Continuing our analysis of life as a gay Malaysian (see our last post on a similar topic) is a guest post by Chrystoph, who is from Sabah and based in Kota Kinabalu. Chrystoph is also a theology student. In a set of questions prepared by Kakak Killjoy about the Malaysian obsession with anal sex, Chrystoph argues that this goes back much further into our colonial history:
Malaysia was a British colonization and most of our judicial system influenced by the British Common Law. Section 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code criminalizes sexual acts by inserting male’s genital into someone’s mouth or anus. With this so called common law prohibiting anal and oral sex, educated and well-informed Malaysian felt obligated to condemn such “unnatural” sex. This is a common Malaysian courtesy-mind to only engage in marital and reproductive sex. Unfortunately, many Malaysians think that anal and oral sex are only practiced by homosexual people and disregard the fact that many heterosexual Malaysians practice anal and oral sex as well. The so-called “sodomy” law has its own limelight in the public media when Anwar Ibrahim was convicted with the felony. Since that, Malaysian public assume anal penetration to be rape, bribe sex, consensual sin, barbaric and punishable therefore assume that homosexuality in general is a crime and shameful act.
But what does anal sex have to do with homosexuality? It is like asking what does vaginal sex have to do with heterosexuality? In fact, sexual orientation is more than the sexual acts. Just because the word “sex” appear before the word ‘orientation’ does not mean that it is all about having sex. Malaysians are accustomed to think homosexuality as anal sex because of the media misrepresentation of homosexuality as anal rape. The media too often portrayed sex as reproductive cause for married straight couple. The Malaysian media, since the period of Tan Sri P. Ramlee, often shows married life to be a common privilege of patriarchal pleasure by portraying the grandeur of polygamy marriage. Since men are the prominent sexual figure in the media, Malaysian often thought that all men should penetrate women’s genitalia as part of the “tradition”.
Western vs. Eastern culture:
This is the common misconception that many Malaysians have adopted and often verbalized by our political leaders. Some Malaysians assume that homosexuality is a product of the West and “we” in the East should have nothing to do with it and that we must exemplify the well-mannered Asian culture. Well obviously those who said that have not read the Asian history with its silk-stocking homosexual episodes. When any of the Western or White-dominated movies and TV programs aired homosexual scenes, Malaysians were quick to assume that can Western TV can permeate the mind of the young to practice homosexuality. They probably feared that their children would no longer have sex with the opposite gender and would only commit the “sinful” act of anal sex. They are afraid that their race will cease to exist if their children no longer produce babies for them. We can’t blame the close-mindedness of our fellow Malaysians but we should be able to educate the public about the common misconception about homosexuality. This can only be done if we have a reform in the government administration where everybody can enjoy the rights to freedom of media, speech, and expression.
Homophobia loves Religion:
“Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan” or belief in God is one of the Malaysian National Principles instituted in the year 1970 after the riot in May 13th 1969. This shows that the Malaysian grounded their attitude and morality under the influence of religion. Religion and God is the common argument when it comes to denouncing homosexuality. Every time the issue of homosexuality is brought up in the media, the name of religion and God incited as if they are responsible to our treatment on homosexual individuals. What I mean is if one has abused or violently treated a homosexual, one can justify its act based on the command of God to eradicate sins and to conduct a moral obligation. Suddenly the religious groups in Malaysia became united to condemn homosexuality as part of their holy war.
For the Malaysian Christians, they based their judgmental subscription at the Old Testament that condemns man who lies with another man as one lies with a woman. Now with this kind of statement from Leviticus 20:13, one may ask how does man sleep with another man as they did with a woman? Of course it won’t work if you let one end meet with another end. People often assume that anal penetration is associated with homosexuality and would never consider it to be either rape or the heterosexual’s privilege. So this “kepercayaan kepada Tuhan” lead Malaysian to refer anal sex to be the main subject of homosexuality. Whenever homosexuality is mentioned in the media, it directs people to the sex element of homosexual and when the sex element is brought up (i.e. anal sex), people love to hide behind religion and ask God to take a rest and let them do all the work.
Because religion and culture are intertwined in Malaysia, the word of religious institutions on sexuality is absolute compared to what science and research have to say. Homosexuality is often about anal sex because Malaysian never seen the homosexuals as in essence as the heterosexuals. Heterosexuality is seen as the standard norm of being human whereas homosexuality is seen as defects to “natural” behaviour. It is impossible for Malaysian to understand the complex sexuality of human being if the “Ketuanan Melayu” becomes the foundational ideology of being Malaysian where knowledge is rejected if it does not affirm the supremacy of one’s ideology. The Orang Asal (i.e. natives of Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya) on the other hand found their majority ethnic voices disregarded and want a similar constitution similar to the Malays to affirm their rights. Between these dilemmas, the homosexuals were pressed down to a level of non-existence, caught in the middle of racial and political conflicts, and considered as irrelevant in the country resulting in the perpetuation of stereotypes, misunderstanding, misrepresentation and slandering. They will forever be considered as another so-called Western influence and being considered as cultural defects.
What is the reality like for gay men in Malaysia, in terms of finding partners, sustaining a relationship, and challenging daily homophobia from ordinary people?
My experience of hearing stories from friends who are frustrated with gay relationships taught me that finding true partners is easy in Malaysia yet challenging and sometimes beset with failures. Nowadays gays are equipped with various social networks that offers gay hook up. Finding partners is not the same as finding sex. You have many guys who are interested in having sex with you but would never opt for a long term relationship. There are cases when gays get into relationship with another guy from social network but it ended soon when they got to learn about each other’s life and got bored with the relationship. Something they could not find in the flamboyant gay porn they’ve watched. Well the truth is, porn is an act and one can look enjoyable on the screen yet are burden with many problems just like normal “us”. Can the Malaysian gays find their soul mate? Yes, but the possibility is very rare.
We are not like the western part of the world where gays are openly out of the closet and they are everywhere participating in the life of the society. This will encourage gays finding the partner that loves to do what they are doing and decrease the possibility of meeting gays who are only interested in having sex. Malaysian gays can go by luck. If they got involve in the social arts exhibition or probably charitable activities, they might bump to another gay who shares each other interests and who are ready to sacrifice for the love of them. Sometimes the gay scene can be very discreet that you have to force yourself to a gay bar or online meet-up to get what you want. Finding partners itself is pretty challenging but it is more challenging in a place where homophobia is pervasive.
What is the possibility of sustaining relationship among gay men? I think it depends on the individuals what values they are searching and hope to achieve. Sometimes gay relationship became shaky when they are push to pursue a relationship in a homophobic and discreet environment. When a relationship remains discreet, their partners tend to look for gratification outside of their pressured relationship. Because the environment taught them to be discreet therefore their current relationship might have push them to accept whatever chances they had but when one of the partner were exposed to another appealing gay man, he began to seek opportunities to get close with that guy. Societal norms too play a big role in shaping one’s perception about relationship. Sometimes gays are caught up in a dilemma when the homophobic society defines the word ‘relationship’ for them.
I know a guy who brought his boyfriend to his house to meet his parents. His parents never suspected anything and thought that his boyfriend is just his best friend. They became close and stayed with the family for several months and it turned out to be a good relationship but things started to change when the boyfriend he brought back home refused to get in touch with him anymore and he became furious of what he had done. His boyfriend told him that he need time to study but obviously never returned his call and even a text message. That guy reckoned that his boyfriend found somebody else through social network who is probably much appealing than him. Malaysian gay men have to understand their purpose of relationship. They cannot use relationship as a ticket to consensual sexual pleasures. It is often the decisions of gay men to shape their relationship into sustainable ones.
In my opinion, religion has often become the impediment of homosexuality. Our stereotypes and misinterpretations of scriptures often lead many gays to hide in their closet. Homophobia is articulated by the religious leaders and affirmed by its followers. If a gay man came from a religious family background he is most likely to experience self-hatred and humiliation but when a gay man came from a non-religious background he enjoys acceptance and liberal encouragement. In my experience, you got to have a staunch catholic belief to condemn a gay man and destroy his conscience but you got to have a non-religious yet goodwilled person to welcome a gay man at their table. I know a gay man who got involved with another man hook up through online who are active in his church ministry that encourage chastity and personal holiness but were himself a homophobic. Only gay men who are equipped with knowledge and surrounded by gay communities and/or supporting straight individuals were able to go through horrible homophobic experiences whether from their own relatives or their colleagues.