An observation that perplexes me at times:
What are the real needs of gay people? And how do we reach out to them?
This was the third run of Indignation this year. As expected, it was highly anticipated and many activists and volunteers were preoccupied with its preparation and execution. There was a great variety of events being planned, and this time there was an improved �gender balance� in terms of the programs offered. There were also some landmark events, such as the kissing exhibition and a public sharing by 3 transsexuals. All in all, a very exciting two weeks indeed.
For most of the events I attended, the program ran smoothly without many hiccups and plenty of refreshments were provided. There were also many helpful volunteers on hand to distribute flyers, souvenirs and usher people to their seats. The topics covered in the events themselves were wisely chosen as they were pertinent and perhaps even taboo (yes even in the gay community itself!) and they were thoroughly discussed. In fact, there was a huge range in terms of programs offered: from forums, to dialogues to readings and film screenings. Indeed, there was much to learn through the sharing of people�s perspectives, their struggles and triumphs.
So I thought, isn�t this a great opportunity for gay people to look into a mirror and gather more insights about themselves and people like them? Why aren�t �hordes� of people, flocking to such events?
Sure, the turnouts have been large indeed. But I would estimate that 70% of the crowd�. are old-timers (i.e. repeat visitors from the previous Indignation, or active members of the various participating organizations in Indignation)
I don�t think publicity is a problem. Nope. Instead, the �bad press� we�re getting from �The Sewage Times� (as one fellow participant joked to me), is ironically creating tons of attention-grabbing publicity for us! Also, the emails on the mailing groups, e-advertisements etc. certainly have a wide reach encompassing thousands of people. I know of many gay friends who know of Indignation but choose not to attend. People seem to be aware, but not affected. As a result— It always seems that there is only a niche group of people who attend openly-gay events, despite publicity.
There could be many reasons why�
Firstly, many people prefer to live out their �gayness� in the closet. No need for them to attend pride season activities, wave the rainbow flag and immerse in deep contemplation of what it means to be gay with a whole auditorium of other queers (also all in deep thought). For them, perhaps the company of friends, family and closed ones are sufficient enough. Any queer-centric issues are easily figured out through the usage of the Internet. Or perhaps it�s even a non-issue for them. Gay means gay, lor. No need for them to� �Go out there�.
I�ve always thought this was the answer to our �re-run� turnouts. That despite big publicity, there were usually few new faces due to people�s lack of desire to attend. But there is a second reason.
Recently, I was speaking to a schoolmate of mine, and I asked her why she wasn�t coming. And she reasoned by stating, quite plainly, that when you boil the whole event down to its bare bones, its main function is that it is a social. That most people go to the events to mingle with others they know.
It might not be the main reason. But it definitely is a strong, often, the �turning-point� impetus for us to attend. Such events, underneath the official program structure, provided vast opportunities for people to interact intimately in a cozy setting, catch up with one another and stand around in little groups. Not saying that this is a bad thing per se. But it is something that inevitably develops in such small settings.
Hey, I�m guilty of doing these things too. And when she said that, I understood what she meant. And therefore� what it means for someone new. Someone who comes without �connections� inside the community, and without people to mingle with after the show is over. Perhaps for them, such events might be intimidating. If we are alone and lost, we tend to stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the cliques and chatty people. For some who choose not to come, perhaps the appeal of learning new perspectives is far out-shadowed by the prospect of facing the not-so-appealing social context etched into the event.
Thirdly, another reason she mentioned was the lack of interest in the events offered. And I was like �???? But everything applies to you!�. To which she said, �But. Gay-centric stuff is not my interest.�
Sometimes, oftentimes, I�d have to admit that most of us who attend such events… are a different �breed� of gay people. Perhaps there is a stronger sense of social activism or self-awareness of our queer-ness. That is why we are attracted to events or programs that are specifically targeted towards sexuality. It is a big issue, and focus, in our lives. Yet for other gay people, perhaps being gay is not a big issue inside of them. By �big�, I mean an issue which they actually channel time and energy to reflect over. Perhaps for some gay people, being �gay� only shows up when they fall in love, or have sex. But at other times, they are just like everyone else. For them, there is no need to ponder and dissect and pickle their brains over sexuality issues. It just� IS. Period. No need to consciously step out and discuss. Instead, they might be more interested in stuff like films and art. But gay-centric stuff? Nah�.
This again, brings me back to my first question. What do gay people really want and need?
Sometimes, as activists, we tend to think on a different level. Many of the programs we come up with tend to appeal to us (duh), but they might not necessarily appeal to the man on the ground. Perhaps that is why Indignation attracts a certain set of people. People like US. Us: meaning people who are already involved in the scene.
So how do we really reach out to the diverse world out there? And invite them through the doors of all these painstakingly-planned events? After all, we do this not for our own personal glorification, or as a cover-up means to have more �fun with our friends�. We do this because we have the community in mind. That we want to reach out to them, and hopefully add value and enrichment to their lives through the events that are planned. And at the same time, make a stand for being gay.
Because it�ll be a sad day if we find ourselves disconnected to the very people we seek to engage. Minority within a minority.
Maybe not everyone.
It is definitely difficult to ascertain what the community needs, due to the sheer diversity of personalities out there. Despite the fact that we�ll never hit the perfect formula, or cover the needs of every single gay person �. perhaps this is one question, we should never stop asking ourselves. Because in the process of asking, we can reflect, and we can improve. As I was writing this article, it dawned upon me that it was difficult to come up with concrete suggestions, or really pin down what gay people really need. Even the friend I spoke to had only one (her) opinion to offer, out of the many thousands of opinions out there.
But I guess, as a start, we can always increase our awareness of people�s needs, and ask the person next to us if they are coming for Indignation. And if not,