SQ21: Singapore queers in the 21st century is a book written by Ng Yi-Sheng which tells the stories of LGBT people in Singapore - how a gay youth won his mum over, a young man who came out on national TV, two women who got married in an anti-gay church, a mother who is proud of her two gay sons and the challenges and triumphs of a hearing-impaired gay man, among other inspirational accounts.
The book, which features the interviewees' full names and photographs, was the first project of its kind in the city-state where gay sex acts are still criminalised under Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code inherited from British colonial rule. It was also a seminal work in the whole of Asia.
The book was published by Oogachaga Counseling and Support, a sexuality affirming non-profit counseling and personal development organisation serving the LGBT communities, and was launched on 23 August 2006 as part of IndigNation 2006, Singapore's second annual Pride festival.
Author Ng Yi-Sheng spent months soliciting members from the LGBT community who were willing to share their life experiences and be photographed for the book. Some volunteered, others declined and some agreed initially but got cold feet and withdrew later.
Sunday Times articleEdit
There was a feature on the coming out book, SQ21, in the 20 August 2006 edition of The Sunday Times' LifeStyle section on page L22. The article featured Khoo Hoon Eng, a mother of two gay sons. There was also a write up on Fridae with interviews of Nicholas Deroose and Sheila Rajmanickam.
Book launch at Mox BarEdit
The launch of "SQ21 - singapore queers in the 21st century!" was held on Thursday, 23 March 2006 at Mox Bar as part of IndigNation 2006. Details were announced on PLU's IndigNation website. The book was sold at a discounted price at the launch and all proceeds that night went to Oogachaga's community services (www.oogachaga.com).
Book launch at BordersEdit
The men and women from SQ21 did a launch near the front entrance of Borders bookstore along Orchard Road on Saturday, 2 September 2006 at 2pm by sharing and reading some of their stories. The event was eminently public. The LGBT community was urged to go and support them as it meant a lot to the panel of sharers. One of the people who read that afternoon was Khoo Hoon Eng, a mother of two gay sons. So if you know any family or friends who need to hear her story do bring them along.
The books were available for sale at Borders.
I had to work half a day on Saturday, so it was quite a rush hopping down to Borders. I amazed myself by making it there 10 minutes early.
I thought it was going to be a replay of SQ21's launch at Mox, but the situation was altogether different. Coming out to a roomfull of supportive GLBT friends and compatriots is totally different compared to declaring your homosexuality to a crowd of straight strangers, some of whom may be homophobic.
Thus, the air was tense, and palpably so. I take my hat off to the Oogachaga organisers who liaised with Borders personnel to set up the PA system, the poster, the seating arrangement and the book display. It must have entailed quite some work.
The master-of-ceremonies was Daniel Tung, who had to double up as sign language translator together with Ng Yi-sheng. The crowd which had gathered round the panelists, I would surmise, was made up almost entirely of gays and lesbians. Almost a hundred of them turned up. The straight clientele which streamed into and out of the bookshop didn't seem particularly interested once the words "gay", "lesbian" and "coming out" were mentioned to indicate the contents of the book.
My only hope is that they were listening from the corners of their ears and did not tune us out completely. But you never know. Some of them may have been thinking, "Why don't these fags and dykes shut up and let me concentrate on my book-browsing?".
Anyway, I admire the courage of A/Prof. Khoo Hoon Eng, Jeremy Kwok, Sheila Rajamanikam, Leow Yangfa and Nicholas Deroose for consenting to be panelists that afternoon, especially Hoon Eng who is not herself gay and has done so much to stick her neck out for our community.
Everyone who spoke was more edgy than at Mox. Only Daniel, Yangfa and perhaps Nicholas seemed as relaxed. The gay audience, too, was less forthcoming with their applause and reactions. They had to be coaxed to clap to encourage the speakers to go on. Perhaps it was because they had already heared the panellists' stories, or it could have been the public heterosexual environment which awed them; it's hard to tell. Some speakers like Jeremy and Sheila appeared at points to be so intimidated by the environment that they could not continue reading their scripts and had to be gently cajoled by Daniel.
I was not even a speaker, but I could feel the tension within myself videotaping the whole event. Every time the words "gay", "lesbian" or "homosexual" were mentioned, I winced internally. The situation brought back memories of the numerous times I became open about my own gayness and was taken aback when the straight people around me who had previously assumed I was straight suddenly stopped smiling, pulled a long face and became sullen. I suppose their homophobic reactions have become internalised.
After the session was over, gays and lesbians who had not bought the book before purchased them and approached the panel for autographs. I don't know if any straight people bought copies. I certainly hope so.
The organisers and audience stayed around to mingle for about half an hour before the entire event drew to a close. For me, it was a novel and exhilarating experience, another historical first for the gay community.
A reporter from the Straits Times (?) showed up and interviewed Alex, Jean, Jason and some others. He didn't have a voice recorder on him. I wonder how he's going to remember everything that they said. There may be a write-up in the press. I hope there won't be any sensationalism as he will have to reconstruct all the information from memory.
I shall be posting the video of the event YouTube soon.
Book launch at KinokuniyaEdit
A meet-the-authors session was held Kinokuniya's main bookstore at Takashimaya shopping centre along Orchard Road on Saturday, 7 October 2006 from 2-3pm. tomorrow. Details are below.
It was advertised on SiGNeL thus:
"Join the authors of SQ 21: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century as they share their life experiences from the book in this book signing event .
SQ 21: Singapore Queers In The 21st Century shows an unabashed straight-forward honesty and celebrates the life of these ordinary Singaporeans. Written in a light, readable style, these inspirational stories will touch the hearts of readers gay or straight, Singaporean or otherwise."
In the 8 October 2006 edition of The Sunday Times' LifeStyle section, it was reported that "SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century" had gone up to the number 4 spot in the list of non-fiction bestsellers.
It was the only book in the top 5 without a financial/business element, beating "Singapore: The Encyclopedia" (at no. 7 - in which homosexuality was not given a single mention), "Ten" (by Vincent Ng, at no. 8) and Neil Humphreys at number 9.
- Ng Yi-Sheng, "SQ 21: Singapore queers in the 21st century", Blogspot, July 2006.
- Alex Au, "Book: SQ21 – Singapore queers in the 21st century", People Like Us, 24 August 2006.
- Sylvia Tan, "queer in singapore", Fridae, 20 August 2006.
This article was written by Roy Tan.