Kelompok anti-Hari Kekasih patut hentikan fikiran lucah mereka

Disiarkan di Merdeka Review, tanggal 14 Februari 2012.

Pertembungan pandangan berbeza tentang sambutan Hari Kekasih telah lama wujud dan akan terus kekal sampai bila-bila. Yang membuatkan penulis hairan adalah perkara yang paling ditentang keras oleh PAS, badan keagamaan seperti JAKIM dan yang sewaktu dengannya jarang diutarakan sama sekali. Bahkan perkara itulah yang dilihat menembus jambakan bunga mawar, kotak coklat, dan patung-patung teddy bear; iaitu pasangan yang berciuman dan bersenggama di luar nikah. Mungkin bagi khalayak yang menyambutnya tidak akan melihat dari sudut yang seksual, tetapi yang menentang sambutannya akan melihat yang itu dan hanya itu. Ini mendatangkan satu persoalan bagi kita semua, adakah fikiran mereka yang alim lagi berugama lebih peka dan terobses hanya dengan perkara yang seksual pada saatnya Hari Kekasih atau pada tiap-tiap masa?

Jika diselidik sahaja perkataan “maksiat” itu dan diteliti apa sebenarnya yang diselindungi di sebalik retorik ahli berugama yang berapi-api tentang gejala sosial, kita akan dapati hanya satu pertunjukan kuasa dan imaginasi lucah tentang hidupan belia masa kini. Ya, kita seharusnya khuatir dengan barisan pemimpin agama yang pantas memikirkan yang bukan-bukan dan tidak mempertimbangkan realiti bagaimana pasangan yang bercinta menyambut Hari Kekasih di Malaysia. Bagaimana PAS dan seangkatannya mendefinisikan “sambutan” Hari Kekasih sebelum menyarankan tangkapan pasangan beragama Islam yang menyambutnya? Definisinya sangat penting, kerana pasangan tidak boleh ditangkap tanpa garis panduan agama yang jelas. Adakah sambutan itu dilambangkan dengan pemberian bunga-bunga dan acara makan malam? Adakah PAS dan JAKIM akan melibatkan diri dalam aksi voyeurisme yang asyik-masyuk semasa mengintip pasangan yang berdua-duaan?

Mungkin saya terlalu kritikal melabelkan pemimpin agama, PAS, dan pihak berkuasa sebagai orang-orang yang miang kerana hanya berfikir yang bukan-bukan bila tibanya aura romantika Hari Kekasih. Minggu lepas, imej PAS yang keras anti-Valentine tetiba menunjukkan celah yang lebih lembut. Ketua dewan pemuda PAS, Nasruddin bin Hassan telahpun menetapkan satu garis panduan yang sangat teperinci bagi mereka yang ingin meraikan Hari Kekasih. Tetapi tahap keterperinciannya agak melucukan. Ya, Hari Kekasih itu bukan dalam Taqwim Islam, tetapi Hari Pekerja dan Hari Kebangsaan juga bukan dalam ajaran Islam tetapi kita tetap menyambutnya. Hari Kekasih adalah satu sambutan yang telah lama menjadi satu acara konsumeris yang melibatkan pembelian hadiah-hadiah dan perbelanjaan lumayan (dan bukannya hari peringatan seorang santos Nasrani).

Walaupun asal-usul Hari Kekasih ada hubung kaitnya dengan seorang santos Romawi bernama Valentine, ia mula dirayakan atas dasar percintaan pada zaman pertengahan Eropah di kalangan seniman dan penyajak Inggeris. Ini membuktikan bahawa sambutan Hari Kekasih dari titik permulaannya adalah sekular dan tidak mempunyai unsur-unsur agama Kristian langsung. Jika PAS dan seangkatannya benar-benar berpijak di alam nyata dan pernah merasai cinta (meskipun saya meyakininya 30%), mereka akan sedar bahawa sambutannya hanya satu ritual jiwangan konsumeris yang melampau dan jauh sekali daripada pesta seks bebas.

Saya cukup hairan dengan sesetengah kelompok yang mencurigai erti dan pengalaman percintaan orang lain. Kerajaan negeri Kelantan telah mengumumkan bahawa Hari Kekasih akan digantikan dengan Hari Suami Isteri, lantas menyempitkan erti cinta dan kasih sayang. Alasan utama adalah untuk membendung umat Islam daripada pergaulan bebas sempena Hari Kekasih yang, tanpa bukti kukuh dihubung-kaitkan dengan isu-isu ibu tunggal dan penderaan rumahtangga. Kerajaan negeri Kelantan begitu terobses dengan ikatan pernikahan, sampai menawarkan pembiayaian mas kahwin dan sebagainya sambil cuai daripada sedarnya kadar penceraian dan kejatuhan rumah tangga yang tinggi di Malaysia. Penyelesaiannnya bukan Hari Suami Isteri yang diraikan setahun sekali, tetapi keadaan kewangan, pekerjaan tetap, dan hubungan yang stabil sebelum berkongsi kehidupan bersama.

Tidak pernahkah mereka yang begitu asyik menbanteras Hari Kekasih itu fikirkan bahawa kelahiran anak luar nikah dan kes pembuangan bayi itu bukan hasil daripada pergaulan bebas, tetapi daripada kurangnya pendidikan seks, maklumat tentang pengguguran janin yang halal, dan budaya yang menjatuhkan stigma ke atas ibu yang belum bernikah? Bilangan ibu tunggal bukan gejala sosial tetapi membayangkan realiti bahawa ramai pasangan suami-isteri belum bersedia mendirikan rumah-tangga kerana kurang mengenali satu sama lain, masalah kewangan, dan lain-lain. Pihak yang mengusungkan pemansuhan Hari Kekasih itu tidak pula menyedari masalah yang lebih besar daripada gejala sosial yang kononnya menjerat masyarakat kita mungkin terbit daripada kurangnya rasa cinta dan kasih sayang dalam masyarakat, dan bukan hanya antara suami dan isteri.

Mungkin tindakan UMNO untuk berdiam diri sahaja tentang Hari Kekasih adalah yang paling wajar dan tepat di saat yang genting ini. Kerajaan Malaysia sudahpun dicemuh di mata dunia dengan keputusan menghantar wartawan Saudi Hamza Kashgari kembali ke tanahairnya. Kerajaan Malaysia dan Najib Razak sendiri dikritik tidak berperikemanusiaan dan tidak mempunyai rasa belas kasihan terhadap seorang pemuda yang mungkin akan dihukum mati di Saudi Arabia walaupun telahpun meminta ampun atas kesilapannya.

Boleh dikatakan pihak berkuasa di Malaysia, daripada yang teratas hingga ke kuncu-kuncu bawahannya, sudah lali pada nikmatnya rasa cinta dan kurang upaya untuk menunjukkan kasih sayang sesama tetangga dan keluarga rakyatnya. Soal cinta dan kasih sayang tidak perlu dipolitikkan untuk menunjuk kuasa dan kealiman pihak-pihak tertentu. Biarkan rakyat Malaysia terutamanya umat Islam meraikan percintaan dan kasih sayang dengan cara tersendiri, dan jangan jadikan fikiran lucah satu dalil hipokritikal untuk menyekat kebahagian orang lain.

The transmen community is still overshadowed by phallocentric logic in Malaysia

First published on Engenderings, the LSE blog for gender and sexual diversity

In several scenes from the recent but quickly forgotten Malaysian film, “Aku Bukan Tomboy” (I’m Not a Tomboy, 2011), masculine women and transmen alike were disparaged as not being ‘real’ men for lacking a bioglogical penis. The film makes clear that not only are the various means to transition and establish a gender identity wilfully ignored, but the idea of what it means to be a man is reduced to the possession of a penis. “Aku Bukan Tomboy” is nonetheless a rare Malaysian film that tackles female homosexuality, female masculinity, and transmasculinity, but its atypical accolade is tarnished by its homophobic script. The film joins another recent phallocentric “social commentery” film about gay, and transgender characters, “Anu Dalam Botol” (Penis in a Bottle). The latter film focuses much on the repudiation of the penis by the main character who initially identifies as a woman then returns to a male identity only to be undone by a bottled penis on his wedding day.

Both films offer a homophobic and cis-centric perspective on what being lesbian, gay, and transgender means in Malaysia; the two feature the main protagonists’ struggle with expressing their gender identity due to the hostile intolerance towards people who do not conform with the exacting heteronormative mores. Public awareness about masculine women, tomboys, and transmen was raised by the notorious fatwa in October 2008 banning women from adopting masculine dress, behaviour, and forming relationships with other women. The ban was prompted by several cases of young female individuals were seen dressing as men and the paranoia surrounding female homosexuality within Malay-Muslim communities. The pejorative term used to describe transmen and masculine women, “pengkid”, became the narrative basis for “Aku Bukan Tomboy” for an audience who now recognise the term, but have little understanding or exposure to the realities of life as a transman in Malaysia.

This was not the first time Malaysia became gripped by the largely sensationalist media representation of masculine women. In 1996, the story of Rohana and Azizah appeared in the local media, poised to shock the nation: a couple was married by a kadi (a religious official) except unbeknowst to the kadi and even the bride, Rohana, that Azizah identified as a man in the marital proceedings. The media focused significantly on the “predatory” character of the masculine Azizah who preyed on the “innocent” Rohana. Although Malaysia does not have a law against female homosexuality, Azizah still had to be punished. Her official crimes were the usage of a counterfeit identification card and male impersonation, an audacious attempt to access male heterosexual privilege.

The Malaysian media’s preoccupation with non-normative individuals as sexual predators of unsuspecting women and men, snatching from the heteronormative public their pool of potential partners, is a recurring pattern. Last year, a discussion on a Malay-language women’s television programme about the supposed threat transsexual women posed to cis-gender women came under fire. Transsexual women were believed to be in direct competition with cis-women for the affections of men (and jobs in the beauty industry), a competition that transwomen have no right to be in. The subtext of this recurring allegation is that transpeople cannot be allowed to form loving relationships with members of society lest they corrupt the vulnerable facade of heterosexuality and cis-gender binary.

Malaysian transmen live in relative seclusion from the public cacophony of phallocentric debates about the illegality of anal sex, often perceived as the cornerstone of homosexuality in Malaysia. Transsexualism and transgender issues meanwhile are often regarded as issues that concern male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals, trans women, or Mak Nyahs. The voices of transmen however are rarely brought to light and at times treated as afterthought in discussions about LGBT identities.

If one is allowed to generalise, one can say that much of the general public anywhere have little knowledge about much less exposure to transmasculinity. The most high profile media and cinematic portrayal of a transman was Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance as Brandon Tinna, the ill-fated transman who was murdered because his gender identity threatened the masculinity of his cis-male friends. In Malaysia, however, there is much confusion about the transmen community over terms, their gender and sexual identity. It would be a fallacy to suggest that the experiences of transmen are just like transwomen except the reverse, and that the transmen community is monolithic. According to one Malaysian transman, Shamin, the transmen community distinguish themselves from tomboys by binding their breasts and using masculine pronouns and terms of address for each other.

In agreement to some extent with Dennis Altman’s thesis of global queering, that is that globalisation of gay idenities and subcultures emanating almost exclusively from the US and Western Europe, individuals who identify as “transmen” adopt the term and discourse learned from English-langauge material on the internet. The global nature of transmasculine identities in Malaysia is also reflected in choice of role models, those who have paved the way for others to leading a public life as transmen and as sources of life-affirming information for transitioning mainly hail from English-speaking countries. But later the internet became instrumental for Malaysian transmen to form communities via social media and chat-based forums and hold up a number of local transmen as role models, creating a full circle that traverses the global-local continuum of LGBT discourse.

As Malaysian LGBT activists approach the federal court to claim the banning of Seksualiti Merdeka, a local festival championing gender and sexual diversity, as unconstitutional, a number of questions arise as to what the LGBTs as a community means in Malaysia. LGBT, LGBTIQ (LGBT plus intersex and queer), and the newly formed acronym QUILTBAG are discurive shorthands with much plenty of class baggage that is yet to be unpacked in Malaysia. Those who identify with the LGBTIQ cause are more likely to be members of the more educated, middle-class elite. For two Malaysian transmen, Shamin and Hayd Hatake, many transmen do not view themselves as part of the LGBT community nor do they identify with what the class-distinct LGBT discourse connotes.

In a country where a de facto ban on homosexuality is upheld (and indeed contested) within the illegality of sodomy, sex reassignment surgery is inaccessible (on Islamic grounds for Malaysian Muslims), the official change of name and gender is unrecognised by the state, the initialism ‘LGBT’ is misunderstood yet demonised, and the open support for gender and sexual diversity is threatened with a brutal crackdown, communities who fall through the cracks of human rights and anti-discrimination activism due to class-based discursive language will continue to be poorly understood, misrepresented, and subject to prejudice and transphobia. But despite the many challenges faced by non-normative Malaysians and their allies, the increasing spaces for expressing hegemonic subversion such as the internet form a welcoming salve for a society grappling with the heteronormativity that will break at its seams of repression.

Advice for Valentine’s Day Lovers: Play Fair (for Loyar Berkasih)

First published for Loyar Burok, on 12th February 2012.

Recently, PAS managed to let their guard down with a statement saying that Muslims can celebrate Valentine’s Day … but strictly according to a moral guideline painstakingly spelled out by the head of PAS Youth, Nasaruddin Ali. A celebration of love, albeit a kitsch and mercilessly consumerist one, is at last okay for Malaysian Muslims.

Now that PAS has somewhat softened its image with this revelation, perhaps we should consider what it is about Valentine’s Day that PAS has been worried about all these years. Apart from the tenuous “Christian origins” argument, it is really sex and moral disorder that Valentine’s Day unleashes which poses as the bee in PAS’s bonnet. It is couples – read: unmarried couples – getting it on after a mating ritual involving uncute teddy bears, chocolates, and roses.

It’s easy to become disoriented by the now PAS-approved haze of romance blanketing across Malaysia next week and forget that even on special occassions, sex and romance are not necessarily played out on equal ground. Not all romantic relationships are equal, and most often than not, they reflect the gender inequalities of our society.

Now, I am supportive of sexual relationships outside of marriage so long as there is consent, the sex is safe, and those directly implicated are happy. But before there is safe sex, consent, and satisfaction, couples would usually engage in a complex ritual of dinner and movie-watching after which straight guys often expect to be “rewarded” for their company and sometimes, for their financially-enumerated generosity.

What’s a girl to do when culturally, we expect our dates to pay for everything? What’s a guy to earn by the end of the evening when they’ve shelled out most of their cash on their dates? I have found myself after several dates being “gently” pressured, rather than subjected to attempted rape, into having sex to “thank” my date. I am not representative of an isolated case, many young Malaysian women are bullied into having sex by their boyfriends. As the female of the species, we’re expected to please our partners by being agreeable, pliable, totally succumbed by male flattery, and easily charmed into bed.

On bigger and more “special” occassions such as Valentine’s Day, we will witness and indeed be treated ourselves to bigger gestures; maybe a marriage proposal, maybe a romantic declaration of one’s love, or maybe a spectacular reignition of long lost passion. But there will always be opportunists who use the occasion to pressure a woman into having sex. Can a girl or woman pressure a guy or indeed another girl into having sex with them? Of course, but since men are socially expected and accepted to be the active agent in sexual relations, men as a result often feel entitled to women’s bodies.

Pressuring, coaxing, and bullying women into having sex is a steep, slippering slope to committing rape. PAS may not have the interest of more vulnerable individuals in unequal relationships at heart when they warn us of its corruptive powers, because they are obsessed with assigning themselves as our moral guardians. That said, however, I hope this post bears little of PAS’s moralistic posturing.

So lest we forget that Valentine’s Day can be used as a tool to abuse one’s social and financial privilege and again sexual access. Too often we see love and romance as perfectly gift-wrapped entities, eliding the less savoury aspects pervading our culture that rewards male bravado and entitlement and demure female passivity. So have a fair and egalitarian Valentine’s Day, everybody; go dutch if possible, make it clear that Valentine’s is not a means to an end (read: sex) unless both parties find each other attractive enough to want to bump nasties.

Sexuality can never be a private affair

“Why can’t these gay rights activists keep their sexuality issues private? No one needs to have their sexual preferences shoved in our (sic) faces or marching down the streets like they do in gay pride marches. Sexuality should be a private matter, like religion.”

Sounds familiar?

It’s what people say when they don’t like to see gay and lesbian couples kissing, holding hands in public, and when some gay men talking about great anal sex is. For the disapproving people in question, it’s “too much information”. For other people with more “delicate” sensibilities, they say things like “Ugh, gross!”, like eating cendol with durian is gross.

So what’s this about keeping our sexual preferences private? Can we actually do that? For most Malaysians, sexuality means, and only means, sexual preferences. It essentially means what a couple does in bed, in the hallway, wherever one fancies. So sexual preferences is about sexual intercourse, and only sexual intercourse.

But sexual preferences begin with sexual attraction; a hypothetical woman being attracted to a hypothetical man. Whatever form of affection between springs from their sexual attraction to each other. Yes, we know lips-to-lips kissing in public is anathema in Malaysia. But straight people hold hands, hug, and cuddle in public all the time and you see in Hallmark greetings card, so it must be PG.

If there were demonstrations of what “flaunting” your sexuality is, it’s holding hands, kissing, cuddling your romantic partner in public. Straight people do it all the time, very few people would complain that they’re shoving their sexuality in other people’s faces.

In fact, there are ways straight people “show off” their sexuality; through marriage, dating, talking about their relationship problems for hours on end to people who are always willing to listen among other things.

And so sexuality becomes more than what happens between the sheets, but extends from beyond the bedroom into public spaces, the workplace, places of worship, schools and campuses, hotels, and the courts of justice. It seeps into our discussions about starting a family, adoption, cohabitation, employment practices, workplace behaviour, locker-room banter, and school bullying.

Straight people take for granted the ease through which they navigate their sexual orientation on a daily basis, forgetting how hard it is, at times how impossible it becomes, for lesbian and gay people to fall in love, and express their love and affection. But no, “concerned” anti-gay rights advocates rarely think about love and romance that do occur between people of the same sex because they’re obsessed about “gay sex”, a straight person’s codename for anal sex. A preoccupation with Sections 377A to D of the (colonial) Penal Code that criminalises sodomy is testament to this obsession.

Indeed, there is huge void in understanding of what sexuality means in Malaysia. There is a confusion between sexuality with sex, as one contributor on Malaysiakini has pointed out. The outrageously offensive episode on the Malay women’s show, Wanita Hari Ini, conflates gender with sexuality.

I’m also of the opinion that the low of levels of understanding is attributed to the deadly mix of prejudiced views about what is “natural” or “normal” and lack of access to more progressive readings of queer politics in Malay (since the majority of queer movement critics in Malaysia are Malays). It’s this same lack of information that narrows their ability to criticise sexual diversity: “If you allow gay people to marry, whatever next? Siblings marrying each other, people can marry animals, paedophiles marrying children”, the list goes on, spiralling downward to the dark abyssmal recesses of no-argument land.

We return to the notion as sexuality as public, and no, unless one hasn’t quite got the concept, is not about having sex in public. Sexuality is part of human nature, but so is asexuality. It is inscribed in our day to day practises, how we wear our clothes, how we organise our relationships with people, and how we organise the “big” moments of our lives – love, marriage, and family.

When you refuse to accept the queer movement’s demands to what we all take for granted as the “basic” elements of what it means to be human in society, then you’re not allowing lesbian and gay people to function fully as humans, and yet you wouldn’t call yourself homophobic.