DEC 23 — It’s been about a week since the Malaysian public at large (and the Malay Muslim public in particular) came to grips with Azwan Ismail’s “I’m gay, I’m okay” It Gets Better In Malaysia ”coming out” video clip.
Predictably, the conservative camp’s reaction has ranged from unadulterated hate to a sort of schadenfreude-pity combo — the latter a rather peculiar feature of the Malay-Muslim psyche around these parts, it must be said (oh you know the type: “I’m heaven-bound sorry it sucks to be you.”)
At the very least from a purely anthropological perspective it’ll give important insight into what goes on inside the heads of our fellow Malaysians. Due warning: some of it isn’t pretty, folks.
But if you’re not inclined, let me summarise. On the negative side, you’ll come across no-holds-barred worldly threats of violence and after-worldly (but still violence-tinged) calls for repentance. But on the plus side you’ll see some people genuinely surprised and reeling from the overt and extreme calls for violence on Azwan by their religion-of-peace co-religionists.
There’s plenty of beseeching (“think about your family”), reprimands related to the “betrayal of race and religion,” and not to mention the odd but selfishly earnest accusation of “why do you want to cause another tsunami?”
To me at least, a few things were evident from the spectrum of reactions (comedic meteorological ignorance notwithstanding):
One, is that our Azwan is one incredibly brave dude. He would (surely, I tell myself) have known what was coming after his clip went public. There was no way our Malay-Muslim demographic was ever going to take it like the Care Bears. At least now that his story – including the threats on his life – has gone global media, the eyes of the world would be on Malaysia if anything untoward happens to him.
Two, is that however noble the intentions of the videos (there are others in the series and more in the pipeline), Azwan’s particular clip has rightly or wrongly been perceived as crossing over into LGBT activism territory directed upon the Malay Muslim masses (his was the only one in Bahasa Malaysia from the first batch).
I suspect it is this “activism” aspect of Azwan’s message that is the equivalent of a stink bomb, or a “hey wait a minute, who switched on the lights” moment for even the middle-of-the-road modern Malay Muslim Malaysian (oh you know: the type that parties, sleeps around and drinks but doesn’t eat pork).
To them, what Azwan did is simply *not done* — a simpang malaikat 44 kes.
While the fact remains that Malaysians in general, including the majority of Malay Muslims are “tolerant” (note: I don’t like that word) and have always been tolerant of alternative lifestylers in a don’t-ask-don’t-tell manner for as long as I can remember; what the Azwan clip has done is shine a spotlight on what is coming next: the Malay Muslim-suffragette equivalent of “yes, we are here and we’re not going anywhere and it’s now time for society to change and accept us for all that we are.”
And we don’t need to be reminded that change has historically been driven by a small group of dedicated and passionate people who drag the masses kicking and screaming into “a new order” – as women’s liberation and the abolition of slavery readily attest. The LGBT Malaysia “struggle”, as it were, is well and truly on.
This Azwan episode, I suspect, is also the very first time the Malay Muslim conservative camp as well as those “in the middle” have truly taken notice and realised that the LGBT movement in Malaysia is a substantial one — well-organised and results-oriented. And one that really means business.
And more importantly, it evidently now has a selection of spokespersons that can cut a wide swath across Malaysian society, including those that directly confront the “fragile” Malay Muslim worldview.
Which finally brings me to the point of my commentary: which by the way isn’t about LGBT rights, nor is it about religiously-motivated intolerance in Malaysia.
Instead, I hope to share a piece of my mind with regards to the larger implications to both camps. One that I feel is quite important in the Malay Muslim context especially.
It should be obvious that “coming out” isn’t merely a personal choice that the rest of society “has to accept or respect.” Every person that “comes out” carries with him or her a pretty big stick that beats upon the certainty and firmament of the carefully conditioned worldviews out there, much of it based on religion and culture.
Even from a scientific basis, homophobia, as with everything biological is evolutionarily driven – has to do with a “betrayal” of the species, the risked propagation of the (tribal) group, and the gag reflex (don’t laugh, look it up). But never mind all that, lest you underestimate what I am talking about let me put it simply.
We all know that any change or a call for change makes people nervous and afraid; and those who can’t grapple with it resort to hate (not to mention refuse to hear the other side, and much less reason with them).
So I would argue that every LGBT person that “comes out” here directly takes a poke at the Malay-Muslim worldview … indeed, the entire Abrahamic faith worldview. Let’s not kid ourselves – the God of the Quran and the Bible are quite crystal clear on the matter. No metaphor versus literal interpretation of chapter and verse need be argued and wasted on this.
“Coming out” therefore, forces other people to question. And people hate to question things that they have ready “answers” for. What of the creator’s “perfect creation,” what happens to that when confronted with “nature, red in tooth and claw” and the various biological examples of “imperfections” and homosexuality in the animal kingdom (yes, we can look that up)?
For adherents, no matter how casual they may be in real life, it’s the equivalent of a seismic upheaval.
So if any faction wishes to shift that worldview, expect harsh forces against the enterprise and don’t be shocked at the level of hate, intolerance and righteousness flying about – after 2,000 years this is backs to the wall stuff in the 21st century, folks.
And to my LGBT brethren (I’m okay, by the way) why not go the extra mile, the whole enchilada? Come on … if one can be honest about one’s sexual orientations, one can certainly be honest about one’s theological convictions too. For the LGBT Malay Muslims especially, that ought to go hand in hand.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.