In my book, pleasure has always been the pretty sister to ambition. When I am ten or twelve, my mother asks me what I want to achieve in life, and after mulling over it for a whole half-minute, I say, “To have fun.”
She says, after a pause, as if unwilling to shatter her child’s lofty aspirations, “But life is not all about having fun, you know.”
Unacceptable. On the other hand, joy wasn’t always within easy reach, and my mother describes me as a ‘moody child’. This moodiness intensified into depression, eventually culminating in my attempts to stave off the spiral through hyper-productivity and/or over-commitment in my late teens, when I first burst onto the Singaporean performance poetry scene in 2013. I say ‘burst’, but it was more popped slightly, like a syrup-filled bubble-tea pearl gone saggy, leaking out in classic socially awkward, bra-less manner. This leaking slowly, drippingly, all at once, spread to the intersection of Singaporean art and civil movement and gay social life. I took my pleasure at the forking of this intersection.
It all appealed to me—being an LGBTQ para-counsellor, partaking in queer art, making queer art, having gay sex, having fun. My first time at Pink Dot, I tipsy-cried at there being ‘so many of us in the world’, right before I was told to stop, because it was a bad look for the guy I volunteered to rope-bunny for. Fair. You don’t bring a crying, drunken girl half your age to a workshop where people tie other people up. Criticisms surrounding Pink Dot as a hegemony of cis gay Chinese maleness notwithstanding, I felt both tiny and adult, infinitely queer, rife with potential, and infinitely pleasured.
This isn’t just, oh god, I was told I was unworthy as a gay kid and now I gotta Born This Way through life by loving myself (and whoever’s with me—I am many things but I’m not a selfish lover). It’s more a compass, a unit of measure remaining unchanged even though all the other rules vary with each new game. The yardstick is this—’if we’re not having fun, what are we doing here?’ Joy as ambition, because I was never able to understand the concept of ‘career goals’, or ‘displaying initiative’, or ‘branding yourself’, despite the impressive range of Adam Khoo and leadership camps my schools and parents endeavoured to send me to.
Coming back from an ex-boyfriend’s house I run into his father. His father texts him later, ‘You know your Mom and I are both important members of the Church. Please don’t do this to us son.’ The members of the Church of Iglesias are not allowed to date outside of the congregation, but his son, disappointment incarnate, was sleeping filthy with a Roman Catholic (baptised and lapsing). Years spent hiding, first in my first queer relationships, and even while dating a heterosexual man, have resulted in a certain leeryness of being disallowed, feeling against-regulation, that my existence should be surreptitious. I’m bored of it. I want to occupy.
I don’t extoll the virtues of complete hedonism, which often breaks down into ‘this isn’t fun any more’ very quickly, in my experience. At least, if you do it right. Living on a diet of roses: not tasty, nor salubrious. I mean joy-as-transgression as political protest, as defiantly feasting oneself on that which is policed, which we are told is incorrect to strive for, which is respected and respectable. I mean admitting to your pleasures, disgusting, puerile, inane or unorthodox (or unCatholic, in my case). I don’t believe in oversharing, take deep joy in being a grinchfucker and view dismantling shame as an ongoing work.
In continually asking, is this joyful, am I having fun, I learn to interrogate the very thing that once gave me so much pleasure. I’m learning to ‘interrupt production and consumption’ and loiter meaninglessly, without justification or defined purpose. Laughter as joy as transgression on late-stage capitalism.
These days, I get told I am obnoxious, rowdy, disrespectful, rude, attention-seeking, and anxiety-inducing. As I write this, it’s going to be my 28th birthday in two days. I think it’s been a great character development arc so far, bois. What’s the alternative? Taking up as little space as possible, so as not to discomfit? One mustn’t only take one’s pleasure seriously, one must admit to it—claim it—lean into it until one falls through the false walls of flimsy excuse.
So, if we’re not having fun, what are we doing here?
Marylyn, Unprofessional Queer, Filthy Bastard, Pleasure Enthusiast
(From July 17, 2021)