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Some Behavioural Modification Required II

I take back what I said about sissies probably just being a translation of "pondan" (Malay slur for a gay man), and deliberately chosen to be as scathing as possible to the official Terengganu Ministry of Education stance on rehabilitating effeminate boys, in the New Straits Times article titled, "Besut boot camp for 66 sissies". It seems that with its follow-up article, where the NST attempts to present an expert's view on why transsexualism occurs, not any less subtly titled, "The parenting factor behind sissies", the paper is very much about pushing a hate-based agenda.

Perhaps, most problematic of all is the single expert opinion they sought itself, a psychology lecturer from Universiti Teknologi Mara, which gave only the nurture argument as the cause for transsexualism, with no backing or countering expert opinion. In fact, the only countering opinion at all in the article was not medical, but the view of the federal Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, who stated quite strongly that the Besut camp went against Malaysian child protection laws and should be closed down. The psychology expert's argument itself was deeply rooted in gender bias. Specifically, it claimed that boys develop effeminate tendencies if they lacked strong father figures in their lives, if for example, their fathers were distant and their mothers were left with the task of raising all her children. Perhaps, the mother wished for a daughter and got a son, so she dresses the son in feminine clothes, making him more comfortable with his feminine side. Or she is a working mother, and asks her son to help with the household chores. The expert goes on to say that there is nothing wrong with asking a son to help with chores, but puts the blame on mothers for failing to explain to their sons that household chores are traditionally done by women, and men can do them "in order to become more independent."

The question I would ask here is, why must sons (or daughters) be taught to help in household chores so that they can be more independent. Why not so they can be more equal partners with their spouses later in life? And if boys are taught to do household chores to be more independent, then why are girls taught to do household chores? Is it because, as the expert points out, this is the traditional role of women?

She also believed that effeminate boys reinforced each other's normalcy if they gathered together in groups for support, such as in school, and that this just made the situation worse, because they would get "bolder".

Firstly, no one parent should bear the brunt of raising a child alone, if possible, whether that is the mother or the father. No one spouse should expect to bear the brunt of housework alone if both spouses work, nor should they set an example for their children that suggests making one working parent do all the household chores is normal. Would it not be better if the parents shared an equitable relationship, one based on understanding, discussion and sharing of life's burdens? Is that not a better example for children to learn about relationships?

Why is the mother expected to be the main caretaker for her child, even if she does have a job outside the home? Why is the blame for transsexualism and effeminate behaviour blamed solely on the mother? Is that just because she's female? If so, is it because all mothers and all women are assumed to be "feminine"? What is the criteria of "feminine" behaviour here? Housework? Child rearing?

Where are the experts on the nature side of this argument? Why were they not consulted for a more holistic take on children's development?

Finally, finding your friends while growing up, especially if you are perceived as different from the norm -- not a difficult thing for a growing child to do -- is a precious thing. Not all children ever succeed in doing this, and many people only find their support in later life, as adults. Banding together for strength is one of the most basic human instincts imaginable, with good reason. If a child is bullied at school for being "girly", in an environment that is relentlessly unsympathetic, at home, at school and in public social situations, then a friend may be the only thing keeping this child safe from harm, whether that is from a stranger, or from the child himself. Remember the It Gets Better campaign, that wonderful global effort to help suicidal GLBT teens not give up on life because of bullying, ostracisation and abuse over their sexual orientation? In Malaysia, perhaps we most famously know the campaign for Azwan Ismail, a Malay man who participated in the local version of this campaign with the multiracial NGO Seksualiti Merdeka. Barely a day after posting his video online, because he was Malay and Muslim, he received death threats from fellow Malaysians and threats of legal charges from a wide range of Muslim authorities including government representatives. Incidentally, videos by other non-Malay Malaysians in that campaign did not receive such equivalent ire.

I don't think any person could reasonably want any child to potentially be at risk of abuse or even death, however inadvertently, over his or her sexuality. In the end, what the authorities are trying to do with these rehabilitiation camps is a misguided attempt at protecting children, rather like protecting a child at risk of parental abuse by leaving him with his abusive parents and throwing away the key. Backtracking and calling this an attempt at a Patriotism Integration Programme is a poor excuse to put a child in harm's way.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 21st, 2011 12:19 pm (UTC)
Is there anything non-Malaysians can do to help with the status of women and LGBT people, or would that just make things worse by having outsiders interfere?

The company I work for has a site in Kulim; other than our existing non-discrimination policy, is there anything I can get our Corporate office to do?
Apr. 21st, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Honestly, no. The issues are culturally entrenched. It will take time to change people's minds, and we're barely at the level of any dialogue yet. Local NGOs have been initiating help programs for years. The PT Foundation is the most established of these organisations and has programs covering many areas of GLBT support that are making a difference.

Bear in mind that local action is subject to government watchdogs. Outside interference, in a problem that is often already dismissed as Western-oriented, can actually endanger people more.

If your company has a non-discrimination policy, that's a good start. Many global corporations working in Malaysia do have similar values, and I think as people are exposed to a more open, equitable culture, they naturally change. That's one way to sort of offer a different perspective.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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