I grew up in Malaysia, a land of amazing food and culture coupled with horrifying, institutionalised, politicised nationwide racism and homophobia.
Last week a particular news item took the country by storm. An 18 year old boy in a boarding school had been hospitalised. He had been bullied for being effeminate. Raped with objects and burnt with cigarettes and clothing irons. By the time the news became widespread, he was in hospital with so many pervasive physical injuries that some newspapers reported that he was brain dead.
A lot of people are very upset. The lgbt group I help to moderate is in mourning. They are also angry. So angry that there has been calls for the bullies to be raped, castrated and executed themselves. The grief is thick in the air and there has been many tears shed over Navheen’s death. Some media articles have said that he wasn’t even gay, he was just a bit effeminate. We the LGBT community don’t care. He could have been gay, he could have been trans – I guess we would never really know now. We count him as one of our own, his death the death of family, and we are angry, and sad.
We have all been there, being different in Malaysia is frowned upon, and however it is that you stand out – if your standing out isn’t in an acceptable way, you will be bullied. I witnessed a cousin who was getting chubby being bullied by family during Chinese new year holidays. I experienced bullying myself in school for being a girl liking Star Wars (apparently only boys are allowed Star Wars). I’ve seen bullying at every level – and yes professionally as well as in education. Racial politics is so pervasive in Malaysian culture, moral policing so rampant – Members of Parliament have been hounded out of their seats for having leaked photos of sleeping in the nude. (Aside : What business is it of anyone whether someone sleeps in the nude or not?!?! Malaysia is a hot country!! And the pictures were taken without permission and published without permission, she was violated, but she was the one who had to quit, and not the people who violated her privacy!! GRRRRR!!!)
There is a lot of talk about punishment, talk about the (bad) influence of lgbt-right-activists. There has been fingers pointing at all directions, but here on my blog I want to point the finger on one thing which few are talking about. Normalised Everyday Discrimination.
Borrowing from this post which was widely shared after the Orlanda shooting last year.
People of Malaysia: You weren’t the bullies, but you sneered at transwomen on the streets. You weren’t the bullies but you think gay people are sinful and need saving. You weren’t the bullies but you were upset at rainbow flags at political marches. You weren’t the bullies, but you use slurs for queer people. You weren’t the bullies, but you would vote against legal protections for queer people. You weren’t the bullies, but you are the culture that built them. You put the slurs in the bullies’ mouth. You put the sticks and stones in bullies’ hands.
Normalised Everyday Discrimination. What is everyday discrimination? It is the posts I see every day of the queer malaysians group I help moderate. Teenagers and/or young adults who get disowned and have to leave home because their parents have disowned them for being queer. Adults with young children who turn their heads away and tell their children not to look when a same sex couple holds hands in front of them. Purportedly queer-friendly adults, with gay friends, who do introduce same-sex couples to their children, but hide the fact that they are a couple, just ‘friends’. People who say “I don’t mind that people are gay, but can you please not shove it in my face”.
To this people I say: Imagine coming home from a two week holiday with your husband/wife, going into the office and everyone asking you how your holiday went. Try describing your fantastic and fun-filled holiday without gendering or naming our partner (which will also gender them). Imagine spending 4 years in the same work place without ever once referring to your husband / wife by their name or gender. Does it sound easy?
When we ask to be accepted, we are not asking to be allowed to have sex in front of you. Merely that we can do things you take for granted. If you can hold hands with your opposite-gender partner in public, we would like that too. If you can kiss your opposite-gender partner in public, we would like that too. If you introduce other friends to your kids as ‘uncle peter and auntie fiona’ and the unspoken implication and acceptance of them as a couple is shown and demonstrated to your kids, we would like that too.
In a country and culture where the politics is divisive and racial, I am aware that this is a big ask. When children are still told at a young age that the “ah neh neh (racist term for indian) will come and take you away if you run around outside”, or that the Chinese are all greedy money-minded pigs, or that the Malays are all lazy and inefficient – when the culture of discrimination of all types is so pervasive and universal, it is easy for queerphobia to be slipped in there too. It is easy to tell kids that all queer people have aids, or all queer people are paedophiles.
But I am asking.
For my brethren in Malaysia.
Stop normalising everyday discrimination.