Speaking With You, Not For You: The Nuances Of A "Singaporean Woman" And "Woman in Singapore"
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Politics and Activism

Speaking With You, Not For You: The Nuances Of A "Singaporean Woman" And "Woman in Singapore"

On otherness and the ability to decide identity.

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Speaking With You, Not For You: The Nuances Of A "Singaporean Woman" And "Woman in Singapore"
Karisa Poedjirahardjo

They call people like me “third culture kids.” I kind of grew up everywhere, and therefore didn’t really belong anywhere. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in, but is also the source of much internal uncertainty and tension. I have - sometimes even concurrently - called Indonesia, Singapore, and America home. And yet I don’t feel comfortable using “Indonesian,” “Singaporean,” nor “American” to describe myself, because so many of the things associated with being from these places are things that aren’t necessarily reflected on my body: they way I talk, think, or my experiences of tradition and culture. For now, Singapore is home to me more than any other place has been. Ironically, of the three places, it is also the only one I have no birthright in.

It used to be enough to simply turn to clichés like “home is where the heart is,” or “home is the company of friends and family,” but here’s the thing: the question of home and belonging is not just a difficult question when people ask where I’m from, it’s a difficult question that extends to my right to contribute to a narrative.

As a woman and a young person, I am constantly reminded of the pervasive ways others try to speak for me. As someone who grew up with narratives of the colonized, I know the anger of having what is yours claimed by another. I do not want to speak for others, nor do I want to replicate these narratives; so a subliminal compulsion germinates within me to always clarify my position using “as a woman in Singapore” instead of simply “as a Singaporean woman.”

But am I not a woman?

For the past year I’ve been living in America, but Singapore hasn’t left my consciousness. It’s not just where my “heart” is, but also the subject of much of my research. And every time I talk to my friends here about its fucked up politics and back-asswards society, they ask me “Why do you want to go back, again?” Of course, they say this jokingly, but I find myself holding on to the question. It is only now that I am beginning to be able to articulate that I didn’t have to care about Singapore - I had the privilege of calling other places home - but I chose to care. I chose to care. And here is where the tension lies, because while I am proud of my otherness, I am also frustrated by it. Being so obviously not “Singaporean” makes it difficult for me to use “us,” even though as a woman I am affected by its institutions the same way most “Singaporean women” are.

My body and my city: two things so large in my consciousness; sometimes I am disheartened, wondering if my otherness delegitimizes my narrative of the city.



Upon my return this May

I want to know if home will still be waiting for me on your shores


when my accent washes away the Chineseness of my brows

and your slang doesn’t fit my tongue,

or when I forget that the two children on Jalan Klapa

once sat in shopping carts,

or exactly how many stops there are from Marsiling to Orchard

or when the last train leaves.


I want to know if home will still wait for me on your shores

when growing closer to the inches of my being

also means moving further away from any plot of soil.


When my skin stops being large enough for my identity,

does my blue IC become too temporary to renew?


If my liberation is your sexual deviance,

can I still be woman with you?


If my queerness stains your churches in pink too difficult to wash away,

if my cunt started to speak and ask for things,

if my gender became too wide for my cunt;

do I become dispensable?


Does ideology coexist with pragmatism, or is “harmony” just a thing we say about race?


If my family doesn’t look like yours, if my love disrupts your model unit,

would you still let your children come over for playdates with ours?


When I cannot contribute to your economy, when I’ve rebuilt home for the last time,

when I am fading and the people I love have no legal right to sit by me,

what are the words I need tattooed on my body


to help you understand


I belong here too.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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