LGBT Malaysia: Interviews With Malaysians Of The LGBT Community

This article is part of our ‘Taboo Series’ whereby we write articles on topics that Malaysians would find very ‘taboo’.

LGBT Malaysia

LGBT Malaysia

A Normal Feeling Deemed Wrong

Have you ever gotten butterflies in your stomach when being around someone? Your face burned red just at the sight of them? Usually, you’ll be a contender for the world’s best public speaker but your tongue in knots the moment they ask you a simple question like “Did you take down our lecturer’s notes just now?” (The answer is no but for you, I will take down ALL the notes, my sweet oblivious beautiful buffoon!)

Yep, it’s called having a crush/catching feelings, a burden no one wants but everyone gets to experience anyway, at least once in their lives (or three thousand times if you’re an external validation seeking whore like me). 

Of course, the best remedy to a crush is to either: a) Join a nunnery or the priesthood or b) Develop that infatuation into a real committed relationship just to realize he’s using you for note-taking (Eh it happens. Not saying it happened to me. But screw you, Liam. I still want my notes (and heart) back).

But what if having a crush on someone was seen as morally wrong by your family, your peers, your fellow countrymen? And what if that crush developed into something more like a romantic relationship but it was deemed illegal by the government? 

What if something so human, so natural could land you in jail? Or in the September 2018 case of two women from Terengganu, sentencing to a PUBLIC caning by the Sharia Court?

(The reason? They were caught engaging in sexual acts in a car.)

Right. Like who hasn’t been a young & hormonal teen (or even an adult!) infatuated in lust with their significant other in a car and one thing leads to another… (Come on, it’s normal. Don’t act like you’ve never been in that situation before.)

There’s one thing to summon a couple for public indecency (protect the children, they say) but to subject these ADULT women to a caning? IN PUBLIC? 

Welcome to the life of being a homosexual in Malaysia, where being yourself demands for utmost punnishment, your dignity & rights never accounted for. Because in this country, to even dare to have feelings for the same sex, you’re no longer human in the eyes of the government.

Being Transgender Warrants Injustice

And that’s not it either, what about the other letters of LGBT? A case early this year (New Year’s, in fact) reported the death of a transgender woman, a sex worker. This is relevant to mention because, in Malaysia, formal employment is nearly impossible for the majority of the transgender community (unless kept secret) so many of them resort to sex work which doesn’t help with the stigma.

In the case report, it states the victim died falling from a moving vehicle. The driver, presumably her client was apprehended but his excuse seemed a little flimsy. Supposedly she jumped out the car after stealing his mobile phone. Other transgender sex workers in Klang are also not convinced. They think she might have been murdered. 

If you visit the provided link above, you’ll probably realize how small the amount of reported murder cases of transgender women in Malaysia is. That should be good news, right? But the keyword is reported. Due to the stigmatized perception of trans people in Malaysia, many of their deaths & murders go unreported in an unjust cause of “Good riddance to them”. 

Many transgender women experience abusive treatments in the hands of authority figures (state religious officers & police officers). One transgender woman, Victoria from Negeri Sembilan recounts how she was stripped and then sexually assaulted during a 2011 arrest by religious officers. 

This is the grim reality faced by the LGBT community in Malaysia. With no laws or regulations protecting their rights, it’s scary being out (of the closet) & openly LGBT in this country. 

I could go on about the injustice & inhumane treatment these individuals face but what better way to open up people’s minds than to interview them of their experiences, their lives & their stories?

So in time, you’ll see that they’re humans, just like us.

To be young, gay (also bisexual) and in love!

An Exclusive Interview with a Same-Sex Couple

Being in a relationship is hard and it gets even harder when laws banning it & societal disapproval are thrown in the mix. However, this couple has managed to beat all odds by reaching their 3rd anniversary & are still going strong.

LGBT Malaysia

Offering a glimpse of their lives & their relationship, Belle (who’s an out of the closet lesbian) & Zura (bisexual) gracefully took time out of their day to answer my (rather intruding) questions. 

1.   Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

Belle: I’m a 21 year old Graphic Design student living in Kuala Lumpur. I’m a Sino-Kadazan, born and raised in Kuantan, Pahang.

Zura: I’m 22 and majored in English Language and Communication. Currently I’m pursuing an internship at a magazine publishing house. Growing up biracial, I struggled heavily with self-identity and being force fed religious values that conflicted with my moral compass. 

2.  When did you realize you had feelings for the same gender? 

Belle: I think I knew as early as 7 years old because I would have small crushes on my older sister’s friends. I was 9 years old when I liked the first girl who was the same age as me.

Zura: I first came to terms with my bisexuality at 18 or 19 when my current GF and I made out on a drunken night. But I’d been fond of girls since the age of 12, at the time shrugging it off as erratic hormones that came with puberty. 

3. What happened upon that realization? How did you deal with it?

Belle: I didn’t realise that it wasn’t the norm because I was really young. I just kinda went with it until I grew older and found out that it was taboo. That was when I really struggled to be myself. In secondary school, I forced myself to date boys. I was physically attracted to them to a certain extent but never emotionally.

Zura: Initially, I just stressed over how I’d explain all this to my mom. I was also afraid that my feelings were invalid and merely stemmed from confusion. After realizing that sexual orientation exists on a spectrum, I never felt more free and unapologetically myself. I dealt with it by trusting my gut and slowly accepting whatever emotions that would wash over me. 

4.  Have you officially come out (to family, friends or social media)? If yes, how was that?

Belle: Yes, I’m officially out of the closet. I’m lucky enough that it went well, even with my parents.

Zura: I’ve never formally ‘come out’ to anyone, as I opine that my sexuality isn’t something I owe others an explanation for. With my mom, I frantically told her I had strong feelings for a girl with tears streaming down my cheeks to which she responded with silence. She still holds onto a shred of hope that I may marry a man one day. Ironic given that I am a child of divorce lol.

5. How has the reaction of you being gay been like? Example: when meeting new people.

Belle: Pretty good actually. So far, everyone’s been really accepting. Everyone who matters, that is. I would never reveal it to anyone who I think would not handle it well. For example, my relatives or random adults.

Zura: Usually it’s disbelief or shock. Maybe because I wear tons of makeup and dress more feminine, people typically don’t associate my physical appearance with being bisexual. But it’s not my fault their mindset is based off of stereotypes.

6. So, how did you two meet? 

Belle: I met my girlfriend through a friend of mine. We all go to the same university. I was in the early stages of dating someone else at the time so we became friends first until I noticed that I was developing strong feelings for her. So I ended things with the other girl.

Zura: A mutual friend of ours introduced us. We started off as friends because we were seeing other people at the time.

7. If you’ve been in a heterosexual relationship before, how did that differ with your relationship now? 

Belle: As I’ve mentioned, the obvious difference is definitely an emotional connection. I only officially dated one boy before and while he was super nice, I just couldn’t see myself being with him for a long time. Even with the other boys that I would flirt with, no butterflies in my stomach, absolutely nothing. But just looking at a girl would make me nervous. The relationship I have now is something I’ve always wanted. To be loved as much as I love her, it’s a feeling that I never thought I would experience. We always support and understand each other the best that we can.

Zura: My previous relationship was with a guy, the attraction was quick and intense, things moved quickly and by the third date we were ‘dating’. The connection ended as abruptly as it started, and I felt like I had to constantly ensure that he was still attracted to me. He also made it a point to periodically remind me of my less than satisfactory body size, so there’s that. 

With this current relationship, I’d describe it as a nice beef stew. A flavoursome blend of well-marbled emotions and comfort that slowly simmered over medium heat, the warm bowl of assurance I never knew I needed for a cozy evening. We’re also mutually supportive of each other’s creative endeavours.  

8. What’s it like being gay in Malaysia? 

Belle: I think it’s easier for girls to openly date in Malaysia. I can still hold hands with my girlfriend in public but when guys do it, they would most likely get harassed by someone. There are cases of them getting beaten up or even murdered which is horrible and sad.

Zura: We don’t particularly shield our relationship from the public eye, we hold hands and kiss each other on the cheek in public, nothing a heterosexual couple wouldn’t do. So far we haven’t encountered any negative reactions but I think it’s because our society is less threatened by lesbian relationships as opposed to two men engaging in PDA.  

9. Do you believe Malaysia will see a change in our perception on same-sex relationships? 

Belle: Honestly, it’s really hard to imagine that there will be change. It would be a miracle.

Zura: Not in the near future. However, as individuals, we possess the ability to shift our frame of mind and accommodate to the ever-evolving landscape that is heavily influenced by Western media and culture, which includes the acceptance of same sex relationships.

10. What would you say to any Malaysian out there who doesn’t support same sex relationships? 

Belle: Try to keep an open mind. Sexuality doesn’t define a person. We don’t need same sex marriage to be legalised or anything like that because obviously that’s a huge leap. At the very least, we just want to be treated decently because we’re still human beings. We deserve basic rights like jobs and safety.

Zura: That they don’t have to be in one. 

11. What advice would you give to any Malaysian couples of the same sex?  

Belle: Be happy. We all deserve happiness. Forget the people who don’t accept you and never pretend to be someone else. Be unapologetically you. As cliché as it sounds, this is our life to live to the fullest.

Zura: Embrace those genuine feelings of euphoria that you get from being with someone you truly connect with. Don’t hide yourself for the convenience of others.

“That’s so gay”, and what about it?

An Exclusive Interview with Paul, a G representing the G in LGBT

Interestingly enough, during the previous interview, both Belle & Zura expressed how it’s easier for them to show physical affection in public compared to their male counterparts. It aligns with Malaysia’s (or generally the whole of Asia) toxic view of masculinity. 

In my experience, lesbians get a pass thanks to porn culture fetishization (another issue worthy of discussion) and the amount of times I’ve tried discussing LGBT rights with some of my male friends and receive the exact reaction: “Girl on girl is okay, kinda hot too. But ew, two guys together? That’s so… gay. (Way to unintentionally hit the nail on the head though, typical guy dude!) 

LGBT Malaysia

So many Malaysians view gay men as the epitome of effeminate or lesser than a man. We can see it in the slang (or slurs at this point) used such as “sotong” or “pondan” when chanced upon any male who’s just a teeny bit more feminine than what we stereotype as a man. And then it gets worse, they automatically get labeled as “gay” when… it could… just… be their personality…and nothing to do with their sexuality. 

Anyway, who said all gay men are just into” girly” things? Sure, some of them are but just like you & me both, they enjoy a wide variety of interests which consist of both “manly” & “girly” things. 

And here to prove that right is Paul*, a closeted gay man working & living in KL who doesn’t only enjoy beauty & fashion but is active in gym activities such as BodyCombat, BodyJam & weight lifting. So much for stereotypes, huh?

LGBT Malaysia

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

1. Tell us about who you are and your background.

 I am 30+ year old Chinese male who likes men. I was raised in Johor Bahru in a fairly normal household with 2 siblings and working parents.  I currently work and live alone in KL while in a committed relationship with my boyfriend.

I like good food, enjoy coffee, love the sun & movies, adore fashion & beauty and enjoy travelling and trying new things in life. I also enjoy a good sweat on the badminton court, on the lake paddling or in the gym doing BodyCombat, BodyJam or just weight lifting.

2. When did you realize you had feelings for the same gender?

I remember liking girls when I was 12 years old and even during my formative teenage years. However, I noticed that somehow I had feelings for guys in my school too. Guys that I would look forward to seeing. Guys who made my heartbeat skip and which would always linger in my thoughts.

As puberty hit during the teenage years, those feelings grew stronger but I didn’t really understand what being gay was. It was something weird, unspoken and uncommon amongst my friends and family. There were guys in class who were very effeminate and there were the typical boys. I felt like I was stuck in the middle. I was not effeminate, but I was sensitive; I liked the outdoors & sports yet I also noticed a growing interest in fashion and beauty. I noticed that I enjoyed Mister Universe more than Miss Universe.

With the internet, blogs, ICQ & MSN and US TV shows like America’s Next Top Model, Queer as Folk, I slowly came to terms that I was indeed interested in guys and was perhaps bisexual. These feelings grew more evident and clearer as I stepped into university life away from home and living alone, meeting new friends and being more assured of who I am.

I got my first boyfriend and sexual experience when I was 18 years old and from then on, everything felt right. 

3. What happened upon that realization? How did you deal with it?

 It felt weird. It wasn’t something that I could openly talk to anyone at that age be it siblings, family, or classmates. It was something that was very personal and I was able to deal with these feelings only through the internet. 

At that point in time, I had a lot of questions. Why, how, what etc. Through blogs and internet messaging, I started to learn more about this environment, this lifestyle and this path of life.

As I grew up and lived alone away from my family. I learnt to be true to myself and discover more about this circle and myself along the way.

4. Have you officially come out (to family, friends or social media)? If yes, how was that?

I’m out to my siblings (brother and sister) who already ‘knew” when I was in my early 20s. They said they already guessed since both elder siblings had their own friends or friends of friends who were gay so they could see some “signs”. I’m blessed to have them be accepting of who I am and they have been generally supportive of me.

I’ve also come out to colleagues in the past whom I trust and felt comfortable with as well as those who (through getting to know each other), I felt would be ok with me being gay.

Unfortunately, the only person that I care about but have not come out to is my mum. It has been a constant struggle to come out and let her know the real me vs to keep her impression of me as a son who is normal. I guess the greatest fear is to face her disappointment, her tears, her broken heart or worse if she ever blamed herself for me turning out like this.

5. If not, would you ever openly come out one day?

I would love to if one day, anyone I met asked me about my relationship status and for me to say “yes, I’m attached with my partner.”

6. If you are or have been in a relationship with another man before, how is/was the relationship like? (Example: maybe reactions from others, having to be discreet when out & about)

I think a gay relationship, in essence, is generally the same as any relationship. It’s a combination of attraction, communication, trust, lust, affection, being connected with each other, spending time and growing with each other and of course enjoying what life has to offer.

But there are still a lot of challenges we face as a community. Simple acts of affections are not commonly practised in public ie holding hands, a peck on the cheek when saying goodbye, hugging as we stand on the escalator or even just introducing /bringing your partner to gatherings is seen as “normal” without inviting a 101 Questions and stares from people.

With family reunions coming like Christmas and Chinese New Year or Hari Raya to be able to bring your partner home to visit your family openly is a blessing that not everyone has the advantage to enjoy.

The only solace is that as I grew older and have a closer circle of friends especially fellow gays, there is an outlet to be ourselves. To do what every straight couple is doing and to experience the joy that comes with it.

7. If you’ve been in a heterosexual relationship before, how did that differ with your relationship now?

 Nope. Didn’t get a chance to compare.

8. What’s it like being gay in Malaysia?

There are pros and cons.

Pros: there is definitely an improvement in the scene, places to hang out, communities, lifestyle choices, careers, social acceptance and healthcare. Being gay seems to be more common nowadays and it’s seen as less odd. From a social media presence, I personally think within the younger generation, there is definitely more acceptance for gay people. 

Cons: though there is progress, legally and total societal acceptance, we are still behind other countries. Same sex marriage seems light years away especially since Malaysia is an Islamic Country and men who have sex with other men is still a criminal offence. 

With the growing exposure of gays, is also the dangerous side of promiscuity, chem sex (sec under the influence) and unsafe sex (shameless plug insert: read our previous article on safe sex) which leads to STDs and destructions of lives of some. These side of the community does not help in the stereotyping of Gays being HIV/AIDS carriers, in fact further reaffirms some public perceptions of us.

9. Do you believe Malaysia will see a change in our perception on same sex relationships?

Yes. I think perceptions are changing every day. Through every Malaysian’s interaction/exposure or contact with a gay person, new perceptions are being created; be it positively and negatively. 

I’ve had the pleasure to be some friends’ “first gay person” in their lives and to shed light and answer questions that they’ve always had about gays and luckily they are still my friends and have gained a better understanding of us (I hope!) Mainstream media has definitely helped to create more positive exposure on the LGBT and how a part of the society we are just like anyone else.

I sincerely hope that one day, we can be seen as any other Malaysians and not with a side eye or double standard. Simply, Love is Love. We just wish to have the same chance to love just like you. Itu je! 

10. What would you say to any Malaysian out there who doesn’t support same sex relationships?

We are actually same-same but different.

Being attracted to men is as natural to me as you’re attracted to the opposite sex. It’s something that comes naturally and nor forced. If I can’t force you to like your same sex, you can actually imagine how hard it would be to force me to like the opposite sex.

Yes, our ways may be sometimes different from what you’re accustomed to, but this applies to a lot of things in life with almost every other person. No two people would be identical in all aspects in life and there are bound to be differences in POV, lifestyle or personal choices or things there are born with.

I think being more open minded and respectful are key traits for us Malaysians to have to have a better tomorrow.

We are all children of our parents and it’s not our choice to be in this journey. We deserve a chance of love, happiness, family and acceptance alike any Malaysians.

Tak kenal, maka tak cinta. Sekali tau, hari hari mau!

11. What advice would you give to any Malaysian who’s gay & who might be struggling with their identity/sexuality in this close-minded country.

Firstly, welcome to this rainbow club! Second, you’re not alone. There are hundreds if not thousands of brothers and sisters just like you who know what you’ve been through and are experiencing. It will get better over time as you learn more about yourself and be more comfortable in your own skin. The world out there is truly amazing and they are infinite happiness waiting for you to experience. There are still some bad blood peeps out there but you can’t have any Ying without some Yang alright? The nasty and close-minded ones are your lessons to grow and learn to be a better you!

Have faith, be strong, be safe, practice safe sex and look forward to a better future. There are plenty of us rainbow unicorns around that would accept you for who you are! Go forth and unleash yourself into the unknownnnnnnnnnnnnn… ~que Elsa from Frozen II~

At the end of the day,…

LGBT Malaysia

Unfortunately, Woke was unable to interview any Malaysian transgender people. this really bummed us out because we hoped to illustrate every alphabet of LGBT to show readers & cynics alike a fair representation. 

Nevertheless, we hope the 3 interviews we conducted with these amazing individuals left you with a changed mind & heart.

Because at the end of the day, discriminating against a person or a group based on sexuality, gender, race or religion is a losing game. We lose prospect in knowing that human under all these unnecessary labels.

And if you’re for more LGBT friendly resources, visit Queer Lapis, a lifestyle website by LGBTIQ+ Malaysians for LGBTIQ+ Malaysians. 

This article is a part of Woke’s Taboo series where we discuss & examine the many taboo subjects & topics of Malaysia. You can check out a previous one about seeking mental health help in Malaysia and also one about Malaysia’s sex education

Katricia Lum
Katricia Lum
Will write for iced blacks and Panadols. Also if I'm not hunched over my laptop trying to meet deadlines, I'm most definitely sleeping.

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