The life of gay people in Muslim Malaysia

Published: September 20, 2013

While life as a gay young person growing up during the 1980s certainly was rough, I know that many people had it much worse. And many still do. As I contemplated living in Malaysia, I had to ask the question What would life be like for me as a gay man in Malaysia? While the Malaysian culture is diverse and split among three major ethnic groups (Malay, Tamil, and Chinese), the majority are Muslim. You see and feel its influence everywhere you go. In large, metropolitan KL, it feels less conservative.

 
As I pondered my personal question, I broadened my query out to perhaps an even more important one—What is life like for Muslim gay people? Islam is not known for its tolerance of the LGBT community and its lifestyle, even though in many Muslim countries sex between men is not uncommon due to the prohibitions of interaction between the sexes. Relations between women are generally ignored.
 
Saiful* is a 33-year-old gay male who is Malay. Members of the Malay ethnic group basically have no choice in their religion. They are raised Muslim and are expected to follow its principles. He identifies himself as a liberal Muslim, someone who practices his religion sparingly.
 
Does your family know about your orientation? If yes, how are they about it? Are they accepting? Is it a secret from others? 
 
I am not out of the closet with my family. Though they have an inkling about me because I am 33 and have no girlfriend. They know I am close to a lot of  guy friends through the years.  I often sleep over at some of their homes. In my 20s, my family did ask whether I had a girlfriend or was interested in marriage and such, but nowadays my mother and father do not touch on the topic anymore. Relatives are usually the most persistent ones who never fail to ask: “So when is your time? When is the big day? Bila lagi (When)? Ada calon, tak? (Do you have any suitors?). A couple of my gay Malay friends also experience such inquisitions during family get-togethers at Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid), weddings, and other communal Malay gatherings.
 
Do you feel that you are able to be “out” in your daily life, or are you only able to be open with close friends?
 
Depends on where I am. At the office, being gay is an accepted norm as I am in the creative/media line. So most people at my workplace know about my sexual orientation. Generally, outside the office I do not portray myself as gay, or at least try to not do so. I like to go to the gay clubs in KL, like Blue Boy in Bukit Bintang (that’s a really old, run-down place, but it has survived the best and worst of times, unlike many other flash-in-the-pan gay clubs in KL). I bring my boyfriend to Blue Boy sometimes, and he enjoys it because he is still new to the gay world and likes to see what it’s like. I go cruising at KL sauna/spas and the two cruising Lake parks in Kelana Jaya and Tasik Permaisuri in Cheras.
 
In this sense, I am only “out” with my close friends, who consist of close officemates, a gay friend from college, and my closest friends from my hometown school, who happen to be gay as well. And of course I can be myself with my boyfriend.
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