Just one day before the Minister Mentor gave a great speech on how Singapore has to seek new ways (less prohibitive ways, he emphasized) of thinking, Think sat down with Adriaan Nijen Twilhaar, the Dutch founder of the controversial magazine Manazine for a coffee and a chat.
You would think that in this day and age of instant internet access, the censorship board of the Media Development Agency (MDA) would be a thing of the past. After all, anybody can simply type in a few words and read or see many things the government would rather you didn't.
And foremost on their list of no-nos is the Big Gay issue. As I spoke with Adriaan, I felt his passion to change the perceptions that the gay lifestyle is simply about hotpants and sex parties, which at the heart of it is why he started publishing Manazine; to show that gays are people just like everyone else, and to help people become comfortable with who they are.
"When I came to Singapore everyone was so depressed..." he shared, "The only way for gays to connect was the internet and clubbing, which isn't based on anything positive. They were falling into the trap of just sex, but the awareness wasn't there that there is so much more to life than that, so I decided to start the magazine as a way to show that there was more to life, to show people that they could be happy simply by being themselves."
A glance through the beautiful pages of Manazine makes you wonder what the big controversy is all about, considering that they they were called in four times before the MDA, the first right after their second issue, allegedly for promoting a 'gay lifestyle'.
"They asked me, if this is a men's magazine, why I didn't have any pictures of bikini-clad women, as if this was all a men's magazine could be about," he shares with a wry smile.
By issue three they decided to get bold, and ended up with the MDA ordering them to pull it from the streets, which did wonders for raising the profile of the magazine. They were ordered to restrict access to their magazine, meaning readers have to pick it up only in select locations with a membership card. But this didn't stop the popularity of the magazine, it only increased it. About this time, he also began focusing more on becoming editorially driven as opposed to simply visually driven.
The quality of the articles reflect a deep passion for the esoteric and the artistic, and (beside this magazine in your hands), is actually one of the few publications in Singapore actually worth reading.
"I didn't want to make your typical gay magazine, as I realised there were many out there who wouldn't appreciate seeing their son in hot pants on a float. I also didn't want to create a distance between the magazine and the readers, so in each issue we encourage the readers to follow their dreams, to accept themselves for who they are. For example, many of our models are just regular people, not supermodels, which lead to a few letters wondering why."
As a straight guy (and by the way, about 23% of their readership is female), I find there is nothing offensive in the content of Manazine, and only pity the small, closed minds that could think that a magazine which caters to the interests of a minority should not exist.
If Singapore is truly serious about growing up culturally, they need to accept the fact that upwards of 13% of it's adult population is gay, if international reports are to be believed. They also should realise that nobody "chooses" their sexual orientation, or that reading a magazine could make anyone straight or gay.
"I'm not pushing an agenda with Manazine, but am simply trying to create a sense of community, and show that we live normal lives like everybody else, and not the stereotypes you always see in the the local media."
And that he does. Manazine is about opening the lid on repression, so that acceptance can come out, so all people can just be themselves and not live in fear or repression. Seriously, how does that harm society?