In a state of denial

LET me get this straight. Malaysia doesn’t have gays. That’s what our Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said in March.

When asked by a German broadcaster at a Berlin travel fair as to whether Malaysia welcomed gays, the YB replied, "I don't think we have anything like that in our country".

But now in June, we have a sex scandal of epic proportions allegedly involving – gasp – two men, one a Cabinet minister and the other an aide to a deputy minister.

If we have no gays in Malaysia, then how is it possible to have such a scandal about two men in a same-sex romp?

Even if it is a wicked political plot made up against the minister, why would the people behind it think of cooking something like this if there is no one engaging in gay sex in this fair land of ours?

The Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry quickly issued a statement to try to explain away its minister’s gaffe: the YB meant there was no tourism campaign focused on the LGBTQ community in Malaysia. We welcome tourists regardless of their sexual orientation, religion and cultural beliefs.

And the embarrassing episode faded away. But that clumsy damage control effort wasn’t why Mohamaddin survived that bout of foot-in-the-mouth disease.

The honest truth is the media got cold on the issue. And the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, after expressing outrage, didn’t have the clout to pursue it.

After all, Malaysia is officially anti-LGBTQ. There is absolutely no two ways about it.

Oral and anal sex is not only a crime under syariah, but in our penal code as well. It is regarded as peccatum contra naturam (crime against nature) and upon conviction, the offender can be jailed for up to 20 years and caned.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has time and time again made it crystal clear that Malaysia cannot accept same-sex marriage or LGBTQ rights:

“In Malaysia there are some things we cannot accept, even though it is seen as human rights in Western countries. We cannot accept LGBT, marriage between men and men, women and women.”

Deputy Prime Minister Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has been equally firm on the stand that LGBT community can exist in Malaysia only if they remain closeted.

Which means queers must hide so that we can pretend they don’t exist. There is a term for such wishful thinking, it’s called denialism or the denial of reality.

I think Malaysia is experiencing a very bad case of it when it comes to LGBTQs, or at least our government is. Mohamaddin’s no gays remark may very well be a Freudian slip.

Dr Saul Levine explains in a Psychology Today article that in psychoanalytic theory, denial is a psychological defence people use to reduce their anxiety over something that they find particularly disturbing.

He says there is a peculiar type of denial nowadays affecting “seemingly intelligent and sane adults (who) vehemently deny truths despite a body of irrefutable data” because “they get in the way of their own rigid ideas”.

He cites examples of such beliefs and ideas. These include denying that global warming is man-made; that the availability of guns has nothing to do with the uniquely American epidemic of shootings; that vaccines are dangerous and cause autism and other disorders; that marriage is sacrosanct only between a man and a woman and that LGBTQ people are either sick or bad.

According to sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris, author of Denial: The Unspeakable Truth, denial and denialism are a subset of the many ways humans have developed to use language to deceive others and themselves.

He says denial can be a “necessary private self-deception” but it becomes harmful when it becomes public dogma or what he calls denialism.

There are many kinds of denialists and Kahn-Harris argues that they all have one common desire: for something not to be true, which is the driver of denialism.

“Denialism … represents the transformation of the everyday practice of denial into a whole new way of seeing the world and – most important – a collective accomplishment,” he adds.

This seems to apply to our denial of the existence of many uncomfortable or disturbing truths like LGBTQs in Malaysia. Because the majority of the population has been raised to believe such people are “unnatural”, the work of the devil and their behaviour is forbidden or haram, there is the desire to deny their right to exist in society and treat them with fear and loathing.

Yet, homosexual behaviour is prevalent in the animal kingdom.

Wikipedia quotes Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl as saying same-sex behaviour – including homosexual, bisexual and non-reproductive sex, as well as courtship, sexual, pair-bonding, and parental activities – has been documented in over 450 species of animals world-wide.

Such evidence, of course, is rejected by the denialists, even though homosexuality in animals was used successfully to argue against sodomy laws in the United States, which led to their repeal in 14 states.

Malaysia’s most famous victim of anti-sodomy laws, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has condemned such legislation as archaic and unjust.

But his condemnation is based on his belief that one can be accused of sodomy without proper evidence, which is what he says happened in his case, not because same sex is a natural behaviour in creation, as scientists insist.

Once harsh and unyielding throughout the world, attitudes towards LGBTQ have changed over the years and those archaic laws are rapidly being dismantled, even in India, which also had the same British-introduced sodomy laws.

More and more countries are supportive of LGBTQ rights and 28 have legalised same-sex unions, including UK, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Taiwan.

Thailand’s tourist sector plans to promote the country as an LGBT-friendly destination.

We see gay politicians becoming national leaders in many parts of the world. At present, the prime ministers of Ireland, Luxembourg and Serbia are openly gay.

So far, Malaysia has very little dealings with those nations but what will our government do if more important states have LGBTQ leaders?

Perhaps more worrisome is the discrimination and danger LGBTQs face in this country. By treating them as despised abominations with no place in society, extreme elements in society will see it as unspoken permission to harass and attack them.

Which was what happened in Seremban in August last year. Eight men brutally attacked a transgender woman because of her gender identity. She suffered internal injuries, several broken ribs and wounds on her back and head.

The current sex video scandal is obviously politically motivated. But by using “unnatural sex” as the killer weapon, it also exposes another ugly side of Malaysian society: the perpetuation of a state of denial and discrimination against a maligned and vulnerable minority by demonising them in the worst possible way.

Aunty thanks everyone who attended her book launch on June 7. The book, So Aunty, So What?, is a compilation of column articles and other writings. It is available at Popular Bookstores and Kinokuniya.


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