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.

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