Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Schism of Seksualiti

Seksualiti Merdeka is an annual sexuality rights festival held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia featuring a programme of talks, workshops, theatre and music performances organised by a coalition of Malaysian NGOs, artists and individuals. According to the organisers, the purpose of the festival, which has been organised annually since 2008, is not to change the minds of the public to embrace the values of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ( LGBT ) community, but to consolidate the LGBT community, and empower Malaysians to recognise their rights.

Lofty ideals aside, the week-long festival is basically a time for the minority group to gather, talk and share with the rest of the public.

Of course, any mention of sexuality - especially in regards to alternative sexuality - gets the belligerent religious zealots in our country extremely riled up. Picket signs and pitchforks get waved about as the scholarly exhibition is erroneously labeled as a hedonistic sex orgy. The surprisingly efficient cops come along and the festival is summarily banned.

Case closed, you would say - except this time, the boys in blue seem to have bitten off more than they can chew since the highly vocal organisers of Seksualiti Merdeka aren't giving up all that easily.

With the potentially explosive issue being bantered about daily on the media headlines, there is a growing schism amongst the members of the GLBT community on how to deal with the unprecedented limelight. Even as the furore slowly dies down to become yesterday's news, I think the issue has unearthed an unsettling rift in the community.

Despite our relatively small number, there is a clear separation of ideas amongst people like us: on one side we have the aggressive campaigners who advocate stridently marching for their civil rights while on the other, we have the more complacent gentlefolk who prefer things kept on the down-low without attracting much unwanted attention.

Time for war?

A situation ripe for battle. Akin to the beginnings of a civil war, repeated volleys of taunts and ripostes have already been launched from one group to the other with little chance of a ceasefire in the near future. Especially since it's already clear that the two sides on either sides of the rift have vastly differing opinions when it comes to their sexuality.

Speaking from the position I am in, it would be easy to just keep mum, hunker down and refrain from rocking the boat so to speak. Things are actually going good. Home life is doing fine, even after my recent coming out. Same for the workplace. Homosexuality isn't a dire mental disease to be cured anymore and despite their own reservations, even the most conservative would hesitate to speak against it since it would contravene accepted medical practice. So publicly open homophobia amongst my colleagues is rare.

Being in a more fortunate place in life, isn't it time to help our downtrodden brothers and sisters who are being discriminated against? I think there is a need to have someone literally out there and proud - and yes, shouting our slogans in public as well. Though I don't see the need for twinkly pink parade floats careering down Bukit Bintang anytime soon, I think homosexuals and transgenders need a credible voice out there to make a gentle push for tolerance and change. Perhaps even an identifiable model to show that things actually do get better so that teens struggling with their sexuality would know for sure that a bright future is eminently possible.

And yes, though it would be a long time coming, I would like someday to repeal the damned antiquated 377A penal code. Having that particular Sword of Damocles perpetually hanging over our heads for the rest of our lives is a chilling prospect.

So yes, I am glad there are folks like the ballsy outspoken organisers of Seksualiti Merdeka who are willing to risk the painful brickbats of the conservatives to speak up for the issues close to our heart. People like these are the ones who made Stonewall happen. Though we might not have chosen these champions to represent us, that doesn't make their sacrifices any less worthy of our respect.

There is more than enough hate in the world for people like us, we don't have to add to it.


rotiboy said...

It's a chicken and egg problem for me at least. For one I wish the society can be less harsh on me as a gay person, but on the other hand I hope my identity being gay is not known by others. And I think I'm not the only one. Being in this state makes it hard to even speak up for ourselves or show our support to the event. But it's really great to have someone trying to speak up for us and promote more understanding on us in the society. It will definitely get better but we can't expect things to change fast. The ban is obviously political but in a way, it is also good because we get a certain amount of press and more people start thinking about rights of LGBT.

savante said...

Actually it made me quite happy to see the press it has received. Though GLBT issues attracted the usual screaming conservatives, there's a surprising number of people who have rallied to the cause.