By Xener Gill
Dear straight people: I see your eyes fixated on the hand I am holding and the person by my side. I see them widen when you realise. I see your judgments forming as we walk past.
I must say, I have never felt as scrutinized as I do now, being in an openly homosexual relationship.
Over the past few months, I have received a plethora of comments from my straight peers. These range from innocent inquiries on how gender roles play out in a homosexual relationship to hurtful assertions about the heteronormative pronouns that “should” be used.
To strive towards an inclusive society, it is important that we have honest discussions about such issues of gender, sex and sexuality.
Where gender and sex differ
There has been much debate recently about the validity of the two-gendered system that exist in most societies. There are those who embrace the grey areas in gender and those who seek to protect tradition. A lack of communication between both sides has made it difficult to reach common ground.
Gender is a projection of societal and cultural expectations. Traditionally, a girl is expected to engage in more feminine activities, to play with dolls and wear dresses. At the same time, boys are expected to engage in traditionally masculine activities, like playing sports and video games.
This clean division between male and female provides a semblance of structure for people when it comes to making everyday decisions. However, this also means that it is difficult for those who do not identify with these gender roles to be accepted.
While gender is defined as a personal identification with femininity and masculinity, sex refers to biology and an individual’s reproductive system.
We are accustomed to perceive sex as either male or female. However, biology reveals that people do not always fall neatly into the two categories.
There are those born with androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a male body with X and Y chromosomes rejects male hormones, resulting in a body with male genetic makeup but with the physical traits of a woman. Variations of this syndrome exist, according to the United States National Library of Medicine.
Moreover, research from Boston Children’s Hospital shows that one in 4,500 people worldwide are born with “ambiguous genitalia”. Many of these individuals are surgically altered when they are infants to fit into the binary concept of gender.
Such evidence tells us that there is no clear-cut way to categorise people based on sex. As science deepens our understanding of human anatomy, perhaps it is time we reconsider our perspectives.
Making sense of sexuality
In a similar vein, sexuality has long been accepted as a binary concept.
Defined as physical attraction to another person, it has been traditional for a male or female to settle down with a partner of the opposite gender.
However, sexuality exists in grey areas too. Beyond being either gay or straight, there are also those who identify as bisexual, pansexual or queer, to name a few.
I am unapologetically sexually fluid and have never felt the need to bind myself to a label, be it straight, lesbian, bisexual or pansexual. I see beyond a person’s gender identity and value their personalities and beliefs more than their biology.
Hence, it was frustrating when an acquaintance once accused me of getting into a relationship with a female only as a performance of my sexuality.
Others have implied that sexuality is a choice. A lesbian friend of mine was once told by her grandmother that she should not “choose to walk this path because it is not an easy one”.
Another friend was given counselling sessions by her religious leaders who were attempting to “turn her straight”, which made it challenging for her to find a balance between her faith and her sexual orientation.
If sexuality is a choice, then that suggests that heterosexuality is also a choice instead of an innate desire, doesn’t it?
Research done by North Shore University in Illinois claims to have discovered genetic markers that indicate whether a person is gay, taking a step towards proving that sexuality is not a choice.
The lack of understanding is excusable only if the individual is willing to learn about the other perspective. But denying another of the freedom to make their own lifestyle choices is not reasonable. Just imagine how ridiculous it would be if someone tried to convince you that you are not straight.
Compassion and hope
I believe learning to be sensitive to the culture, tradition and experience that make up the identity of each individual can provide us with a broader understanding of the world.
It allows us the chance to embrace the complexities of human nature — to accept that differences will always remain, rather than to project our own ideals and beliefs onto others.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I think it is important to fight for a society that recognises the importance of respecting different ways of life.
I am heartened by the increasing support for the annual Pink Dot movement that fights for the freedom to love.
Its increasing attendance rates, from 2,500 attendees in 2009 to close to 20,000 attendees last year, shows that more Singaporeans are slowly accepting alternative lifestyles.
But more work has to be done. A polarised society can never be our end goal. More communication channels have to open up on all sides and we have to learn to empathise.
As actress and singer Keala Settle sings in the movie, The Greatest Showman, “I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.”
If in Singapore, we can extend our compassion to people of different races, religion or familial backgrounds, then shouldn’t we learn to feel empathy for those in the LGBTQ+ community and allow them to be comfortable in their own skin too?