Dormitory lovers: a very short story

Mel has never seen herself like this before; her hair carefully, no, chastely, tucked away underneath her tudung from the ever-intrusive eyes of those considered non-mahram, revealing only her heart-shaped face and that twinkle in her eye that Amir loves so much.

“How do I look, Mir?”
“Delicious. Good enough to eat.”
“You do realise I’m naked, don’t you? It’s a bit wrong!” That twinkle flashing brighter than any distant star.
“Not really. You’re wearing the tudung. That makes everything okay.”

There was something about Amir that always turned Mel on. Alone with her, he had a kind of shyness punctuated with a self-conscious flirtatiousness that jarred with years of his maahad schooling in Muar. Maybe he learned to talk with girls like that from the Jackie Collins novels that belonged to his English teacher mother. Regardless, she hopes she’s the only one he’s ever found tasty enough to eat even when she knows there will be others who will stir a similar appetite.

She hopes that she stands out as special out of all the girls he had fallen for before. She hopes she is his first. The first to ever pounce on him, like a cat and her new-found plaything, with her dilated Nescafe ice-coloured nipples thrust in his face, while his warm and hard penis crashed against her perineum.

***

The sound of a young woman holding back her giggles seguing into breathy moans as she leaps on her equally naked lover, is barely audible from the dorm room next door. Miraculously the thin and worn mattress on the hostel bed smothers the creaks and knocks of an under-skilled amorous couple, itself a witness to and punctured by the solitary sexual release of boys from generations past.

Tonight Amir is a receptacle to the corporeal manifestations of her yearning. His body, an ever-crimson stamen of a fragile blossom, a saucy metaphor she learned from reading Mills and Boon as a twelve year old. Tonight was indeed special.

It was almost like the recurring trope in American teen movies; everyone loses their virginity on prom night. But for Mel and Mir, it was the final semester of their final undergraduate year together and Mel hasn’t thought very much about what her and Amir’s future hold. But mutual friends have expressed some grown-up ideas about their next plan of action: open a photo-processing shop, get married, do a Masters degree.

But tonight, before forever, they are together. They held each other close like they did for the first time, in fact with a member of the opposite sex for the first time. But together, perhaps, for the last time.

End.

Pendidikan seks untuk memupuk nilai bertanggungjawab

First published on Merdeka Review, 23rd March 2012.

Zaman remaja merupakan masa yang paling jahil, menakutkan, dan mengujakan bagi mereka yang masih muda. Sewaktu di bangku sekolah menengah perempuan beribu tahun dahulu, saya, dengan perasaan penuh malu, bertanya kepada rakan sekelas yang lebih ‘berpengetehuan’ tentang perkara-perkara intim apakah maksudnya ‘klimaks’ atau orgasme. Jawab rakan saya dengan penuh yakin: ia adalah apabila pasangan yang asyik bersenggama berteriak-teriak seperti haiwan ternakan bergaduh. Atau mengawan. Usia saya sewaktu itu baru mencecah 13 tahun, seorang anak dara tetapi sudah didedahkan dengan unsur-unsur ‘dewasa’ melalui rakan sebaya. Saya pernah sekali seperti anak-anak remaja yang lain, yang mempunyai sifat ingin tahu.

Dengan kurangnya pendidikan seks, golongan remaja akan terjebak dalam kancah kejahilan tentang tubuh dan naluri mereka dan kurang berasa tanggungjawab atas perbuatan mereka. Pendidikan seks yang baik bukan sahaja mengajar anak-anak tentang bagaimana hubungan seks berlaku, tetapi menyampaikan nilai-nilai seperti rasa tanggungjawab, kehormataan dan keyakinan diri kepada kaum muda. Tanpa mengajar nilai-nilai seperti ini, anak-anak mungkin akan mencuba apa yang telah dipelajari dalam kelas pendidikan seks tanpa rasa tanggungjawab pada diri, keluarga, dan pada pasangan mereka. Namun, saya rasa yakin pendidikan seks yang komprehensif bukannya menggalakkan remaja untuk ‘mencuba’ tetapi akan menjadikan mereka lebih berhati-hati dan prihatin tentang implikasi hubungan seks di bawah dan sebelumnya berkahwin.

Tanpa disedari, sebenarnya pendidikan seks tidak formal sudahpun berlaku di rumah, diajar oleh ibubapa dari usia bermulanya anak mereka boleh bercakap dan memahami bahasa. Ibubapa telahpun mengajar bagaimana menamakan kemaluan anak-anak mereka, bagaimana untuk tidak menyalahgunakannya, bagaimana untuk memeliharanya daripada pandangan orang lain. Pendidikan seks tidak formal sudahpun bermula di sekolah tetapi dikalangan rakan-rakan sebaya. Ada yang dipelajari tentang seks oleh mereka, sama ada melalui orang-orang dewasa, filem-filem lucah, majalah Mastika, dan sebagainya bukan boleh kita, ibubapa, atau guru mengawal.

Pendidikan seks yang formal akan mendidik anak-anak remaja untuk menghormati pasangan mereka, membasmi deraan seksual, dan boleh mengurangkan kes-kes keganasan rogol dan sumbang mahram. Dengan melengkapkan anak-anak dan remaja dengan pengetahuan tentang tubuh badan mereka, tentang defininya cabul dan perkosaan (dengan cara dan bahasa yang sesuai), mereka akan lebih tegar memaklumkan ibubapa mereka jika sesuatu yang tidak diingini berlaku kepada mereka. Antara faktor yang memberanikan perogol dan pencabul anak-anak adalah mangsa-mangsa yang mendiamkan diri, dimalukan, dan tidak boleh bersuara. Pendidikan seks yang formal boleh memberikan ‘suara’ kepada anak-anak untuk melindungi diri mereka dan membawa pesalah seksual ke kebenaran.

Masalahnya di sini adalah ibubapa, guru-guru, pakar isu-isu keagamaan – kesemuanya dewasa – yang kurang selesa, segan, dan malu untuk berkongsi pengetahuan tentang lumrah manusia, kehormatan, dan masa depan anak-anak dan remaja. Yang ganjilnya, kanak-kanak secara lazimnya kurang segan bertanya tentang perkara yang sensitif berbanding anak-anak remaja dan mereka yang sudah mencecah dewasa. Kita tidak boleh mengharapkan pendidikan agama di sekolah atau menunggu di ambang perkahwinan untuk maklumat dan tanggapan tentang seks dan seksualiti yang sihat. Setahu saya, ustazah dan ustaz saya sepanjang persekolahan saya tidak pernah membincangkan tentang kontrasepsi (cara-cara menghindar daripada kehamilan), HIV, keganasan dan gangguan seksual.

Tetapi nampaknya kerajaan kita enggan berganjak ke arah masyarakat yang matang dan mandiri. Berita lama tentang pengharaman buku ‘Where Did I Come From?’ (Dari Mana Saya Datang?) oleh Peter Mayle yang pertama kali diterbit pada tahun 1984 membuktikan sekali lagi keengganan kerajaan kita untuk membaca dan menilai sebuah buku untuk kanak-kanak dengan matang dan saksama. Buku karya Mayle yang berkisarkan sepasang suami isteri yang saling menyayangi, berhubungan intim lantas dikurniakan anak telah dicapkan ‘keterlaluan’ di sebuah negara yang tidak segan bermain politik lucah dan menghalalkan pengedarkan majalah Mastika, Pesona, dan seangkatan dengannya di perkarangan kaki lima.

Buku yang ditujukan untuk bacaan kanak-kanak dan ibubapa dianggap melanggar Seksyen 292 kerana penggambaran lukisan kartoon sepasang suami isteri yang telanjang, bersetubuh, dan memaparkan maklumat tentang penamaan anatomi reproduksi yang betul untuk kanak-kanak. Pengharaman buku Mayle dan tindakan-tindakan drakonian anti-pendidikan oleh kerajaan yang lain tidak jauh bezanya daripada kongkongan seorang ibu atau bapa yang pantang melihat anak mereka berfikir dan membuat pertimbangan sendiri dengan cara yang matang.

Kita tidak boleh menghalang golongan remaja daripada mengenali dan memahami seksualiti mereka, walaubagaimana khuatir kita akan berasa tentang gejala seks di bawah umur dan pembuangan anak. Pendidikan yang baik tidak boleh dipertikaikan, ini termasuk juga pendidikan seks dan tenaga pengajar yang terlatih, sensitif, dan berfikiran terbuka. Pengenalan pendidikan seks ke sekolah-sekolah bukannya agenda liberal, tetapi boleh mempunyai unsur-unsur yang berlandaskan ajaran moral di mana nilai-nilai universal seperti sikap bertanggungjawab dan penyayang, kehormatan diri, melindungi yang lemah, dan pengurusan perasaan dan imej kendiri boleh diterapkan dalam syllabus.

Pentingkah paparan watak-watak LGBT di media?

Disiar di Merdeka Review, tanggal 17 April 2012.

Kelewatan ini melihat desas-desus pengharaman paparan watak LGBT di kaca televisyen telahpun mendatangkan lagi persoalan tentang wajarkah individu-individu LGBT mempunyai tempat di siaran media. Bagi saya, jawabnya ya, tetapi saya juga mempunyai rasa ragu dengan pendirian saya. Pertama sekali, watak lesbian, gay, dan transgender terutamanya di filem-filem dan rancangan televisyen tempatan hampir selalunya stereotaip-stereotaip yang negatif. Sebagai contoh, watak yang dianggap ‘gay’ selalu disamakan dengan lelaki yang ‘lembut’, cerewet, dan slapstik tahap kewanitaannya.

Watak-watak yang difahamkan sebagai ‘lesbian’ pula hanya mempunyai satu jelmaan; wanita yang mempunyai gaya pemakaian dan pertuturan seperti lelaki atau ‘butch’. Watak transgender atau Mak Nyah pula tidak lain dan tidak bukan seorang wanita yang menjual tubuhnya dipersisiran jalan atau penghibur di kelab malam yang terlalu marak make-up dan gaya kewanitaannya. Secara lazim, watak-watak LGBT akan insaf, dikecewakan, atau diseksa dalam drama televisyen dan filem tempatan, contohnya filem Anu Dalam Botol.

Kesemua stereotaip-stereotaip ini memain peranan dalam media; kesemuanya berfungsi sebagai watak satu-dimensi yang digunakan sebagai bahan jenaka atau kontroversi yang tidak bertempat. Menurut peneliti-peneliti media, apa yang dilihat di media merupakan paparan dan gambaran yang dibuat oleh masyarakat majoriti atau kebanyakan untuk tontonan kebanyakan, dan jarang sekali buat sukuan minoriti masyarakat. Pendekatan yang diambil untuk mengharam penggambaran watak-watak LGBT di media untuk mengelakkan masyarakat Malaysia (yang bukan LGBT) daripada menyokong gerakan hak-hak seksualiti dan menzahirkan gender adalah sangat simplistik.

Mengikut pakar-pakar media juga, penonton dan pengguna media adalah lebih celik daripada yang dianggap oleh lembaga penapisan Malaysia; setiap satu pengguna media mempunyai cara menafsir imej-imej dan maklumat media dengan cara tersendiri. Tetapi ini tidak bermaksud setiap individu bebas berfikir di bawah satu kerajaan yang kuat menyensor dan menyempit wacana. Akhirnya, kebebasan menonton, berfikir, dan menafsir media dari pelbagi sudut pandangan individu tertakluk kepada macam-macam faktor, terutamanya yang berupa politik, sosial, dan taraf pendidikan individu.

Habis, mengapakah penting watak-watak LGBT dipaparkan di media tempatan? Pertama, paparan yang ‘realistik’ mengemukakan isu-isu dan pengalaman komuniti LGBT dengan harapan ia boleh ‘memanusiakan’ LGBT. Jika penonton (yang bukan LGBT) dihidangkan dengan stereotaip-stereotaip sahaja, secara tidak langsung ini akan mencorak pendapat khalayak tentang apa yang mereka fahami tentang komuniti minoriti ini. Kedua, seperti mana-mana penonton filem atau drama televisyen, kita suka melihat dan boleh berkongsi perasaan dengan watak-watak yang pada zahirnya lebih kurang seperti kita. Inilah sebabnya drama yang diperankan pelakon utama wanita akan selalunya mempunyai lebih ramai penonton wanita daripada lelaki. Ketiga, personaliti media atau artis LGBT boleh memainkan peranan positif sebagai ‘role model’ seperti Dorce Gamalama kepada yang anak-anak muda dan remaja yang dijadikan sasaran samseng-samseng yang merasa diri mereka lebih alim.

Malaysia mempunyai sejarah menolak keras penyanyi luar negeri daripada mementaskan muzik mereka kerena hala seksualiti mereka yang gay. Pengucapan perkataan ‘gay’ juga pernah dilenyapkan daripada bibir pelakon Sean Penn yang memenangi anugerah Oscar pada tahun 2007 untuk peranannya sebagai ahli politik Amerika gay yang pertama, Harvey Milk. Lagu Lady Gaga, Born This Way (Lahir Sebegini) yang membawa mesej positif tentang toleransi dan penerimaan identiti LGBT pernah di tarik dari siaran radio kerana melanggar “budaya dan tafsiran akidah agama”. Pengharaman yang bersifat anti-LGBT ini tidak dilahirkan daripada sentimen homofobia atau transfobia semata-mata, tetapi menjelma dari wacana awam kita se-Malaysia tentang gender dan seksualiti yang semakin menyempit. Secara lazimnya, lembaga sensor filem Malaysia mempunyai pendirian yang ketat terhadap penyiaran aksi lucah, termasuklah pasangan perempuan-lelaki bercumbuan.

Kerana sempitnya fahaman khalayak dan ahli-ahli yang mewakili majlis sensor film tentang apa maksudnya gender dan seksualiti, dan apa bezanya aksi seks dan identiti yang berdasarkan seksualiti, akronim LGBT disamakan dengan perbuatan seks semata-mata. Malah, LGBT sering dikaitkan dengan cara hidup ‘songsang’, aksi liwat, dan seks bebas. Paparan watak-watak dan personaliti LGBT di saluran media dan di industri filem tanahair seringkali adalah negatif, ini adalah kerana pembikinnya hampir tidak sama sekali gay, lesbian, atau transgender dan kurang memahami pengalaman komuniti yang ingin digambarkan.

Jika pendekatan kita tentang gender dan seksualiti beranjak dari perbuatan seks ke perkara yang difahami dan dialami oleh khalayak seperti percintaan, pernikahan, dan rumahtangga, ia memberi peluang kepada komuniti LGBT untuk bersuara tentang perkara-perkara yang dikongsi bersama masyarakat Malaysia yang bukan LGBT. Ramai yang akan setuju bahawa hubungan seks adalah perkara peribadi, tetapi apakah ramai yang sedar bahawa seksualiti sedikit sebanyak mempunyai implikasi di pentas awam; seksualiti berkait rapat dengan percintaan, dengan siapa kita berpegang tangan di tepi tasik, dengan perkahwinan, dan juga soal-soal rumahtangga.

Seksualiti dizahirkan melalui tarikan kita kepada lelaki atau perempuan, ia membuatkan kita jatuh cinta, dan ia juga sebahagian daripada identiti kita, sama ada kita menggelar diri heteroseksual, biseksual, atau homoseksual. Oleh yang demikian, seksualiti bukan perkara yang tertutup tetapi di’pentas’kan secara terbuka. Di sini saya kaitkan kembali peranan media dalam memaparkan kepelbagaian gender dan orientasi seksualiti dengan menegaskan bahawa media adalah seperti cermin masyarakat. Kerana itu, komuniti LGBT yang membentuk sebahagian daripada rakyat Malaysia dan turut menyumbang kepada pembangunan negara sudah tentu berhak direpresentasikan and bersuara di wahana awam.

Kelompok anti-Hari Kekasih patut hentikan fikiran lucah mereka

Disiarkan di Merdeka Review, tanggal 14 Februari 2012.

Pertembungan pandangan berbeza tentang sambutan Hari Kekasih telah lama wujud dan akan terus kekal sampai bila-bila. Yang membuatkan penulis hairan adalah perkara yang paling ditentang keras oleh PAS, badan keagamaan seperti JAKIM dan yang sewaktu dengannya jarang diutarakan sama sekali. Bahkan perkara itulah yang dilihat menembus jambakan bunga mawar, kotak coklat, dan patung-patung teddy bear; iaitu pasangan yang berciuman dan bersenggama di luar nikah. Mungkin bagi khalayak yang menyambutnya tidak akan melihat dari sudut yang seksual, tetapi yang menentang sambutannya akan melihat yang itu dan hanya itu. Ini mendatangkan satu persoalan bagi kita semua, adakah fikiran mereka yang alim lagi berugama lebih peka dan terobses hanya dengan perkara yang seksual pada saatnya Hari Kekasih atau pada tiap-tiap masa?

Jika diselidik sahaja perkataan “maksiat” itu dan diteliti apa sebenarnya yang diselindungi di sebalik retorik ahli berugama yang berapi-api tentang gejala sosial, kita akan dapati hanya satu pertunjukan kuasa dan imaginasi lucah tentang hidupan belia masa kini. Ya, kita seharusnya khuatir dengan barisan pemimpin agama yang pantas memikirkan yang bukan-bukan dan tidak mempertimbangkan realiti bagaimana pasangan yang bercinta menyambut Hari Kekasih di Malaysia. Bagaimana PAS dan seangkatannya mendefinisikan “sambutan” Hari Kekasih sebelum menyarankan tangkapan pasangan beragama Islam yang menyambutnya? Definisinya sangat penting, kerana pasangan tidak boleh ditangkap tanpa garis panduan agama yang jelas. Adakah sambutan itu dilambangkan dengan pemberian bunga-bunga dan acara makan malam? Adakah PAS dan JAKIM akan melibatkan diri dalam aksi voyeurisme yang asyik-masyuk semasa mengintip pasangan yang berdua-duaan?

Mungkin saya terlalu kritikal melabelkan pemimpin agama, PAS, dan pihak berkuasa sebagai orang-orang yang miang kerana hanya berfikir yang bukan-bukan bila tibanya aura romantika Hari Kekasih. Minggu lepas, imej PAS yang keras anti-Valentine tetiba menunjukkan celah yang lebih lembut. Ketua dewan pemuda PAS, Nasruddin bin Hassan telahpun menetapkan satu garis panduan yang sangat teperinci bagi mereka yang ingin meraikan Hari Kekasih. Tetapi tahap keterperinciannya agak melucukan. Ya, Hari Kekasih itu bukan dalam Taqwim Islam, tetapi Hari Pekerja dan Hari Kebangsaan juga bukan dalam ajaran Islam tetapi kita tetap menyambutnya. Hari Kekasih adalah satu sambutan yang telah lama menjadi satu acara konsumeris yang melibatkan pembelian hadiah-hadiah dan perbelanjaan lumayan (dan bukannya hari peringatan seorang santos Nasrani).

Walaupun asal-usul Hari Kekasih ada hubung kaitnya dengan seorang santos Romawi bernama Valentine, ia mula dirayakan atas dasar percintaan pada zaman pertengahan Eropah di kalangan seniman dan penyajak Inggeris. Ini membuktikan bahawa sambutan Hari Kekasih dari titik permulaannya adalah sekular dan tidak mempunyai unsur-unsur agama Kristian langsung. Jika PAS dan seangkatannya benar-benar berpijak di alam nyata dan pernah merasai cinta (meskipun saya meyakininya 30%), mereka akan sedar bahawa sambutannya hanya satu ritual jiwangan konsumeris yang melampau dan jauh sekali daripada pesta seks bebas.

Saya cukup hairan dengan sesetengah kelompok yang mencurigai erti dan pengalaman percintaan orang lain. Kerajaan negeri Kelantan telah mengumumkan bahawa Hari Kekasih akan digantikan dengan Hari Suami Isteri, lantas menyempitkan erti cinta dan kasih sayang. Alasan utama adalah untuk membendung umat Islam daripada pergaulan bebas sempena Hari Kekasih yang, tanpa bukti kukuh dihubung-kaitkan dengan isu-isu ibu tunggal dan penderaan rumahtangga. Kerajaan negeri Kelantan begitu terobses dengan ikatan pernikahan, sampai menawarkan pembiayaian mas kahwin dan sebagainya sambil cuai daripada sedarnya kadar penceraian dan kejatuhan rumah tangga yang tinggi di Malaysia. Penyelesaiannnya bukan Hari Suami Isteri yang diraikan setahun sekali, tetapi keadaan kewangan, pekerjaan tetap, dan hubungan yang stabil sebelum berkongsi kehidupan bersama.

Tidak pernahkah mereka yang begitu asyik menbanteras Hari Kekasih itu fikirkan bahawa kelahiran anak luar nikah dan kes pembuangan bayi itu bukan hasil daripada pergaulan bebas, tetapi daripada kurangnya pendidikan seks, maklumat tentang pengguguran janin yang halal, dan budaya yang menjatuhkan stigma ke atas ibu yang belum bernikah? Bilangan ibu tunggal bukan gejala sosial tetapi membayangkan realiti bahawa ramai pasangan suami-isteri belum bersedia mendirikan rumah-tangga kerana kurang mengenali satu sama lain, masalah kewangan, dan lain-lain. Pihak yang mengusungkan pemansuhan Hari Kekasih itu tidak pula menyedari masalah yang lebih besar daripada gejala sosial yang kononnya menjerat masyarakat kita mungkin terbit daripada kurangnya rasa cinta dan kasih sayang dalam masyarakat, dan bukan hanya antara suami dan isteri.

Mungkin tindakan UMNO untuk berdiam diri sahaja tentang Hari Kekasih adalah yang paling wajar dan tepat di saat yang genting ini. Kerajaan Malaysia sudahpun dicemuh di mata dunia dengan keputusan menghantar wartawan Saudi Hamza Kashgari kembali ke tanahairnya. Kerajaan Malaysia dan Najib Razak sendiri dikritik tidak berperikemanusiaan dan tidak mempunyai rasa belas kasihan terhadap seorang pemuda yang mungkin akan dihukum mati di Saudi Arabia walaupun telahpun meminta ampun atas kesilapannya.

Boleh dikatakan pihak berkuasa di Malaysia, daripada yang teratas hingga ke kuncu-kuncu bawahannya, sudah lali pada nikmatnya rasa cinta dan kurang upaya untuk menunjukkan kasih sayang sesama tetangga dan keluarga rakyatnya. Soal cinta dan kasih sayang tidak perlu dipolitikkan untuk menunjuk kuasa dan kealiman pihak-pihak tertentu. Biarkan rakyat Malaysia terutamanya umat Islam meraikan percintaan dan kasih sayang dengan cara tersendiri, dan jangan jadikan fikiran lucah satu dalil hipokritikal untuk menyekat kebahagian orang lain.

Advice for Valentine’s Day Lovers: Play Fair (for Loyar Berkasih)

First published for Loyar Burok, on 12th February 2012.

Recently, PAS managed to let their guard down with a statement saying that Muslims can celebrate Valentine’s Day … but strictly according to a moral guideline painstakingly spelled out by the head of PAS Youth, Nasaruddin Ali. A celebration of love, albeit a kitsch and mercilessly consumerist one, is at last okay for Malaysian Muslims.

Now that PAS has somewhat softened its image with this revelation, perhaps we should consider what it is about Valentine’s Day that PAS has been worried about all these years. Apart from the tenuous “Christian origins” argument, it is really sex and moral disorder that Valentine’s Day unleashes which poses as the bee in PAS’s bonnet. It is couples – read: unmarried couples – getting it on after a mating ritual involving uncute teddy bears, chocolates, and roses.

It’s easy to become disoriented by the now PAS-approved haze of romance blanketing across Malaysia next week and forget that even on special occassions, sex and romance are not necessarily played out on equal ground. Not all romantic relationships are equal, and most often than not, they reflect the gender inequalities of our society.

Now, I am supportive of sexual relationships outside of marriage so long as there is consent, the sex is safe, and those directly implicated are happy. But before there is safe sex, consent, and satisfaction, couples would usually engage in a complex ritual of dinner and movie-watching after which straight guys often expect to be “rewarded” for their company and sometimes, for their financially-enumerated generosity.

What’s a girl to do when culturally, we expect our dates to pay for everything? What’s a guy to earn by the end of the evening when they’ve shelled out most of their cash on their dates? I have found myself after several dates being “gently” pressured, rather than subjected to attempted rape, into having sex to “thank” my date. I am not representative of an isolated case, many young Malaysian women are bullied into having sex by their boyfriends. As the female of the species, we’re expected to please our partners by being agreeable, pliable, totally succumbed by male flattery, and easily charmed into bed.

On bigger and more “special” occassions such as Valentine’s Day, we will witness and indeed be treated ourselves to bigger gestures; maybe a marriage proposal, maybe a romantic declaration of one’s love, or maybe a spectacular reignition of long lost passion. But there will always be opportunists who use the occasion to pressure a woman into having sex. Can a girl or woman pressure a guy or indeed another girl into having sex with them? Of course, but since men are socially expected and accepted to be the active agent in sexual relations, men as a result often feel entitled to women’s bodies.

Pressuring, coaxing, and bullying women into having sex is a steep, slippering slope to committing rape. PAS may not have the interest of more vulnerable individuals in unequal relationships at heart when they warn us of its corruptive powers, because they are obsessed with assigning themselves as our moral guardians. That said, however, I hope this post bears little of PAS’s moralistic posturing.

So lest we forget that Valentine’s Day can be used as a tool to abuse one’s social and financial privilege and again sexual access. Too often we see love and romance as perfectly gift-wrapped entities, eliding the less savoury aspects pervading our culture that rewards male bravado and entitlement and demure female passivity. So have a fair and egalitarian Valentine’s Day, everybody; go dutch if possible, make it clear that Valentine’s is not a means to an end (read: sex) unless both parties find each other attractive enough to want to bump nasties.

Sexuality can never be a private affair

“Why can’t these gay rights activists keep their sexuality issues private? No one needs to have their sexual preferences shoved in our (sic) faces or marching down the streets like they do in gay pride marches. Sexuality should be a private matter, like religion.”

Sounds familiar?

It’s what people say when they don’t like to see gay and lesbian couples kissing, holding hands in public, and when some gay men talking about great anal sex is. For the disapproving people in question, it’s “too much information”. For other people with more “delicate” sensibilities, they say things like “Ugh, gross!”, like eating cendol with durian is gross.

So what’s this about keeping our sexual preferences private? Can we actually do that? For most Malaysians, sexuality means, and only means, sexual preferences. It essentially means what a couple does in bed, in the hallway, wherever one fancies. So sexual preferences is about sexual intercourse, and only sexual intercourse.

But sexual preferences begin with sexual attraction; a hypothetical woman being attracted to a hypothetical man. Whatever form of affection between springs from their sexual attraction to each other. Yes, we know lips-to-lips kissing in public is anathema in Malaysia. But straight people hold hands, hug, and cuddle in public all the time and you see in Hallmark greetings card, so it must be PG.

If there were demonstrations of what “flaunting” your sexuality is, it’s holding hands, kissing, cuddling your romantic partner in public. Straight people do it all the time, very few people would complain that they’re shoving their sexuality in other people’s faces.

In fact, there are ways straight people “show off” their sexuality; through marriage, dating, talking about their relationship problems for hours on end to people who are always willing to listen among other things.

And so sexuality becomes more than what happens between the sheets, but extends from beyond the bedroom into public spaces, the workplace, places of worship, schools and campuses, hotels, and the courts of justice. It seeps into our discussions about starting a family, adoption, cohabitation, employment practices, workplace behaviour, locker-room banter, and school bullying.

Straight people take for granted the ease through which they navigate their sexual orientation on a daily basis, forgetting how hard it is, at times how impossible it becomes, for lesbian and gay people to fall in love, and express their love and affection. But no, “concerned” anti-gay rights advocates rarely think about love and romance that do occur between people of the same sex because they’re obsessed about “gay sex”, a straight person’s codename for anal sex. A preoccupation with Sections 377A to D of the (colonial) Penal Code that criminalises sodomy is testament to this obsession.

Indeed, there is huge void in understanding of what sexuality means in Malaysia. There is a confusion between sexuality with sex, as one contributor on Malaysiakini has pointed out. The outrageously offensive episode on the Malay women’s show, Wanita Hari Ini, conflates gender with sexuality.

I’m also of the opinion that the low of levels of understanding is attributed to the deadly mix of prejudiced views about what is “natural” or “normal” and lack of access to more progressive readings of queer politics in Malay (since the majority of queer movement critics in Malaysia are Malays). It’s this same lack of information that narrows their ability to criticise sexual diversity: “If you allow gay people to marry, whatever next? Siblings marrying each other, people can marry animals, paedophiles marrying children”, the list goes on, spiralling downward to the dark abyssmal recesses of no-argument land.

We return to the notion as sexuality as public, and no, unless one hasn’t quite got the concept, is not about having sex in public. Sexuality is part of human nature, but so is asexuality. It is inscribed in our day to day practises, how we wear our clothes, how we organise our relationships with people, and how we organise the “big” moments of our lives – love, marriage, and family.

When you refuse to accept the queer movement’s demands to what we all take for granted as the “basic” elements of what it means to be human in society, then you’re not allowing lesbian and gay people to function fully as humans, and yet you wouldn’t call yourself homophobic.

Being gay in Malaysia: The myths and realities

In a class I was teaching recently about transgender identities in Indonesian films, I explained that Upi Avianto’s 2006 film Realita Cinta dan Rock n Roll broke the mould of many earlier Indonesian films depicting trans* people, as it featured a transwoman character who was a mother (played by action actor Barry Prima), who was affluent and had a non sex-related job, had hobbies (taekwnondo and salsa, among others), and a son who eventually accepts her. Realita Cinta could count as a wholesome ‘family film’ about trans acceptance. I asked my class then if whether a similar film for a PG audience about homosexuality was possible. Nearly every student answered no, saying that the world is ‘not yet ready’ for a PG-rated film about homosexuality.

Something that was perhaps unarticulated by my students was the fact that homosexuality was primarily about same-sex relations. And being about sex, it is very rarely PG-rated, though efforts have been done to make it more preschool-friendly. Whereas transgender people can assume perfectly heteronormative sexual configurations – i.e. a transwoman who identifies as female and a woman and who is straight will seek a heterosexual relationship with a male-identified person. In the heteronormative gender-binary world in which marriage is seen to be only between a woman and a man, the sexual preferences of straight trans* people seem less controversial than two women and two men loving (and indeed marrying) each other. But lest we forget that there are also lesbian and gay trans* people.

Judging by the moral panic surrounding homosexuality, it is male homosexuality that nearly always comes into focus (such is the androcentrism of public discourse in Malaysia) as a the object of public anxiety. More often than not, there will be discussions about the legality, safety, and hygienic unease about anal sex. Because gay sex is assumed to mean anal sex after all.

Never mind the fact that many straight couples have anal sex, and that not all gay men even like anal sex, the topic of homosexuality in Malaysia makes people talk about anal sex. The rather prurient public interest in gay people’s sex lives (and how they have sex) exposes several issues about the homophobic Malaysian public than the reality of gay men in Malaysia itself.

  • their refusal to have an open mind to listen and unguard their prejudices about same-sex relationships.
  • their straight privilege not to care about the discrimination and general difficulties lesbian and gay people face.
  • the dearth of gay-friendly and anti-homophobic Malaysian media.
  • our often infantile and self-censoring attitude towards topics of sexuality.

What of the realities of being gay in Malaysia? Is is as shadowy, counter-cultural, and utterly depraved as the Malay media claim them to be? In the last month, I’ve been in contact with two gay men, one Chinese Malaysian and one Malay, both now based in London, who have kindly shared a slice of their lives with me. I’ve asked them about their thoughts on the public obsession with anal sex when homosexuality is discussed in the media, and the difficulties, homophobia, and the self-imposed closet and denial of the self that they sometimes have to navigate. For Imran Jamil, the Malaysian obsession with anal sex and sodomy was heightened during the sacking of Mahathir’s former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim:

I think the Malay-language media has been reproducing and amplifying Mahathirist discourse on “homosexuality” ever since Anwar was sacked in 1998. Hence the obsession with “liwat”. I have very little memory of “liwat” obsession pre-1998, but then again that might have been because I was unaware of such things as a quiet teenager.

And Mahathir’s discourse did not come out of a vacuum — it was based on colonial stereotypes of “homosexuality” passing off as authentic “Asian values”. But discourse works in funny ways. As a gay man, I was so intimidated by the gay “scene” in KL (and overseas where I went to university) because of what I perceived to be a heightened need for gay men to be extremely sexualised, have multiple partners and yes, to have anal sex. It really made me feel quite afraid when I first stepped onto the “scene”.

It was only much, much later that I realised not all gay men (to my relief) wanted anal sex. I’m not knocking anal sex — it’s a legitimate form of consensual sexual pleasure for any combination of adults in my opinion. But I did feel a sense of inadequacy for not wanting it and making that known in “out” gay circles. Does this make it right that the Malaysian media obsesses about anal sex between men when they think of homoesxuality? In my opinion, no. But in my experience, it also made it hard for me to operate within the gay “scene” in Malaysia.

Also, I found it difficult to find a partner here in KL because I just wanted to go out on dates first. Where there was no expectation of sex on the first meeting. Where you could get to know someone first before deciding if you wanted to have a sexual or romantic relationship with them. Call me old-fashioned, hehe. And that’s exactly what I got eventually in London of all places. A romantic, sexual and monogamous (yes, I am someone who wants that, hehe) relationship that blossomed out of an initial friendship, where we did things like have breakfast, visit art galleries, watch plays, exchange books, take walks down the river etc. But where’s the space for two same-sex desiring people to explore this safely, without constantly looking over their shoulder, in Malaysia?

There were people in the past who were potential partners. But I think I blew it because of my own insecurities and inability to process what I wanted as a gay man. There was this sweet Malay guy who never uttered the word “gay” who wanted to be my partner, but I didn’t understand his advances because they were so culturally embedded. So I ended up not responding and nothing developed. So there were some pleasant near misses, yes, but within a context where, even though I was completely comfortable in my own skin being “gay”, I had no idea how to “express” that gayness in ways that made me feel safe, loved and whole.

One Chinese-Malaysian man, Tim, shares with me the emotional burden he carries with him whilst living in Malaysia, and that more welcoming attitudes were later found in his new home, London:

A gay’s life is miserable in Malaysia.

You can’t tell many of your friends and family about your private life. You have to keep all your emotion to yourself. You can’t freely share who you fancy.
Roughly 10 to 20% of total population is exclusively gay and it is tough to identify who is and who isn’t. Of course if were to include bisexuals, it could be more. (But bisexuals usually do not want to get into a gay relationship.) Unless you’re very open about your sexuality or you go to gay dating sites, it is almost impossible to find a partner. Living alone forever could be your destiny.

Being able to foresee a better future is an important element of keeping oneself happy. Although I’m single but I am always positive that I’ll find someone in this liberal city. But living in Malaysia doesn’t make me happy. I wasn’t positive that I’ll find my Mr Right at all – the outlook was gloomy. This caused me to have depression.

In London, even at my work place, people are not shy to disclose that they are gay. I just told my colleagues I’m gay in recent company Christmas party. Other gay colleagues are also not shy to tell me either.

People said ‘curiosity kills the cat’. I would say ‘curiosity kills the gays’. When you come out to someone, people in London will not ask you ‘since when you realised you’re gay?’, ‘are you sure you’re gay?’, ‘are you top or bottom?’, ‘ how do gays have sex?’.

In Malaysia, people see you as an alien and keep asking you very personal questions that you have to keep repeating. People are ignorant but they don’t read up and don’t do research when Wikipedia is just a click away.

When I told my friends and colleagues that I’m gay, they treat me like a normal person. Some people even offer to help me to find a partner once they know I’m gay.

What Malaysian people, who are disinclined to support same-sex relationships and marriage, will at least need to realise is that being lesbian and gay is more than just about sexual preferences, but about love, the choice to share their lives with a chosen partner who happens to be of the same sex. Unfortunately, for some people, even things like two women or two men holding hands is too much for them. Many couples who welcomed the recognition of same-sex marriages and civil partnerships in the US and the UK respectively were before then in long-term relationships, much longer than some straight couples.

There are several theories about homophobia that suggests that bigotry against the idea and sight of homosexual people is symptomatic of a homophobe’s insecurities about their own sexual identity. For homophobic men, it is mainly the fear of being seen as gay themselves, the irrational horrors of being sexually penetrated (presumably by another man), and the rejection of becoming ‘feminised’ through becoming subjected to that penetration. Homophobia is an irrational thing, overcome only by more knowledge, comfort with one’s own sexuality and gender identity, recognition of straight privilege, and rather simplistically, emphathy for people who different from themselves.