denise yap

Miss Q stems from a speculative fiction piece Denise is writing about alternative kinships. In this future, relationships and support structures are more web-like than vertical, and gender fluidity is accepted, unremarkable. She thought: the national flower should reflect this. 

Here, the orchid is re-germinated as a set of monitors, each standing in for a petal. The monitors present a moving technological membrane, a vision of a living interior. Skin and flesh are bypassed, moulted, leaving a core that has no clear beginning or end. Botany is queered to queer the future; biology is hijacked by a rising desire to choose, to live on one’s own terms.

What facilitates this evolutionary recalibration is technology, modulated in Miss Q through screens. Their flattened planes come up against the depth of the membrane, (re)producing a tension between surface and substance, conveying the embodied sensation of being gender-nonconforming.

The eugenic policies that shaped Singapore’s population are inevitably recalled, especially since the choice of Vanda Miss Joaquim explicitly situates Miss Q within national narratives of nationhood and collective identity. By co-opting the national flower for queer action, it moves past tired, cynical critique into models for the future that reintroduce optimism into everyday affect. Like the turn in literature from eco-dystopias to hopepunk and solarpunk, Miss Q quietly soothes fears of technological prisons with visions of technology used to reinvent, transform and empower the future.

Miss Q, Denise Yap

We decide to first meet on Maplestory, which probably prompts a laugh or some incredulity, some widening of the eyes. But I am thrilled to bypass the face and body, to streamline our encounter with the interface of a dummy-proof MMORPG. It feels radical, which I guess is important to counter the chronic discontent of a young Singaporean. But needy selfhood aside, I trust the choice, a sincere experiment in coming together differently. Meeting face-to-face, body-to-body, is not necessarily the epitome of connection. As an acquaintance expressed over text, “the virtual spaces we are part of/ share can be a container for other bonds/ extensions.”

The absence of bodily surface in Maplestory mirrors the interiority of Miss Q. But this shedding feels technically closer to concealment, even as it disarms me, dissolves my public shell, makes me talk unguarded. I wonder if it does the same for Denise. Either way, OstrichAgent and kyatos have a pretty in-depth conversation about each other. (As fresh graduates and queer Singaporeans in the arts industry, their anxieties invariably overlap.) And in being kyatos, I briefly escape Kia Yee for this elsewhere, this virtual interior outside of myself.

At their second first meeting, OstrichAgent and kyatos meet as Denise and Kia Yee. Screen is displaced by skin, text by voice; I’m braced for awkwardness, for a degree of friction. It surprises me, then, when the online ease manifests here too, between our faces/bodies. And because the initial layers of mediation were so many, the usual proximity of strangers feels oddly close. 

I expect Denise to expound at length about Miss Q, and am thrown by her brevity. After the visual endurance of online messaging, the ephemerality of voice feels suspect, evasive. I wonder if I’ve lost the plot somehow. If I glossed over some sign, missed some crucial phrase. Perhaps words are not the right vessel, perhaps the work really is straightforward, perhaps I simply have to look it in the eye.

What looks back pulses with hope, a (r)evolution blooming backward from a future Singapore, one in which people exist beyond biology as socially-autonomous identities. In that world, the body is not the most authentic surface; proxies for skin, for voice, for routes to kinship, are activated. People meet as avatars of their own making. People find intimacy without flesh. The substance of sociality, like that of Miss Q’s petals, is fluid. Surfaces and interfaces fuse and pull away in turns, revealing that touch is only possible because there is separation; coming together is possible because we are apart.

Maybe, if two people like us can meet like this, that future imagined in Miss Q is already here somehow. It exists, even if embryonic, even if struggling to install.