There were times when Sara (not her real name) wished that she liked boys instead. “I remember my cousins having crushes on male celebrities, so I followed by collecting pictures of Jude Law in hopes that I would fall for him too. Who was I kidding!”
At the age of 13, the realisation that she was lesbian dawned upon her. It was liberating, she said, as she finally figured out why she likes women. Sara has never tried to date a man.
The first time I met Sara, she struck me as a friendly yet slightly reserved person. Sara tells us she’s an introvert and always has been. “Growing up, I had a strong private life which I guess I still have to this day. I love being solitary: writing in my private journal, watching French movies alone, eating a nice meal at a restaurant alone, and travelling alone. In fact, I’ll be headed to Prague soon too – alone, of course.”
Being an introvert may have made it more challenging for Sara to come out of the closet, but it definitely didn’t stop her. The first people Sara revealed her secret to were her cousin and her best friend from school. “Both were supportive and I really appreciate that.”
When asked how she managed to get the courage to come out of the closet, she responded by saying, “I just told her. When you are young, you are quite naive and think everyone is nice. Thankfully, the person I came out to was supportive!”
Sara felt coming out of the closet was fun. “I was and still am proud of my sexuality and have never felt that it is wrong. I still have fun outing myself to new people.”
Although Sara told IRL that she has not really faced any discrimination for being lesbian in Malaysia, she recalls one incident where her sexuality was not accepted. “When I was 13, I came out to a ‘friend’ I was getting to know. I was very naïve and thought people would simply be accepting. After I told her I was gay, she avoided me. I was hurt, but I moved on.”
Clearly coming out of the closet is not always fun, especially when it comes to family. Sara told IRL she never really cared about coming out of the closet to her family. “It was by ‘accident’. My mom was the one who asked whether I had a boyfriend, and when I said no, she asked whether I was attracted to women, and I said yes. I told my mom that I’m lesbian, and I told my dad that I was in a relationship with a woman in the past (without mentioning the word lesbian to him).”
The reactions Sara’s parents gave her were definitely not fun either. “My mom was heartbroken. She said it was against Islam and not to act on my desires. My dad was shocked and kind of disgusted?”
Sara used to wear the hijab and spent most of her primary and secondary education at Islamic schools. “My parents pray, eat only halal and abstain from alcohol. My dad makes it his routine to read the Quran every week. My parents still tell me to pray, but I haven’t done it since I was 13 or so.”
Many people would assume being Muslim and being lesbian is totally contradictory, but Sara doesn’t seem to think so. When asked about it, Sara responded with the following: “To be honest, I am not sure whether I am still Muslim or not. For the past two years, I have been flirting with Christianity (but that’s a story for another day). However, of course, most people view me as a Muslim and that is my political identity as Islam is institutionalised in this country and if I flout certain laws, I will be tried in the Syariah court. To be Malay is to be Muslim, at least on paper. Therefore I have Malay/Muslim privilege that I cannot simply discard. Existentially, since I don’t really identify myself as a Muslim, or the fact that I simply identify myself as a cultural Muslim means I have little problem reconciling my faith with my sexuality.”
“In the past, when I was sort of a practicing Muslim, I did worry a bit whether my sexuality was accepted in Islam. I did my own research by looking into Islamic scholarship, both traditional and progressive, I made up my mind that God is not against my sexuality, and in fact accepts it because He is the one who created it.”
“Being homosexual has nothing to do with being immoral or unnatural. Homophobia is tied to patriarchy as well as the social, legal, cultural, economic and political systems which privileges cisgender white straight middle-class men on top while LGBTs are on the lower rungs. Therefore the question of what is acceptable and non-acceptable sexualities are politically motivated, whereby certain groups oppress the others.”
Most people are lucky enough not to have their sex lives be directly affected by politics, but for minorities like Sara, it’s a reality which is hard to escape. Sara’s biggest challenge of being lesbian in Malaysia is finding the right person to date, because not every lesbian is out of the closet.
For more similar articles, you may also read Coming out of the Closet: A Transgender Man’s Experience and My Best Friend’s Wife Thought We Were Gay. Here’s What Went down Between Us.