Interview with a gay Muslim
|Syazwan Zainal is a reluctant law student at The University of Warwick, writer-wannabe, actor-aspirant, professional procrastinator who dreams of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor and Nobel Prize for Literature. He is a fierce idealist and non-conformist and would love to rid the world of football. He also writes for CEKU at www.ceku.org.|
JAN 25 — There is an over-representation of articles and stories on the imminent general election and understandably so. But being the contrarian that I am, I thought I would write something completely different. I decided to write the story of my friend. He is a unique character: one who refuses to be pigeonholed into well-defined categories.
I use the word “refuses” not because he has a choice in the matter. Quite the contrary, he experienced homosexual tendencies at such an early age. It is quite hard to argue whether these tendencies came about due to nature or nurture. But that is beside the point.
A narrative (written by me) from the perspective of my friend whose story, I am sure, is not one that can be read in a typical newspaper in Malaysia although happenstance such as this occurs every day, everywhere. For obvious reasons, I shall not disclose his identity here, but I can assure you that this story is as he told it to me.
So here it is.
I was born into a typical conservative Malay family, in the northern part of Malaysia. If one needed a poster boy for an average Malay kid, I would have been perfect for the job. I went to a Sekolah Kebangsaan in the morning and in the afternoons I went to the Sekolah Agama.
Life was easy back then. All you had to worry about was the time to watch Ultraman, Doraemon, Power Rangers and Dragon Ball (although I secretly loved Sailor Moon as well). One did not have to worry about responsibility and assignments.
Recess time was well spent where us boys would play with Tamiya miniature cars after constant pleading and horrible tantrums directed at my parents to buy the toys. Afternoons were spent playing with my cousins.
Even as a young boy, I gravitated towards Islam. As a child, it was more out of fear than anything else. As a little boy, nothing frightened me more than the death of my parents. Consequently I turned to God in hopes that He would take care of my family. As a boy, religion was my solace. And it still is, Alhamdulillah. Now I have started to appreciate the complexity and the beauty and peace that my faith has offered me.
I knew I was different. I didn’t realise anything until friends pointed it out. I don’t know about anyone else, but memories of childhood remain fresh and clear when they involve pain. And kids can be quite cruel.
Friends sometimes would call me names. Needless to say it hurt. “Pondan” was a recurring insult, at least whilst I was in my primary school. Even at a young age, I taught myself to ignore those insults. I became almost immune to them. Counting my blessings, I am still very thankful that at least I was never physically bullied.
Even after racking my brain, I cannot for the life of me point to a moment in the time-space continuum where I realised that I was gay. But I did remember vaguely, whilst watching “X-Men” on a local television channel during weekends, I felt an attraction towards Wolverine.
It was undeniable, even though he was a cartoon character. As silly as it sounds, my first crush was on Wolverine. I developed more realistic crushes on other boys as I grew older but I obviously kept quiet. I did not want to alarm anybody. Maybe it was just a phase in my childhood years, I reasoned.
Unfortunately, it was not a phase.
Ramblings of a gay Muslim
I am a gay Muslim. There, I’ve said it. And even though many would say that it is an oxymoron of a statement, I beg to differ. To be perfectly honest with you, even to this day, I still find it hard to say it out loud. The world (my family and most of my friends) is still unaware of my predicament. Only a handful of individuals, my close friends, know. So I guess you could say I am a closeted gay.
I concede it is hard to reconcile my faith with my sexuality. I am aware that being a homosexual is one of the mortal sins in Islam, but I have never engaged in sexual intercourse with other men. For that I am thankful to God for He has protected me.
When I say that I am gay, it is merely an expression of my sexual tendencies, not of my way of life. However, it annoys me so much that those who like to criticise gays, or speak on our behalf, don't even go through the challenges that I have to live through on a day-to-day basis.
It just seems distasteful, for example, for me to criticise or bash gays in front of my friends or to watch a video or read an article that generalises the issue of homosexuality. It seems wrong to me to speak ill of a group of which I am secretly, albeit reluctantly a member.
Suggestions and criticisms
Can we not find a compromise? No, I am not advocating for the legalisation of homosexual relationships because I personally disagree with that. From a culture of hate and insult so ingrained into our psyche, can we not revert to a culture of love and understanding?
From politically bashing, socially isolating and verbally abusing gays or other social deviants (Mat Rempits, drug addicts etc), can we not reach out our hands and help? Can we not offer a friendship so that we may understand?
When I am in Malaysia, I go to the mosque quite often. Once or twice, there will be preachers or ustaz speaking about current issues in the national psyche. It hurts me when they spell gloom and doom to the gays, making sweeping remarks, failing to grasp the nuances of the issue at hand. I am very much concerned about this because what they say will affect local opinion.
My heart palpitates when I listen to the things that our leaders say about the issue. To an extent, it is understandable that certain newspapers and some politicians like to use scaremongering because after all, they are politicians. What they do is determined by public opinion.
I suppose then it is unbecoming to call them leaders. Instead of leading the public, they would rather follow public opinion. But disappointed, I still am.
Tak kenal maka tak cinta
That is part of the reason why I wanted to tell my story. I realised after careful thought and much pondering, that the reason why there is hatred is because many have never encountered a story from our side of the divide.
“Tak kenal maka tak cinta.” Gays are not necessarily sexual perverts who go out at night to find their partners and have sex in the streets. Not all gays are flamboyant men. Not all flamboyant men are gays. Not all gays are religious deviants who immerse themselves in Western culture only to drown in it.
I am not out to convert people into homosexuality. In fact, I would not want people to experience what I am going through.
Harbouring a secret as big as this can be overwhelming sometimes. In fact, the only thing that stops me from committing suicide is my faith. There are times when I would fall in love with my friends who are men. But there are more chains on me and more muzzles stifling my speech than the boy next door — hence my ability to even be in a relationship is next to none.
I cannot imagine the social awkwardness that I have to navigate through when the social pressure for me to get married comes. The majority of you readers will be able to get married and have a family. The path to my fairy tale ending is a bit more complicated than that.
But enough with being sorry for myself.
On Rosa Parks and Mohammad Bouazizi
I am still a Muslim. I believe wholeheartedly in Islam as the only true religion although I would consider myself to be tolerant and respectful of other’s religious and philosophical affiliations. This is my faith and it is very important to me.
I cannot explain why I have these tendencies but I do have them. Notwithstanding the countless explanations for homosexuality, my attraction towards those of the same gender as I, is indeed a fact.
I just hope that from this article, people would be more understanding towards us gays. Before your mouth utters words of insult and hatred, bear in mind that we are not the caricatures that ignorant people seem to think that we are.
When certain portions of society want to organise a discourse whereby one can talk openly and intellectually about the issue with the intent to find solutions, such an opportunity must be grabbed. My naiveté is not so deep that I think this article can inspire a paradigm shift for Malaysians in the millions but one small action can make a difference. Ask Mohammad Bouazizi and Rosa Parks, inter alia.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.