Mayashanti5282046’s Blog

自我不在,書寫的都是他者及其他

Much ado about sexuality

Posted by mayashanti5282046 于 十一月 22, 2008

Sim Kwang Yang | Jul 12, 08 12:33pm

published in Malaysiakini.com

According to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were so sinful that God had them destroyed en masse.

MCPX

Sodom is the root word for our modern term “sodomy”.

The term has been very much in the headlines in recent weeks, and decent people are aghast at the extent to which Malaysian politics has sunk. In genteel circles, sexual deviation is seldom discussed, let alone done.

By now, we should know that homosexuality must be as old as human civilisation itself. In ancient Greek tales, we have the island of Lesbos, where the ancient Greek poetess Sappho composed her awesome verse. Lesbos is how the term lesbian originated.

Surprisingly, homosexuality was not only tolerated in ancient Greece, it was a kind of vogue among men of fashion and men of letters. If you read Plato’s dialogues, naughty references were constantly made by Socrates about ‘beautiful youths”. In the dialogue Symposium (A Greek term for a drinking party), a male disciple even gave an account of how he tried to seduce Socrates in vain.

Somehow, the emergence of monotheistic organised religions has changed all that. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, sexuality sits at the core of personal morality. The more conservative and ardent believers frown on the sexual act itself; it is meant to be a means to reproduction, which is one’s duty to God. This teleological interpretation of the holy book borders on the ridiculous. You can imagine a husband doing the missionary position while apologising profusely to the wife. “Sorry dear, I am not enjoying this, but I have to do my duty.”

Positively amusing view

This sort of teleological interpretation also regards the woman as a sex object; she has a womb at the centre of her sexual identity, and therefore her main, if not the sole, purpose in life is to bear children. Naturally, her sex organ has become her original sin, and she must bear responsibility if she is raped. She must cover herself from head to toe, so as not to tempt men to commit crimes on her.

I find this view positively amusing. It reduces a woman’s humanity to her gender. More than that, it reduces man’s humanity to his animal nature, as if the 5000 years or so of human civilisation has not tamed the beast in him, as if he is a wild naked monkey in heat, as if there is nothing more important in life than the compulsion to seek immediate sexual satisfaction.

For puritanical fundamentalists, any form of sexual deviation is iniquity of the worst sort. They can shut their eyes to massive corruption in public life, starvation in their midst, and genocide going on in nearby lands, but when it comes to sexual deviation, they will raise their voice in condemnation, promising brimstone and hellfire to the guilty parties!

In the more puritanical, and some would say more hypocritical age in the West, homosexuality has always been considered as a crime against the state. The great artistic wit of Oscar Wilde could not save him from his horrible suffering in prison. The great classicist and poet A E Houseman was gay, but he was wise not to flaunt his sexual preference in public.

But the times have changed in Western countries. Just the other day, I watched a female talk show host interviewing Hilary Clinton when she was still running her campaign for the American presidency. To my surprise, this woman by the name of Ellen DeGeneres professed herself to be gay, and asked Clinton on her position on financial protection for her same-sex “life-partner”. Nobody in the audience raised an eye-brow, and certainly Hilary Clinton replied to her question as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. In a Middle Eastern country, this very talk show host would be stoned to death!

Now, in certain states in the US, same sex marriage is even possible. This will lead some prejudiced and ill-informed Malaysians to think that America is a decadent country and that Americans are typically devoid of personal morality. Actually, the US is a large and complex nation. People living in the Bible Belt for instance, can indeed be every bit as conservative as the most fervent Islamic fundamentalist in Malaysia on matters of sex!

Malaysia is indeed a conservative nation, with very old religious traditions deeply rooted in the life of many communities. There are fixed ideas about masculinity and femininity, and relations between the sexes. Parents will tell their children from a very young age what girls and boys are supposed to be like.

But we do have gay people in our midst. Those teenagers who grow up realising their sexual preference for those of the same sex must be terrified, confused, and depressed. The whole social ethos would make them feel like a freak! Others who have lived their adult life may engage in their gay relationships, but they must guard their secret from their employers, their associates, and perhaps their family as well. It cannot be a very happy way of life.

Naturally, we do not hear open debate on gay rights, and whether one’s homosexuality is pre-determined by nature. In the public sphere, sex and sexuality are seldom discussed at all.

That is unfortunate, because Malaysians may feel that they know all there is to know about sexuality, when they do not.

In the West, the work of Freud and Kinsey on sex is now widely known. I have a lot of problem with Freud, because of epistemological difficulty within his system of putatively scientific knowledge.

The other thinker who has done quite a great deal of work on sexuality is Foucault, one of the main pillars of postmodernism. His famous work is the book, Herculine Barbin, Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a 19th Century Hermaphrodite. Barbin is a hermaphrodite. She is born and it is decided that she is a girl. She stays as a girl, becomes a woman, and then falls in love with a woman whom she wishes to marry. She becomes a man, and then kills himself.

No business in people’s bedroom

At the end of the story, Foucault asks us this question,”Is there a true sex?” Of course Foucault has long been known to be gay. There were attacks against him in his lifetime that, after he knew he was infected with the HIV Aids virus, he was still visiting gay bars. Eventually, he died from Aids complications in 1984. The question then should arise in some societies: is Foucault’s teaching completely worthless just because his sexual orientation is considered to be deviant?

What is my position on this matter? I have asked what if one of my children should turn out to be gay. Fortunately for me, I have never had any. That question shall never have to be resolved.

When I was studying and working in Canada, there was a sensational court case in which a couple were charged for an unnatural sex act: oral sex. I cannot recall the details of the case. What I remember vividly three decades later is that the charismatic prime minister of Canada then, Pierre Eliot Trudeau, one day stood up in Parliament and declared that the government has no business in the bedroom of the people.

I agree. Whatever two consenting adults do within the privacy of the four walls is their business. What they do may be wrong morally, as is the case with extra-marital relations. If so, they will have to bear the responsibility of their actions. The government has no business sending in morality policemen to snoop on their extra-curricular activities.

My position cannot work for our country’s Muslims, because they have their laws on close proximity. This is the complexity of living in a multi-racial and multi-religious nation.

But then again, laws and morality cannot solve all our problems. Sometimes, we need to judge others less, and show our compassion more. In this business of living a life, moral issues also allow for a wide grey domain between right and wrong. I am not a member of any organised religion, though I was educated by the Irish La Salle Brothers of the Catholic Church in my most formative years.

One of the most astonishing things that I have learned from the Brothers is the Lord’s Prayer, the daily prayer of Catholics. I especially remember these lines:

Forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

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