Let me begin by praising the show. At first glance, it would have seemed to be about angry butches who were struggling to be pretty, or struggling or fighting for acceptance.
Here is where the audience is proven wrong. Sensitive and nuanced, this piece is almost like a Judith Butler essay, popping at the seams with its investigation of gender and the way it is performed, mimed, mocked and torn apart basically. The central concept of performativity is simple, the script here is also simple, but multi-layered. Two sets of couples are investigated, one romantically inclined (they’re married, with a baby on the way) and another, completely platonic (OR IS IT!). The male-male, female-female pairing strengthens the themes brought up in the show, because we exactly see 5 different types of bodies. While the range and spectrum of bodies (size, physical characteristics etc) are more diverse in the real world, Liting has chosen to narrow her scale to these 5, to be looked at in depth, I mean literally, they were strutting around in underwear, putting on clothes, taking them off. I got a full view of what these bodies look underneath, and then when they are modified by external prosthesis, be it a sports bra, or a pregnant bulge to look a certain way with clothes on.
The discourse surrounding bodies and gender in Singapore have been largely poor. There is barely any room for progressive definitions used in our mainstream media. Reviews of gender politics, or commentaries on people who extend out of the stupid heteronormative range are spoken about with less than favourable terms. Linguistically, the history behind the term Butch is unclear. It connotes masculinity (short of Butchers? Who the fuck knows) and Femme à a term for the more “ladylike” lesbians, here might I remind you, the discourse is again heteronormative, choosing to apply the traditional male/female roles to homosexual relationships. Liting touched on this as well, tying together a scene where a lesbian set of parents are confronted by terribly stupid heteronormative mainstream officials (who represent well, the discourse that is outside). Mother/Father or “If you’re the girl, why aren’t you carrying the baby? Kind of rubbish that homosexual couples always get. You top or bottom? You versatile? Yeah, that kind of rubbish. Anyway if I’m top or bottom, what is it to you? Why you want to know?
The repetitive putting on, taking of and folding of clothes hint at the whole idea of performativity, and how gender isn’t stable and coherent, as much as mainstream fundies would like to ascertain it to be. Because you know religious books written five hundred years ago were not able to go in depth with discussion on gender (because back then, not everyone was so fucking kaypoh and such a fucking moral police about other people). It is definitely discontinuous, the breaks in between the whole piece serves to fragment the narrative giving me space and time in between to appreciate the bodies (wah some I cannot take my eyes of). The audience performed the social-audience role, mundane quiet observers to a whole parading of outfits, putting on, taking off and trying on different denominations of clothes.
The question is: Is there a self preceding outside the gendered self. Is there a Deon without the “butch” identity? Is there a me without my masculine shirts and trousers? And beard? Actually there isn’t a me without my beard, you all already know that. When I actually shave it all, I stay at home till it all grows back. Identity is such a complex matrix, I don’t think we’re ever meant to answer this question.
I think one of the biggest realisations I had when I was in school, studying gender and sexuality under a wonderful professor, was that biological sex was a social construction. Having a vagina, was just that, having a vagina. It didn’t mean you would want to be penetrated by a penis. In fact object and act choice helped explain the gender and sexuality spectrum, and till today I hold it as a means of understanding the complex nature of gender and biological sex. Brought up in a conservative home, things like this were never talked about. The same way Deon’s protagonist spoke about how the ideal feminine as dictated by her mother. At some point out of desperation, it became a grasping at an impersonation and an exaggeration, a hyper-feminine if you will, forcing her into sundresses and forcing her into makeup and that kind of thing. It became a last ditch attempt to force her into a sort of homogeneity, so even if she deviated for a bit, it would still be close to the norm, at least by 4 degrees. Being a man, I am not privy to this kind of forced pressure, in acting like a lady, forced to close my legs. But I’m sure the women around me (all very strong, and amazing) have found a way to beat the system at its game. The same way Deon’s protagonist had done it. She chose to rise in a different performative way, choosing to identify with the male style of dressing, and really going the whole nine yards in a fantastic suit. (WHO IS YOUR TAILOR?!)
Performing gender became subversive here in her play, a kind of Drag if you will. Deon donning that suit, Farah Ong choosing to wear pants, then later surrendering to a dress… these scenes reflected the imitative structures that itself produced the whole which gender can wear what system. The very same system that dictated that only girls can wear dresses and bras, and only men can wear suits, is imitated, taken to extreme proportions (breast binding, sports bras to hide boobs on men), exposing that it is just a construct. Of course I know I am preaching to the converted. This dressing up outside the prescribed notions of what you should wear is subservise to the extent that it reflects on the stupid structures on which hegemonic heterosexuality is produced. Liting’s characters simultaneously mime and displace the conventions of hegemonic gender expectations. It was necessary, and important to have the space to play with the different bodies, genders and sexualities.
Every story is relatable, the dialogues are accessible, and did not alienate anyone. The approach was structured and simple yet very emotional. I felt a pinch to the heart when there was discussion about bringing a child to this “fucked up world”. These parts were tender, but intuitive to reality. They were so REAL.
Well what I am trying to say is, this piece is clever, and cool and I loved it. Okay that’s all. Back to the grind of performing up to my masculinity. And performing all my other roles this year in 2017, including continuing to be the black sheep (not my skin colour hor.)
If you have suggestions on how to perform to be more masculine or feminine, you are welcome to pm me, or how to perform as a doormat and be nice to get here and there and perform this or that. Or just write nice, or stupid reviews of shows I pretend to understand like some people, also can. You guys do it so well what.