(Gay) Trouble in (Malaysia) Town

12 May
The many flavours of Malaysia

The many flavours of Malaysia

Malaysia prides itself in being a great multi-cultural society in which different communities live peacefully together – and when walking around in KL the mix of different languages, religions and cultures seems to be harmonious. But when talking to different people, not everybody is as tolerant as the government might want to see it.

A Malay friend took me to a curry house, and when I asked if it would be Thai style curry (green, red, in claypot) or Indian style (the spicy stew you scoop on your rice), he was almost offended and said it was Malay curry (so that was my first faux pas). So there are some ethnic sensitivities in Malaysia (sounds like Belgium – hehe). The Chinese don’t like the Malays with their mosques and conservative attitude. And a Malay friend of mine said that the Chinese have poor hygiene and smell. So there seem to be quite some stereotypes around – and at the same time it gave me a chance to explore my own prejudice.
Malays are conservative?

The Malaysian Mix

The Malaysian Mix

So I met this Chinese Malaysian guy who runs a cabaret of dancers. He wasn’t into Malays because they have dark skin (and indeed, many Asians prefer white skin, the lighter the better) and they are ‘muslim’ – Allah forbid! Muslims – in his eyes – are much more conservative. He complained he had to tone down his cabaret shows when performing for Malay audiences. And even though he dreams of having more transvestites in his show, he said that he would not find a market for it in Malaysia because it is a muslim country…

There is indeed a lot of muslim signs around. There’s mosques everywhere, and when they call for prayer, all music has to be switched off even in the bars run by Chinese or Indians. Many women wear veils, and at the beach here there are even many women in full face Burkha (the long black dress put over their head that only leaves the eyes uncovered). I suspect these are tourists from Middle-Eastern countries, who come on holidays in a ‘fellow muslim country’. As a consequence there’s lots of signs, menus, etc in Arabic language around – but also the Malaysian banknotes have Arabic writing on it.

Gay Malaysian (or is it Indonesian?)

Gay Malaysian (or is it Indonesian?)

This Chinese Malaysian friend of mine told me that (in general, of course) the Chinese were more in commerce and trade (having the shops etc) and would be better off than most of the Malay that traditional work the land in the countryside. So the Chinese in Malaysia often are better schooled than their countryside Malay counterparts, and more open to the world.

  • Note that I write and mean Chinese Malaysian here, because the Chinese community in Malaysia does feel themselves very different from the Chinese from China: they would speak a different dialect, would have some different customs, etc. So my friend was quite precise about not calling him Chinese – he was Chinese Malaysian. (sounds just as complicated as the situation in Belgium). Similarly one should not say Malay (the muslim community in Malaysia) when referring to the country (with all its diverse communities = Malaysian).

And the Chinese smell?

To like or not to like - that's the question

To like or not to like - that's the question

A Malay guy asked me if I dated a Chinese before, and whether I had noticed something. Even though he realised he was making gross generalisations, he confided to me that he thought the Chinese were not so hygienic. One element in there is that the Chinese often are not cut, whereas the muslims are.

He also thought the Chinese were smelly – because they eat garlic and all kind of smelly things. I can confirm from my trip to China (or Singapore) that Chinese cuisine comprises about everything that moves – and every part of those animals. And according to him they don’t wash properly… Obviously he has had some bad experiences with the Chinese…

My Malay gay friend hopes one day to become a good muslim and get married and have children… So he hopes that one day he will be cured from his infliction – of his homosexuality (!!!). He made it sound as a disease. So it goes without saying that he would never tell his parents or friends, even though he was madly in love with his boyfriend, with whom he was together already one and a half year. They are ringing each other 5 to 10 times per day – so I am really surprised that nobody suspects what’s going on.

Or are gays same same everywhere?

Or are gays same same everywhere?

Having said this, also most of the Chinese Malaysians are not out, Malaysia is not Thailand… Another point the Malays and Chinese converge on is food (besides eating pork). Food plays a central role in their lives (as I could notice traveling with a Chinese friend before – hehe) – and they would drive kilometers on end to go and sample some famous food of some road side food stall. I can testify: I was driven around many miles to different ‘must try’ hawker centres, tandoori restaurants, nasi something stalls, etc.

What about the Indians?

Malay, Chinese or Indian?

Malay, Chinese or Indian?

The Indians seem to be the underdog of Malaysian society. There’s a little India in most of the towns, but mostly quite ‘little’. It’s there where the fat Indian mamas in sari run around and the people are dotted with tikas (or what’s the dot called again on the forehead?). Maybe the Indians (from what I could tell) have a lower profile because they are so diverse between themselves? Some are Sikhs, some Hindu, some Muslim, but just as many Indians were at the Buddhist temple for Wesak (read here). Also in the restaurants they specify wether they have North or South Indian food, and seldom they have both.

As for gay Indians or Indian gays, I didn’t hear much about them (and I didn’t meet any – sorry I didn’t push my intercultural exploration further – hehe), except that they are more hairy and more direct… This Malay friend of mine even compared them (judging from one encounter he had!) with animals – going directly for the prey – i.e. little romance or beating around the bush – but rather grabbing the bull by the horn (yep, that horn down there). Obviously he has/had some issues with Indians too…


So, Malaysia is not such a tolerant and mixed country as it seems. I heard that in the KL gay bar, there are even nights when mainly Malays go to the club and other nights virtually only Chinese show up. (and again no idea where the Indians go)

  • So far the ‘good example’ of multiculturalism

6 Responses to “(Gay) Trouble in (Malaysia) Town”

  1. kemsey 14 May 2009 at 09:38 #

    those buffed lads are Indonesian for sure. Viva Indonesia! ;-)

  2. travelony 16 May 2009 at 08:25 #

    Well, I got the picture from internet (not to offend anyone – hehe) and it was labelled Malay Gay – so I thought it could be… but their funny little … things on their head (and the sarong) also made me think they would be indonesian…

    But then i also discovered many similarities between indonesia (Java) and Malaysia (Malays): language, food, religion, skin, architechture,… So I’ll leave the hunky Indonesians with the Malay post – hope that doesnt offend anyone – hehe

  3. kemsey 17 May 2009 at 20:07 #

    Well that’s the thing with Malaysian (not necessary the Malays), they label ‘us’ as Malays too- although we could be Javanese, Sundanese, Batak, etc. For them, Malay is a race, for us, an ethnic group.
    And that funny little thing … in their head is called ‘udeng’ a typical Balinese head cloth.

  4. CL 23 May 2009 at 04:21 #

    It’s a pity that you have not been able to explore the gay life of Indian gays. The gay society is branched in Malaysia because of the racial diversity and the stereotypes.

    Being an Indian gay is like sticking your hands up in the air and forced to take an oath in embracing a secret society for the rest of your life ( I’m probably exaggerating this a little), but yeah, it’s simply a secret life for many.

    The Indian gay society is closed knitted and often you need to get to know one to see how big is this thriving community in their own secret world and rendezvous venues

    In general, I feel that Malaysians are comfortable to be in the presence of their own skin men i.e. Malay, Chinese or Indians; I suppose this because they are better understood, there is opened door for acceptance of acquaintances.

  5. yuoi 29 March 2010 at 19:45 #

    i think that you just hear one side of the story being told. in a point of view from a naive typical Malay who judge other race. i am a Malaysian and proud of it. i’m Chinese guy. “when talking to different people, not everybody is as tolerant as the government might want to see it.” this is because in Malaysia we have limitation on the right on freedom of speech.

    as a Malaysian we intend to bring sensitive issue under the table in close door with our own community. it is offended when you are talking other religion (bad judgment) in public. as a Malaysian everybody just want a peace life here. especial the Chinese they don’t want to create any trouble on this sensitive issue which will jeopardize our multicultural society.

    yes, on surface which in our relationship with our difference religion neighborhood we intend to have the harmony face put on but yet as i have state sensitive issue better leave in the “close room”.

    “the Chinese often are not cut, whereas the Muslims are.” in Chinese bible it didn’t require us to cut. but in Muslim bible it is clearly state that the cut is for the purpose of hygienic. which i agree with some of the Muslim bible.

    “So my friend was quite precise about not calling him Chinese – he was Chinese Malaysian.” this is because as a Chinese or a Indian we who born in this generation are very proud being a Malaysian just that we in difference religion. if you ask a local born kl Malay they will precisely tell you that they are Malaysian religion Malay.

    being gay is a sensitive issue that in Muslim culture… this is because of the Malay bible thing. as in a multicultural society our law is quite difference from other country. you can said Malaysia is a Muslim country, but i will said Malaysia is a partially Muslim country.

    when you hear on a personal point of view it will intend like “intolerant religion country” if you have the change you can get a group of mix religion and discuss on this issue you will found out that. in the group we intend to speak carefully not to offended difference race. this is what unit and unite our country our religion and our people.

    in addition, indian is not the underdog, when you go to hospital you will find that majority of the doctor are indian. some of the even become a lawyer and other high position also.

  6. Karelin 29 October 2011 at 02:46 #

    the Chinese often are not cut, whereas the Muslims are.” in Chinese bible it didn’t require us to cut. but in Muslim bible it is clearly state that the cut is for the purpose of hygienic. which i agree with some of the Muslim bible.

    When it comes to Muslims, I’m so intrigue with this about cut issue. Only Muslims are cut, but majority of AIDS patients in Malaysia are Muslims. Is that the hygiene they share to us. What an idiot prejudice!

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