Thursday, 20 January 2011

In Brunei, public discussion begins on homosexuality

Brunei (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey)Image via Wikipedia
Source: Fridae

Researchers from the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) reported that despite the gay community's "silence", the number of the sub-group is "rising" and they have even "formed clubs exclusively catering to homosexual men."

Brunei's widest-circulating English-language newspaper the Borneo Bulletin reported 14 January that the social issue of homosexuality was for the first time discussed officially in a nation that "upholds the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy."

Presented 13 January prior to the closing of the National Seminar on Social Issues, the paper titled "Gay in Brunei Darussalam: An initial observation" was a research project by two researchers at the Academy of Brunei Studies at UBD Pg Khairul Rijal Pg Hj Abdul Rahim and Zulhilmi Hj Jaidin.

The study is reportedly based on interviews and questionnaires with 29 gay men and focuses on a demographic breakdown on homosexual men and their relationships with other men. Twenty five of the respondents were local and four were foreign nationals residing in Brunei. The majority of respondents were Malay (24), three were Chinese, one was Filipino and one Indonesian. Twenty-eight were single and one was married.

The researchers added that Brunei Darussalam is not exempted from the social phenomena of homosexuality despite the nation's image of being "peaceful and harmonious". They added that 'gay' mannerism in the country "is not obvious within the general community" when compared to effeminate men.

According to the Borneo Bulletin:
  • Those who participated in the study explained to the researchers that gay men are not as similar to effeminate men, as the latter are men who act like women including their appearance, their speech as well as their mannerism and, when it comes to sexual relations, effeminate men play the "woman's role".
  • Gay men, meanwhile, have attributes that are difficult to depict and may act and behave either like men or women, including during sexual relations in which gay men not only become the 'woman' but can also become the 'man'.
  • Those involved in the study said they have a much "higher status" compared to effeminate men and explained to researchers that gay men can be categorised into two groups - gay men who have feelings for other men and those who have feelings and have sexual relations with other men.
  • When asked to elaborate further about the history of their sexual preference, 11 said that they "chose" to be homosexuals, five said they were "influenced" by their friends, four said they were attracted to the same sex, four said it was "natural", another four said it was due to "familial influence" and one said he turned gay because of a failed relationship.
  • Social backlash, especially from parents, were also asked and the majority of participants - 18 (62%) in total - have told researchers that their parents are accepting of their choices and 11 (38%) of the men say that their parents were not as accepting.
  • Twenty-four out of 27 respondents (two did not provide feedback) admitted that they take part in sexual relations with other men. Twelve of the men said they do not ask for payment when the suggestion of performing sexual acts was brought up. This statistics, said the panel, is an indication that having sexual relations "is the main agenda" within the gay community.
  • Based on the study, the panel said that homosexual men prioritised looks. Twenty-two of the men said that they preferred good looking men and who have a specific type of physique, while two other said they preferred men who are "romantic and caring", two others said they preferred rich men and another two men said preferences varies. One of the 29 men did not respond to this question.
Editor's note: While the results of the survey may sound primitive and skewed especially considering researchers only surveyed 29 gay men, the survey was reported by at least two mainstream Bruneian newspapers as being the first of its kind undertaken by university researchers and presented in a public setting. The news reports have also generated online discussions as seen here, here and here.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), homosexuality is illegal in Brunei. Not unsurprising, very little about homosexuality is reported in mainstream newspapers. An Internet search only turned up Should beheading be the penalty for homosexuals? published on June 13, 2008 in The Brunei Times. In the article, writer Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti, director of the Islamic Center of South Plains, Lubbock, Texas, US called for a more scholarly consideration of Islamic criminal jurisprudence in response to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh threats to behead homosexuals on the basis of Islamic virtue. I would not go as far as calling this recent coverage and discussion in the local mainstream media progress but it is certainly a development worth watching for anyone interested in LGBT-related Brunei news.
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