“The garden’s looking very homosexual this morning”


Fry – When was the last time you could say homosexual in the proper context?

Laurie – And it’s such a lovely word!

Fry – Oh, it’s one of the great words – 

Laurie – “My word, Jane,” I used to say to my wife, “the garden is looking very homosexual this morning”

– Pilot, A bit of Fry and Laurie

Opening the Celluloid Closet in Singapore – Homosexuality and the media in Singapore

Let’s talk about sex – is gay okay? 

“Homosexual” and “gay” are two words very rarely used in Singapore, and it should come as no surprise that the MDA free-to-air Television Programme Code explicitly refuses to acknowledge the existence of ‘homosexuality’. 

 “Information, themes or subplots on lifestyles such as homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, transsexualism, transvestism, paedophilia and incest should be treated with utmost caution.

Their treatment should not in any way promote, justify or glamorise such lifestyles. Explicit depictions of the above should not be broadcast.“ 

In shoving ‘homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism and transsexualism’ together with conscious lifestyle choices such as ‘paedophilia and incest’, the medicalisation of homosexuality is blatantly apparent, comparing the controversial ‘homosexual’ to the equally, if not much more contentious ‘paedophile’.

The identification of one’s sexuality may not be central in the lives of many in our conservative, Asian society that celebrates heteronormativity, and Simone de Beauvoir’s “one is not born a woman” could just as easily be translated into “one is not born a homosexual”, furthering the proliferation of unnecessary and unwanted labels for identification of sexualities.

The portrayal of sexual orientation in Singapore media (with the issue of masculinity as a subtext), is reflective of many Singaporeans’ perspectives of ‘gay lifestyles’ in general, and in many ways parallel the development of LGBT representation in ‘the Celluloid Closet’.

A key difference in the development of LGBT representation in Singapore has been the socially involved and culturally rooted notion of face, with ‘homosexual’ gradually becoming the preferred term in referencing various identities in the LGBTQ community. The medicalisation of sexual orientation, in conjunction with indirectness in asian culture, can be said to be one of the driving forces behind the current portrayal of sexual orientation as seen below.

Exploring media portrayal of homosexuality.

While there has been increasing LGBTQ representation in Singaporean media, the general outlook has been rather negative, treating sexual orientation as a taboo subject. The list of examples illustrated below is not exhaustive – they are simply the more relevant and salient examples with regards to sexual orientation and masculinity, the focus of this post.

“Bright Future / 同一片蓝天” (1992)

One of the first instances of introducing homosexuality in local drama, Lee Nan Xing plays a handsome masculine model, Yufeng, who is also the love interest of an effeminate gay man called Ken, portrayed by Lin Yi Sheng. 



  • 0:14 “that transsexual that has been harassing Yufeng” –> the actual Chinese phrase used was “男不男,女不女”. Roughly translated, this means ‘neither a male nor a female’, which is also quite similar to the notion of ‘Sissy’ in the Celluloid closet. Similarly, the use of such terminology also provides an interesting parallel to Kulick’s (1998) study of ‘travestis’ in Brazil, who define themselves as homosexuals, or males who feel ‘like women’ and ardently desire masculine, non-homosexual males, all while highly valuing their male genitals. 
  • 0:32 “it’s your fault! you’ve been clinging to him! that’s why he’s ditching me” –> homosexual portrayed as the villain

“Dear, Dear Son-In-Law, 女婿当家” (2007)

A father strongly disapproves of his daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend, Shunfa, who the father believes is gay. This drama echoed the sentiments of the conservative, older generation even as revisions were made to Section 377 of the penal code (namely Section 377A, where sexual acts between two men are criminalised and punishable). The homophobic sentiments of the father clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding of the LGBTQ community in general, using ‘transvestite’ when referring to his daughter’s boyfriend, while also further perpetuating the medicalisation of sexual orientation, where homosexuality is seen as a mental problem, or a quality that can be identified through a person’s actions or habits.



Differences in opinions of conservative, older generation + medicalisation of homosexuality + refusal to address homosexuality straight on

  • 0:40 “something’s wrong with him up here!… He’s gay! If he likes girls too, then he’s bisexual! Isn’t that disgusting?”
  • 1:14 “[he] can never be gay! you must have made a mistake
  • 1:28 “he doesn’t have any bad habits“, bad habits referring to ‘qualities of being gay’
  • 1:34 “stop defending that transvestite
  • 1:46, in defending her daughter and potential son-in-law, “you haven’t found out the truth”, i.e. the truth of being gay, which is similar to being a cheater, a gambler etc.

Channel NewsAsia “Talking Point” – Sexuality Education (2012)

A segment of a TV production that was broadcast one of Singapore’s primary news channels, titled, “Should we promote safe sex along with abstinence?”


  • 0:40 (Liew Wei Li, Director, Student Development Curriculum, Ministry of Education), in response to a question on whether or not ‘homosexuality’ would be included in the new sex ed curriculum “we actually teach what homosexuality is, as well as the provisions in the law about homosexuality…”
  • 0:46 cont. ” …But more important than that, we actually er gather teachers to teach about gender roles and identity which I think is very important because students when they go through puberty, they go through this, er, identity crisis, and they need to find themselves.”
  • 4:00 “That’s why I tell you that it is er, actually, er,  in the larger area of gender and roles and sexual identity and, er, the terms, what they mean, and the various terms . . .want them to be, er, to have the full information and also to have the the ability to have that social and mental well-being , er, so they er they are helped through the various decisions that  they make.”

Language shapes the way we think – given that the director of the student development curriculum at the Ministry of Education highlights the criminalisation of homosexuality in addressing sexuality education, it is very likely that teachers would be inclined to push the Ministry’s ambiguous agenda while also legitimising discriminatory actions and policies against students who identify as a ‘homosexual’


BBC “HARDTalk”, with host Stephen Sackur asking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong questions about homosexuality and gay equality.


  • 0:27, PM Lee in response to Sackur’s question on the acceptability of Section 377A of the penal code “I think that it’s a law which is there. If I remove it, I will not remove the problem.”
  • 0:52 “My personal view is that if I don’t have a problem, this is an uneasy compromise, I’m prepared to live with it until social attitudes change.”

The first step toward change is awareness. 

The second step is acceptance

Nathaniel Branden 

*this is still a major work in progress, please have mercy on me*

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