Review of SCH/SM by Nicholas Lye
“SCH/SM” is a bold multidisciplinary theatre piece that explores the highly sensitive theme of faith and sexuality. Using elements of text, dance, video and song, it uncovers the inner realities of female Catholics who experience same-sex attraction (SSA), and brings to light their struggles and woes, particularly arising from tensions between their faith and their sexuality, tensions within themselves and with their community.
Based on real-life interviews and personal stories, “SCH/SM” shatters common misconceptions and stereotypes, and challenges what society thinks we know of people with SSA. It brings fresh understanding to the raw and honest truth about what goes on in the heart, mind and lives of these individuals, who, as the audience shall gradually discover, are no different from the rest of society in many ways.
What first struck me about “SCH/SM” was how much I identified with the real and honest stories and emotions presented to us. I identified with their struggles of loneliness, their yearnings for companionship and intimacy, their physical attractions towards another. More so as a seminarian walking down the path towards celibacy as a Catholic priest, I identify very much with the tension between adhering to the expectations and demands of priestly celibacy, and yet having to face my own human physical attractions and desires for the opposite sex. The fact that my heterosexual orientation is generally more accepted by society and the Catholic church does not make my own struggles with the desires of the flesh any less real, nor does it make me any more superior in human dignity. In fact, the times when I do act out on my human desires in inappropriate ways make me no better than anyone else who does the same, regardless of their sexual orientation.
But what struck me more apart from man's common struggle with our inordinate sexual desires, is our common desire for love that is true, perfect, and divine. As one interviewee shared through the piece, what made her choose to remain chaste despite her SSA wasn't simply the moral teachings of the church or pressures from society. Instead, it was her experience of God's personal and unconditional love for her that provided a far greater alternative to any human love on earth. On this point, I could truly relate to her testimony, for indeed, it is this same love of God that has kept me striving towards sexual purity, and kept me choosing to remain celibate for God despite the difficulties faced.
Overall, “SCH/SM” is an enlightening, sobering, and meaningfully disturbing piece that will make the audience rethink how we view or even treat people with SSA, regardless of gender or religion, and hopefully open up safe spaces for more compassionate listening and understanding, and less judgement and condescension. Perhaps, instead of standing on moral or religious high grounds, or taking sides in the "us-versus-them" schisms, a better way to approach these issues is to unite ourselves in this common quest for true, authentic love, and support each other with love and compassion as we figure out where our heart’s true desire really lies.
SCH/SM (A Review) by Melvyn Foo
In the Catholic Church of Singapore, same sex attraction (SSA) seems to be theoretical. Catholics in Singapore! (Unofficial guide)1 argue about repealing Section 377A, catechists cite (with ambivalence) Pope Francis’ media spectacles, the Archbishop’s Office preaches a defensible but also unspecific personalistic norm.2
For the rest of us, even weighing in on the Pink Dot vs Wear White debate seems controversial. We would rather not talk about it. We don’t know how to talk about it. Perhaps if we didn’t talk about it, we could pretend that Singaporean Catholics do not struggle with it.
But where are the most important stakeholders: the Catholics who actually struggle with SSA?
A fellow parishioner once asked me, “We don’t have people struggling with homosexuality in our parish, right?”
I laughed to myself. If only he knew.
This is why SCH/SM is such an important work of art. Written, directed, and acted by Mariel Chee, SCH/SM explores the struggles of Catholics who experience SSA, by weaving a main character’s story arc with thin slices of other female characters (all played by Mariel). What makes these other characters poignant is that they are based on the stories of actual Catholic females with SSA whom Mariel interviewed for this project. The end result — this play — is at once visionary for exploring such a necessary dialogue, ingenious for conceiving of such an unintimidating way to have it, and so, so courageous for being this authentic.
Actually, this leaves me in a conundrum, because Mariel’s voice and story is so sterling and raw that reviewing the play feels like I am reviewing the person. For all its uncompromising stand on Church teachings and its unabashedly Catholic voice, SCH/SM remains unflinchingly human. And as my favorite author says, “You don’t pass or fail at being human, dear.”3
But we can fail at being pastors. In a catechism class I taught, one of my students left the Church because, I later learnt, she had identified as being a bisexual. I didn’t even know the two whole years she was in my class. And that made me think: somewhere, somehow, we must have done something wrong.
SCH/SM is an attempt to do something right, to tell something true. And truth is more than CCC2358 declaring that homosexual tendencies are “objectively disordered”, more than the ‘love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin’ throwaway lines. Truth is also about the dreams of the youth leader struggling with SSA who is not allowed to be a facilitator because she is a “bad influence”, the beliefs of the Sunday Catholic who keeps going to Confession even though she doesn’t feel that being gay is wrong, the desires of the lesbian who broke up because she loves God more than her partner.4 These things are true, not because they accord with natural law, but because the people holding onto them are true.
And we need to talk about these things. SCH/SM has started a conversation. I pray that the conversation deepens. I pray that Truth, with all its myriad small-lettered versions, comes to light.
Some Audience Responses to Schism, 2017
“The unadulterated honesty of the show was shocking, moving, and made me cry buckets. Honestly at the last scene my tear ducts went rogue on me and I couldn't stop. It was just so fantastic”
“It was all so carefully and courageously stitched together. [...] This was echoed in the post-show dialogue, but in an ocean of people clamouring for extremely dichotomous discourse that either straddles LGBTQ voices or religious voices exclusively, Schism not just weaved the two elements together in a way that honoured both sides, but also brought together in this intimate space both these apparently distinct peoples.”
“Schism reminded me how we all (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) constantly navigate these issues and how personal our solutions are to juggling them. My background (religious, societal, familial, etc.) does not see these aspects in conflict with one another so I was appreciative of the opportunity to learn about this often private negotiation of our friends and family who are Catholic and experience same-sex attraction. I cherish the experience of getting more insight into the complexities of the pleasure, suffering, wisdom, joy, self- and spiritual-realization that can be experienced as our community brethren (or rather, sistren) negotiate these two realms.”
It was incredibly raw, accurate, and honest. The play definitely made me feel uncomfortable and tilted ttm but I think I really needed it.”
“Schism is definitely one of my favourite shows now. As a person who is rather anti-catholicism at the moment it was a very fresh perspective that I enjoyed. I'm still left hanging about so many things.”
“The artist’s hard work in sourcing the material, the writing of the script, her theatre performance, her knack with props and multimedia, her dancing, the powerful symbols woven into the piece – it was truly a multidisciplinary celebration of learning and growth, and deeply impactful to every sense.”
“Schism merged more seamlessly than usually is the case, the space in which these kind of questions exist. I find that usually the discussions are very separate; they operate in separate circles with separate assumptions. But the show did a good job of venn diagramming the thing - making an overlap, I suppose.”
“...Chee’s request implies that the performance is less about what is being put up on stage, and more about establishing a relationship between the performer and her audience, as they both grapple with the issue of religion and sexuality. The theatrical space, including its post-show dialogue, allows Chee a mode of delivery that circumvents traditional ways of resolving such a contentious issue.”