Building a Safe Circle of Care and Support for
Everyone of Us
Notes from the session
Moderator: Sometimes Light - Building Communities of Empowerment and Healing”
Mates Gone Running (MGR): 5-6 yrs
Community space from 2018, linked to Out in SG for sports and social activities. Came on board as affiliate
The Healing Circle (THC)
Established since 2016. Provides counseling for queer muslims, their partners and families. Monthly activities such as: Group therapy, Book study
During covid times there were always zoom sessions every two weeks or once a month, because that time was a crucial time for LGBTQ muslims to be with their community.
Then-Education Minister, Mr Ong was like “there is no discrimination in schools, workplace, etc.”
Ready for repeal town hall that year
Speakers there shared that sharing stories of discrimination was importantt, but a participant then raised a question on how to do so without outing themselves. Thought maybe it’s good to share others’ queer stories with anonymity.
Very open to collaborate with other groups, eg Onequeercher, share more affirming stories about how students have felt supported by their teachers.
Grey Projects (GP) - an independent art space based in Tiong Bahru. Exhibitions, reading groups, library space. Annual queer program. Last year instead of regular exhibitions, a two-month long queer programming that involved working with Singapore queer collectives and art practices. This included activities such as:
Queer drawing circle.
Reading group on non monogamy. This kind of space that is more intimate is something that is central at Grey Projects, hope to keep doing this.
What makes a good community? What do you look for?
Before THC, there was an underground circle called Mufarida, they moved out from sg and they passed the baton to the person in-charge now - it was important to have a human figure at the top but Mufaridah’s members preferred to be underground. THC started afterwards with the founder fronting themselves as their voices. Every queer person there, especially the closeted ones, they are dying to be who they are, but they are not able to. THC provides that space for them to be who they are and being able to be with their own tribe.
They try to be as normal as they can, normal as in being queer, being how they want to be, not hiding their true identity, being their true person. That’s why it's crucial to provide that safespace for them.
Focal points, eg sports, helps for ppl to gather over. Easier to get engagement going, otherwise lose sense of direction.
MQS: Comradeship is an important part of community.
Community is not just about being together and having fun. Movement building, how do we care for each other in a way that is value adding to each other. Being in solidarity w one another w ppl who may not share the same identity (class, racial, sexuality).
Aspect of care towards moving towards a just society for all. We shouldn’t be hyper fixated on having isolated safe spaces, but have one safe space that is the world we are all building towards. It is in hanging out, but also in being accountable to one another, that we can do the work we had promised one another to do as we engage in collective action, so that we don’t place this promised labour onto others. Community is being in a space of moving the movement forward.
We hold a safer space where people share their opinions about the text we are reading. Community is a space whr we share knowledge and learn from one another. Sometimes you learn important things from just learning from one another. Sometimes when someone shares something, you sense the community because you are actively being present with one another.
Sometimes Light (SL):
1st gay community was an ex gay group.
Very act of joining grp was in itself an act of healing.
Why a lgbt running grp , not just a running grp?
Platform, focal point. Value in that. Few places growing up to meet others.
Back then sg boy, trevvy. More forum-like
How does MQS / GP bring healing about?
In the nonmonogamy reading group, someone talked abt the idea of having an asexual, aromantic household in sg. We heal through imagining. Imagining all these diff ways of holding space for your companion, diff people in your life. It shapes the ways of thinking about your future. These small spaces they are healing, because they let you think about more
People sharing their stories is part of healing. They have that space to be able to write about these things and don’t have to bottle up if they are closeted. Being able to share these traumatising stories, unpack all of that. Knowing that you are not alone, this shit is fked up, we need to do something about it. Not just sharing these stories, but also agitating, being able to heal collectively.
Heal the deeply decaying systems that has been harmful towards queer ppl, working class, min races, just being able to tackle these things at the systemic level, so that people don’t need to be hurt any more, so we don’t have a reason to heal anymore (i.e. eliminating the source of hurt).
During the announcement made by our PM Lee that s377A will be repealed,
Things like receiving death threats, invitation of illicit sex via DM and verbally abused started to emerge from the conservatives towards our queer Muslims community, thus, these require healing. Addition to that, there are some conservative muslim communities writing a petition to the HR to say “ My muslim ideology is being harassed” , even when the workplace practices DEI. (Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity) They might even file a police report.
The ironic part of this was, most of the muslim workers in that particular workplace, they don’t even know each other in person. It all happened due to social media. If only they could be more creative and approach directly to say “i don’t feel good when you say this” instead of victim blaming, things may have been different and a lot better.
Most mainstream muslims in SG - they are traditionalists, when you introduce a different kind of islamic ideology, they do not hesitate to say that particular individual is heretic because of the differences of views and beliefs that queer Muslims have about Islam. They feel threatened and fear because of their ignorance about Islam per se. THC values this different sets of Islamic ideology because it is more resonating for queer Muslims to practice their Islam. Our social media platforms mainly focused on sharing these Islamic values to the masses and we have no intention to ‘preach’ because we do not impose others to believe in what we practice as religious freedom is what we value most.Because most of the queer muslims who approach us say, “Can i still be queer and muslim?” We say, “ Yes, you can be queer and muslim.” We need to have more closed door dialogue or discussion with the mainstream Muslims. We need to let them know that we are here not to threaten their belief but rather to find a middle ground where we can acknowledge and respect our belief, presence and existence in this country.
Opening up people’s imagination is healing. Would you like to expand on that?
How does a community open up their imagination?
We need to stop looking at healing as something that has an end to the process. It is dangerous to us. Sometimes the older queers that we know are still healing. When you hear other people say the things they are healing from, maybe during reading groups, during dinner, or when you accidentally bump into someone while waiting for the bus, those conversations—people don't see it as the main part of the day, but are important.
Art practice on queer kinships, how kinships shape and form
In sg we shape each other by being near each other. By just being nearby - perhaps if you’re a trans nonbinary person with friends who identify as gay bears, seeing how they dress, seeing them and the things they say, can inform your identity. Just being near each other and seeing how people live their lives, is part of the process of healing, caring for each other’s being.
(Quasa arrives at the panel.)
LGBTQ support grp for ppl in need for the community
Re: A community that moves beyond narratives of trauma-
Background of Islamic Representations of queerness in the islamic past that we don’t see now
How do we pray? Haj pilgrimage. In the past its all about trauma. But we wanted positive narrative, identity construction. Engage Muslim scholars
> For ppl who are coming out: I’m more settled in in my identity now but i was more in doubt because of faith. 20yrs journey. How to support others who are in a similar journey
Not in favour of using terms like “mental wellness” or “mental health”. Recently heard a talk that said “mental fitness”. Speak within personal narratives of how you went through your personal journey. It can take 20 years to learn that to be comfy in your skin, in your identity. You have to go through pain as well.
THC lets people know it is okay to speak out, to express who you are. It's not just islam, judaism and christianity that claim it is sinful to be queer there are others who feel that being queer is not right. One might be going through conversion therapy just to know whether they can be straight or normal again. There are people out there who have the same struggles to accept who they are and it’s called gender dysphoria
THC reached out to those progressive and queer friendly scholars who are willing to share their different perspectives and ideology about being queer and muslim - spoke to them, made an effort to really talk to them on the phone. Affirmations that one can be queer and muslim. To know how THC can approach these individuals queer Muslims that it is fine to be queer and muslim at the same time.
Why THC refers mental health as Mental fitness- when we go to gym we take care of our physical fitness, but we forget abt mental fitness. We need to let ourselves cry. “No pain no gain”, same with mental fitness. You have to feel the pain, you have to meet your mentality, to feel the pain. When people ask, how are you? Someone will say i'm fine. But the person is actually not fine. You have to hold the space with the person who is not fine. Just sit there with them. But not to fix them. They don’t need to be fixed. When people are faced with that kind of dire struggles, pain, just sit with them and hear them out.
We need healing but we don't know how. How do we support our friends when they struggle?
We have this set of ego of not wanting to say, hey actually I am lonely right now. The word loneliness is something we are all scared to say. During covid someone called at 3am to say hey, I’m very lonely right now. We talked on the phone. We have to be ready to be there for our community. A safe space doesn't have to be hey lets group together. One safe space can be talking on the phone.
We need to learn how to have a good convo, how to be there when someone needs you?
These are the most important aspect that THC are trying to help and guide their members when facing this kind of challenges.
How do we as individuals create safe spaces for ourselves and relations? That itself is the starting point of community.
Education sector. With the fact of LGBTQ not included in anti discrimination bill in work? Any plans? If you do, how?
Want to engage with policy makers, gov agencies. Everyday struggles, not just queer muslims.
Present data to government agencies. Change cannot be made publicly, behind the scenes more pragmatic and incremental steps.
Not thee only organisation doing this, other larger organisations been mentoring Quasa. Pink dot / Oogachaga been sharing. Strategic progress being made, work is continuing.
Beyond the need to protect our ppl from discrimination in workplaces, these things shouldn't exist in isolation. Why is there discrimination in the first place? People aren’t born with discrimination and ideologies. What is taught in our education system, what is taught in our media.
The simultaneous pushes for structural changes, eg comprehensive and inclusive sex education, allowing trans students to exist as they are in schools, being addressed with their names. Gay representation shouldn’t only have that one characterisation of a paedophilic PE teacher. You can stop people from being employed on the basis of being lgbtq but you can’t stop people from saying things they deeply believe in their private convos.
There needs to be unpacking, unlearning, things that are deeply entrenched in our cishetero society. Unpack these at a structural level.
Taufat issue. LGBT discrimination on b/w. Is it easier for a queer or questioning person to reach out to the community to get the support they need?
Platform where ppl can make meaningful connections.
If registered society, would be rejected. PLU were rejected and banned. Community group would have more value that way.
How easy is it to access? So ppl know where to go?
Re TAFEP issue. A couple of Malay Muslims reached out to us because they were being discriminated at a stat board.
Every time we tell people they are like “oh gay Muslims exist”.
Trying out dating app visibility. You can’t really put out pamphlets these days, all we have is social media.
Don’t wait for the perfect organisation. Just reach out to one organisation, if you are seeking out sth more specific, that organisation will be able to help you redirect. You don’t need to wait for the most niche group that you want to find. At GP, we put out pamphlets before, or counselling numbers, and people are like oh there are lgbtq affirming counselling in sg? It’s unusual to find such a thing in a gallery. Sometimes it’s just about going to the one place you know about, just talk to the people at the desk or at the social media platform, they will be able to redirect you
Each of you put in a lot into your organisations which is why these organisations exist. It is not an easy thing. How do you seek care and support for yourselves.
Workaholic. But being able to exist in spaces where people are moving towards the world we want to be in, being in solidarity, activism, working for social justice. That itself is energising. Just being in a space where ppl are, whether they verbally express or not, just want to.
Physically it’s exhausting, but emotionally and spiritually knowing that we are all in this together. Just being able to do the work together but we will see a just society. Just doing that work is a form of care for oneself, your comrades and the rest of the world.
No events this year, taking a break. Due to the stress and struggles they had gone through last year, it’s time to regain their mental fitness before THC can come back and start their advocacy works.We have to be fronting ourselves who we are. THC’s founder briefly spoke about her first knowledge about being an activist. She had learnt from her late mother who was a religious teacher, who had to go through a lot from male religious elites, at one time they slandered and accused her being a heretic. From then on she said you can take all my students, i only want 5, because those 5 were students who are really struggling to understand the Arabic characters but she is confident to make them read Quran with ease. Her mother advice was:. “Have courage when you are telling the truth”. What matters most is the quality of services that she can render and commit towards her community.
Caring for yourself is also about your values. Having good strong values also a form of caring.
You can be managing front facing events and run an organisation but also remember to do other life activities like partying, cuddling with your friends or just staring into your friends’ face. Prioritising these smaller things are really important. This is how you remind yourself that you are just as important.
Qn5: Where do you think the groups will go next?
Ambitions to grow. More seats in policy making table. Not just muslims but queer people.
We already had requests from people in indo, malaysia but we have to scale it slowly.
Want to create an online portal where ppl can find info on islam and homosexuality for both queer ppl and non queer ppl. Non queer people will be like what about this verse, then there will be a counter argument. Scholars will be discussing theologically.
Last year we had our kampong workshops, that was something we didn’t have growing up.
Visibility in the community. Collabs, grow e sports groups. Brooks US gave grant for merch. Looking at straight running groups. Allyship. Easier as sports to promote visibility.
When comes to Workplace incident, whenever anyone issued an harassment report against you, we need not fear instead wrote a letter to them and say let’s talk, let’s have a mediator, let’s not add fire to fire. We should constantly try to be patient, calm and be resilient when facing such adversity.
We need to be the better person in order to make them to feel comfortable with us before we start our conversation with them.
The ideal would be we saw the revolution tomorrow
But collective action so that we can achieve collective liberation. Myqueerstory is a space for queer ppl, but we are not just only queer ppl, we are also queer working class people, queer minority races, queer ppl with disabilities and what not.
We can’t have liberation for queer people if we dont fight for liberation of all queer ppl. So that means that queer activism must also be intersectional, we must fight for everyone, we must move towards a collective vision of justice.
Grey Projects is gonna take a redirection. Maybe we will still explore the arts but it will become a community space. It will be queer centred. There are a lot of futures within that space. Come and visit!
Indra of intimate revolt. When we are intimate with ourselves, we trigger a revolution. That safe space can break down a lot of unsafe spaces. I am fascinated by the concept of the ‘intimate revolt’; the idea that the act of becoming intimate - authentic - with ourselves and with one another is itself an act of revolt. We build communities that trigger revolutions. Not revolutions that take up arms but revolutions that transform society nonetheless. So beyond this symposium make it your aim to build intimacy and authenticity as LGBTQ+ people with yourself and with one another and we will trigger a revolution of communities.