Newsradio 93.8 FM - Interview with Kai En - 13 Feb 2001
|Alrighty so first of all what are your objections to the banner put up by the church?
I was kind of thinking about this and at first I was going to come here and start listing my objections one by one. But on second thoughts I am thinking maybe I shouldn't be objecting. Maybe the banner is a good thing for gay people. Before the banner gay people were just like other Singaporeans. We just want to live our lives, we want to be quiet and live our lives and go on with our lives. But now with the banner coming out suddenly we have 79 people galvanizing to sign a petition and on top of that we have numerous people writing individually to the church stating that they object to the banner. If anything the banner has done more for (many) gay people to define their identity as a gay Singaporean than any other event before. So in a sense maybe the banner is doing a great service for gay people in Singapore.
What is it about the banner that brought people to sign the petition and write letters to the church?
The church from which the banner originates believes that abortion is sinful and they said as much in their response to the (79) signatories. They believe that people of other religions go to hell. But yet it is only gay people who are targeted and the question is "Why? Why target gay people when there are many other people like heterosexuals who commit adultery for instance who probably need your help more?"
Secondly the veracity of the banner is questionable. Can homosexuals really change? Statistics indicate that only a very few number of homosexuals can change. Why don't you say, "Some homosexuals can change?" Why don't you say, "Some homosexuals can change behaviour?" When you put something so publicly and so broad sweeping and then you say you are just trying to target some homosexuals, I question the integrity of the banner.
(Thirdly) the banner polarizes people. Do we really need something that polarizing?
Finally. One of the newspapers has a (internet) forum going on (the banner). One of the things the signatories said was that the banner fuels homophobic attitudes. When you look at some of the postings that have been happening the homophobia is just scary. Why are we doing this? It is just not socially responsible.
But aren't we really seeing what's in the community anyway? The homophobia does (already) exist.
Sure the homophobia does exist but why do we have to fuel a minority of people into becoming so vitriolic. It is just counter productive in my opinion.
I think what is necessary is for us to educate the public. To demonstrate what exactly sexual orientation is. Fine. Some people may be able to change but let us admit that they are a very small minority. Do we need to unfairly discriminate against the majority of gay people? I think that is socially irresponsible.
But you are talking about attitudes that the church or denominations believe that abortion is wrong and homosexuality is not an acceptable practice. Surely the church has a right to say what it thinks publicly?
I am not so sure I agree with that. I think that freedom of speech comes with responsibility. You have a right to say something publicly responsibly.
If you want to say homosexual behaviour is sinful, sure say that. If you want to say some homosexuals can change, sure say that. But also, in presenting your claim, why are you targeting gay people unfairly? Why don't you put (a banner saying), "People of such and such a religion can change" too? Because they know that the moment they put that up they are going to end up with a huge protest but yet this banner goes up. Why? Because the gay people in Singapore are a quiet minority.
So fundamentally what you are also questioning is the understanding of what it is to be gay (as) put forward by that banner; that the banner implies that it's like clothes or fashion you take out?
That's right! I was actually flabbergasted. We've made the text of the petition and the response (from the church) available to you. And I was flabbergasted with the text (of the response) equating homosexual people with eating unhealthy food or worse still alcoholics or people who are amputees.
So how would you like it to be addressed? Would it all go away if they took the banner down tomorrow? That wouldn't change the attitude that was behind the banner.
The point is that you have a social responsibility when you publicly display something as large as that. You can argue that this is private property but if I walked around without any clothes on in my house and my neighbours saw it, they would complain too. The issue isn't about attitudes. You have the right to believe what you want to believe. So the issue is being socially responsible.
So what role should the church be playing that would be a socially responsible role?
I think that the church needs to acknowledge that the issue of whether homosexual behaviour is sinful or not is highly divided. The Anglican Church for instance is split right through the center on this issue and I think that honesty demands that we recognize that there are people with different views who are committed Christians. It doesn't mean that just because they disagree with us or that the way they interpret the Bible is different from us that we question their Christian faith.
The second step is that when people come to (the church) who are disturbed about their homosexuality I think that it is important to give them proper information. That proper information includes saying that being a homosexual may not be an emotional maladjustment in that there are many homosexual people who are leading very productive lives and who are very spiritual people too. I think that this is important.
But then there will be people who will be very very conflicted and they will need your help. Then go ahead and do your programme with them.
I think the church needs to realize that there are many people who come to a programme like Choices who drop out and leave their faith entirely. I know one person who decided that he couldn't take the Christianity; the conflict was too high so he decided to (leave Christianity and join another religion and he did). I know other Christians who have gone through their programme who have totally left the church.
My question to the church is this: Is this what you really want?
In terms of a debate, where do you think that can come from?
Let me give you an example. In 1998 (Singapore's) Trinity Theological College conducted a symposium in a Methodist church about homosexuality and the church. What is amazing is that there were about seven to eight theologians (and social science professionals) and all of them were (straight) males. There was not (even) a single woman.
(The theologians) had already come from a position that being gay was not okay and of course the views you expect (to come from them) is that "we've tried our best but being gay is not okay." Some Christians who were gay approached the theologians and said that they wanted a dialogue but it did not go much further.
We need healthy debate. To have a panel where you just present a one-sided view and say that you have (therefore) done your work of theological reflection is lacking in intellectual integrity. We shouldn't be afraid to come out and to share our views or differences.
There is a famous (Christian) speaker. His name is Tony Campolo ? (many) evangelicals and charismatics would know about him. He believes that being gay is not okay. He believes that a homosexual life is actually a sinful life. But the amazing thing is that his wife (Peggy Campolo) believes that it is fine ? that gay people can love one another and live committed Christian lives. And they have a lively relationship. (Tony and Peggy) still love one another and go around speaking to show how gay Christians and non-gay Christians can have a difference of views and still live together and love one another.
I think that is the critical issue. We got to stop demonizing people. We got to stop giving into our fears. What we got to do is to be open, to share, to discuss and we learn from each other.
Well let's take the debate out of what people are saying within the church. In broader Singapore society again there is a lack of discussion about what it means to be gay. How do you think some of the concerns of different gay people about to the banner could be taken across to the community?
I think that some of the attempts at reporting have been good. Let's not blow this banner out of proportion. It is just a little piece of cloth hanging in one of the many hundreds of churches in Singapore. It is just a banner. Life will go on. Gay people will still be here and life will move on.
Now to jump about a bit. You were actually in the Choices program for a number of years.
What was your experience of that programme?
Initially the programme was very useful because after years of pent up emotions it was the first time that I found myself before other gay people and could talk about my experiences and for me that was a very liberating coming of age kind of experience.
Eventually I came to a point where I felt I had been "healed" sufficiently and decided to get a girlfriend. I had three girlfriends. My last relationship was for a year and a half. In a very real sense I really loved this lady. I told her upfront that I was from a homosexual background but after a year and a half, both of us felt that we weren't bonding or connecting at that deep emotional level that a heterosexual couple should be bonding at and we called it quits. Both of us cried buckets and eventually I came out of it feeling very lousy.
I felt lousy about myself. I came to a position where I said to myself I am gay and I will always be gay. I have really put my heart and my soul for many years in to changing ? it was not just a one-year two-year thing ? but I just can't change.
I also felt lousy about myself because I had wasted a year and a half of the life of another person. And I don't want to ever do that again.
So what made you was it that relationship that actually made you reevalutae your position with the Choices program and to leave the programme?
There were a few things actually. One was the relationship. I was telling myself that there is something not right here and she was feeling the same thing. So one was that relationship.
The second thing was Choices goes on the basis that being a homosexual person is a psychological maladjustment. But during this period, I began to meet other gay people who were not in the Choices programme, who never ever thought that they needed counseling and I looked at them. They were successful in their professions, they were well adjusted ? not that they didn't have problems; like everybody else they (too) had problems ? and they were very high functioning individuals. I came to a point where I started to ask myself that maybe being gay isn't a psychological maladjustment.
During that time I began to do my own research and realized that a significant number of psychologists didn't think so either (i.e. that homosexuality is a psychological maladjustment) and that the psychological theory that is propounded by Choices is a very minority view. This led to a significant shift from a secular point of view.
On the religious front, I began to realize that the Bible doesn't condemn all homosexual behaviour. It condemns homosexual violence, it condemns pedophilia but it doesn't necessarily condemn all homosexual behaviours. There are theologians who are respectable who also hold this view. A combination of all those factors just led to this shift.
So finally, if you can put up your own banner to counteract the church's banner what would yours say?
Well if I put on my flippant side, (my banner) would say, "Homosexuals can change OUTFITS!" (Laughter) or "Heterosexuals can change."
But this is a serious issue. I don't want to put up a banner because slogans are counterproductive. At the end of the day as I sit down and reflect on the banner: I have tried changing for a very long time, over two decades.
(Now) I have come to a position where I am saying to myself, "I am not going to change. I can't. I am what I am. This is the way I have been made and wired." So the banner does not have an effect on me. It doesn't threaten me or make me feel compelled to change or compelled to do otherwise.
But I think of the people on the street. I think of a few of my friends.
I think of a friend of mine who is going to get married this year but on the side he still goes out to have anonymous sex with other men. And I ask, " Does the banner help him?" and he was from the Choices program.
I think of a friend of mine who was in the Choices program too and struggled for a long time and has (now) totally left the church. And I ask, "Does the banner help him?"
I think of another friend of mine and who is married and was in the programme (for a few years). He set up his computer room in his house in such way that when his wife was asleep, he could surf gay porn sites. And I ask, "Does the banner help him?"
And finally, I think of a very close friend of mine who was in the program. One day out of his anguish because he felt he could not change and he wasn't acceptable, he took a knife and scrapped it right across his hand a few times ? his (entire) forearm actually ? smeared the blood across a piece of paper and wrote me a letter on it. And I ask, "Does the banner help him?"
I just want to say to Church of Our Saviour, some homosexuals may change but your banner is too broad sweeping. I ask you. I appeal to you. As an act of Christian kindness take it down. You don't need it. I hope you will do the right thing.