Seksualiti Merdeka dan pengaruh homofobia Melayu

This is an article I wrote for Merdeka Review, published on 9th November 2011, commenting on the murkier aspects of the Malaysian public discourse surrounding the banning of Seksualiti Merdeka.

Pengharaman Seksualiti Merdeka yang diumumkan secara tiba-tiba pada 3 November dan kecaman terhadap perasminya, Ambiga Sreenevasan, adalah satu lagi sejarah hitam dalam perjalanan Malaysia ke arah era yang lebih demokratik. Mengikut PERKASA, MUIS, dan pelbagai badan agama yang lain, Seksualiti Merdeka mempromosikan fahaman liberal, budaya “songsang” dan melanggar ajaran Islam. Oleh itu, Seksualiti Merdeka harus dikecam dan diharamkan. Terdapat beberapa persoalan yang perlu diutarakan. Pertama sekali, adakah fahaman liberal benar-benar menyanggah dengan ajaran Islam? Kedua, apa sebenarnya yang “songsang” tentang Seksualiti Merdeka? Ketiga, apa sebenarnya dalam ajaran Islam yang dilanggari Seksualiti Merdeka?

Seksualiti Merdeka adalah sebuah acara tahunan yang bermula pada tahun 2008 sebagai forum untuk warga Malaysia berbincang dan bertukar pendapat tentang isu-isu yang berkaitan dengan kehidupan sebagai rakyat Malaysia yang lesbian, gay, biseksual, dan transgender. Seperti yang dijelaskan oleh penganjur Seksualiti Merdeka, Pang Khee Teik (gambar kanan), acara ini tidak mengajak orang awam untuk menjadi “gay” atau menukar jantina. Sebaliknya, acara ini bertujuan untuk meningkatkan pemahaman dan kesedaran awam tentang golongan minoriti ini.

Selepas tiga tahun tanpa sebarang bangkangan daripada mana-mana pihak, Seksualiti Merdeka kini didepani dengan tohmahan bisa daripada pihak-pihak tertentu yang terdiri daripada orang-orang lelaki Melayu PERKASA. Minggu lepas, mereka berdemo di hadapan Masjid Negara dengan slogan-slogan yang tidak berpaksikan mana-mana fakta dan berfokuskan kepada perbuatan “seks sejenis”. Walaupun demonstrasi PERKASA di hadapan Masjid Negara adalah sah dan berpatutan di sisi prinsip demokrasi dan kebebasan bersuara, objektif mereka untuk menyekat kebebasan golongan LGBT untuk berhimpun berbaur ironi.

Kemungkinan besar tentangan terhadap Seksualiti Merdeka tidak berkenaan langsung dengan agama, keamanan negara, dan sensitiviti orang Melayu. “Agama”, “keamanan negara”, “sensitiviti orang Melayu” adalah alasan yang sering dikitar semula jika isu-isu mengenai hak asasi manusia dan demokrasi meletup di sidang media, parlimen, internet, dan di kedai kopi. Pengharaman Seksualiti Merdeka sangat mirip dengan pengharaman perhimpunan BERSIH bulan Julai lepas; hujah yang disampaikan untuk mengharamkan keduanya adalah sama. Sudah tentu apa sahaja bentuk pengharaman yang dilaksanakan pada masa depan akan berteraskan alasan yang sama, diguna semula sehingga kosong intipati hujahnya.

Kesemua rakyat Malaysia – konservatif mahupun liberal – perlu diingatkan bahawa tidak semua orang Islam sama, dan tidak semua ajaran Islam ditafsir dan diamalkan dengan cara yang sama. Walaupun terdapat perbezaan pendapat antara orang Islam di Malaysia dan di luar negara, akhlak dan akidah mereka tetap berlandaskan ajaran Islam yang satu. Oleh kerana itu, PERKASA, MUIS, dan organisasi agama yang lain tidak berhak untuk memanggil diri mereka “wakil” kesemua umat Islam di Malaysia mahupun di dunia.

Terdapat orang-orang Islam, ulama dan penganut yang layak membincang tentang urusan agama sepert kyai K.H. Hussein dan imam Feisal Abdul Rauf yang menyokong hak-hak yang dituntut oleh golongan LGBT, terutamanya hak undang-undang untuk perlindungan daripada kekerasan dan diskriminasi terhadap orang-orang lesbian, gay, biseksual dan transgender. Mereka juga orang Islam dan percaya bahawa kesemua ciptaan Allah S.W.T yang pelbagai ragam ada hikmahnya. Islam “sebenar” tidak dimonopoli oleh orang-orang Melayu Malaysia tertentu sahaja, tetapi dihayati oleh orang-orang yang berbeza bangsa, jantina, dan orientasi seksual.

Pendek kata, tidak semua orang Islam menentang kebebasan golongan LGBT untuk menyuarakan keinginan mereka untuk diberikan hak-hak yang sama seperti orang-orang bukan LGBT. Seksualiti Merdeka tidak bersembunyi di sebalik “topeng” hak asasi manusia, bahkan tuntutan golongan minoriti adalah sebahagian daripada hak asasi manusia yang diiktiraf di seluruh dunia.

Persoalan lain tentang alasan pengharaman Seksualiti Merdeka mula timbul: sejak bila golongan LGBT mengancam “keamanan negara”? Bilangan mereka yang tergolong dalam kategori LGBT di seluruh pelusuk dunia adalah kecil. Mereka hanyalah minoriti yang jarang mempunyai pengaruh yang besar dalam arena politik, agama, dan media. Ini adalah kerana diskriminasi, prejudis, dan keganasan yang menular dalam masyarakat terhadap golongan minoriti seksualiti dan gender yang sering menghalang mereka daripada menjalani kehidupan mengikut sifat semulajadi mereka secara terbuka.

Dan “sensitiviti” siapa sebenarnya yang disentuh? Isu yang sensitif menjadi bahan kontroversi kerana isu berkaitan dengan seksualiti dan gender jarang diperdebatkan secara terbuka. Tanpa perbincangan terbuka, pengetahuan rakyat Malaysia – umat Islam Malaysia terutamanya – tentang kepelbagaian dari segi gender dan orientasi seksual akan terus dikongkong dan digelapi prejudis dan kesempitan pendapat. Prejudis dan kesempitan pendapat inilah yang menyumbang kepada fitnah dan maklumat yang tidak benar tentang program Seksualiti Merdeka sebagai “pesta seks bebas.”

Seksualiti Merdeka bukan untuk segelintir warga Malaysia yang mengenal diri mereka sebagai lesbian, gay, biseksual, atau trans sahaja tetapi sebuah forum di mana rakyat yang berbeza pendapat berkongsi pengalaman dan pengetahuan secara sopan, intelektual, dan saling menghormati satu sama lain. Tindakan polis bagaikan serangan hendap semasa pembatalan program Seksualiti Merdeka minggu lepas terus menyempitkan peluang kaum minoriti gender dan orientasi seksual untuk bersuara dan berhimpun dengan aman.

Identiti LGBT juga bukan ciptaan budaya “Barat” tetapi wujud di kalangan kita – rakan, anak, ibu, bapa, isteri, suami – dan orientasi mereka wujud secara semulajadi dan tidak boleh diubah sesuka hati atau dipaksa. Maksud seksualiti bukan mengenai perbuatan seks semata-mata seperti yang diobses oleh khalayak ramai dan liputan media, tetapi mengenai perasaan cinta dan kasih sayang antara pasangan yang berjantina yang sama. Mengikut kajian yang dilakukan di beberapa negara perbuatan homoseks sering tidak melibatkan orang-orang yang menggelar diri mereka gay dan lesbian. Dengan kata lain, perbuatan seks sejenis atau heterosex tidak selalunya melibatkan identity LGB.

Bagi saya, badan-badan agama harus menangkis rasa takut dan benci terhadap kelainan dan kepelbagaian kudrat manusia dan mula mendekati dan membuka minda dan hati kepada golongan LGBT. Homofobia dan transfobia – perasaan benci dan takut terhadap orang-orang gay, lesbian, dan transgender – tidak mengenal agama. Ia berleluasa kerana sifat tidak berperikemanusiaan dibenarkan menyelinap masuk ke dalam minda masyarakat yang tidak boleh menerima perbezaan identiti, pendapat, dan pengalaman.

Malaysia jauh kebelakangan dalam kebebasan bersuara disebabkan budaya kita yang mengagungkan pangkat dan kuasa yang diperolehi melalui status istimewa yang diberikan kepada orang lelaki Melayu Islam. Budaya inilah yang paling kuat menindas yang lemah dan terpinggir dalam masyarakat kita. Badan-badan agama, pihak polis, dan persatuan ekstrim seperti PERKASA adalah sebahagian daripada budaya ini dan melambangkan contoh penyalahgunaan kuasa atas nama Islam dan undang-undang.

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Reggae Mansion: Blatant discrimination and exclusivity in the worst possible taste

I wrote and published this piece for Loyar Burok on 1st November, generating in what was a considerably powerful response from the Malaysian public online that resulted in the public dressing-down of Reggae Mansion via The Star newspaper. Suffice to say, this is testament to the fact that a successful link between online blogging and citizen action can sometimes happen in Malaysia.

I was struck by the blatant ableism, racism, ageism, and xenophobia displayed by the proprietors who run Reggae Mansion, Malaysia’s “newest and funkiest” chain of hostels and guesthouses. No doubt bigotry occurs at a systemic level in Malaysia, the kind of bigotry against Malaysians on Malaysian soil recalls the days of European invasion and systematic racism of untold horror where local people were excluded from entering certain public establishments. With branches in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, the company proudly demonstrates its credentials as an exclusive and highly sophisticated place for tourists to stay and call one’s home away from home. Reggae Mansion Hostel also stresses that it caters to an “international” clientele of backpackers, a subtle code suggested by its promotional photos to mean white backpackers.

Taken from Reggae Mansion Hostel's website on 31st October. However, this image has been taken down by the management following complaints..

Unfortunately, exclusivity also means the gates are tightly shut to “riffraff” otherwise known as Malaysians, Indian and Middle Eastern nationals. The proprietors will declare bookings from people of these national backgrounds “null and void.” Reggae Mansion Hostel is also not wheelchair accessible which means wheelchair users due to disabilities, age, and / or injury cannot easily enter the premises of the “funky” hostel. Just to further demonstrate how unwelcoming they are, Reggae Mansion is closed to prospective guests over the age of 60.

How did a public establishment arrive to such an extreme policy of exclusion? It has been a long and unproblematic issue in Malaysia that many public spaces are just not wheelchair-friendly. The fault lies in our generally ableist society where social welfare is hard to come by and people ignore the under-privileged for the sake of “minding one’s own business.” For a “mansion” hostel that has a cinema room equipped with a THX sound system and intercom on every floor, it is surprising why its management team did not bother to invest in a wheelchair-accessible environment. Rejecting guests over the age of 60 meanwhile suggests that older people will be a nuisance to younger guests and unappreciative of the young backpacker lifestyle, if there was such a lifestyle to begin with. Hence, it will be far easier to ban an undesirable group of guests than to go into the trouble of making a space inclusive and welcoming for everybody.

The far more disturbing form of exclusion demonstrated by Reggae Mansion is its policy against Malaysian, Indian, and Middle Eastern guests. Whether it is an indication of the proprietor’s racism against Indian and Middle Eastern people, and the classism against groups of Malaysian tourists who can only afford to stay in backpacker hostels is anyone’s guess. It could also be a policy that accommodates xenophobia and Eurocentrism. In other words, it may be based on the assumption that white backpackers would not like to share rooms with brown-skinned people because of their stereotypically uncouth and criminal behaviour.

The anti-local policy is reminiscent of the many plush hotels and resorts that dot the beautiful beaches of Thailand, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Maldives where locals are barred from walking on its sands and swimming in its waters. Instead of ethnicity, locals are excluded as guests based on class; locals are certainly more than welcome as service providers so long as they remain in the background of a tourist’s paradise. Reggae Mansion is not much different in perpetuating this unequal racial and class dynamic, by simply barring the custom of Malaysians, Indian and Middle Eastern altogether while rolling out the red carpet for white tourists.

The unfounded “logic” it seems is that white tourists who travel on a shoe-string budget, who may even come from working-class backgrounds are good for business, but Malaysians, Indians, and Middle Eastern people of similar background are for some reason bad for business. Many legitimate guests will leave the country with the disconcerting message that “Malaysian businesses are not only allowed to be shamelessly xenophobic, ageist, and deliberately ableist, but appear to be hostile to their own citizens”. How tragic.

In capitalist Malaysia, profit-driven policies trump social equality and efforts to end discrimination. In the weeks approaching the Bersih 2.0 rally on 9th July this year, marchers were warned not to take to the streets lest they will disrupt businesses. It is only in a culture where we put profit ahead of people where such a protest against demanding greater democracy is common sense. Reggae Mansion Hostel and Guest Houses in Kuala Lumpur and Penang have no reason to turn away great swaths of people from its door unless its owner(s) truly believe that racism, ableism, xenophobia, and ageism are good for business. Reggae Mansion Hostel also makes the offensive assumption that its target clientele are also racist and xenophobic, incapable of sharing their space with so-called “uncivilised” brown people.

Short of boycotting Reggae Mansion, which may not make much of a direct impact on its business since Malaysian guests need not apply, we must condemn its heavily exclusionist policies. There is still hope in the many hostels in Malaysia that are welcoming spaces which do not question your ethnic, national, and class background, sexuality, age, and religious beliefs. Some hostels make it a point to build ramps, automated doors, and lifts so that wheelchair users can move independently and inhabit public spaces as freely as able-bodied people. Businesses which are premised on bigotry have no place in the tourism industry and certainly not in Malaysia.

Masculinity and sexual humiliation in Quickie Express

The following is a lecture about Indonesian masculinities and male sex work to accompany the film screening of Quickie Express by Dimas Djayadinigrat that I delivered for my class Sex and the City in Southeast Asian Cinema. Reading it through once again, I found to be rather scrappy and also, please pardon the occasional chatty style – this was meant to be delivered verbally rather than read. Despite the rough edges, there are some themes of male sexual humiliation in physical comedy that remains unstudied and therefore stands as a large uncharted landscape few scholars of gender in film studies choose to venture:

Talking about Quickie Express brings us to various discursive directions; masculinities in recent Indonesian cinema, the notion of masculinity in crisis, representations of male sex workers or gigolos in films, and masculinity as spectacle.

Quickie Express plays on a parody of both traditional masculinity and sexuality. It suggests that working in the sex industry is quite humiliating for a man as it involves being subjected to sexual servitude for an array of female clientele made up of overweight women, bondage fetishist, elderly women who are made to look not only comedic and physically unattractive but more crucially to personify grotesque forms of female sexuality. Or rather female sexuality as grotesque. But what Quickie Express also shows is that male prostitution also generates unexpected benefits – a high end lifestyle and romance.

This brings us to a discussion about representations of the male sex worker, the comedic element that mitigates against the anxiety and potential humiliation of masculinity, and the construction of men as objects of erotic desire – all of which I will discuss in great detail.

What is interesting about Quickie Express is that it adds an unusual dimension to the portrayals of masculinities in the post-Suharto era. It presents men as sex objects who struggle as seducers of women. It seems to feature the failure of men and sexual humiliation in a situation where gender roles are reversed: women are the ones who are financially independent and powerful, they are also the active agents of their sexuality, they call the shots because they can.

The three men – Piktor, Marley, and Jojo (shown above) are not even adequate as heterosexual masculine men – that they need instructions on how to be sexually literate through their very camp male instructor who exhibits multiple paradoxes of masculinity – being middle-aged and having a paunch, the string vest, the awkward rather than graceful movement around the pole, but being an expert of female sexuality, dance, and high brow social etiquette.

If you have seen The Full Monty, you will remember the scene in which the men are made to watch Flashdance to learn how to dance. Flashdance is of course an important film that combines the masculine profession of the central female character who is a welder at a steel mill and the predominantly feminine world of dance. So we have two films that uses women/feminine men who serve as instructors in sexual masculine performance whether on stage, or in bed.

A display of non-traditional, non-normative, inadequate, or buffoon masculinities will guide us into a better understanding that masculinity is not a stable or homogeneous category of gender. In the work of Raewyn Connell, masculinity is broken up into four forms: hegemonic, complicit, marginalised, and subordinated masculinities. Today we’ll be focusing on marginalised and subordinated masculinity which we see plenty of in Quickie Express in contrast to hegemonic or dominant masculinity.

Throughout the New Order period, the dominant paradigm of masculinity was defined in familial terms; the man as father and leader of the household, and by extension the nation. Hence, the ideal Indonesian man was defined through heterosexual, monogamous marriage and having a family, preferably with biological children.

But changes in the socio-political and religious mood occurring during Reformasi – the period shortly after Suharto’s resignation – meant that men and masculinities were shifting as well. During this period hegemonic or idealised masculinity becomes increasingly Islamicised. The ability to display or perform their Muslim masculinity through dress, speech, consumption, who they marry, how many women they marry is played out in the public arena as an exemplary form of masculinity. But there is another side of masculinity played out in Indonesian film that we should be more interested in – the disempowered masculinity, the crisis of masculinity.

Masculinity in crisis
Masculinity in crisis is defined as a situation in which heterosexual men experience a sense of frustration, loss, and tension in the face of female empowerment in the public sphere, a loss in a sense of a traditional masculinity, and the threat posed by male homosexuality who are able to look and be just as masculine as straight men.

The crisis therefore rests on the popular question of “What does it take to be a “real” man?” particularly if for most people “real” means cissexual as opposed to transsexual or transgender and straight as opposed to gay man, gainfully employed as opposed to jobless or poor. In Indonesia, Marshal Clark describes the masculinity in crisis which occurs during the Asian economic crisis of 1997, in which many men experienced the double humiliation of losing their jobs and roles as breadwinner of the household.

For Marshal Clark, the Indonesian crisis of masculinity is enacted in post-Suharto films in which gangsters and various other versions of violent men populate the screen, where they overpower the authorities and other weaker members of society. On a more alarming note, he also says that there are more misandrist portrayals of men during this period, as defined as weak, abusive, and socially alienated young men in many films by both female and male film directors. Of course, the weakness and negativity of these portrayals are debatable, as we shall discuss later in our tutorial using Quickie Express as our talking point.

Buffoon men, gigolos, marginalised / subordinated masculinities at the centre

Quckie Express joins the few comedy films and television series about gigolos or men in the sex industry like Deuce Bigelow, The Full Monty, and the American comedy drama Hung. Central to the representation of men in these films and television series is the non-traditional, less than adequate men who face the threat of economic poverty, shame and stigmatisation, the clandestine double life they lead due to the nature of their profession.

If we were to describe a type of masculinity in Quickie Express based on the continuum of masculinities introduced by Raewyn Connell, these men would be categorised in the marginalised and subordinated masculinities. Marginalised because of he portrayal of men such as the Arab pimp and the Dutch Jan Pieter Gunarto.

But they are also examples of subordinated masculinity because of their effeminacy and homosexuality. The gigolos on the other hand traverse across the various forms of masculinities but never quite make it to hegemonic masculinity. They are definitely buffoon men.

Interestingly, at multiple points of the film we find several sequences that threaten the masculinity of an already disempowered masculinity even more; for example, the three men talk about boosting their virility using a tonic from Saudi Arabia and express an implicit fear of impotence, Marley’s small penis that eventually becomes bitten off by a fish and eaten by a hospital personnel.

Key to depictions of men as sex objects is the comedic element to neutralise the anxiety of the male gaze. Now, the male gaze was developed by as a psychoanalytic term by Jacques Lacan to describe the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. In feminist film theory, the gaze was further developed by Laura Mulvey in her seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in which she says that the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. How the camera lingers on the women’s body more than it does on a man’s body in an erotically-charged way suggests this.

I’d like to add on Mulvey’s point that the male gaze occurs also he production of images in television and more particularly in magazine covers, advertising, and fashion photography. Women’s bodies are generally shown as passive objects of desire to be visually consumed by the audience who is presumed to be heterosexual and male. The male gaze suggests that there is a power asymmetry coded in how we look at images of women in film. The male gaze holds water if we know for certain most film directors are indeed straight and male, as for most members of the film industry, and the fact that when sex sells, it means women’s bodies sell.

But when men’s bodies project erotic visual cues, such as a bare chest, a come hither look at the audience, they are countered by traditional masculine signifiers usually through engaging in some form of activity, holding a prop that will reinforce their masculinity. In the case of visual close-ups on men, their faces should express fear, anger, or aggression. Or look away, to not make eye contact with the presumably straight male audience and incite homoerotic passion. The male gaze is implicitly suggests that visual-making is largely homophobic and fears the potential sexy images of men will unsettle the male gaze.

There are exceptions of course, but the exceptions tend to generate discomfort, criticisms, and anger from many people. For example, Sylvester Stallone paying homage to Rodin’s The Thinker on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1999, or the silliness / obscenity of Sacha Baron-Cohen on the cover of GQ, the absurdity of men in pin-up poses.

One the biggest flaws of Laura Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze is the assumption that female viewers also have the male gaze in that they look through a heterosexual and masculinsed lens. This anticipated the concept of the female gaze that proposed that women as viewers have the agency to identify in a non-sexist way, in a way that does not objectify women. Also, the psychoanalytic paradigm in much of film theory has been challenged as severely limited; mainly because of its ahistorical approaches to desire and fear, its silence on the issue of race, class, and cultures of the audiences.

I think Quickie Express problematises the concept of the gaze through the portrayal of straight men as male prostitutes hence sex objects and its use of comedy.

The most common stereotype of the male prostitute is as a sexy but tragic figure. This stereotype reveals both a fascination with the male prostitute as a sexual object and sadness or disdain with his situation and life style. This stereotyped male hustler is often an under-aged or teen-age “street kid” or “runaway” forced to leave home because of his sexual orientation or because of sexual abuse. He is often portrayed as a drug addict or thief. The plotline frequently focuses on the crisis of leaving the trade or the street (“one last trick”), or on making enough money for an important use (a medical treatment, a gift). The climax often has one of two possible outcomes: the hustler either abandons the trade and re-integrates society, or he meets a tragic end.

While less frequent in cinema and novels, the male prostitute with exclusively female clients (the “gigolo” or “escort”) is generally depicted in a less tragic manner than the gay hustler (the gigolo is portrayed as older, athletic, well-dressed, etc.), and films like American Gigolo have done much to paint the character as a sophisticated seducer. This portrayal has also lead to cinematic satire

The element of comedy in Quickie Express alleviates the anxiety male audiences, again we’re still using the male gaze as a useful concept, may have about allusions to emasculation, feminisation of men, castration, and the construction of men as sex objects. Comedy allows viewers to accept and laugh characters as simply caricatures, reassuring that they are hyperboles and extreme and absurd representations of men in desperation. Comedy also dislocates the anxiety that straight male audiences may have with depictions of men as sex objects. Should the film be a serious investigation into the life of a male prostitute with many lingering shots of male bodies, we may have greater apprehension with the image.

Quickie Express joins a loosely termed genre in recent Indonesian cinema of the sex comedy, and more specifically joins a sub-genre of sex comedy that focuses on the men’s sexual insecurity, namely the focus on the penis. Other penis-oriented comedies include Namaku Dick (or my name is Dick) about a talking penis that turns a man’s life upside down, and XL about a man who is worried that small penis will disappoint a future wife.

Unless we respect sex workers, we will never respect all women

First posted on Loyar Burok’s LoyarEqual Feminist Week on 17th to 21st October.

Credits: Jessicamera11 via Flickr Creative Commons

Being called a “slut”, “thevadiya”, “sundal”, “whore”, or “jalang” are probably the worst forms of verbal abuse anyone, woman or man, can inflict on a woman or girl. But they needn’t be. One only needs to unpack the toxicity in the abusive usage of the word which will expose some uncomfortable truths about our relationship with sex and sexuality to understand why. Every time a person uses it as an insult they perpetuate an ancient double standard that refuses to go away – that a promiscuous or sexually active unmarried woman is worthy of disrespect while a man who leads a similar life is likely to receive macho backslaps of praise. Women and girls are seen as the “moral guardians” of society and pose as a sexual threat regardless of age and marital status she may be, whether she’s a virgin or not.

This means that a female-identified person are in danger of being called a slut or sundal for any reason; when she speaks her mind she’s a slut, if she doesn’t wear a tudung she’s a slut, when she breaks a rice bowl she’s a stupid slut. It is no exaggeration that these are the words used to bully women and girls into silence and submission.

Truth be told, many women and girls do not like words like “sundal” and “slut” despite the Slutwalks that are take place across the globe. And that is mainly because no one wants to identify as or with sex workers or to use the stigmatising term, prostitute. But we little do we realise that the history of female sexuality in Malaysia is intimately linked with the dehumanising laws regulating the colonial sex industry in Malaya.

British colonialism in the late 19th century Malaya was mired in racism against migrant labourers brought in from mainland China who were deemed as lacking morals and homophobia against homosexual activities that occurred between them. To curtail homosexual practices, the colonial authorities introduced female sex workers, trafficked or otherwise, to the labourers and colonial officers alike. By 1900, there were around ten thousand female sex workers in the Straits settlements. Numbers in the Malay states were less easy to estimate due to lack of surveillance and regulation.

Viewed as vectors of venereal disease, female sex workers in British Malaya were subjected to the Women and Girls Protection Act (WGPA) that stipulated compulsory medical examination and detainment followed by forced treatment if women were found with disease. Today, along with various other colonial legal relics, the WGPA 1973 is used to detain young women under 21 for up to three years for “immoral” activity. According to the WCC, the act has mainly been used to round up young women in karaoke bars and leaving their male company unscathed. The assumption behind such arrests is that young women’s sexual morality need to be “protected” from the deathly threat of moral corruption.

The intertwining histories of the colonial sex industry and the sexuality in present day Malaysia urge us to close the gap between the virgin-whore dichotomy that gives words like “jalang” and “slut” their potency. We can start with respecting sex workers as workers and as women who are more than just what they do in a sexual/business transaction. We can end the stigma behind words like “pelacur” and disarm the slurs inflicted on people who are not sex workers.

Malaysia is not unique in our relentless punishment against the women and men in the sex industry.
In countries where prostitution is illegal and / or penalises its clientele, sex work often ends up persisting anyway but in more deadly and dehumanising forms. Outlawed sex industries go underground, increase the trafficking of women and girls and incidences of sexual violence, making it impossible for them to leave the profession, deaths and abuse go unreported, sex workers do not get medical treatment or health checks which increases the likelihood of dangerous sexually-transmitted diseases – all because the criminalisation of sex work purports to “shield” women, girls, and society from the “evils” of sex work. The evil is not inherent in sex work itself but rather in the abuse perpetrated by violent pimps, johns, traffickers, and the law.

Respecting sex workers allows them to leave the industry as they wish through humanitarian laws and anti-discriminatory employment practices, destigmatises paid sex, turn them into our sisters and brothers, and welcomes them into the fray of society as people. Women and girls must refuse playing hostage to the toxicity of words like “sundal” or “whore” and end the moral double standard that punishes us for having the conceit to have sexual desire.

The reason why we hate or use these words as terms of abuse is because deep down, we still think that being sexual outside of marriage is “bad” and “shameful” and that healthy female sexuality is “unnatural”. And as we discuss the topic of gendered slurs, the global Slutwalk marches on, neutralising and reclaiming the word “slut” at the heart of its anti-rape agenda. What Slutwalk does to the word “slut” is taking the negative power from sexist cultures and having the freedom to twist, subvert, reclaim, and/or detoxify it. Make gendered terms of abuse obsolete and we will disarm the simplest act of abuse against all women and girls whether they are sex workers and not.

Ironi adalah …

PTTM 2011. Copyright protected.

Beberapa bulan yang lepas saya terserempak dengan sebuah kumpulan di laman Facebook yang bernama “Hentikan ganggguan seksual terhadap lelaki”. Kerana saya mengambil pendirian tegas tentang gangguan seksual terhadap sesiapa pun saya klik untuk maklumat lanjut. Saya kaget, terkejut besar, dengan apa yang saya lihat; pakaian Muslimah yang cukup menutup aurat selama ini mengganggu kaum lelaki Melayu secara seksual! O.O

Apa yang perlu dilakukan kepada golongan perempuan yang tidak perasan lagi tidak prihatin tentang cara pemakaian dan sifat semulajadi mereka sebagai perempuan? Perlukah mereka dihukum, didenda RM100 kerana menyeksa lelaki dan membuat tempat-tempat awam tidak selamat untuk lelaki lagi?

Setahu saya gangguan seksual melibatkan taktik membuli untuk menakutkan atau meresahkan seseorang dengan niat yang seksual. Saya yakin kebanyakan perempuan tidak berniat langsung untuk mengganggu lelaki yang lemah pedoman dengan pakaian mereka walau bagaimana seksi ataupun tidak.

Maka, kita tiba di sebuah kesimpulan: masalahnya adalah lelaki yang tidak boleh mengawal mata mereka yang meranjang dan memanggil diri mangsa. Mengkritik pakaian perempuan dengan ayat-ayat suci Al-Quran adalah contoh penyalahgunaan agama dan sebuah taktik untuk menguasai pergerakan orang perempuan. Akhir kata, gangguan seksual itu bukan isu murahan yang boleh dieksploitasi buat kepentingan diri.