Written by Alexandra Goh
Disclaimer: All names mentioned in this article has been changed to protect the identities of our interviewees.
Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. These are terms we hear day after day, whether it be on social media platforms or through small talk with our peers. It is undeniable that the LGBT movement is now gaining widespread attention, transcending the lives of many people around the world who struggle to find acceptance in society due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In light of this, we interviewed a few LGBT students in order to gain the perspective of this growing community.
When inquired about their journey of self-discovery and coming out, a bisexual interviewee described their sexual orientation as something that they’d always innately felt and yet never really considered until high school. “You never truly understand your situation until you’re eventually exposed to what others regard as abnormal. There comes a certain age when you realise things about yourself and come to terms with accepting yourself for who you are.”
A respondent said that while they had never experienced explicit discrimination, they knew that to be open about their identity, they would have to be ready to take criticism and be open to judgement from other people. “I feel that if you aren’t ready to receive backlash from society, then it’s best not to say anything out in the open just yet. You can’t expect everyone to be accepting.” On the topic of coming out, they believed that the first person one must come out to is themselves. “I’ve been through the initial phase of denial, and in my experience, you have to be able to take this first step before you will ever be ready to tell other people.” Only after embracing and loving yourself, they said, can one be ready to come out to other people.
Of course, that being said, the LGBT community is not as prominent in Malaysia in comparison with other countries where the movement is much more robust. Unlike other countries where bills regarding LGBT rights are being passed day by day as the community gains awareness, LGBT rights remain generally unrecognised in Malaysia, as the conservative society of Malaysia poses a significant hurdle for this movement to advance. Many LGBT youths in Malaysia have difficulties coming to terms with their gender identity growing up, the leading factor being discrimination, as criticism and judgement – whether subtle or direct – is inevitable.
While it remains true that Malaysia does not have the most prominent LGBT scene, the community is still gradually gaining a voice in Malaysian society. Because of this, we believe that the ideas and perspectives of our students – and our nation’s future leaders – should be thoroughly explored regarding this matter of growing importance. Thus, we’ve met with several people to get their differing perspectives regarding the LGBT movement.
When we asked a few of our interviewees if they were supportive of LGBT rights, one said: “Yes, I do support LGBT rights, as I believe that it is not a matter of choice – it’s like being discriminated for something that you can’t control.” A couple interviewees were also supportive of equal marriage rights for all communities, but there were a few others with differing viewpoints on the matter. For instance, one expressed that while they are supportive of the LGBT community’s rights as human beings, homosexuality and transgenderism weren’t things they were comfortable standing by. However, they still agreed that all human beings should be treated equally.
On the topic of Malaysia’s stance of non-recognition towards LGBT rights, the interviewees also expressed conflicting thoughts. Some responded negatively to the idea of changing this stance, believing that a lack of recognition signalled the correct approach. Others suggested the implementation of the UK system, whereby same-sex marriage is legalised with the same economic benefits, while the rights of religious institutions to abstain from performing the marriage remained unadulterated. On the other hand, one respondent urged Malaysians to come to terms with the fact that our country’s culture and placement in the world varied vastly from liberal countries where LGBT rights were recognised. That being said, they also expressed their belief that the coming generation had the capability, understanding and the values to shift societal perception and change the course of the country.
When asked, “do you think being gay is just a phase?”, a couple respondents replied in the negative, pointing out the sufferings of the LGBT community and reasoning that nobody would willingly subject themselves to ostracisation if given the choice. Others remained open to either possibility, one interviewee stating that the confusing period of self-discovery related to sexual orientation might lead to such a belief. Those who believed that being gay is a phase cited that it depended on one’s mindset, saying that they believed the new societal norm of accepting one’s sexual orientation as an unchangeable fact of birth created difficulties in changing their minds.
In response to the inquiry of how they’d react if a family member came out to them, many interviewees responded that they’d feel shocked and curious at the news. However, while some respondents felt that it wouldn’t ultimately change their treatment and perception of that loved one, citing that they would attempt to understand the perspectives of the ones they cared for; other respondents felt differently. For example, one interviewee said that while it wouldn’t change their unconditional love for that family member, they would still try to communicate their disagreement and lack of acknowledgement for that facet of their identity, believing it to be a choice wrongly made. “However, most of all, I wouldn’t isolate them from my life, or treat them any differently. I just wouldn’t recognize that aspect of them.”
When asked, “do you believe LGBT rights should be given more awareness in society?”, one interviewee said, “Yes, society should be made aware through social media and various other platforms, such as including more LGBT characters in films or television series.” Others cited the growing awareness of LGBT rights as a symbol of progression; while a few respondents answered “no”, believing that the current spotlight on the LGBT community to be sufficient – or even excessive – especially among urban youths.
In conclusion, it’s clear to see that everyone has different points of views on the complexities of the LGBT community. However, regardless of our individual perspectives, we should learn to respect one another for who we are and to learn from each other. Be sensitive and compassionate. Be kind, and be humble. Most importantly: love yourself. In the words of one of our respondents:
“We’re so busy worrying about what others think, craving their acceptance, but slow down and consider: what do you want? How do you feel? In my opinion, I think that if you’re confident with who you are and love yourself, the words of others will become relatively insignificant in light of your inner strength. For me, what I truly want to tell people is to really love yourself. Accept your personality, your strengths and your flaws. Embrace yourself for the person you are, because in the end, the only person whose opinion truly matters is yourself. Once you do that, things will get better.”
Regardless of our personal differences, this advice applies to everyone. Be true to yourself, love yourself; and the other pieces of this puzzle will fall into place.