The Queer Stage in Singapore

William Peterson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Throughout the 1990s, there was no terrain in Singaporean theatre where the pendulum of liberalisation and repression had swung back and forth so wildly as it had where representations of sexual minorities are concerned. The volatile responses of the government to the lesbian, gay, transsexual and transvestite subject on stage would seem to demonstrate the proposition that sex and politics cannot be disengaged. Singapore's battle over sexual minorities on-stage has been waged both publicly, where public pronouncements and carefully managed ‘debates’ have repeatedly stirred up the issue, and privately, as artists have sought accommodation with the system by internalising censorship.

The one group that continues to bear the brunt of the strongest prohibitions, as well as the one that has sustained the most scrutiny and the greatest number of police actions, is gay men. For a start, there are the laws. Under Section 377 of Singapore's Penal Code, unnatural sexual intercourse is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Section 377A extends the law to "any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person" (Leong 1995). While Section 377A does not carry the same maximum sentence, it casts a wide net, essentially making it illegal for two men to pick each other up, thus providing a legal justification for the entrapment of gay men. Of course such Victorian laws can, on the one hand, be dismissed as the lasting legacy of the coloniser who feared that buggery (especially with the natives) would mean the end of the Empire. The real issue, given that such laws remain in the books in many places throughout the world, is the extent to which these laws are enforced and the degree to which male homosexuals are subject to persecution and harassment. Gay men have, until recently, been consistently singled out in police entrapment exercises and through police raids of bars suspected of having a predominantly gay clientele. In addition, gay men have served time in prison for committing homosexual acts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPeople Like Us
Subtitle of host publicationSexual Minorities in Singapore
EditorsGuoqin Huang, Joseph Lo
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherSelect Publishing
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9814022217
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • gay men
  • Singapore
  • homosexual men
  • prohibitions
  • sexuality


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