Coming out ‘softly’

metapragmatic reflections of gay men in illiberal pragmatic Singapore

Authors

  • Vincent Pak King’s College London

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.20008

Keywords:

homosexuality, queer linguistics, coming out, Singapore, metapragmatic reflection,, illiberal pragmatism

Abstract

Given the social stigmatisation and legal disadvantages faced by gay men in Singapore, there is a general hesitance to be open about one’s gay identity for fear of discrimination and possible prosecution. The logic of illiberal pragmatism is taken up by the Singaporean government as a mode of governance that simultaneously constrains and frees its citizens, which forces its gay citizens to straddle the expression of their sexual identity and a sense of duty to their families. This same tension is found in gay men’s reflections on the coming out process. In ethnographic interviews conducted with 15 Singaporean gay men, concerns arise about the perceived strength and directness of coming out alongside the need to satisfy familial obligations. In response to these concerns, gay Singaporeans have adopted a ‘soft’ approach to coming out that aligns with national illiberal pragmatism.

Di Singapura, ada ramai yang rasa curiga untuk menyebarluaskan identiti gay mereka kerana takut dikejam dan didakwa. Ini diakibatkan penindasan dalam masyarakat dan kekurangan perlindungan dari segi hukum yang dihadapi oleh golongan gay. Pemerintah Singapura menggunakan logik pragmatisme yang tidak liberal (‘illiberal pragmatism’) sebagai alat pemerintahan yang saling mengekang dan membebas warganya. Penggunaan logik ini memaksa warga negara gaynya untuk memilih antara menyebarluaskan orientasi seksual mereka atau memenuhi kewajiban keluarga. Pilihan sukar ini sering dibentangkan oleh lelaki-lelaki gay dalam renungan mereka tentang proses melela (‘coming out’). Dalam wawancara etnografi dengan 15 lelaki gay Singapura, kebimbangan mengenai keberkesanan proses melela dan tekanan memenuhi tanggungjawab keluarga kerap timbul. Sebagai pembalasan terhadap kebingungan tersebut, warga negara gay Singapura melela menggunakan cetak biru yang ‘lembut’ dan selaras dengan logik pragmatisme Singapura.

Author Biography

Vincent Pak, King’s College London

A PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore and King’s College London, Vincent Pak works primarily in the field of language, gender and sexuality, with interests in linguistic anthropology and cultural studies. His previous work has been published in Language in Society, Social Semiotics and Journal of Language and Sexuality.

References

Austin, John (1962) How to Do Things with Words. London: Oxford University Press.

Barr, Michael D. (2000) Lee Kuan Yew and the ‘Asian values’ debate. Asian Studies Review 24(3): 309–334. https://doi.org/10.1080/10357820008713278 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10357820008713278

Blum-Kulka, Shoshana (1982) Learning to say what you mean in a second language: a study of the speech act performance of learners of Hebrew as a second language. Applied Linguistics 3(1): 29–59. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/3.1.29 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/3.1.29

Blum-Kulka, Shoshana and Olshtain, Elite (1984) Requests and apologies: a Cross-Cultural Study of Speech Act Realization Patterns (CCSARP). Applied Linguistics 5(3): 196–213. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/5.3.196 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/5.3.196

Boellstorff, Tom (2004) ‘Authentic, of course!’: gay language in Indonesia and cultures of belonging. In Tom Boellstorff and William Leap (eds) Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalisation and Gay Language 181–201. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Boellstorff, Tom and Leap, William (2004) Introduction: globalization and ‘new’ articulations of same-sex desire. In Tom Boellstorff and William Leap (eds) Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalisation and Gay Language 1–21. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Chan, Phil C. W. (2009) Shared values of Singapore: sexual minority rights as Singaporean value. International Journal of Human Rights 13(2–3): 279–305. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642980902758150 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13642980902758150

Charbonnier, Elodie and Graziani, Pierluigi (2016) The stress associated with the coming out process in the young adult population. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health 20(4): 319–328. https://doi.org/10.1080/19359705.2016.1182957 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/19359705.2016.1182957

Chirrey, Deborah A. (2003) ‘I hereby come out’: what sort of speech act is coming out? Journal of Sociolinguistics 7(1): 24–37. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00209 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00209

Chirrey, Deborah A. (2011) Formulating dispositions in coming out advice. Discourse Studies 13(3): 283–298. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445611400672 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445611400672

Chirrey, Deborah A. (2020) Metaphors we come out by: how structural metaphors construct coming out in Internet advice texts. Gender and Language 14(1): 8–27. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.37378 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.37378

Chua, Beng Huat (1985) Pragmatism of the People’s Action Party government in Singapore: a critical assessment. Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 13(1): 29–46. https://doi.org/10.1163/080382485X00138 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/080382485X00138

Chua, Lynette (2014) Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State. Singapore: NUS Press.

Hall, Kira (2019) Middle class timelines: ethnic humor and sexual modernity in Delhi. Language in Society 48(4): 491–517. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404519000435 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404519000435

Han, Qijun (2019) Diasporic Chinese family drama through a transnational lens: The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Saving Face (2004). International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 15(3): 323–343. https://doi.org/10.1386/macp_00004_1 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1386/macp_00004_1

Harkness, Nicholas (2013) Softer soju in South Korea. Anthropological Theory 13(1–2): 12–30. https://doi.org/10.1177/1463499613483394 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1463499613483394

Herman, Didi (2005) ‘I’m gay’: declarations, desire, and coming out on prime-time television. Sexualities 8(1): 7–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460705049572 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460705049572

Jackson, Peter A. (2004) Gay adaption, Tom-Dee resistance, and Kathoey indifference: Thailand’s gender/sex minorities and the episodic allure of queer English. In Tom Boellstorff and William Leap (eds) Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalisation and Gay Language 202–230. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Lazar, Michelle M. (2017) Homonationalist discourse as a politics of pragmatic resistance in Singapore’s Pink Dot movement: towards a southern praxis. Journal of Sociolinguistics 21(3): 420–441. https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12239 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12239

Legate, Nicole, Ryan, Richard M. and Weinstein, Netta (2012) Is coming out always a ‘good thing’? exploring the relations of autonomy support, outness, and wellness for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(2): 145–152. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611411929 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611411929

Liang, A. C. (1997) The creation of coherence in coming out stories. In Anna Livia and Kira Hall (eds) Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality 287–309. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lim, Swee Say (6 June 2000) All can be part of S’pore 21. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.geocities.ws/kelvintan73/links_files/Lim%20Swee%20Say%20reply%20to%20Kum.htm

McCormick, Tracey Lee (2015) Queering discourses of coming out in South Africa. African Studies 74(3): 327–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/00020184.2015.1067998 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00020184.2015.1067998

Ministry of Social and Family Development, Singapore (2020) Ruling to award adoption to single man in same-sex relationship. Retrieved from https://www.msf.gov.sg/media-room/Pages/Ruling-to-award-adoption-to-single-man-in-same-sex-relationship.aspx

Motschenbacher, Heiko (2019) Discursive shifts associated with coming out: a corpus-based analysis of news reports about Ricky Martin. Journal of Sociolinguistics 23(3): 284–302. https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12343 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12343

Motschenbacher, Heiko (2020) Coming out – seducing – flirting: shedding light on sexual speech acts. Journal of Pragmatics 170: 256–270. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2020.09.014 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2020.09.014

Motschenbacher, Heiko and Stegu, Martin (2013) Queer linguistic approaches to discourse. Discourse and Society 24(5): 519–535. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926513486069 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926513486069

Mutalib, Hussin (2000) Illiberal democracy and the future of opposition in Singapore. Third World Quarterly 21(2): 313–342. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436590050004373 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01436590050004373

Pak, Vincent and Hiramoto, Mie (2021) For friends, for family, for (true) love: negotiating discourses of love within the LGBTQ community in Singapore. Journal of Language and Sexuality 10(2): 106–129. https://doi.org/10.1075/jls.20009.hir DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/jls.20009.hir

Pérez-Milans, Miguel (2016) Reflexivity and social change in applied linguistics. AILA Review 29(1): 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1075/aila.29.01per DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/aila.29.01per

Pérez-Milans, Miguel and Soto, Carlos (2016) Reflexive language and ethnic minority activism in Hong Kong. AILA Review 29(1): 48–82. https://doi.org/10.1075/aila.29.03per DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/aila.29.03per

Phillips, Robert (2012) ‘Singaporean by birth, Singaporean by faith’: queer Indians, Internet technology, and the reconfiguration of sexual and national identity. In Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow (eds) Queer Singapore: Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures 187–196. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. https://doi.org/10.5790/hongkong/9789888139330.003.0012 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5790/hongkong/9789888139330.003.0012

Phillips, Robert (2014) ‘And I am also gay’: illiberal pragmatics, neoliberal homonormativity and LGBT activism in Singapore. Anthropologica 56(1): 45–54.

Phillips, Robert (2020) Virtual Activism: Sexuality, the Internet, and a Social Movement in Singapore. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781487536275 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3138/9781487536275

Rosaldo, Michelle Z. (1982) The things we do with words: Ilongot speech acts and speech act theory in philosophy. Language in Society 11(2): 203–237. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404500009209 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404500009209

Sauntson, Helen (2015) Coming out stories. In Patricia Whelehan and Anne Bolin (eds) The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality 244–245. London: Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118896877.wbiehs095 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118896877.wbiehs095

Suzuki, Satoko (2020) Masculinity, race and national identity: representations of non-Japanese men’s speech in contemporary Japanese novels. Gender and Language 14(3): 226–243. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.39953 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.39953

Tan, Chris K. K. (2011) Go home, gay boy! or, why do Singaporean gay men prefer to ‘go home’ and not ‘come out’? Journal of Homosexuality 58(6–7): 865–882. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2011.581930 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2011.581930

Tan, Kenneth Paul and Lee, Gary (2007) Imagining the gay community in Singapore. Critical Asian Studies 39(2): 179–204. https://doi.org/10.1080/14672710701339311 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14672710701339311

Tang, Shawna (2016) Postcolonial Lesbian Identities in Singapore: Re-Thinking Global Sexualities. New York and London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315720500. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315720500

Teo, Youyenn (2010) Shaping the Singapore family, producing the state and society. Economy and Society 39(3): 337–359. https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2010.486215 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2010.486215

Turner, William B. (2000) A Genealogy of Queer Theory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Valentine, James (1998) Naming the other: power, politeness and the inflation of euphemisms. Sociological Research Online 3(4): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.5153/sro.184 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5153/sro.184

Wong, Andrew (2008) The trouble with tongzhi: the politics of labeling among gay and lesbian Hongkongers. Pragmatics 18(2): 277–301. https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.18.2.05won DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.18.2.05won

Wong, Andrew (2009) Coming out stories and the ‘gay imaginary’. Sociolinguistic Studies 3(1): 1–36. https://doi.org/10.1558/sols.v3.i1.1 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/sols.v3.i1.1

Wong, Andrew (2016) How does oppression work? Insights from Hong Kong lesbians’ labeling practices. In Erez Levon and Ronald Beline Mendes (eds) Language, Sexuality, and Power: Studies in Intersectional Sociolinguistics 19–38. New York: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190210366.003.0002 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190210366.003.0002

Wong, Jonathan (3 October 2018) A-G: prosecutor’s discretion on Section 377A not curbed. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/ingapore/courts-crime/a-g-prosecutors-discretion-on-section-377a-not-curbed

Yu, Yating (2019) Media representations of ‘leftover women’ in China: a corpusassisted critical discourse analysis. Gender and Language 13(3): 369–395. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.36223 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.36223

Yue, Audrey (2011) Doing cultural citizenship in the global media hub: illiberal pragmatics and lesbian consumption practices in Singapore. In Radha Hegde (ed) Circuits of Visibility: Gender and Transnational Media Cultures 250–267. New York: New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9780814737309.003.0014 DOI: https://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9780814737309.003.0014

Yue, Audrey (2012a) Introduction: Queer Singapore. In Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow (eds) Queer Singapore: Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures 1–25. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. https://doi.org/10.5790/hongkong/9789888139330.003.0001 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5790/hongkong/9789888139330.003.0001

Yue, Audrey (2012b) Female individualization and illiberal pragmatism: blogging and new life politics in Singapore. In Youna Kim (ed) Women and the Media in Asia 237–254. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137024626_13 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137024626_13

Yue, Audrey (2015) New media in Singapore’s creative economy: the regulation of illiberal pragmatism. In Larissa Hjorth and Olivia Khoo (eds) Routledge Handbook of New Media in Asia 320–333. New York and London: Routledge.

Yue, Audrey and Leung, Helen H. (2017) Notes towards the queer Asian city: Singapore and Hong Kong. Urban Studies 54(3): 747–764. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098015602996 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098015602996

Zimman, Lal (2009) ‘The other kind of coming out’: transgender people and the coming out narrative genre. Gender and Language 3(1): 53–80. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v3i1.53 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v3i1.53

Published

2021-10-06

How to Cite

Pak, V. . (2021). Coming out ‘softly’: metapragmatic reflections of gay men in illiberal pragmatic Singapore. Gender and Language, 15(3), 301–323. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.20008

Issue

Section

Articles