There has been so much debate following my letter regarding the Aware controversy, that I just have to respond to it, to provide a kind of summing up and drawing of conclusions.
This will be my last piece on the subject, following the 3 recent pieces—my remarks as reported in the Sunday Times, my first letter posted on this site, and an unpublished letter to the Straits Times Forum. In all, I have said everything I wish to share with fellow Singaporeans on an episode that will surely go down in the history of Singapore’s development as a civic society.
In this final piece, I want to express my deep appreciation to all of you who have written in on the controversial issue of homosexuality. I am really pleased to have provoked such a diversity of views from committed Christians to ardent secularists, from entrenched conservatives to freewheeling liberals, from anxious parents to young, independent-minded persons demanding to be heard and understood. There has also been an amazing diversity of expositional modes, from philosophical argument to scriptural exegesis to the personal anecdote, conveyed in tones that range from calm and measured to animated to pure vitriol.
And in all this clamour of voices, nobody told anybody to shut up!
It is exactly this diversity and expressiveness that marks an active, alert and robust citizenry that Singapore has often been accused of lacking. I expect that never again will Singaporeans be described as apathetic (Dare I hope, as a long-time political commentator, that the same critical voices will also be heard in the other, even more controversial arena of political issues, so that at long last, we will truly have matured as a society?)
So whether you are a fundamentalist Christian, a Buddhist, a Kabbalist, an agnostic, an atheist, a Raelian, a Scientologist, a New Age sun-worshipper, etc., you are absolutely entitled to your views. Any criticism of you can never be of your views as such, but for your imposing them on others.
It is surely one of democracy’s most thrilling paradoxes that while you may passionately disagree with another’s views, you are expected, with the same passion, to defend his right to them.
Which brings me to the special dilemma of you parents whose concerns regarding the homosexuality issue were the focus in my first letter, and will again feature large in this, my second. If you are an abiding Christian with strong beliefs regarding the outright condemnation of homosexuality, do you have the right to impose them on your children? The question is more meaningfully phrased thus: Should you whose role it is to be models, guides, protectors and nurturers, instil your religious beliefs and values in your children, indeed, enforce them, even if this is seen as going against the prevailing trend in society and the world at large?
The answer, in accordance with custom and common sense, is a clear yes, since you act only for their good and would never deprive them of what you yourselves hold dearest—the religious values to which you owe your entire well-being. Should this guidance then include measures such as blocking out harmful moral influences that, for instance, the Aware CSE program is alleged to be? Assuredly so, if you are convinced about the harmfulness (although there must still be some puzzlement as to how this had escaped, for so long, the combined vigilance of teachers, principals and Ministry of Education officials whose judgment parents traditionally trust).
Clearly, stern, even harsh strictures are all in order in the carrying out of your sacred parental responsibility. It is sacred, for upon it rests the very stability of society.
But it remains the special parental quandary, unique to our changing times, that as soon as your child reaches adulthood, society does an about-turn and is on his side as he asserts his independence and individuality. Suddenly you discover, to your dismay, that while you yourselves had meekly submitted to your parents, your own offspring are going in exactly the opposite direction.If the very crucial matter of sexual identity is involved, your sons and daughters are likely to forge out their own path, whether through covert or overt means. Either will result in deep anguish, confusion and heartache all round, as indeed so many personal anecdotes have revealed.
Only understanding, acceptance and love on your part—indeed, to a heroic extent in each case—can prevent such unhappiness, not recourse to holy books or revered tradition. As real life goes, in the event of a clash between human needs and divine ordinance, it is usually the former that wins in the end, for two reasons: firstly, because what is prescribed as moral law by religion is non-negotiable, and secondly, because human needs are underwritten by that strongest of forces, biology itself. If acceptance of a child’s homosexuality is too hard a pill to swallow, estrangement from one’s flesh and blood must be even harder. Many parents have come to realize this truth, and in time have let love transcend all emotions of disappointment, anger and frustration. This transcendence is both peril and privilege, pain and triumph, that only parents can understand, and for which they are to be appreciated and honored.
Being a compulsive story-teller, I can only end this letter to you concerned parents with another story on this engrossing theme. Or rather many stories from my wide circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances: it’s astonishing how virtually every family in its extended form has at least one gay member, and how virtually all of us know at least several gays. And it’s heartening to observe how easily, once the religious hurdle is cleared, for parents and children to pick up once more that natural bond of loving and connecting. My stories all have a happy ending, precisely because in the end, a universal, biologically endowed (and hence God-given?) attribute of parents prevailed—the desire to see their children happy, even if it is not exactly on their terms.