“I owe it to myself, to be true to myself, I owe it to those who cannot speak out, and I owe it to those who will come after me to make the first steps.”
In the nation I was brought up in for most of my life, silence has become the golden rule. We do as we’re told without question, and we are provided for. And for a time that was all that mattered.
Perhaps it was a different time then, or perhaps I was just not as in tune with the social issues of my world, but from the service of my memory I recall a happier people in a happier place. It was in the late 90s after the gay movement was starting to come into common acceptance. The world was sharply divided, the heat still dissipating between those in support and those against alternative sexualities, but despite this there was a global embrace as the world shifted into open acceptance.
In my local scope I remember how there was seemingly more acceptance of who we were as people, irregardless of ethnicities, genders, sexualities and social backgrounds. It was a community in unity. Acceptance of others was the trend, and I remember feeling such a fact in our music and culture. It is heart-breaking to say this is not the same nation I see before my eyes now.
Something went wrong, somewhere along the line we have forgotten the others in self-absorbed pursuits. We have gone from a warm people to one of rancour as we divert our gaze to the floor in avoidance of the blatant injustice around us.
My surroundings have grown cold and the people distant, its not only gay rights but the most basic human right that is being oppressed. Freedom of speech, of mind and opinion.
To be honest I never saw myself an activist, and my journey here came out of unexpected and abrupt beginnings. During one average night, as I was browsing through YouTube, I happened upon a video citing facts about Brunei and its revered wealth. Feeling that the praise was one-sided, I commented as one often does upon the video, whilst speaking my mind and touching base on several criticisms on the nation and the ruling party.
Although such comments are common, nearly a year later I woke up to the shock of my comments having gone viral, as what was uncommon was the fact that I had said such comments with the use of an account registered under my name, in place of the obscure screen names more often seen online. I awoke with a start that morning to the phone calls of several concerned friends and relatives, most begging me to take the offending comments down, for strong is the fear of myself being penalised for such outspoken comments. Threats of deportation, detention and physical harm flooded in a barrage of hasty comments as my post was circulated via social media.
Out of the situation I saw an opportunity, and rather than take the comments down as what was told to do I responded to the criticisms faced upon me. Messages of a different tune started coming in, those in support and awe of my blatant determination and courage. Therein I realised that I had the power of action, to speak for those who could not or would not speak out. And thus my journey began.
Not long after I caught the attention of The Brunei Project, a gay rights watch group as part of their outreach towards a better understanding of the social situation in Brunei for local LGBTs. Responding to The Brunei Project, I highlighted that the violation of rights extends far beyond the scope of alternative sexualities and reaches further down into the oppression of free speech, as such a concept is locally seen as disrespectful and `belonging to the West.’ Few here realise that freedom of speech, of mind and of opinion does not belong to Western culture, but is a global concept for all.
I realised that I had the power to enforce change for the betterment of my local society, to push forward a wake-up call for those still ignorant of the injustice taking place all around them. To stop being the call for action and instead step up and speak out as the cause for action.
We are a good country of peaceful people, but how far will we let this go? Religious intolerances abound everywhere, laws are abound which force people with alternative sexualities to go into hiding and live a lie, taking away the fundamental freedom to express themselves in healthy and creative outlets. Criticism of the ruling party and policies are illegal, and their critics are either bullied into silence or ridiculed.
I am here to break the walls of segregation we have been placed in, to challenge the status quo and to build bridges in a hope for unity once again. Thus far my journey has not been one without its fair share of challenges, and my story is still largely unwritten.
I have spent the past weeks in study of the discourse of human sexuality, and its place, or more aptly, misplacement in the Islamic Southeast Asian identity. Transsexualism has long been deeply entranced in our culture, from the bissu of South Sulawesi in the sixteenth century to the kathoeys of Thailand today, yet here we penalise cross-dressers in the claim that it leads to ‘social disorders’ such as “homosexuality, free sexual relations, drug abuse (sic)” according to a Brunei Shari’ah Prosecutor.
Homosexuality is tolerated, but not accepted, and criticism of policies and local legislatures, in particular with relation to the government and its associations, is not a subject to be treaded lightly. But I implore, without criticism, how are we to improve? Without acceptance of who we are, how can we move forward? And without inclusion of all the races, genders, religions, cultures and sexualities we share our land with, how can we hope to create a unified community towards the betterment of our society, as we continue to segregate ourselves from ‘them’? When will we realise that it is not ‘us’ and ‘them’, but it is one and the same?
Humanity has had its share of intolerance and prejudice, it seems that mankind will always find a reason to create these divisions between ourselves, straight and gay, man and woman, black and white. Perhaps, it is time to finally represent the other side of the equation, to converge in place of separation, and to fact the fact that at the end of the day, for all our disagreements, be they based on race, politics, religion, sexuality, gender, culture or social class we are all one, and the same. There is no ‘you’ and ‘me’, but there simply ‘us’. On this brilliant glass-blue planet in the vast black velvet of space, there is no one else so far, but us.
My journey has not been an easy one, but word has travelled. And in demonstration of mankind’s most noble trait, people from far and wide have gathered to my aide, as we sat one night to discuss the issues faced by us all. We are tired of being the problem, so we are being part of the solution.
My journey has not been an easy one, but as I sat there in awe of the kind faces and brilliant minds surrounding me, I know this… It has just begun.