Recently in Singapore, the National Library Board (NLB) decided to remove and destroy a few books that depict non-traditional families (same-sex couples and single parents). It’s understandably created controversy, and has gotten me thinking about censorship. I believe fear is behind the current issue — that some fear rooted in the government forced what should be a neutral public institution to perform a political act. But more than this, it was fear of the majority that allowed such a decision to be made.
Singapore’s Minister of Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, depicted this clearly in his response to NLB’s decision:
“NLB’s approach is to reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them.”
Fear of the majority’s ‘pro-family’ stance has allowed the national library — usually the wellspring of knowledge — to remove perspectives that are different from that stance and attempt to diminish our knowledge on them. Censorship of these contents leads to ignorance of the different types of families there are which leads to fear of them.
After all, you fear what you don’t know.
The simple reason why we shouldn’t hold tightly to preconceived notions or “existing social norms” is because we don’t know everything. We will never, in fact, come to a point where we have learnt everything and can therefore sit securely in our comfort zones. That is why we should not fear or attempt to squash anything and everything that is different to what we currently know. Because they just may be valid and add something to your current view that you don’t have. We need to accept that there are things about love, sexuality, and family structure that we still don’t know about, even today. These are very fluid concepts because the people (and even animals) who define them are complicated beyond measure, adapting constantly to changing circumstances. In any science — be it in biology, psychology or social science — the running theme is that even with everything we’ve discovered and studied, there are still things that puzzle us and things about the world and society that we have yet to discover.
We are all different in some way or the other. But we find solidarity and comfort in grouping ourselves according to certain similarities. And it doesn’t matter which group makes up the majority or the minority in a community. Each group contributes something different to society and that difference is valid. The emergence of the LGBTQ groups doesn’t indicate an abnormality in society but rather offers broadened views of love, attraction, sexuality, rights, and family. In the same way, unconventional families offer broader perspectives on familial love, and the bonds of family and attachment than the nuclear family does. Not allowing yourself or others to be exposed to who they are is to simply be deprived of the knowledge you can gather from the different perspectives these groups offer on the issues above.
Pushing the majority group’s ‘pro-family’ stance and attempting to remove this minority group’s views doesn’t make them cease to exist. Holding to the belief that sexuality is one-dimensional doesn’t nullify the truth that it is, in fact, fluid. Just because you close your eyes, it doesn’t mean something has disappeared. The truth is still there, just waiting to be seen. And more importantly, those people are still there, just waiting to be understood and accepted.
So by using the reasons the majority groups give such as living ‘immorally’ or ‘abnormally,’ what you are doing is oppressing a part of society. Now oppression doesn’t only mean being under tyrannical rule (the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner). It can also be the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles or anxiety. There are many in the LGBTQ groups who are forced to deny their sexuality or to be themselves and love in secret to protect themselves from being persecuted. Together with the whispers that members of LGBTQ groups and non-traditional families hear about how they’re ‘not normal’, it can create quite a claustrophobic environment. They feel judged and ‘different’. Carrying a big secret about who you love or to which family you belong to is a burden. It’s oppressive.
And what about our young ones? Children who grow up believing that there is only one type of family — the nuclear, traditional father-mother-children family — won’t be able to understand that love can be between individuals of the same sex and that homosexual couples and single parents are equally capable as heterosexual couples in raising and loving children. Removing and destroying those books shows that the ‘pro-family’ group will not allow different perspectives on family and that, thus, doesn’t allow them to understand what these groups think, feel and experience as they bring up their families. Furthermore, children who do grow up in these families will have to deal, from a young age, with judgement and scrutiny instead of the open, free-spirited childhood they should be having. But the most dangerous thing you’re teaching our young generations is that it is more important to keep to outdated norms and appease the majority than to accept change in our society and find a place in society for everyone, including those different from you.
I hope that the outrage following NLB’s decision to remove and destroy these books allows people to see how knowledge of their content helps to expand our perspectives on love and family. And we’ll all be the better if we understand that if we open ourselves up to change, there’d be a lot more love and acceptance in our society. It will help raise a generation of children who are understanding and tolerant of differences, because they realize the benefits of having such differences.