, there is no thirst for more.

Then I wondered why do activists feel they need to do something, why do we bother to make a difference, even if sometimes, such efforts come to naught? (Either the efforts fail to produce some form of success or it goes largely unnoticed by the target audience it seeks to reach out to. Take this analogy for example: if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?)

I don’t know what mix of the right formula would produce an activist in us. But I do know that there is one powerful ingredient X. And that is life experience. Poignant, deep, impactful life events. Life-changing events. Turning points. Milestones. Somewhere, somehow, there was some upheaval of sorts, some disturbance in the force that awoke this desire in us. A desire with the potential to create things which we never once thought possible. It leads to a change of mindsets, a new conviction, a new purpose.

Then we start finding ourselves being driven by some sort of fuel. Sometimes, we might be dampened by failures, by non-appreciation. Sometimes we never ever reach the finish line even though we have slogged so hard in the journey. Sometimes, we ask ourselves, ‘What is the point of all this activism anyway. Why don’t I just live a usual, mundane life like the rest? Why take up a sword?’

I used to think that if an act of activism did not produce any fruit, it is a wasteful act. But on hindsight now, I think otherwise. Because to get from the point we started off from, to the point that we are at now (even though the end result has not been achieved), is an milestone worth celebrating already.

And that’s the beauty of struggle isn’t it? It’s not the prize at the end that will truly satisfy, but it’s the growth that you obtain from fighting. So even if s377a isn’t repealed at the end of the day, despite our angry, passionate debates. Even if only a select few decide to join directly in the melee. Even if your efforts aren’t appreciated or acknowledged at the end of the day’

At least you know that you fought today. And fought well.


Tags: singapore activism


# iirene 2010-02-02 19:48

irene said,

May 31, 2007 at 7:49 pm

Oh lublub, you really said everything on my mind!!

I think the gay community needs some ‘crisises’, to remind ourselves that the fight is far from over, even when gay clubs are not raided by police.
# ddreamtitan 2010-02-02 19:48

dreamtitan said,

June 8, 2007 at 3:10 am

I’m not an activist myself, but yeah I respect you guys for leading the fight. Not everyone has the spirit, courage and determination to fight for things perhaps not achievable in their lifetimes.

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