The Malaysian Department of Education last week released a set of “guidelines” in order to identify gay and lesbian children, so as to curb the “social problem of homosexuality”. Among the ridiculous and comically stereotypical guidelines included:
(To identify gay guys)
-Likes wearing deep V-neck T shirts and sleeveless tops (e.g. tank tops, sleeveless tops, etc).
-Attracted to men (Wow, what a surprise!)
-Enjoys carrying handbags (I think they are referring to manbags)
(To identify lesbian girls)
-Attracted to women (Well DUH!)
-Prefers the company of women to men
-Shows no affection whatsoever to men
Last year, the department caused a furore for sending several “feminine” Muslim schoolboys to a so-called reform camp in order to “straighten them up”. The rationale for such a camp according to the director of the Education Department Razali Daud,
“The severity of the symptoms vary, but the 66 schoolboys were showing behaviours that is [sic] not usually displayed by a normal male of their age… As educators, we have to do something about it before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return…We are not intervening with the process of nature as we are merely trying to guide these students to a proper path in life.”
Basically the gist of Mr Daud’s rationale was that the boys needed to learn what “proper behaviour” was, and that the department was trying to curb the possibility of them ending up either gay and/or transsexual. (Funnily enough, most of my gay friends are happy and proud to be men, and hardly desire a sex change)
Now let’s get something straight. Malaysia has never been a platform for LGBT rights. Not only is homosexuality illegal in Malaysia, the fact is that discrimination against homosexuals is so widespread, even in the private (non-governmental) sphere, which reflects a troubling shadow of homophobia that extends across the nation. Consider that we only got independence from the British less than a hundred years ago (1957). Prior to that, Malaysia has been a British colony for the last 300 or so years, and as you know, the old-school British (think Downton Abbey and their highly priggish approach to propriety and gender norms) were extremely particular about gender roles. Although it is not a spoken rule, many traditional employers in Malaysia still frown upon female employees wearing pants, which explains why the great majority of Malaysian ladies still maintain extremely traditional gender roles and presentation. Growing up in Malaysia, I did notice one striking difference between Malaysian and Western ladies is the fact that the former wear skirts much more often. In Malaysia we have a pervasive “Tai Tai” (trophy wife) culture similar to the era of Mad Men, and generally speaking, most Malaysian couples operate alongside stereotypically 1950s gender norms. Hell, my mum’s friends once even had a lecturer back at uni who didn’t let the girls come into class wearing pants, and if they did they would receive a stern piece of her mind about “proper decorum”. (Though mind you, she was from the Downton Abbey generation so it’s totally understandable)
I once went to a popular Malaysian nightclub called Ministry of Sound. Now just for the record, I never ever go to nightclubs; this was two years back, when I was in my second year of uni, and I still thought clubbing was “cool”, until I discovered the sleazy nature of many of those establishments, which will be elaborated in further paragraph.
You see, Ministry of Sound has a very unique dress code, which prohibits men from wearing any sleeveless garment whatsoever, yet permits women to come in looking like they’ve just rolled out of bed, in camisoles and booty shorts. I once asked a bouncer to brief me on the dress code, to which he replied, “Well basically, no sleeveless for men.” And I was like, “What about the women”? And he said, “Oh; for women, going sleeveless should be okay”.
To me, this was all very peculiar. If the management had made a gender-neutral dress code, which prohibited BOTH men and women from coming in in tank tops on the basis of decorum, it would have been understandable. However, the funny thing was that, as I have just said, only the men were subjected to the no-sleeveless rule, and the fact that EVERY single sleeveless garment, including classy and tailored Jean Paul Gaultier men’s sleeveless tops to Greek togas would have been banned on men, but permissible on women, obviously shows that MoS was banning sleeveless men not on the basis of decorum, but on sexuality. A man could come in in a casual $10 T shirt, and they would have let him in. But had he worn a $100 Jean Paul semi-formal spring sleeveless top, the bouncer would have barred him from entering on the basis of “not following the prescribed dress code” (no sleeveless tops for men)
Hence, we can see that it is not an issue of formality, class or decorum, which has caused the sleeveless ban, but something much more malicious: Homophobia. It’s not only the education department that associates sleeveless/skin-baring garments on men as a symptom of homosexuality; the fact is that numerous people make the fallacious association between flamboyant clothing on men and homosexuality, when the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Sexual preference is sexual preference is sexual preference. It has NOTHING to do with the way one dresses, or the kinds of clothes one prefers. Rachel Maddow and Ellen Degeneres would still be dressing that way even if they were straight. Unfortunately, the Bruno and the Butch stereotype prevails, showing the degree of ignorance among the mainstream community.
As I’ve mentioned, the dress code is both homophobic and sleazy. Think of it this way. Why do you think nightclubs tend to give preferential treatment towards women, e.g. free entry, liberal dress codes, etc? (So long as they are at least relatively attractive)
It’s because women are bait. They are bait, to attract sad, desperate heterosexual men to come in and buy drinks for them, hoping to get laid. Of course, equally sleazy women will revel in this mutually beneficial unspoken arrangement, and happily sit around waiting for free drinks from suckers hoping to get into their pants. But you see, vaginas have no more power over homosexual men than dicks have over heterosexual men, as this gay man makes it very clear. Furthermore, due to the fact that nightclubs tend to be a favourite haunt for young Bogan men pretending to be posh, it would be understandable why the management would want to limit the inflow of homosexual clients as much as possible, for fear of offending their key clients, the Great Malaysian Bogan. (It’s no secret that Bogans tend to be homophobic) So really; when you read between the lines, it makes perfect sense for the management to screen potential clientele through their dress sense, e.g. If he’s wearing something sleeveless, there’s a good chance he’s a homosexual; I can’t make much money off gay guys, since they won’t be going around buying drinks for women, so I better make a dress code which increases the likelihood of my patrons being straight men. So, no sleeveless tops for men. That should put off the flamboyantly gay guys at least)
As far as the LGBT situation goes, Malaysia is where America was in the 1950s. In fact, as far as acceptable gender norms are concerned, Malaysia is lightyears behind compared to most of the developed world. As for my last point, I think it’s time to grow up Malaysia; this is 2012, not 1952.