On 28 June, Dr Ad Maulod was one of the 6 commentators invited to speak at Art As Res Publicae. The text below is a transcript of the speech, responding to the topic for the evening, Complexities Surrounding Pluralism In Singapore.
Tolstoy said: “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way” You see this quote everywhere, Hallmark, Church bookshops, on fridge magnets. Google image search “family”, and yes, they all do look alike. Add “happy” and you get even more images of a male and female, laughing, swinging equally happy looking children, sometimes with pets and in an increasingly aging society, often times, with grandparents. This is a stock image often reproduced in its likeness. An alibi for a myth that has been silenced. What has been silenced? The labor of love that goes into making a family, and the unequal landscapes that position some forms of love, care and belonging as more deserving than others.
The heated exchange between Grace and Ellen is not about heterosexuality vs homosexuality, it is not about shitting on lesbians or shitting on religious pious women. It is about the production of heteronormativity, which assumes that the supposed happiness of a male husband, female wife and their laughing offsprings is the only norm that other relationships of intimacy and care should be measured against.
The notion of family has been so taken-for-granted as ‘natural’ that people often forget how it is assembled and constructed based on what people think is possible within their lived realities. That the family that each of us have or are pursuing, whether traditional, or not are mediated by our access to particular resources and rewards, our life experiences and how we have been socialized to think about ‘family’.
By suggesting that certain paths to family are more natural than others, it means to privilege only that model of family while delegitimizing other versions of family and other celebrations of happiness.
Thus any cultural claims for family inclusivity and deservedness require a precise examination of who and what people are and how it informs the choices they make. To understand privilege, is to take an intersectional perspective. This means seeing heteronormativity as a matrix of power where multiple categories in terms of who you are: your class, your gender, your sexuality, your ethnicity, your religion, your disability amongst others, are all interconnected and shapes your experiences.
To read Grace and Ellen is not to participate in oppression Olympics to see who had it worst or who is more privileged than the other but to find spaces where oppression and privilege both interact and intersect.
Does Grace have any more right to be with her husband in Surabaya than Ellen has to return to London and be with Lesley?
Does Ellen have any more right to be with her wife, than Grace has to follow her husband?
Is staying behind to take care of ailing parents who have supported anymore valid than leaving parents who cannot and will not accept you?
Is leaving parents who cannot and will not accept you anymore valid than staying behind to take care of ailing parents who have supported you?
Is caring out of duty anymore self-actualizing than caring out of love?
Is caring out of love anymore self-actualizing than caring out of duty?
Is answering to God’s calling anymore legitimate than answering to one’s sexual preference and desire?
Is answering to one’s sexual preference anymore legitimate than answering to God’s calling?
Is being a powerful lawyer anymore important than being a pastor’s wife?
Is being a pastor’s wife anymore important than being a powerful lawyer?
When we pit the very fundamental human need to feel connected, loved and belonged as a matter of deservedness and worth against a traditional norm, we stop to see the validity of each other’s existence and the plurality of experiences that comes from making and being family.
Privilege is like tissue paper, you can use it to chope your space on a dirty table and prevent others from occupying them or you can take that tissue paper, wipe that dirty table clean so others can join you.