Performing Queerness

Over the semester my definition of queer has changed. Before this class queer was not a word I really thought about or used, I simply thought it was a term interchangeable with homosexuality. After our first class I realized how wrong I was, it is so much more than that. Queer is an inclusive term which cannot be reduced to just one thing. It is for those that fall outside what is considered the norm. Everyones interpretations are different, it gives each person the power to define what they believe it is.

This is similar to glocalqueering, a term that was introduced by Eng-Beng Lim in his paper “Glocalqueering in New Asia.” He writes about how we need to stop using global queering, which often glamorizes western gay culture and makes western gay culture the standard definition for the rest of the world. The point of glocalqueering is to bring attention to the fact that queer experience is unique to each culture and there is not a standard definition of what queer culture is or should be.

Cyril Wong is a Singaporean poet who uses his life experiences as material for his poems. In several of his poems, such as “Arrival,” Cyril does not use gender specific pronouns making the gender of the characters ambiguous. Had I not been introduced to Cyril prior, I probably would have used a heteronormative view to read the poems and assumed that the people being described were a male and female. I believe this is how many people who grew up in a heteronormative society would see it as well. These are poems about love, the gender does not necessarily matter but I believe it makes it more powerful and has a different meaning once you know the context of the poems.

Cyril Wong presents an image of queerness that is quite unlike that presented in “Female Masculinity and Fantasy Spaces,” which offers up an examination of an asexual, agendered space in which queerness can exist. Wong’s poetry is in ways representative of some perception of queerness, as it appears to be sexually explicit and unabashedly so. His poem “The Neighbour” is an example of this sexual queerness that contrasts so extremely with Takarazuka Theatre. I think that I was fortunate enough to come into this class with more than a passing understanding of queerness, and so I’m slightly more familiar with both sides of the queer sexual spectrum, so to speak. “The Neighbour” in many ways supports my own understanding of queerness, as this particular sexual encounter has a direct relationship with Wong’s work: the poem ends, ironically, as it begins: Wong begins writing as the events of the poem have ended, because of those events. This experience of explicit sexuality is the cause for Wong’s writing. Contrasting Wong’s more explicit style with the Takarazuka Theatre is important, I believe, because it seems that they in many ways represent the two mainstream understandings of queerness: the sexually promiscuous and shameless (usually) gay man and the sexless, unthreatening ambiguous queer. Both are legitimate forms of queerness that exist in reality, but they are also common stereotypes and performances; the women who perform in Takarazuka Theatre may or may not be queer, and often are not nearly as asexual or agendered as their characters are perceived to be, and Cyril Wong isn’t a solely sexual being, even if some of his poetry may imply that. Takarazuka asexuality is an opportunity for female fans to identify and desire the characters in an unthreatening way; Wong fights back against a repressive environment.

Cyril responds!

Hello. Thank you for all your sensitive and open-hearted responses to the poems. A common thread I’m picking up is how you’ve all been reaching a fuller understanding of queerness. Queerness is infinite possibility thrusting against the dense walls of society’s reluctance to change or be inclusive. Queerness is also love and the acceptance of differences across that gender-sexuality continuum. As a queer poet, as many have nicely articulated, my work offers a contrarian perspective to the heteronormative narrative, even as I also establish queerness paradoxically within the quotidian and the everyday: one-night-stands, doing laundry, writing, etc. Queerness is simultaneously overrated and underestimated, and I hope my poetry captures this paradoxical condition. So if ever you read the poems again, or any work by another queer poet, think about this too: being queer is a problem because other people (the ones who aren’t queer) make it a problem for us to be ourselves. The condition of queerness is both banal and a source of heartache and injury. And if queer people are guilty (as one of you pointed out) of creating and enforcing binaries too, guess who we inherited such tendencies from in the first place? Eng-Beng Lim’s notion of glocalqueering is a crucial one too, as globalization (a word I detest more and more everyday, because it means everything and nothing at the same time) has a way of dismissing local contexts in favor of a homogeneous narrative with little tolerance for cultural idiosyncrasies. Queerness is both broadly universal and sharply local: there are things all of us have in common but queerness, being radical, always has a way of shaking things up, making the stable unstable, the predictable chaotic. Accepting queerness is to observe without judgement, with the possibility of inclusion and embracing what we don’t understand.
 
The key to all this is love. The key is also patience and time. Poetry consists of slowing time down on the page, drawing readers into a meditative, imaginative space in which all things can become possible. In this way, all poetry is extremely queer, when elsewhere in life, we are conditioned to hurry from plot-twist to another, or sprint from our bed to the office and back home again. To slow things down in a poem is a political act, a strategic and aesthetic challenge. Then to write about queer topics further confronts (or affronts, hopefully) the complacent reader, forcing her or him to think beyond the known.
 
I’ll stop rambling in a bit. I need to correct something somebody wrote: I’m not the author of “several novels”, as I’ve written just one novel and two short-story collections. One last reminder: the personal is the political and everything I write about is personal, meaning that it comes from lived experience, steeped in memory, emotion and heartache. The writing of poetry contains within it the possibility of queering the world in infinite ways, as well as the hope of changing it ever so slightly for the better.
 

Flight Dreams

At the beginning of the semester, my definition of queerness came from how it applied to myself and to my experiences. I defined the word “queer” as an umbrella term for any person of a marginalized sexual orientation, gender identity, or for intersex people. In some ways, this definition still applies, but only in certain circumstances. For example, the term “queer community” can apply relatively well to communities in modern Western culture, specifically in North America, but not as well in other countries, such as Singapore. To rectify this inconsistency, in Eng-Beng Lim’s work, “Glocalqueering in New Asia: The Politics of Performing Gay in Singapore,” Lim argues for “glocalqueering,” meaning to allow for non-Western people, who don’t adhere to their respective cultural standards for “normal,” to form their own identities within the context of their own culture, rather than simply adopt Western/North American definitions.

From within Singaporean culture, poet Cyril Wong explores his identity as a person who is homosexual, which by Western standards would classify him as “queer.” Through his poetry, he documents his experiences as a homosexual man in Singapore, and in this way he performs queerness. His poem “Flight Dreams,” for example, draws upon his personal experiences growing up in a heteronormative culture and how that affected his understanding of his identity. In “Flight Dreams” Wong describes his childhood dreams of flying as a mechanism to escape feelings of entrapment, only to gain a new understanding of his identity in adulthood. This can be interpreted as his feeling trapped by his parent’s heteronormative ideals that were meant to shape his life, and as a result, his dreams of flight came from an inner need to escape the life that had been planned for him. Wong also reveals at the end of the poem that his dreams of flight ended when he was able to explore and understand his identity, suggesting that he’s able to feel free as a result.

EVE

Prior to taking this course, I assumed that the word “queer” was a derogatory term used against gay and lesbian people. Over time through our readings and discussions, I have come to understand queerness in a new way. Now I view it as a welcomed umbrella term, categorizing all individuals who do not fit within, or deviate from society’s established and widely accepted sex, gender, and sexuality norms. Also, before this class I had never given much thought into any type of queerness other than gay and lesbian orientation. One could say I was a victim of our culture’s imposed binaries as sexuality for me was only seen as two-fold. Through television and other media outlets, I was exposed to mostly glamorized western gay culture. So in my ignorance, I viewed EuroAmerican gay culture as a basis for all queer life. In his text, “Glocalqueering in New Asia,” Eng-Beng Lim emphasizes that this way of thinking is not unusual. He recognizes it as “global queering.”  Lim proposes that glocal queering is more appropriate as it takes into consideration diverse local context, meaning political, social, and religious culture, before analyzing queerness.

I used Lim’s ideas of glocal queering when dissecting Cyril Wong’s poem, “Eve.” While reading, I kept in mind Wong’s upbringing in Singapore, where any thoughts or ideas outside of what is sanctioned by government is strictly repressed. In this poem he performs queerness by describing a gay sexual encounter through metaphoric language, likening the setting to the Bible’s Garden of Eden. The line that most caught my attention was “You look at me with a curious expression. I remember: it is innocence.” I belief here he refers to his realization that his interactions with men are not his society’s interpretation of evil or deviant, as Eve’s betrayal of God’s word in the garden.

Performing Queerness

Before taking this class, my definition of queerness was so basic it is almost embarrassing thinking back about it now. I didn’t see it as a derogatory term, I saw it as a broad term discribing people that were gay. However, halfway through the semester, this class has taught me that it has many other meanings, and is also widely discussed in non-western parts of the world. In “Glocalqueering New Asia” Eng-Beng Lim discusses that queer experiences change depending on the individual’s surroundings. I think Cyril Wong’s guest Skype lecture was a great example proving how little I actually knew and understood about queerness and the non-western culture.

Cyrill has been recognized as Singapore’s first truly confessional poet. In Singapore, homosexuality is criminalized. Cyril is an openly gay poet, and often makes that very clear in his writings. In his poem The Neighbour, he describes a sexual encounter with his neighbor in very explicit detail. During Cyril’s lecture, he said he had stopped publishing his work for a while because he simply wasn’t allowed to. He could not receive grants for his work because if the significantly explicit nature of his poems. This relates back to Eng-Beng’s piece because his experiences living in Singapore are influencing Cyril and his writings. If Cyril lived in western countries, his work would be permitted. Luckily that didn’t stop him. He continued to write, and has become a very talented poet, and role model for many other individuals.

Cyril Wong

I chose the poem, “The Men We Loved.”  The poem has a very melancholy vibe to it. As we were listening to Cyril reading his poem over Skype, i realized how important the word queerness is and what it “means”. The poem speaks a lot about promiscuity i think Cyril is trying to tell us that promiscuous is hurtful. The poem says,

The men we loved who wiped the disappointment
from our lips with a thumb, a tongue down a throat.
A promise to call again and the promise fulfilled.
Long before the accident, the illness, the overseas job,
a touch turned cold, the averted vision, the other man.

depicts a man who promises to be there and to never leave, yet fail to make those promises come true, If we think about it, we think promiscuity has a negative stigma attached to it but in fact, queerness in a sense is coming to the realization that whatever we perceived as “normal” is only one point of view in society and viewing monogamy as the “norm.” On the other hand, I sincerely think that Cyril’s perspective is able to disregard society’s expectations and can embrace the fact promiscuity is healthy just as monogamous relationships, despite the hurt attached to it.

In our reading,  “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” by Judith Butler, it is explained to us that when people call themselves gay/lesbian, that assumes that everyone has the same idea of what queer means. But in fact, queerness, differentiates between each person because everyone doesn’t have the same view of what queerness is besides defying the “norm” and go against the idea of there only being heterosexual and not heterosexual. With Cyril’s poem, he disregards people’s expectations of the meaning of queerness and he tells us the truth, the true experience pertinent to his life.

Queerness, is a word that is user defined amongst each individual. The meanings may seem explicit to everyone that may learn about it but the fact of the matter is that each person’s unique experiences and values directly change the true meaning of “queerness.” The word queerness has definitely changed in during this semester because i never knew how in depth one word can be in respect to different people’s experiences of perspectives.