by CHEN Fuqiang Daniel
This dissertation is motivated by an interest in portraying the Chinatown area as a queer site. I feel a need to challenge our heterosexual perspective of Chinatown as presented by governmental bodies through historical texts and travel brochures which I feel are unsubstantial because these sources are limiting in addressing the multi-faceted nature of such a diverse environment and homophobic in concealing the actual history of this place. These official histories and narratives constructed by dominant authoritative bodies are polarized and geared towards either the marketing of Chinatown as a site for tourism by presenting the area as a site of Chinese heritage, or biased by selectively preserving the history of dominant heterosexual culture. Being a site of diversity and dynamism as seen in development of the area into the heart of a gay scene, or a site of high fashion shopping, our ideas of this site might be static and outdated. I believe that a queer discourse would aid in furthering architectural discussion about spaces in Chinatown by shedding light on embodied experiences within the area which are less well known and probably misunderstood. Through a queer discourse on the site we can come to an understanding on how queers interact and make meaningful spaces in the modern metropolis.
Aaron Betsky's concept of queer space explains that queer individuals are able to redesign and imagine existing spaces and structures of the city through appropriating certain material aspects of reality into a synthetic space like the space of a reflection in the mirror. Acts of sexual transgression committed in these constructed ‘mirror’ spaces enables queer individuals to rebel and dissolve the material world that is suppressive, bringing back consciousness to the body through seduction.
Criminalization of queer sex in Singapore since 1872 when Singapore was a British colony and the subsequent cultivation of a conservative society with traditional values have resulted in queer histories being displaced, concealed and distorted. Being alternate in nature, the idea of queer resists conventional analysis. Therefore we gain entry into this mythical and complex queer space through alternative means: from the perspectives of queer individuals, via poetry and fictional stories which provide architectural evidence and aid in the piecing together of a queer narrative.
Through Betsky’s theories on queer space and with the aid of the above mentioned queer sources which not only describes spaces but also activities, memories and emotions, we can begin recognizing and analyzing the role that architecture and urbanism plays in the formation and maintenance of queer subculture in contemporary society. This dissertation will discuss the various ways in which the built environment contributes to the ‘construction’ of queer sub-culture and articulate how both architectural space and the city can represent ideas such as queerness. In a climate of increasing tolerance of queers, it documents a queer space that is rapidly disappearing.