Pulping penguins: the NLB and a space that used to be ours

Disbelief. Disappointment. Rage. These emotions have not been in short supply on my Facebook news feed recently. And although a lot of it was World Cup-related (sorry, Brazil fans) most of it was actually about the National Library Board’s (NLB) removal of certain children’s books.

I’m sure the NLB had hoped that the removal of the books would happen quietly, unannounced and mostly unnoticed. It’s not the first time they’ve done it, after all. It has emerged that three books written by Robie Harris, making sex education accessible to young children, have also been withdrawn.

But now the news is everywhere, and it’s a revelation that hurts. I see it in the reactions of my friends and I feel it myself; indignation and anger mixed with deep, deep disappointment.

The national library was ours – a publicly funded institution open to all members of the public, a house of knowledge, culture and learning for all Singaporeans. As a child I visited the library often. I still remember learning how to use the self-checkout machines, carting my books home and devouring them while lying on a mattress spread out on the floor of my grandmother’s house. Those books were the foundation of a lifelong love for reading that endures till today. The library belonged to me, and my family, and my friends. It felt like it would always be a space for us to turn to, a neutral space that would be open to all Singaporeans, regardless of who we are.

Discovering the NLB’s willingness to cave to conservative religious anti-LGBT pressure has shattered that illusion. We now realise that our public library is complicit in denying space to people who don’t conform, and in using the “pro-family” excuses used by homophobes and bigots committed to the marginalisation of sexual minorities.

We now realise that our public library is not actually ours, and probably hasn’t been for a long, long time.

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On Pink Dot and confrontations

A pink dress, with white polkadots, hangs in my cupboard at home. I bought it over a month ago, and even got it slightly altered to fit me better. I bought it before the run-up to Pink Dot exploded into a culture war of pink and white and red, and people who would never actually be personally affected by other people’s freedom to love decided that it was an affront to them and their religion for other human beings to strive for equal rights.

The dress is hanging in my cupboard at home while my friends are no doubt already gathered (or gathering – my friends aren’t always known for punctuality) in a sea of pink at Hong Lim Park because I am, once again, missing Pink Dot.

Since 2010 – which is when I first heard of and wanted to attend Pink Dot – I have only succeeded in being there once, in 2011. It was wonderful, friends, lovers and multi-generational families packed into the little park in the middle of the city. I’ve wanted to join in on another Pink Dot, but never quite made it because I always ended up, somehow or other, out of Singapore. This year is no different: despite all the anticipation and planning I am sitting here in Scotland, having had to catch a last-minute flight out to be with family.

Pink Dot is by no means a perfect event or movement. There is plenty that needs to be said about diversity and differences in experiences – straight or queer – in Singapore and around the world. But I still believe that Pink Dot is worth supporting, and it’s a belief that has been further reinforced by the outpouring of hatred and fear-mongering that has come from religious conservatives like Lawrence Khong and Ustaz Noor Deros.

It’s not a huge surprise. We’ve known for ages that Khong spends more time obsessing over gay sex than even gay people do. His anger, vomited all over obliging newspaper opinion pages, is fast getting repetitive and boring, especially to those who have never subscribed to as narrow an understanding of family as he.

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Five months as a freelancer

Tell people in Singapore that you’re a journalist and they almost always ask, “SPH ah?”

They can’t be blamed for that assumption; the Big Two, Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp, are the biggest source of jobs for local journalists. There are many experienced, hard-working and talented journalists in both these companies, gathering news in Singapore and overseas every day. Unfortunately, The Economist described Singapore’s mainstream media as “insipidly sycophantic” for a reason. Our press freedom rankings also suck; something that the Prime Minister doesn’t take seriously but journalists should.

There are a number of international news organisations with bureaus or staff in Singapore, but such opportunities don’t come along very often. Even these big news organisations are downsizing, spreading their employees ever more thinly. Judging from research done on the journalism industry, journalists all over the world find themselves having to resort to ‘churnalism’ now and then – or even more regularly than that – to fill pages and airtime.

In this context, being a freelance journalist is practically a convenient necessity. A necessity because getting a job might be difficult if you don’t particularly wish to work for local mainstream media, and convenient because there are definitely perks that come with being a freelancer.

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