Issue 02 / Jan 2021
A publication by NTU Kaleidoscope
from the editors Hello again! NTU Kaleidoscope is excited to bring you our second edition of KALEI. It’s been a long and difficult semester working from the confines of our own rooms. This has been a challenging time for all of us, but especially for those staying with unsupportive family members or in other unsafe environments, who have had limited contact with friends and support networks or faced other stresses due to the ongoing pandemic. To everyone who has been struggling, we see you. NTU Kaleidoscope has done our best, within our means, to continue with our monthly events to allow students to connect with each other while maintaining a safe social distance. We’ve conducted Qrientation and Trivia Night over the wonderful Internet medium of Zoom, and organised a Flower Foot Trail for small groups to appreciate queer art with a guide. With social distancing guidelines easing up lately, we’re hopeful that we can bring more events to you very soon. The content of this edition of KALEI reflects the spirit of this strange and uncertain time. With more time to ourselves, our writers took the liberty of revisiting old films and investigating the queering process that may not have been obvious to us at first glance (“Jennifer’s Bisexuality”, “Hell Is Not A Teenage Girl”, “What Makes Disney’s Mulan (1998) So Queer?”). We’ve heard from others about how they have coped with the pandemic (“No Holds Barred for Virtual Tour”). With the pandemic revealing the hierarchy of privilege that affects our experiences, even within the LGBTQ community, our writers have also explored groups within the queer community that often go overlooked (“Living as an Aromantic in a Heteronomative Society”, “Sex Work and Its Place in the LGBTQ+ Movement”). In this edition, we’re also glad to have had the opportunity to work with a team of dedicated editors: Kieran, Khairul, Xin Yi, and Andrew. Their work has been integral to this edition of KALEI, and we’re so grateful to them. This opportunity to connect with our community and bring KALEI to you once again has been immensely rewarding. We hope that, wherever you’re reading this from and however you choose to identify, you feel linked to the queer community through this sharing of our thoughts and introspections. We’re looking forward to spending the new year with you, and we hope you’re excited too. Love, Abigail (she/her) Damon (they/them)
EDITORS Damon, Abigail, Kieran, Khairul, Xin Yi, Andrew CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Damon, Abigail, Khairul, Xin Yi, Andrew, Dion, Nova, Nurul, Efydean, Nadh. J DESIGNERS Gwendolyn, Munyi, Karn, Xinyi, Carol CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Charmaine Poh
NTU Kaleidoscope "Giving voice and visibility to the LGBTQ+ community by championing inclusivity, education and discussion ️ "
CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS Aravind, Xinyi, Jessie, Sze Kei (Cover Art)
No Holds Barred for Virtual Tour Leon Markcus talks about the pros and cons of both live and virtual tours, as well as “stripping everything away” for his new sound.
by Khairul Ameer
Imagine this: a plethora of colourful lights shining upon all corners of the stage, often flashing into your eyes, blinding you for a split second. Music so loud you can feel the bass thumping in your chest. People screaming and cheering around you, some with their hands up in the air, waving to the beat, others clinging onto their smartphones, desperate to record each electrifying moment on stage. Alas, the possibility of being engulfed with such euphoria again may still be far from our reach, despite Phase 3’s lifted restrictions in live indoor performances. Nevertheless, this pandemic has not stopped singersongwriter Leon Markcus (he/him) from holding concerts and connecting with his fans. Not physically, of course.
Leon performing for High Key 2: Off The Streets. (Source: Radio Heatwave, Ngee Ann Polytechnic)
Poster for the Virtual Tour of Welcome to Hot City.
With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, local performers have had to get creative. One way to continue performing has been holding online concerts, or as Leon Markcus calls them: Virtual Tours. Known for the stunning, well-thought-out visuals that accompanied his performance for Pink Dot 2020, fans expected nothing less for his Virtual Tour which commenced in October 2020 till end January 2021 where he performed his songs from his most recent album: “Welcome to Hot City (Rebel Edition)”, a body of work that celebrates
queerness and camp. Markcus is no stranger to performing in digital concerts. In mid-2020, he live-streamed a performance for fans in Hong Kong and Taiwan for ‘Home Music Mix 2020’. He even represented Singapore for ‘Atlas Digital: Stay at Home Concert Edition for Los Angeles’ in May 2020. Despite the lack of a real concert ambience, virtual concerts do come with their own set of perks, Markcus shared, especially as a local queer
artist. To quote him, “I can express myself more freely when concerts are held digitally as compared to live gigs.” “Performing live in Singapore does come with censorship restrictions,” Marckus shared. He would know— his withdrawal from a concert at his university that asked him to omit LGBTQ+ themes made headlines in 2019. “When you’re to perform in a public space, you cannot wear a dress and have to dress stereotypically male. You can’t look androgynous. You can’t wear heels or wear weaves.” As an artist who enjoys blurring the lines between gender roles through fashion, Markcus often struggles with such restrictions—not least when his album addresses “being whatever you want”.
Screenshot from Leon's virtual performance in Pink Dot 2020. (Source: Leon Markcus) Though he misses being able to physically connect with his fans, for online concerts, the only limit on his creative direction is his imagination. “I can wear and sing whatever I want,” Markcus told us. Markcus, who considers himself a songwriter first and then a singer, has constantly been writing songs as a way to address the issues he sees in himself and the world around him. He will be presenting a more stripped-down, vulnerable version of himself for an upcoming full-length album that he’s in the process of producing. That is a facet unfamiliar to his fans who have always known him for his extravagant aesthetic. When asked what was the inspiration behind it, he mentioned he wanted to strip everything away and focus on what is nostalgic to him. “For my entire independent music journey, I’ve focused so much on ‘Leon Markcus’ as a character and a person I aspire to be… and somewhere along the way, I may have lost what it’s like being myself.” Experience his new sound in his latest single release entitled: “Ichigo”, which stands for ‘Strawberries’ in Japanese. “(Ichigo) is taking a step into making music that I would personally resonate with but has always found it too personal”, Markcus described.
***** Leon Markcus’ promotional single: ‘Ichigo’ is now available on iTunes music, Spotify, YouTube and all streaming platforms. You can find him at @itsleonmarkcus on Instagram. Screenshot from Leon's Virtual Tour. (Source: Leon Markcus)
New Hair, New Music, More Marian With a new-found post-haircut confidence, Marian Carmel finds a new sound that is nothing like we’ve heard before.
by Khairul Ameer
Bzzt! You feel the swift graze of hard plastic across your left temple and you watch your hair fall. A smidge of regret flashes in your mind, but is quickly engulfed by the realisation that it’s just hair. It will grow back. A haircut may be the norm to some but to singer-songwriter Marian Carmel (she/they), it was a step towards a version of her that is more bold, comfortable, and unapologetically herself. The way we present ourselves to the outside world greatly influences how we are perceived by others, as well as our mood and confidence throughout the day. Marian made the tough decision to take control of that. They were even given the honour of executing the first shave for the new haircut she’s been itching to get: the mullet. Singer-songwriter Marian Carmel. (Source: Khairul Ameer)
“My mind was frazzled with countless doubts but I reassured myself that life is short, the hair will grow back and it is the perfect thing for me to play or make mistakes with,” Marian said. When Marian asked the senior stylist if she should shave her sides, they answered, “It is not about what hairstyle you have. It’s about whether you have the confidence to rock it.” As they started with her bangs, Marian was brought back to her polytechnic days when she used to cut her bangs by herself at 4 a.m. as an emotional outlet. Left: Marian executing the first shave, Right: Marian's mullet style hair (Source: Marian Carmel)
with your sound and everything, the people who are rooting for you will follow you through your journey and they’ll like you for who you are. Even though some people drop off because they don’t like your new stuff, your new stuff will always find the right people,” Marian said. The mullet has been notably epiphanic to Marian’s relationship with her sexuality as well. She realised that she loved expressing herself androgynously and is now comfortable in including they/them to her pronouns, an addition to her current she/her. “I just felt more confident with my sexuality,” Marian said, who felt there were certain expectations attached to her when she had long hair. “Now, I know that these ‘expectations’ are only set by myself. Knowing that, is freeing.” Album cover for "Rose". (Source: Marian Carmel) “The way I see it constantly is that the moon stops shining, stars ain’t aligning… it might never get better.” Marian reminds us that it is okay to feel helpless sometimes over a situation we cannot control in their 2019 release ‘Might Never Get Better’. It is a melancholic, frustrated message about being stuck in a seemingly inescapable loop disguised in a catchy, joyful tune. Their newer work, however, is “nothing like [her] previous releases”, they stated. It is more vulnerable and brazen. In their recent single “Rose”, released last November, they talked about acceptance, growth and mistakes as parts of who we are. “We are going back to me and my guitar but with R&B elements,” Marian noted. They said they're terrified to release her new music as they are more them. The notion that people may be critical of the raw version of oneself is undoubtedly perturbing. After the ‘haircut release’ on their social media, Marian lost close to a hundred Instagram followers, but soon gained back more people than they lost. They've since made her peace with the fact that the public reaction to both them and their art is something they cannot control. “Even if you change throughout
“I feel like this hair may have given me powers,” said Marian, who has taken to expressing themselves more candidly on Instagram. What used to be limited to carefully curated pictures of them at shoots or posts promoting new
Even though some people drop off because they don't like your new stuff, your new stuff will always find the right people.
music, has then transformed into a spontaneous and positively chaotic feed that showcases their fun side. With the new chutzpah bestowed by the mullet, Marian’s now letting us in a lot more, on both their musical journey and their life.
***** You can find Marian at @mariancarmelmusic on Instagram and ‘Marian Carmel’ on Spotify.
Single art for "Might Never Get Better". (Source: Unami Records)
Queer Artists 2: Electric Boogaloo Queer art has always been a rare sight on this tiny lovable island we call home—where even regular (read: heteronormative) art takes a backseat to our flamboyantly practical lifestyles. Let’s take a look at some interesting moments in the history of queer-themed art in Singapore plus a few of our local artists and, who knows? Maybe you’ll find your new fave!
by Xinyi Welcome to the Hotel Munber 2010, mixed-media room installation Simon Fujiwara
“However, in a work that centered around (homo)sexual oppression and censorship, perhaps the removal of the magazines became intolerably ironic for the artist.” (Quote from Art Asia Pacific, 2011) A recreation of the 1970s Spanish hotel bar owned by Japanese-British artist Simon Fujiwara’s parents, it had displayed “fake legs of suspended ham, suggestively arranged objects reflecting a fixation with male genitalia, a certain reference to war and violence, “naughty” collages and egg-splattered objects, as well as gay pornographic magazines.”
The work shown in its entirety at PinchukArtCentre, Kiev. zt
Brother Cane 1994, performance art Josef Ng A contemporary art performance, part of the artists’ initiative 5th Passage. It was a protest against the publicisation of the names of 12 homosexual men in The Straits Times who were later apprehended by the police through “purportedly dubious means”, violating their privacy. Dressed in a black robe, his performance recreated their punishment by caning on slabs of tofu. As a form of protest, he walked to the far end of the gallery space and turned 06
his back to the audience, lowering his briefs and snipping his pubic hair (which the audience could not see). Although Ng was never completely naked during the performance and notices were put up around the venue to inform people of its nature, it was quickly picked up and sensationalised by The New Paper. Both Ng and the gallery manager of 5th Passage, Iris Tan, were prosecuted by the High Court afterwards; Ng for committing an obscene act in public and Tan for breaching the conditions of the Public Entertainment License.
One such magazine was apparently within reach on a rack near the entrance of the space, tied to the rack with cord and there were signs and reminders given that the display was not to be touched. This eventually resulted in the removal of the magazines from the exhibit by the Singapore Art Museum without prior notice and the temporary (turned permanent) closure of the exhibit by the artist during negotiations.
Josef Ng's performance makes headlines, 3 Jan 1984. (Source: The New Paper)
Artist Loo Zi Han's re-enactment of "Brother Cane" in 2012. (Source: Loo Zi Han)
Article from STLife, 12/02/16 (Source: Singapore Press Holdings)
However, the LGBTQA+ arts scene wasn’t always the centre of controversy...
Surrounding David 2008, fibreglass and fabric sculpture Titarubi A replica of Michelangelo’s David commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore in 2008, Titarubi’s Surrounding David is made out of fiberglass and clad in hot pink floral fabric, resembling batik usually associated with femininity. The “richly and provocatively allusive” artwork is both feminine and homoerotic at the same time — a commentary on its idolisation as a symbol of the West and its maker’s homosexuality.
Moving onto our very own NTU, we have:
@triality.co (Ami) “for my fellow goblins who love shiny things”
You’ve heard of Heckin’ Unicorn from our previous issue, now get ready for pins with a more fandom-oriented touch. Mainly based on Instagram, she makes enamel pins and earrings (all very adorable, if I may add!) that feature K-Pop idols, with a few pride and feminism themed ones. Maybe these pins will be the next to bling your bag, jacket, or the corkboard that’s absolutely filled up.
Jean Seizure Singer-songwriter-actor
Left: Pins featuring Doyoung, Johnny and Yuta from NCT, Top: Pin featuring Joy from Red Velvet. (Source: triality.co)
A singer-songwriter-actor who’s also in an acapella band called The Apex Project, you may have even spotted them performing at Pink Dot celebrations! They recently released a new single “I Know”, (left) a slow song about uncertainty in love and the certainty of falling. Why not go give it a listen? The gentle piano and Seizure’s smooth voice makes it a lovely treat for the ears.
Honorary mention: Red + White = Pink
(Source: Jean Seizure's Facebook)
Held at Utterly Art as a part of Nation.04 (an early LGBTQA+ pride event in Singapore), Red + White = Pink “looks at the artistic output of a spectrum of gay and lesbian artists practicing in Singapore who have enthusiastically stood out to be counted for this historic group show (and one straight and one bi that don’t mind mixing in).” Not much is recorded of this event, but it featured many local artists and was an exploration of pride in less accepting times.
Living as an Aromantic in a Heteronomative Society by Nova Living as an aromantic person in a heteronomative society is extremely challenging. Being aromantic, I neither experience romantic attraction nor wish for a romantic relationship. However, this clashes with society’s enshrined belief that a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite binary sex is the ultimate achievement in life. Society expects myself and many others to find a significant other, but this is simply not plausible. But because of this expectation, some individuals in the queer community are forced to erase a part of their identity just to fit in. Facing such expectations myself, I often find myself conforming to society’s expectations by trying to constantly be romantically involved and repressing my identity as an aromantic individual.
malice. However, they are still painful to receive. Not only do they diminish the identity of the aromantic community, but also my identity. I often find myself internalising these questions and start doubting myself. Asking if aromantism is even a valid identity, when it clearly is.
Growing up, I indulged myself in romantic dramas on television and love stories in books, many of which I still enjoy today. Many of these stories teach similar lessons about how romantic relationships triumph over other kinds of relationships, about how romantic relationships are an integral part of every life. But being aromantic, I know that that is simply not true. However, these thoughts and ideas are so normalised, and coupled with society’s expectations and pressures, I cannot help but feel like not wanting to be involved in any romantic relationship is a wrong choice. This pressure has led me to seek out romantic trysts with people I’m not attracted to, only for them to end badly, hurting myself each time I do.
There are still many marginalised groups within the queer community that do not share the same level of acceptance as others. I hope that society will one day learn to accept the whole community, not just what seems acceptable to them. But until that day, when there would not be a need for any of us to justify our identities, we will keep trying to forge a better life for ourselves.
Aromanticism is not a choice, nor is it a lifestyle. It is a label for those who feel that their romantic identities do not fall into the alloromantic spectrum. Whether one chooses to identify as queer or not is equally valid. Society needs to be more inclusive of different types of romantic and sexual identities. I should not have to justify my identity to others just to be accepted. I should not need to explain my experiences and struggles to be accepted.
There was even a time where I felt that being aromantic was wrong. Every news channel talked about the new happy celebrity couples. Every person I knew found love in their own lives. The pressure to find love and to fit in was overwhelming and I felt condemned because I could not do so. Another aspect of being aromantic is coming out. Despite society being more accepting of non-heterosexual identities, this unfortunately has not made coming out easier. Not only is it terrifying, but many people do not understand what it means to be aromantic. Typical reactions to my coming out include: That’s just abstinence, right? So does that make you emotionless? Maybe you haven’t found the right one yet. I do not blame anyone for asking these questions. And many of these questions do not come from a place of Artwork by Xinyi 09
Sex Work and Its Place in the LGBTQ+ Movement by Dion
When you think of Pride parades or Singapore’s Pink Dot, you also think of rainbow flags, vibrant colours, a huge party embracing and celebrating social acceptance, and a myriad of queer identities. What’s now a huge outdoor celebration doubling as a demonstration for legal rights such as same sex marriage originally started out as a riot against police brutality. It’s commonly known that Pride’s origins can be traced back to 28 June 1969, the date of the first ever Stonewall Inn Riot spearheaded by trans people of colour (POC), Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. One key detail commonly left out, however, is that both Marsha and Sylvia were sex workers. As we celebrate a range of identities and sexualities every year at Pink Dot, the fight for sex work positivity and sex workers’ rights has long been ignored. Sure, one might ask, ‘What do sex workers or sex work have anything to do with the LGBTQ+ community?’ Aside from the above mentioned, that sex workers have been the one to kickstart the entire movement, the aim of both fights is basically the same—sexual freedom, sexual privacy, and bodily autonomy. Not only were the Stonewall Riots led by trans sex workers of colour, it was also funded by sex work. Yet it didn’t take long before the erasure of sex workers started. In 1973, Rivera had to fight to speak at a Gay Pride rally that was celebrating Stonewall simply because the crowds did not want to hear from a trans sex worker of colour. Many also felt that sex workers brought a ‘bad name’ to their community, blaming them for the negative connotations associated with the movement. As the years passed, more LGBTQ+ organisations began forming and such organisations
started distancing themselves from the sex worker trailblazers. Leaving sex workers out of the movement only further adds to the demonisation and stigmatisation of the community. It is incredibly ironic for a movement that champions inclusivity and equality to contribute to the stigma such communities already face. What they don’t realise is that it is incredibly hypocritical for them to fight for their sexual freedom and body autonomy, but not grant the same to sex workers. They demand the freedom over their sexual lives
that happen behind closed doors and autonomy over their own bodies, but deny the same to sex workers. Activist and feminist writer Kate Millet has mentioned that prostitution, homosexuality, and abortion are instances of the law trying to infringe upon individuals’ rights to sexual freedom and autonomy over their own bodies. Despite refusing to be policed and punished for how mutually consenting adults want to use their bodies behind closed doors, they simultaneously deny such privilege to sex workers and often shame them for their decisions.
It is no coincidence that a disproportionate amount of people doing sex work are LGBTQ+. A large percentage of them actually resort to sex work as a means of survival due to their struggle and circumstance. Many of them are part of families or communities that simply struggle to accept their truth, creating hostile and unsafe environments that would make leaving their homes the best option. Furthermore, as a disenfranchised and stigmatised community, many members of the community, especially those who are gender non-conforming and/or trans, experience discrimination and prejudice in terms of resources and employment opportunities. As a result of such economic, social, and cultural factors, engaging in sex work as a means of survival is the most rational choice for many. As for those involved in the sex industry by choice, sex work is not only a source of income for them but also a form of validation and confirmation of their personal expression and identity. Who are we to judge what others decide to do for themselves? If LGBTQ+ individuals don’t want the government or any authority figure to police or regulate what they do in their bedrooms, why would it be fine for them to do the exact same thing to sex workers and their clients? So when you are at the next Pride event, surrounded by your friends and loved ones, go ahead and have fun! It’s okay to celebrate the achievements the community has made in the past years, but just remember that all this would not have happened if it weren’t for sex workers and the sex industry. We owe sex workers a debt and we should be repaying it by prioritising their issues as well and making sure that they’re included in our fight. Pride events are a celebration of our journey and identities but they are just as much an act of resistance towards the systemic heteronormativity that oppresses us all.
Illustrations by Xin Yi
LGBTQ + Characters That Have Made An Impact by A Aravind
For Pride month this year, I decided to illustrate some of my favourite LGBTQ+ TV characters that have made an impact on LGBTQ+ visibility in mainstream media. Glee will always have a special place in my heart for being the show that helped me on my journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Characters like Kurt Hummel, Mercedes Jones, and Santana Garrett showed me that it’s okay to be different, okay to be me, unapologetically.
Schitt's Creek In recent years, LGBTQ+ characters have gone from token minorities to leads, from one-dimensional stereotypes to complex human beings with stories that deserve to be told and heard. Seeing mainstream TV characters like Rosa Diaz and Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mitch and Cam from Modern Family, and David from Schitt’s Creek, as loved and celebrated as they are—by everyone, regardless of sexual identity and orientation—makes me hope that the next generation can grow up in an environment of love and acceptance.
Words & Illustrations by A Aravind Brooklyn 99 12
Letter to a Lost Friend by Nurul
Dear Friend, I know this letter might come as a shock to you since we’ve drifted but I hope you’ve been well regardless. I am writing this letter to you to apologise for what happened five years ago. The way things went down still haunts me in my dreams till today and I’ve finally mustered up the courage to address the white elephant in the room. This is the letter I wish I sent, the letter I wish I gave, the letter I wish I had written then. I have washed my hands, brushed my teeth, exfoliated my entire body, but my entire being is still stained with what happened five years ago. Now that I’m 20, I realise we spend our entire lives chasing an affirmation of sorts -- something that tells us you found “it”. I’m pretty sure back then, you were trying to tell me that you found your ‘it’, that you managed to make sense of whatever was going on in your head since we were kids. But, I was being an absolute piece of shit and dismissed you. I am sorry that I said things like “Oh, it’s just a phase.”, “You sure you don’t like me right?” and worst of all, “I don’t think we can be friends anymore.”. Looking back, I was really just That Ignorant despite your constant ramblings of LGBTQ+ events at the time. I guess I was genuinely a terrible friend to you seeing how I processed none of that information. Now, more than just apologising, I want you to know I am no longer that ditsy 15 year old and am now a (still) learning 20 year old. To be honest, life is confusing. It makes absolutely no sense and the worst thing is that we have to suffer before getting to the good part and fully appreciating it. We must feel pain to appreciate happiness. Going through that ordeal and realising that I caused us to drift apart, I now appreciate and dearly miss our relationship. I have made efforts to learn more about the community and how I should have reacted when you came out five years ago. I so desperately wish I could time travel and go back to change how I reacted -- that would surely have spared us some trauma and late-night thoughts. I’m truly sorry for what happened when you came out to me and I know I can never right that wrong but I do hope this letter brings you some closure to our friendship. If anything, I would love to reconnect but I know what I did brought about much trauma and understand if you declined. Now, all I can do is to do better and I hope this letter made you feel better in some ways. Love, Another dear friend wishing to reconnect
What Makes Disney’s Mulan (1998) So Queer? by Abigail Sorry, Elsa. Mulan, from the 1998 animated Disney film of the same name—I refuse to acknowledge Disney made another—is the gayest Disney princess. And no, it’s not just because her love interest is clearly bisexual or that Reflection speaks to every queer kid’s struggles with coming out, being accepted by one’s family, or not having one’s external appearance reflect “who I am inside”. This movie is a hella gay ride from start to finish, and how can it not be, when it deals directly with themes like crossdressing, gender roles, authenticity, and self expression?
beginning of a character arc. She is not even the eponymous hero of the tale; the movie is not about her. Like Belle, Mulan starts out with her own motivations which seem to be supplanted by external crises and devotion to family, falling into what Film and Animation professor Amy Davis calls “The Good Daughter” trope
(Davis, 169-219)¹. As in the original folktale, she is driven to act out of filial piety—or that’s what we think, until Shang hands her the reins of her horse and asks her to leave. If Mulan’s motivations were only to cover for her father and avoid getting caught, Shang has essentially given her a get-out-of-jail-free-card. Instead of beating it, though, she retrieves the arrow none of the men have been able to, proving she is good enough to stay.
THE DISNEY PRINCESS Mulan came at the tail-end of the Disney Renaissance, a period where Disney returned to classic format of musical animated features based on well-known stories, beginning with The Little Mermaid (1989). Disney’s need to suit the modern sensibilities of 90s audiences led to a wave of “liberated” female protagonists— Ariel doesn’t simply fall in love with a human in The Little Mermaid, she was already curious about the human world. See, Belle reads books now! (#girlboss) But while many of these characters are supposedly the main characters of their respective films, their motivations often don’t drive the plot forward, and are quickly discarded by the time of the inciting incident, usually by virtue of external forces. Belle never gets her “adventure in the great wide somewhere”, because she is too busy securing the life of her father. Ariel takes the step to trade her voice for legs after she meets her love interest, not before—it is ultimately a quest for love, not the pursuit of knowledge. One could argue that Jasmine takes the first step of escaping the palace in order to be free, but that’s as close as she gets to even the
Later, after she is exposed and left behind by the troops upon a snow-covered mountain top, she tells Mushu, “Maybe I didn't go for my father. Maybe what I really wanted was to prove that I could do things right. So that when I looked in the mirror, I'd see s o m e o n e worthwhile.”
The best part of the movie (Source: Disney)
By deftly integrating both of Mulan’s motivations, Mulan’s writers managed to avoid subordinating her desire for selfauthenticity to her desire to save her father. While at the beginning of the film, filial piety and authenticity are shown as conflicting forces, with Mulan struggling to fit her family’s expectations of her, in the army, she is able to serve both ends
¹Davis, Amy Good Girls and Wicked Witches. John Libbey Publishing, 2011.
Reflection (Extended lyrics)
How I pray, The time will come I can free my‐ self, From their expectations. On that day, I'll discover some way to be my‐ self, And to make my family proud. They want a docile lamb No one knows, who I am Must there be a secret me I'm forced to hide?
Welcome to the stage: My Childhood Trauma (Source: Disney) through becoming a warrior and ultimately saving China. PERFORMING A MAN OUT OF YOU While most versions of the Mulan tale, such as Shaw Brothers’ Lady General Hua Mulan (1964), depict her as an adept swordsman from the start and the perfect daughter who is content to go back home and fill the sociallyprescribed role after the war, Mulan struggles with inhabiting the arbitrary gender roles she is presented with. Honor To Us All and I’ll Make A Man Out of You outline the hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine ideals of what it takes to “be” a man or a woman in the film. In her makeover scene, Mulan is shoved into a bathtub, pushed and pulled, and seems generally uncomfortable with the excessive rituals. It’s enough to send a chill down the spine of anyone who’s ever felt coerced to perform femininity. (The sequence gave me flashbacks of being forced into girly dresses as a child.) Like an actor going on stage, Mulan achieves the visual signifiers of “woman”, a powder-white face, a red lip, and a cinched waist. Next, is her behaviour—as Mulan jots down on her arm, the ideal woman is “refined, poised, punctual”. As the eligible maidens approach the matchmaker’s house in a line, Mulan rushes to join
Her focus has shifted from merely surviving the physical ordeal and avoiding being found out, to genuinely wanting to prove herself and excel as a fighter.
them and mimic their graceful postures. Judith Butler wrote in their 1990 book Gender Trouble that “gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed”. In a society that has already clearly delineated certain attributes and behaviours to be feminine or masculine, Mulan has to reproduce those acts in order to fit in as a woman. Passing the matchmaker’s test (which is not a real thing, by the way!) acts as a shorthand for “passing” as a woman. This “passing” then allows her to reach the next stage of marriage, a rite of passage Mulan must go through, as Gwendolyn Limbach² argues, in order to be integrated within the heterosexual matrix of her society and finally recognised as a
Must I pretend that I'm Someone else, for all time When will my reflection show who I am inside? When will my reflection show who I am inside woman. As part of a movie made in 1998 for a mostly-Western audience, it’s obvious Honor To Us All is supposed to make us sympathise with Mulan and view the traditional gender expectations placed on her as backwards and stifling, even unnatural. In I’ll Make A Man Out of You, the soldiers (all men, except Mulan) must be “made” men, or at least another type of men, from coarse, undisciplined individuals into sleek, uniform, fighting machines. In a parody of the inspirational training montages of movies like Rocky, we see the physically-challenged men comically fail at every “manly” task given to them, as “Be a man / We must be swift as a coursing river / Be a man / With all the force of a great typhoon” intones in the background. When Mulan first enters the camp, her clumsy attempts to embody masculinity by acting as a swaggering lout ends in disaster. In I’ll Make A Man Out of You, though, Mulan makes her breakthrough. After she scales the pole and retrieves the arrow, she begins to succeed at her training, and inspires the other men to succeed at theirs. Her focus has shifted from merely surviving the physical ordeal and avoiding being found out, to genuinely wanting to prove herself and excel as a
²Limbach, Gwendolyn. “‘You the Man, Well, Sorta’: Gender Binaries and Liminality in Mulan.” Diversity in Disney Films, edited by Johnson Cheu, McFarland & Company, 2013, pp. 115-128.
fighter. When we see her gleefully outrunning the other men and triumphantly showing off her catch, it is her pride at having found a space where she can develop her abilities and use her ingenuity, which the identities of a traditional woman and chest-beating, phlegm-spitting man did not offer her. MULAN IS A COMING OUT STORY Of course, we can’t talk about queer readings of Disney media without talking about the queerest song in the Disney animated musical canon (not you, Let It Go.) Lea Salonga’s heartrending rendition of Reflection is Mulan’s “I Want” song, originated from musical theatre tradition, where the characters express their dissatisfaction with their current life and what... they want (duh). Ariel is bored with life on the ocean floor and wants to learn about humans (and the handsome dude she just ran into). Belle wants “so much more than this provincial life”, out of her small village. From the use of the sociologicallyloaded term “pass” in the song’s
famous line (Look at me / I will never pass for a perfect bride), to references to family acceptance (or the perfect daughter) and not being able to show one’s true self to the external world (Who is that girl I see?), Reflection easily became a trans anthem. More generally though, almost every queer person can relate to Mulan’s frustrations at being unable to match u p to her family and society’s expectations, while also covertly wishing another life was possible. That desire is more clearly seen in the original, longer version of Reflection, with lyrics like “They want a docile lamb / No one knows who I am / Must there be a secret me / I'm forced to hide?” In a fanmade video combining the extended song with the assembled discarded storyboards, we see her show more anger and desire for freedom than the original, and while I love it, I understand why it was cut— after that sequence, I half-expected Mulan to run away from home to escape her fate. While powerful, the additional scenes
Literally a late bloomer. (Source: Disney) seem to give away too much too early (I'll discover some way to be myself / And to make my family proud), plus stray too far away from the source material. In the final version of the song from our childhoods, Mulan still sees herself trapped. Later, we see Mulan’s father try to comfort her, pointing out a flower bud in their garden, “But look, this one’s late. I’ll bet that when it blooms, it’ll be the most beautiful of all.” While this succeeds in cheering her up, his encouragement still contains the implicit hope that Mulan will eventually succeed in passing the matchmaker’s test and fit society’s mold. His outburst of “I know my place! It is time you learned yours” shows that while he loves his daughter, he supports, or is at least unwilling to defy, the societal roles that condemn Mulan to the matchmaker’s, and him to the battlefield where he will likely die. Devastated, Mulan runs out into the rain. (God, this movie had some good writing. What happened, Disney?) This drives Mulan to finally break the rules, if not for her sake, then for her father’s. She steals off into the night, in a deviation from the original tale, where her family usually agrees to the scheme. The rift between father and daughter is left unresolved.
Rigga morris, girl. (Source: Twitter)
The Mulan legend has an interesting relationship to rule-breaking. The earliest recorded form of Mulan, The Ballad of Mulan, dates back to the 6th
³Dong, Lan. Legend and Legacy in China and the United States. Temple University Press, 2010.
Yes, this scene made me cry. (Source: Disney) century when it was recorded in Yuefu shiji, a collection of folk tales and written verses, and is generally believed to be a folksong from the Tuoba-Wei (or Northern-Wei) era, when the nomadic Tuoba Xianbei clan controlled Northern China. Scholars such as Sanping Chen have argued that the poem “reflects the steppe women’s traditionally strong social role”, as women in Xianbei society were skilled in archery and horseback riding and were generally more liberated than their counterparts in Han Chinese society, though there is not much evidence they frequently participated in warfare. The ballad shirks from going too far in challenging the social order, however; when the Khagan (Great Khan or Emperor) offers to make Mulan a highranking official, she turns him down and returns home, and the traditional social order is restored.³ Only then, toward the ballad’s end, are we told explicitly that Mulan has been
crossdressing the entire time, as she “took off my battle robe / Put on my old dress / Facing the window I combed my hair into the cloud hairstyle / Hanging up my mirror, applied makeup to my face.” With the rise of Neo-confucianism, the retellings of later dynasties further restricted its main character, some removing the Emperor’s offer of political power altogether, and adding on to the story to end in marriage. Limbach argues that Disney’s Mulan constrains the rebellion of the disruption of the gender binary in similar ways to how the Han-Chinese retellings did (though one could argue the original myth did too)—she returns home to be an obedient daughter and future bride. Grandmother’s pointed comments that Mulan “should have brought home a man”, and Shang’s appearance at the end does support that Mulan ultimately reinforces that a “happily ever after” ultimately stars a man.
Isn’t this what every queer person wishes their parent’s reaction to their coming out could be?
That’s a valid reading of the story. But I feel like Shang’s arrival is more the cherry-on-top moment to the true conclusion of the film’s story arc, which is the resolution between father and daughter. When Mulan returns, she immediately kneels before her father and offers him the sword and medal she received from the Emperor, symbols of prestige and society’s approval. In Mulan’s mind, she is still the daughter who could not match up to what was
expected of her, who broke the rules and risked dishonoring her family, for which she must seek penance. But her father tosses the valuable objects aside and embraces her. “The greatest gift and honor,” he tells her, “is having you for a daughter. I’ve missed you.” Above all, he loves her. Above all, he accepts her (dare I read into this like that?). He may still want her to get married, sure, but at the same time he is sorry for ever making her think his love was conditional. Isn’t this what every queer person wishes their parent’s reaction to their coming out could be? Given the historical context, it is impossible to suggest that Mulan would be able to evade marriage forever. So the film offers her another way out in the form of Shang, someone who respects her for who she is, who won’t constrain her to being a “perfect porcelain doll” or “docile lamb”. The originally conflicting forces of family duty and self-authenticity have been reconciled.
“masculine” function of soldier, indisputably as capable as and equal to the men in a patriarchal society. In the original poem, Mulan’s former comrades visit her and are amazed that she was able to hide her identity from them the twelve years they fought alongside each other. Mulan interrogates the men’s assumption that this would be hard to pull off, with the ballad concluding with her in firstperson:
"The he-hare's feet go hop and skip, The she-hare's eyes are muddled and fuddled.
When I first read these lines of the ballad, I was reminded of my time in primary school. I remembered spending recess running about the canteen and school field with my classmates, and how over the years, the boys and girls grew more segregated. Eventually the girls stopped running at all. Oh, to be an indistinguishable rabbit running in a field! Disney took the inherent subversiveness and gender irreverence of the Mulan tale and injected a healthy dose of modern plot about being one's authentic self. The result is pretty darn queer.
Two hares running side by side close to the ground, How can they tell if I am he or she?"
Perhaps Mulan’s ending can be compared to the outfit she wears at the end of the film. It’s not the gaudy, hot-pink matchmakers outfit that symbolises coercive femininity (still can’t believe Disney markets it as her “Princess” outfit but Disney’s gonna Disney, I guess), or the warrior outfit she wears in the army, put on out of necessity. It most closely resembles her normal, everyday clothing we see her in earlier in the film. Each retelling of Mulan has altered Mulan’s motivations, ethnicity, and even political affiliations (such as having her fight the Mongols that descended from Tuoba) but they cannot erase the tale’s central element of crossdressing and gender confusion. Fairy tales may end up reproducing and supporting the existing social order it is set in, but it is in their fantastical, exceptional elements of breaking away from the status quo they find their longevity. Cinderella’s appeal is that a poor, mistreated peasant girl can escape her circumstances and rise beyond her rank in feudal times, Mulan’s that a woman could fulfil the ultimate
Same (Source: Disney)
Jennifer’s Bisexuality: Desire and Horror by Damon Leong With special thanks to Andrew Kirkrose
Content Warning blood, body horror
The horror genre has always been heavily inspired by the female experience. From female puberty and the resulting entrance into adulthood (Carrie, Ginger Snaps) to motherhood (Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho), from female grief (Hereditary, Midsommar) to female sexuality (Teeth, Cat People), practically every experience available has been taken apart, scrutinised, deconstructed, metaphorised, and reconstructed for the horror movie audience. And this hasn’t gone unnoticed. Critics such as Laura Mulvey, Barbara Creed, and Carol J. Clover—known for their theories about the male gaze in film, the monstrous feminine, and final girls respectively—have become famous for developing theories on how femininity is seen as horrifying by the phallocentric¹ order underpinning so much of modern media. (This isn’t the day for it, but the way I could talk on and on about femininity and its perceived horrors as these theorists have defined it…) The female body and mind are often made into a source of terror that must be tamed and controlled, and when allowed to roam freely become, or attract, the dangerous. Yet one aspect of femininity that horror doesn’t address as often is relationships between women—especially those that veer dangerously into homoerotic territory. Let’s first explore why this might be the case. One common measure of female representation in films is the Bechdel-Wallace test, which asks if a film has two female characters that have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around a man. Passing the test is by no means a conclusive indication of how well women are represented in the film; rather than giving the final
Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) (Source: Indiewire)
The female body and mind are often made into a source of terror that must be tamed and controlled, and when allowed to roam freely become, or attract, the dangerous.
say on whether a film adheres to feminist ideals or not (after all, sexist content can still exist independent of the conversation’s presence), the test highlights the fact that many portrayals of women, including within the horror genre, rely on development that revolves around male figures
Yes. (Source: Screen Queens) such as husbands or sons. Normalising male-centric plots, as the test points out, means that homoerotic relationships between female characters, independent of male figures, are largely shunned, and the homoerotic relationships that are
¹ concerning the phallus, or the penis, as a symbol of male dominance
presented are usually heavily sexualised for a male audience. But times change. Attentions shift. And in recent years, one prominent onscreen relationship has finally gained the credit it deserves; one that completely inverts conventional gender treatment, allowing female development and complexity to take the limelight, developed from a genre built on defying traditional norms. I’m talking, of course, about the relationship between Jennifer Check and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki, from the cult classic Jennifer’s Body. (Spoiler alerts from here on.) Snidely described by a side character as “totally lesbigay”, Jennifer and Needy’s relationship inhabits a nuanced space. On the surface, it exists as a toxic friendship characterised by manipulation and mutual dependence that ultimately grows into something resembling sexual desire. Yet this relationship is burdened by Jennifer’s sexuality— possessed by a demon following a botched sacrificial ritual, Jennifer
Queer existence is built on desire.
finds that she needs to eat people to survive, and routinely seduces boys into following her into the woods, where she devours them. Her attractiveness and perceived interest in boys is heavily alluded to, but later in the film Jennifer is blatantly coded as bisexual, all but confirming it with her iconic line, “I go both ways”. Needy’s straightness is heavily enforced through moments of gay panic and her desire to defend Chip, her boyfriend, from the bisexual manstealer Jennifer. But both of them are clearly attracted to each other, their attraction going beyond simple physical desire or bicuriosity; their “sandbox love”, as Needy describes it, functions on a system of codependence and toxicity. (And of course, if you didn’t know, they share a kiss later.) More than the simple presentation of two friends locked in a battle over whether one of them should be allowed to eat men alive, the film takes an unconventional stance, allowing room for ambiguity around Jennifer and Needy’s sexualities without restricting them through certain roles and definitions, creating a space for discourse surrounding the realities of queer attraction. Let’s move forward by examining three ways that their relationship can be read through the lens of teenagehood,
sexuality, and the horror genre. DISTANCE IN DESIRE In her book Eros the Bittersweet², classicist and poet Anne Carson charts the history of eros, or sensual love, as explored in ancient Greek writings. A central idea explored in the book is the depiction of erotic longing, or desire, as a triangle; the two lovers, or objects of mutual desire, are always kept apart by a third point, which sustains their mutual desire. Indeed, Carson’s analysis of Sappho’s Fragment 31 (possibly one of Sappho’s most famous works, describing her love for a young woman), suggests that eros is “deferred… organized around a radiant absence”—as Carson notes, the Greek word eros itself “denotes ‘want’, ‘lack’, ‘desire for that which is missing’.” In other words, in order for the desire between two individuals to be maintained, an obstacle, or the third point of a triangle, must be present, to keep them apart. In Jennifer and Needy’s relationship, it is clear that an obstacle exists in their mutual longing. Is it the external force of compulsory heterosexuality, presented through Needy’s boyfriend Chip and Jennifer’s barrage of suitors? Is it the internal fear of burgeoning sexuality, seen in Needy’s moment of gay panic following her kiss with
Me at 3AM when I’m bored (Source: Magdalene) ²Carson, Anne. (1986). Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Jennifer? Maybe it’s both, and more. It’s clear that this obstacle, this third point of the triangle, must exist—once the obstacle vanishes, and the objects of mutual desire are allowed to meet each other, the radiant absence is resolved, and in the resolution of this lack, desire is overcome. And really, what is the pinnacle of queer love but desire? Every single one of us knows desire in its various forms: the desire to understand our different sexualities and identities, the desire to embrace and be embraced as we are, the desire to present ourselves openly and without fear. Queer existence is built on desire. And it’s this acknowledgement of desire that acts as the lynchpin of Jennifer and Needy’s relationship. Their moments of reliance and toxicity come to a head when Needy asks Jennifer, “You could have anybody that you want. So why Chip? Is it just to tick me off, or is it just because you’re just really insecure?” In three lines, Needy sums up their entire relationship. She’s right, Jennifer can have anybody; except Needy herself. Chip is but one obstacle in the Jennifer-Needy triangle, presented and then discarded like all the other boys before him. Jennifer does make an attempt at collapsing the triangle by eliminating Chip from the equation, but given the nature of the triangle, there will always be another obstacle present, always another reason for her and Needy to stay apart. Despite their homoerotic desire for each other, they can never be together due to the constant parade of external obstacles—and if they can’t find any, they will make their own. POSSESSION OVERCOMING REPRESSION We could also look at the demon possessing Jennifer as the source of a convenient excuse for her actions. Possession is, as far as excuses go, pretty watertight; who’s going to call you on your bullshit if you turn up to class one day and tell your professor “Sorry I didn’t finish my weekend assignment, I was possessed, and then I had to scrub pea soup out of the bed
I can’t talk right now, I’m doing hot girl shit (Source: Buzzfeed) scapegoat for Jennifer’s actions, suggesting that, if not for her possession, she wouldn’t be overcoming her repressed sexuality and utilising it as a tool to seduce boys into the forest where she can eat them.
Hell IS a teenage girl (Source: Gamespot) and walls”? Jennifer’s possession highlights an integral aspect of teenagehood in her inability to control herself. Sure, she seduces boys and makes the usual snappy remarks, but the weaponising of her flagrant sexuality and her expression of bisexuality, that could certainly be blamed on the possession itself. Let’s not forget the history of the intersection between sexuality and otherworldly beings. Coming from a religious perspective, it’s not uncommon to see expressions of “deviant” sexuality as signs of being possessed by the devil. And just to prove it’s not a stretch, Jennifer has been seen wearing a cross necklace, signalling her religious alignment. The demon provides a convenient
To that effect, the girl we’ve been watching throughout the film is not Jennifer, but rather a separate entity piloting her body. It isn’t Jennifer who loves and desires Needy, and it isn’t Jennifer who kills all those boys, only something that looks like her. (Conveniently, the possession also creates a third point in the JenniferNeedy triangle.) Needy’s desire for her friend Jennifer is not the same as demon Jennifer’s desire for Needy, thus preventing both girls from truly uniting as one in their desire. POSSESSION AS SELF-EXPRESSION It’s also possible to view Jennifer’s possession in a manner contrary to the previous point; the possession may, in fact, allow Jennifer to be less inhibited and really act the way that she desires instead of conforming to the Hot Girl role that society has imposed on her. Instead of absolving her of blame for her actions, her possession could be said to free her from societal expectations of heterosexuality and allow her to pursue her true feelings for Needy.
Horror, as a genre, is largely preoccupied with archetypes, both with establishing them (as is the case with formulaic films, such as the slasher subgenre), and with deconstructing and subverting them. Just as Jennifer’s Body subverts and overcomes the traditions of horror by allowing its female leads to take centre stage and express themselves and their sexuality without pandering to its audience, Jennifer overcomes the intense regulatory structures of her society. This manifests in a number of ways, most notably the way she uses the male gaze and her sexuality to her benefit (creating a cycle of eating men to maintain her youthful beauty which she uses to seduce more men so she can eat them) and the way she expresses her desire for Needy, since she no longer needs to conform to societal expectations. Maybe this is the true Jennifer we’re seeing, the Jennifer who doesn’t have to deny herself in any way, leading her to embrace her desire for Needy as well as enacting a symbolic revenge against the general male populace who are responsible for establishing her Hot Girl role. Similarly, when Needy gains Jennifer’s
powers at the end of the film, she also gains Jennifer’s anger and lack of selfinhibition. Her supernatural strength isn’t the real power; her real power lies in her anger. Needy, in her newfound abilities, identifies the root of Jennifer’s torment as the malecentric society which has guided every aspect of Jennifer’s life, but most significantly dictated who she can and cannot be attracted to through the dual pressures of compulsory heterosexuality and internalised homophobia. Thus the triangle of their desire, the third point present in the omnipresent heterosexuality that Jennifer is expected to perform. After realising her powers, Needy decides she must seek revenge by hunting down the boy band that attempted to sacrifice Jennifer in exchange for fame, as they are responsible for inciting the hunger and torment experienced throughout the film. This brings us full circle (full triangle, if you will), to the normalised, malecentric world that Jennifer and Needy live in; we are reminded of the sacrificial scene, of the callous, almost casual way that Jennifer’s life is traded for her tormentors’ fame. Even the sacrifice itself, where they stab her with a Bowie knife, is notably phallic in nature. It’s ironic that it’s this act of
male entitlement that gives Jennifer and Needy the ability to fight back. In a world that normalises male desire and is prepared to (metaphorically) sacrifice women for male success, the anger that Jennifer and Needy experience is symbolic of their ability to recognise how this system has wronged them, inciting their desire to take control into their own hands. Horror films love to play with expectations and deconstruct norms, and Jennifer’s Body is no exception. The film allows Jennifer and Needy to navigate that confusing maze of teenagehood and queer desire in their own ways, establishing powerful discourse on love, attraction, and society, that delve much deeper into the subject material than one might expect it to. Even the title creates a misleading focus on Jennifer’s physicality, when really it is Jennifer’s mind, and heart, that’s leading the discussion here. And the power to act also comes down to Jennifer, not any of the boys who feel entitled to her body for their own means. It’s for these reasons that I’m glad Jennifer’s Body got the attention it deserved for its wonderfully complex portrayal of queer desire and teenage girlhood. We all owe director Karyn Kusama an apology.
Does this look ‘straight’ to you? (Source: Moviejawn)
Illustration by Jessie
Hell is Not a Teenage Girl
by Andrew for Jennifer’s Body and Eros the Bittersweet
nor is it two, nor is it you or me. it is a triangle collapsing, a body at its center, still smiling, still moving, still kissing and killing. hell is not a teenage girl, but lying next to her in the dark with no one between us. is knowing i could hold her hand, could push her down and hold her. is necessary space between her lips and my lips. on an atomic level, we have never touched. i am learning there are no demons in hell, only bodies with no reason to stay separate, beginning in one bed and ending in another. i could kiss her if only it wasn’t me. if i only had hell to pay.
This poem will appear in the upcoming anthology, EXHALE: an Anthology of Queer Singapore Voices, Volume 1: Poetry. It is printed here with the kind permission of EXHALE’s editors.
Listening Queerly by Andrew … Queer is always listening out through the static…01 * Your boss, that one summer - she had a wife. I wasn’t there when she told you, don’t know how it landed in your chest, but I know how it felt in mine. The words her wife—my wife in the mouth of a woman—nothing could compare. * Comparison was the wrong question anyway, but I didn’t know what else to ask. She was American, and old enough to be married. They both had short hair. Their favourite Tegan and Sara album was the same as mine. (The Con, 2007). I was so proud when you said that; like the years I spent trying to become a lesbian hadn’t gone to waste. In the English-speaking world, we trace the origins of the word lesbian back to Sappho, who came from the island of Lesbos. We characterise her as a Greek lyric poet, and do not think of the lyre. Or when we do, we think of the instrument as static: strings painted in a state of permanent stasis, her hands stilled and her mouth close-lipped in a smile. The lyric in poetry has become emblematic of emotion expressed as beautifully as possible. We do not think of it as song. To rethink the lyric, think of the radio. What else do you call the words when you sing along? (What I’m trying to say is that Sappho was a rockstar, and you can’t convince me otherwise.) Reading Sappho on the page, we get it all wrong. These words were not created to be written, but sung. They exist most fully when they are given body through our bodies, brought alive in the air spinning from our teeth and tongues and lips. The true Sapphic fragment is not a shard of pottery or a scrap of papyrus, caught in the bindings of some mummified cat. (Though if you’re looking for records of the first lesbian’s material existence, there are worse places to start than the grave of a well-loved pet.) No - the contemporary Sapphic fragment is short-nailed fingers setting guitar strings into motion, all these centuries later; is the gasp of the body that petitioning its want02; is the buzzing blood of every one of us who says “I love you. I remember you. I honour you”. It is the sound of our own voices as we speak ourselves into existence. Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho’s fragment 147 reads, in its entirety, “someone will remember us/I say/even in another time” (2004:297). The moment of Sappho’s singing is long past what my ears can register, but my body—my body still knows. I can hear just enough to understand that it is true. Monique Wittig, who wrote The Lesbian Body, also wrote in an essay What had there been in literature between Sappho and Barnes’s Ladies Almanack and Nightwood? Nothing. (1991:64) Barnes—that is, Djuna; who was never a lesbian, just loved Thelma03; who wrote poetry so openly about sex between women that the censors overlooked it 01 Bonenfant (2010:78). 02 Carson translates a part of Sappho’s fragment 22 thus: “Because I prayed/this word:/I want” (2004:41). 03 “I was never a lesbian—I only loved Thelma Wood.” (O’Neal 1990:137)
completely04; who in this writing invoked the embodiment of those “short sharp modern/Babylonic cries” (Barnes 1915). I’m not a lesbian either, Djuna. But I suspect Monique had it right. * I did think I was a lesbian, when I was thirteen, or I wanted it to be a label that fit. I wanted a word that I could speak and feel shuddering in my bones; wanted something to make as much sense to my body as the moment I realised I could love a woman and the world opened up to me. For the sake of cultural immersion, I watched every episode of The L-Word (not recommended), and listened to some Tegan and Sara for good measure (recommended, even if you’re not having a crisis about your sexual identity). It was Christmas, and I hid myself in my room, safe under the blankets with my headphones on, the sound of my family’s holiday parties only faintly streaming through the closed door. They could never have heard it. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have had any idea what it meant.
The best part of The Con is the moment of silence between “Hop a Plane” and “Soil, Soil”. Just before: electric guitar with all the lights on, duple time holding heartbreak a hand’s breadth away. Something crackles in the dark but no one’s looking. Every note stings, salt pond drying out. Then everything stops. A hush in triplicate, before it all starts up again. Something hits bottom, rises before you know to miss it. Your re-sectioned heart knows only hemiola, finds its echo in the singer’s steady voice: Oh, and I’m feeling directionless, yes05. In that moment of quiet, my whole body goes still. It is waiting, an experience I know well—that many queer people know well. We are not, and have never been voiceless; have always been singing our selves into being. But it takes a while to learn to hear ourselves - to listen for our bodies’ truths. To speak queerly, to sing queerly, to listen queerly. These are modes of being that connect us, body and soul, to the moment both historical and present. The world has never stopped spinning, the current of movement set off by Sappho’s song thrilling through our universe still, waiting for us to quiet down enough to hear.
04 See Barnes (1915). 05 Tegan and Sara (2007).
Illustration by Xin Yi
Collated by Khairul Ameer 11.11 pm by Nadh. J. sometimes i wish i could take back the bad days, just so we’d have more time. i’d take back the minutes we spent in silence, refusing to communicate, too much anger and pride. i’d take back the days our routine, was simply too mundane for me wishing it was more fun. i’d take back the stupid arguments over people who don’t matter or the disagreements over tiny things. i’d take them all back and replace them, with a little more hugs a little more kisses, and a little more love but most times, i don’t. for i would never want to share every single human emotion or every raw moment of flaw with anybody else but you.
For my divine sisters and brothers by efydean
A Life in Guilt by efydean
Love with Courage by efydean
and for we will try to shed a light on our lives and for we will fight knocking down whatever is in our sight and for we will tell the Saints that your deaths shall not be in vain and that your names will forever flow in our veins
how i could only imagine his soft fingers so delicately caressing upon my porcelain skin how i could only imagine his wide grin when i place my lips against his stubbled chin how i could only imagine to live a life full of intimacy and oh how i could imagine “to live a life free of sin”
when our eyes meet when our tongues compete and for when our love shall no longer be discreet they will finally admit defeat and for we will be complete
How They Love 2018-2019 Digital photographs on archival paper Sizes Varying How They Love is a series of collaborative portraits of queer feminine individuals in Singapore that looks at how queerness is performed in the everyday. Set in a studio, participants are given various wedding props to choose from. Projected onto the background are their parents' wedding portraits. The series looks at gender constructs, love, and the process of identity formation, both an attempt to validate and visibilise these identities, as well as an inquiry into appearance and engagement.
***** Charmaine Poh works across photography, film, and performance to create spaces for narratives that often lie in the margins. Central to her practice is considering the performativity of the everyday, and the ways tenderness can be a form of resistance and rebuilding of worlds. Her practice often employs ethnographic methods in working with communities to establish processes of co-authorship and sharing.
A Collection of Mental Health Resources for LGBTQ+ Students
A leading centre for LGBTQ+ resources, Oogachaga offers counselling for LGBTQ+ clients (including couples and family members of LGBTQ+ individuals), guided by LGBTQ-affirming professional practices. They can also provide referrals to healthcare providers for trans clients. They also offer counselling options that let you seek help from home, such as through phone, Whatsapp, or email. An additional Women on Wednesdays hotline is available from 7pm to 10pm. >Hotline Counselling: +65 6226 2002 (Tuesday to Thursday, 7pm—10pm) (Saturday 2pm—5pm)
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
A leading organisation in suicide prevention and crisis support, SOS offers specialist counselling for individuals in crisis or who have just experienced a loss through suicide. They also hold a support group for those affected by suicide, as well as hotline and email options for those in distress who require emotional support.
>Whatsapp Counselling: +65 8592 0609 (Tuesday to Thursday, 7pm—10pm) (Saturday 2pm—5pm)
>24-Hour Hotline: 1800 221 4444 >Email Befriending: email@example.com
>Email Counselling form: oogachaga.com/email-counselling
Women’s Care Centre
>Women on Wednesdays hotline: +65 6226 6629 (Wednesday, 7pm—10pm)
Brave Spaces provides counselling for Singaporean women, with counsellors trained to be sensitive to intersectional identities, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Alternatively, LBTQI women in crisis can use the Brave Helpline to receive safe and confidential support and assistance. >Brave Helpline: +65 8788 8817 (Monday to Friday, 10am—6pm)
The Greenhouse is a substance addiction recovery centre for marginalised communities, with a focus on providing a safe and supportive environment. They provide in-house professional counselling, peer support activities, and group chat, as well as referrals to other medical care. >Contact Form
Counselling and Care Centre
AWARE’s Women’s Care Centre provides professional counselling for women dealing with a variety of issues, including sexuality issues in a queer-affirming manner. You can call the Women’s Helpline to set up an appointment, find more information, or speak about a problem. Alternatively, an online written chat service and a call-back service have recently been implemented as an alternative to calling. AWARE also runs the Sexual Assault Care Centre, which offers counselling through in-house sessions, support groups, and Whatsapp chat service. >Women’s Helpline: 1800 777 5555 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm) >Women’s Care Centre Online Chat and Call-Back Service >SACC Helpline: +65 6779 0282 (Monday to Friday, 10am—10pm) >SACC Whatsapp: +65 9781 4101 (Monday to Friday, 10am—7pm)
Heart Knocks Counselling
Heart Knocks Counselling provides LGBTQI-friendly counselling services for individuals and couples. Phone counselling is also available for convenience and discretion.
The Counselling and Care Centre is a queer-friendly nonprofit NGO which offers counselling for a variety of issues, including those pertaining to sexuality.
Students referred by Kaleidoscope can get $30 off their first three 60-minute sessions by quoting “Kaleidoscope” when making an appointment.
>Counselling Request Form
Peer counselling & support groups Alicia Community Centre
Organised by the T Project, Alicia Community Centre provides peer counselling for transgender and genderqueer persons, conducted by professional counsellors. >Appointment Form
Pink Carpet Y
Pink Carpet Y is a resource centre by gayhealth.sg, offering peer counselling for GBQ men below 25.
Besides the helplines mentioned above, here are some places you can call for immediate mental health support. >IMH Mental Health Helpline: +65 6389 2222 (24-hour) >National Care Hotline: 1800 202 6868 / +65 6202 6868 (24-hour) >Singapore Association of Mental Health: 1800 283 7019 (Monday to Friday, 9am—6pm)
Women’s Xchange holds support group sessions for LBTQ women every first Saturday of the month.
The IMH Gender Clinic conducts psychiatric assessments for people with gender dysphoria and provides referrals to endocrinologists for hormone therapy. Tip: Getting a referral to the clinic by a polyclinic GP would allow for subsidised fees for Singaporeans.
Lifeline SG is a peer support group for GBQ men in recovery from drug addiction. Programs run on 8-week cycles, hold up to 12 participants per group and are free of charge.
IMH Gender Clinic
The Bi+ Collective SG
TBCSG is an online community space & collective platform for people under the bi+ umbrella. Besides organising offline events and meetups, they have a Telegram group chat for members to provide resources, support, and encouragement to one another.
The Healing Circle
The Healing Circle provides a safe space for queer Muslims to embrace both their spirituality and sexual orientation by hosting weekly group wellness sessions with a professional counsellor.
Jejaka is a youth support group by SGRainbow held for GBQ Malay and/or Muslim men, aged 18 to 35 years old.
Penawar holds peer-led support group sessions for Muslim-raised women and non-men, creating a safe and affirming space to work towards personal and community healing.
On-Campus services NTU University Wellbeing Centre
NTU has its own counselling services located conveniently next to Fullerton Health, free of charge for students and employees. Inter-University LGBT Network received a statement from NTU UWC that their “counsellors have gone through training in LGBT issues”, and one of our writers has had a positive and affirming experience with a counsellor. However, one’s needs and expectations may differ, and you should always feel safe and comfortable, so remember you have the right to request a different counsellor if one doesn’t suit you. >NTU UWC Appointment Form >Office No.: +65 6790 4462 (Monday to Thursday, 8.30am—5.45pm) (Friday 8.30am—5.15pm) >After-Office Hours No.: +65 9721 1637 (for psychological emergencies)
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Abigail (she/her)
Abigail is a tea-drinking, stray-cat-petting homosexual. You can find her walking feverishly between North and South Spine, slumped over her laptop half asleep, or making bead bracelets in an attempt to relive her childhood during quarantine.
Damon is an English major who revels in being a loud, taking-up-space, fruity (derogatory) queer. Their dream is to be paid to talk about literature and films in the horror genre (they would have written a full essay if self-restraint had not been a concern). Right now, they’re probably huddled in a chair stress-drinking coffee.
Lim Xin Yi (she/her)
Andrew Kirkrose (he/him/his) is a fourth year student majoring in Linguistics and Multilingual Studies, with a second major in English Literature and minors in Creative Writing and Gender and Diversity. He is a genderfucking bisexual transgender writer whose work has been published in journals including Cordite Poetry Review and PerVERSE. For more on his work, find him at andrewkirkrose.wordpress.com/
Xin Yi is an Environmental Engineering student still in denial of her STEM major. She can be found drawing anything except free-body diagrams, chasing after the reluctant love of animals (Why are you running?!) and plotting her retirement to the mountains as a dark cottagecore witch. There will be crows and it will be great.
Efydean is a 3rd year student from Republic Polytechnic, graduating in 2021. Aside from that, he is currently pursuing his music passion in songwriting.
Kieran is a masochistic mathematics student. If you can’t find her crying over maths, then you can find her contemplating her life trying to solve programming errors.
Dion Chan (he/him)
Nadh. J. (she/her)
Hi! I'm Dion Chan and I'm a fourth year sociology student. Don't sit down and look pretty, fight for human rights with us!
Nadh. J. is a full time Financial Advisor, part time dreamer.
Khairul Ameer (he/she)
An aromantic bisexual, Nova is a fragrance connoisseur who likes the smell of coffee and bread best. Though she proclaims to be a coffee aficionado (who ironically shudders at the thought of drinking black coffee), the few things that Nova's friends can bear testament to is her love for anime, sunsets, and cats.
Khairul Ameer is a film undergraduate in the School of Art, Design & Media of Nanyang Technological University who’s currently in the midst of writing his first feature film. His passion includes singing, tea and scrutinising ingredients in skincare products.
Alexandria she/her, sociology. i rlly like bread, i love watching movies, my coping mechanism is crying to taylor swift
CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS Aravind (he/him) Aravind is a Communication Studies student who has a lifelong obsession with reality TV and professional wrestling. He spends his days throwing shade and his nights burning scented candles. He is a devout believer that the short form for McDonald’s is ‘Mac’ not ‘Macs’ - no discussion needed.
Let's stay connected! :) @ntukaleidoscope t.me/NTUKaleidoscope NTUkaleidoscope
Welcome to Kalei, a publication by Kaleidoscope! :) We hope that through this publication, we can provide a space for queer voices to share...
Published on Feb 15, 2021
Welcome to Kalei, a publication by Kaleidoscope! :) We hope that through this publication, we can provide a space for queer voices to share...