We don’t have to live in fear

A message for LGBTs who say Seksualiti Merdeka is making things worse

Someone wrote to me that: “According to many of my friends, they were doing just fine getting around under the radar until Seksualiti Merdeka ‘decided’ to fight for LGBT rights publicly. Now they blame Seksualiti Merdeka and its organisers for the scrutiny that they are being put through.”

This is my response.

Your fears are real. I have been there before. Always thinking twice for everything I did in case I get caught. At home, I was careful of calls I received. At work, I was careful of emails. I deleted all chats and online histories. After looking over my shoulders to be doubly triply sure no one was looking, I might have some relieve. I had to lie all the time. I had to get out of sight just for some human touch, I had to hide my love. And I feared that these few precious moments would be gone should people find out. So I maintained my silence. And with my silence, I surrendered my dignity.

But not anymore. That is why I can tell you this. It doesn’t have to be this way.

When we chose to trade in our dignity for the privilege of being left alone we will always think that this privilege is all we are worth. We live under the radar because we think under the radar is where we belong. We forget that life is for living, not for existing in the shadows.

We pay for these privileges with our silence, and this silence, while pleasant in times of innocence will render us unable to speak for ourselves in times of injustice.

This silence is what feeds the beast of oppression. While we live silently, those less able than us to hide will become victims at the jaws of the beast. You and I feed the beast when we chose to keep silent about injustice faced by others. We may be lucky to escape, but not everyone is that lucky.

LGBT children are kicked out of their homes, with nowhere to go they often end up selling themselves, for the privilege to survive. Transgender individuals are denied work, they are beaten up, sometimes by vigilantes, sometimes by religious officers, sometimes by police. All they want is the privilege to walk down the street without getting beaten up. LGBTs continue to be easy target for sexual abuse and are made to feel like it is their fault, so they never report it and they are denied the privilege of justice. Gay professionals from teachers to engineers to police are blackmailed at work, so they pay up to avoid being exposed, to keep that privilege to work. All around, many LGBTs, out of their love for their families, force themselves to separate from the ones they truly love and marry someone they don’t, buying a lifetime of silence for the privilege of not being kicked out from the family. When all these privileges add up to zero, many young LGBTs attempt suicide as they contemplate a life without happiness and meaning. How many of us must suffer this way before we finally realise that our silence has allowed their continued suffering?

My friends, these are not new events. They have been happening even before Seksualiti Merdeka came about. We who have been working on the issue know these stories. They have haunted us until we became restless. Until we had to do something. So we became their voices.

The only reason you hear about it more and more is because we have put LGBT issues on the news. All around the country, people are speaking up about injustice. The news is being reported. We have broken the silence. But there is a price. Those who prefer to keep us silent are afraid we expose their hypocrisy. They will step up on their bullying.

We who have been silent are now afraid. We point our fingers at those who speak up. We say they made things worse. We say they made us live in fear.

BUT THE FACT IS WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN FEAR. We have just gotten used to it. The only difference now is that suddenly we are forced to confront our fears.

We live in fear because we don’t know how to live without fear. We are afraid to lose our privileges. It is a tragedy we have grown to like our crumbs. It is a tragedy we allow those we elect to run the system bully us and determine our small rewards for accepting their power over us. It is a tragedy we let them get away with taking away our voices. Don’t let them get away with it.

If we refuse to feed the beast, it will starve. Yes, it will get angry and it will sniff for blood. When we stop being afraid, the beast will find more ways to make us fear it again. It bares its fangs and howls louder. It snaps its jaws at us. It is afraid. Of us.

Together we can challenge it: starve the beast, change the system.

Being left alone is not our privilege. It is our right. Falling in love is not our privilege. It is our right. Expressing who we are is not our privilege. It is our right. Not being beaten up is not our privilege. It is our right. Not being punished for not hurting anybody is not our privilege. It is our right. Having a job, having a home, having friends, are not our privileges. They are our rights. We don’t have to pay for these rights. These rights are ours from the moment we were born. Don’t settle for less.

Seksualiti Merdeka hopes to empower all Malaysians to realise we deserve equality. The same rights as everyone. Like everyone else, we don’t have to be kicked out from homes, beaten up, arrested, fired from work, forced to marry, and have nowhere to run for justice. We certainly don’t have to be rehabilitated. There is nothing wrong with us. We don’t have to live in fear.

We are not asking for more. We don’t need privileges. A system that grants privileges to some is also a system that deprives others. We are not asking for less. We don’t want to have to lie about ourselves and pretend to be straight in order to be given the same rights. It takes away our dignity.

So speak up about injustice. Speak up for love. Don’t deny each other’s realities. If you have not suffered discrimination, good for you. Don’t deny the realities of those who have. Use your position to speak up for those who have suffered.

If you have been living in the closet, start to think about the kind of future you want and work towards it. If that future includes living and loving proudly, prepare yourself for it. Read up, meet people, work with us.

Tell our politicians to stop minding our private affairs and start minding the country. Tell our leaders we want equality for all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Tell our friends and families not to be distracted from issues of corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement of the country. Register to vote. Get involved in fighting for our democractic rights, minority rights, human rights causes. Activate for changes in laws, policies and constitutions to protect our rights. These issues determine our future.

Fear is the tool of the tyrant in making us utterly alone and powerless. We are not alone. And we are not powerless. We must change our fear into outrage. For neither living with fewer fears nor living with more fears is any way to live at all. We must stand together. A future without fear is worth giving up a few lousy privileges for.

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Pang Khee Teik is a freelance arts consultant, curator and writer. He is known as the co-founder of the sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka and former Arts Programme Director for The Annexe Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. In 2013, he completed an MA in Gender, Sexuality & Culture at Birkbeck College, University of London, under the Chevening Scholarship.

Posted on 27 March 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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