Friday, December 24, 2010

He's Gay and He's Okay... For Now

"If a bullet should go through my head let that bullet go through every closet door."

Harvey Milk

He was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.
He died with two bullets in his head.

Today, one of my consultants asked me conversationally if I celebrate Christmas. I said no, and immediately dreaded his next question. He asked what religion I subscribe to.

"I'm an atheist," I said and I saw that brief 'excusez-moi?' expression flashed across his face in response. Happens every time like clockwork. It's not that I am ashamed of my lack of faith - I merely dislike the social stigma of being godless. Sometimes, I feel that my mere existence is at best an enigma to religious people and at worst, an automatic affront to their beliefs.

"So um, is it because of your parents?" He tried not to miss a beat.

I would have liked to point out that his question seemed bizarre to me and that atheists are usually atheists in spite of their parents, but all I said was, "I make my own decisions about these things."

The subject was immediately dropped after that, natch.

If admitting that one is an atheist can be awkward to a hardcore atheist like me, imagine outing oneself as a homosexual. Now, imagine a guy from a culturally Malay Muslim background recording a YouTube confession that he's gay,

The title "Saya Gay, Saya Okay" means "I'm Gay, I'm Okay" in Malay, for my non-Malaysian readers.

This is Azwan Ismail's submission to the It Gets Better Project, an amazing worldwide campaign started in response to the recent slew of suicides of gay teens who were drove to the edge from bullying - to reach out to homosexual teens and tell them that the torment, ostracism and heartbreak they face now will someday go away. He came out, at great personal cost to his reputation and risk to his life, to give a singular testimonial on being a homosexual in a culturally homophobic and predominantly Islamic country - all to share his experience with teenagers who are in his exact same situation. He gave a face to all the faceless young people who hid away because our society hates they way they love. He gave a voice to the mute gay Malay men and women in our country who are too afraid to speak, and too intimidated to ask to be treated like the human beings they are.

He is my hero. One day, he might be everyone's.

And I'm not making it up when I said he risked his life by recording his three-minute video. He had since received many death threats by Malay Muslims outraged by his confession of the difficulties he faced coming to terms with his own sexuality. That's what too many religious people do, you see - threaten to murder what they don't like. Wait, let me emphasise that: they want to KILL HIM. Yes, gays are depraved animals for falling in love with someone they shouldn't. Atheists are immoral for standing up for equal rights for gay people. But yet hateful religious thugs are apparently the righteous ones beloved by God for clamouring to shed the blood of someone who happens to be different. What the fuck, one wonders, is wrong with our country?

Then, there are the sanctimonious cunts who claim that Azwan is "insulting" Islam by being born a homosexual and having the stones to come out of the closet. The degree of self-entitlement of these self-important jackasses is frankly, quite astounding. If Allah has beef with Azwan, I'm sure the He is more than capable of dealing with him when the time comes - if it ever comes. And did they even ask Azwan if he personally believe in the teachings of Islam? I'm sure they didn't, and in Malaysia where apostasy is both criminalised and demonised, he couldn't renounce his affiliation with the incredible Religion of Peace™ even if he wanted to anyway. If he claims to be an apostate, they can easily take that as an "insult" to Islam too (we know there were precedents for this). From the get go, he was given no freedom of religion and no freedom of sexuality. He's between a rock and a hard place, both promising potential repercussions from our primitive laws. Speaking of our legal system, I'm kind of at risk right now too for violating some stupid blasphemy laws. Welcome, ladies and gents, to Malaysia.

Sure, it's an incredible display of his lack of self-preservation but he what he did were also done out of incredible personal courage. What I fear is that he might be martyred for it. As a member of the medical fraternity, I find that it is my duty to speak out against discrimination of any stripe. No one person's dignity and right to life should be compromised by his ethnicity, creed, social status or sexuality and I urge everyone to help spread word of Azwan's message and of his plight. Tell a friend. Write something.

He had hurt no one by being who he is, and if his only crime is to love, then it's a crime that's not happening as much as the world needs it to. I hope you're right Azwan, for your sake, that it really does get better in Malaysia.

Addendum: it seems that the video had been removed from YouTube. I wonder if the decision was voluntary, indirectly influenced by the backlash of the Muslims or directly insisted upon by the governmental officials.

Some other great blog posts on this:

From a fellow Malaysian atheist: Azwan Ismail is Gay. And He is (Probably Not Going to be) Okay.

From a moderate Malay Muslim's perspective who made a good case that the people are really more outraged by his outing rather than his sexual orientation: Who is Azwan Ismail and why are some people saying terrible things about him?

From an atheist attorney: If Religious Bigots Threaten You Because You’re Gay, You Might Be Eligible For Asylum.

On the side of human rights,
k0k s3n w4i


Schadenfreude said...

I've only recently been made aware of your blog and find myself in violent agreement with just about all your posts pertaining to hot button issues. I echo the sentiments you've put forward in this post and the previous one involving that pompous fuckwad Olmsted.

I pretty much suck at putting thoughts to paper so I'm grateful to you for blogging about such issues with just the right amount of outrage and humor. I'm just so sick of all the vile injustices happening in our country in the name of religion.

Incidentally, most people have absolutely no reaction when I tell them I'm an atheist. Or it could be they're just hiding their incredulity and/or disgust very well. Or I just plain suck at reading expressions.

Ugh, I've rambled on long enough. Until your next rant! :P

Azygous said...

Funny isn't it?

If gay people deserves to be stoned to death, if babi/khinzir or anything against their religion is haram, why god created them in the first place? (tuhan pencipta alam kan? according to them)

Anonymous said...

Fuwah...u are quoted by Friendly Atheist...

It's still a long way for Malaysia to achieve tolerance to homosexuality.

Zzzyun said...

i wonder when will people realise that ppl cant help being a homosexual. i mean, seriously, why would someone intentionally be someone who is ostracised by society?

Anonymous said...

Found this on a blog that was discussing marketing and homosexuality in a post:

We'll never see ads like this at home.

Michael Caton said...

Tolerance is not only the right thing to do, it has practical benefits as well. If Malaysia insists on repressing the productive and talented contributors of its economy for stupid reasons, there are lots of other countries that will gladly take them. (I live in one of them.) Too bad, Malaysia! It's a competitive world economy out there...

Teabie said...

That's just really upsetting to see/read, why should he suffer a death threat from the very people who should be loving and helping him, as per their religion? Much as I don't like some of the policies that we have in Singapore, I'm suddenly made aware that we are still really lucky in so many other ways. Sigh. I really, really hope he'll be OK. Thanks for taking this issue to light.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Schadenfreude: i'd love to know how you discovered my little corner of the world wide web. and feel free to say whatever that comes to mind - i enjoy reading reader comments. anyway, the reaction i get from people isn't really disgust or incredulity. it's more of a double take. i bothers me that our existence should come as such a surprise to most people.

Azygous: one also wonders why allah/god didn't just cause men to be born without their foreskin.

Anonymous: so, i was :) i alerted hemant mehta to this story, but i certainly did not expect to be quoted, haha.

Zzzyun: precisely. one can't exactly choose who oneself will get attracted to. i like to see some of these homophobic muslim males try and choose to fall in love with another guy - if they aren't actually repressed homosexuals themselves. you know shakespeare said about those who protest the loudest...

lovealynna: my fave gay ad is Sinead's Hand. it's touching, it makes a very good point and it's set to an awesome song by lisa hannigan. you should totally check it out :)

Michael Caton: tolerance implies that there are things which need to be tolerated. it's high time the malaysian government start accepting a fact of nature. complaining about homosexuality is a little bit like complaining about rain.

Teabie: you are assuming that every religion teaches good. I highly recommend that you pick up a qur'an and read it from cover to cover. and you're welcome. just doing the least i can do. the more people are aware of azwan's plight, the less likely he is to suddenly disappear :)

Schadenfreude said...

k0k: I can't be 100% positive but I think it may have been a link from the MAFA facebook group.

Anonymous said...

Haha, good ad, AND I happen to really like Lisa Hannigan. :)

This has been said a billion times, but it's a shame she no longer makes music with Damien Rice.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Schadenfreude: that must be it then. i did share some of my posts on that page in the past. the majority of my readers aren't atheists :/

lovealynna: really?! i don't imagine that there's many lisa hannigan fans out there. i was never a fan of damien rice though - i have a thing against male musicians.