Currently in Singapore to participate in "Heartbreak heroes: Four Malaysians on surviving love, loss and a hostel in Singapore," Pang Khee Teik will appear alongside three other Malaysian writers who have been invited to share their experiences at a session organised as part of Indignation, Singapore's LGBT pride season. The talk will be held at 72-13 on Saturday, Aug 16 at 3pm.
æ: Age, sex, location?
Pang: 33, Male, Arts Programme Director, Kuala Lumpur
æ: I'm sure I'm not the first to ask but did you have your heart broken a lot while you were in Singapore - or elsewhere?
Pang: I used to be a compulsive collector of infatuations. This was when I was studying in Singapore from age 12 to 18. And I had no love guru then to tell me that I had to let go of old crushes before acquiring new ones, so I developed a serious case of compounded infatuations, overdrawn on my credit from the love bank. These bubbles reached a bursting point somewhere before my "A" levels - when I became aware of my aloneness in the exam hall of the universe, and I joined a Christian ministry for overcoming my "sexual brokenness" which I thought was the cause of my aloneness, and hence, felt even more alone - and one by one, in quick succession, I let my heart break over these infatuations that I now realise will never become real. Of course, none of my crushes were aware of their compromising positions in my harem of wishful thinking, so none of them knew they broke my heart, those bastards. But it's okay. And most of them were Malaysians.
I honestly can't say I have gotten over my compulsion. I still have spots in my heart for a handful of guys I fell in love with in high school. Some people are destined to break your heart forever. But on most days I manage not to think about them.
æ: How did this topic come about and what are you all really going to talk about?
Pang: We didn't really have a topic. It so happened a few months ago, I met with Clarence Singam (who's the organiser of the session) for lunch as I always try to when I am in Singapore. He is such an inspiration. During lunch he mentioned being busy with Indignation when suddenly, in between shoving pasta into my mouth, I decided to bully Clarence into hosting a contingent of Malaysians during Indignation! I always thought Malaysians and Singaporeans should make out together more! We can offer each other perspectives beyond our little incestuous rocks.
So first, I enlisted my buddy Jerome, an incredibly talented poet, and Dr Farish Noor, who said he has the perfect piece to read about some legendary bisexual. Jerome and I then decided to ask our lesbian pal Jac. It so turns out that apart from Farish, the three of us are reading stories of heartbreaks. And as for Farish, he breaks hearts regularly, so that's that.
I have been reflecting on the good old strategy of seduction through tears, winning people over by breaking their hearts and arousing their sense of compassion. I was turned on to activism through some really tragic stories from an activist friend. Also, my ex sort of came out to his mom by crying on her shoulders (the very day I broke up with him... sigh!), and dumbfounded, all she could say was, "Now, now, there will be others."
æ: You left your hometown in Malacca at 14 and studied in Singapore for five years. What was it like having the freedom to "always end up sleeping in other boys' beds" (quoting from your Facebook notes) while living in a hostel?
Pang: I never came out in Singapore lah. In fact, I found myself a big ol' closet called church and stayed there for about 12 years, even after I returned to Malaysia. As I mentioned, in my last year in Singapore, I discovered this Christian ministry for gays wanting to "overcome" their homosexual "tendencies." This proved to be a climatic and cathartic point in my life - to be able to meet and talk with other struggling gay Christians (Christian guys are so cute when they are so earnest!). It was what I needed then and I appreciated them for that. Unfortunately, I misjudged my need for them for far longer than was truly necessary.
Now, to always end up sleeping in other boys' beds... I had to make excuses like, oh my room is too far down the corridor, oh I am too sleepy to walk back, oh it is cold tonight... can I sleep in your bed, please? But that is as far as my lame excuse-making talent got me. I wasn't talented enough to think up excuses for my more diabolical fantasies ("Oh sorry, I was just dreaming of a lollipop?"), so I never did much apart from lying in bed and occasionally placing my hands in warm places. I don't think they welcome my restlessness. But I have no idea why they would relent when I asked the second or third or fourth time. Were they in denial? All of these guys are now happily married too. Maybe that's my real talent. Turning men straight!
æ: You moved to Kuala Lumpur at 19 to attend the Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology. As a young gay person, were there any difficulties adjusting between Singapore and KL?
Pang: The difficulty then was losing the friends I made in the Christian ministry group. I thought my journey to heterosexuality would take so much longer without them. After losing all my friends, and realising that I had in my teen years spent far too much time pretending to be friendly instead of understanding myself, I learned to get used to being alone. For long periods of time, I enjoyed walking around my condo or staying in my room and communing with god. Though I no longer believe in god now, I found the ability to enjoy being by myself and not fearing aloneness very useful for my eventual gay life. Too many people are too afraid of being alone! Which leads them to bad choices in relationships.
æ: What about gay life today in the capital of a predominantly Muslim country (where same-sex sexual relations is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment)?
Pang: I consider myself very out, and I have had no negative repercussions so far. I am surrounded by courageous and big-hearted and intelligent friends. That's all one can ask for. I find myself able to immediately correct a stranger's wrong assumption of my sexuality; and they always appear apologetic and deferential. If you behave like you are not ashamed of being who you are, the other person naturally adapts his views and accord you that respect.
The city also offers no small amount of clubs, karaoke bars, saunas and even massage parlours for the weary gay soul. However many of these venues function as larger closets, they encourage folks to come out and be themselves only once a week, and under the cover of shadows and anonymity. There are now two dance clubs on Jalan P Ramlee, the heart of the straight clubbing wonderland. Compared to a decade ago, it seems many young gay partygoers are not afraid to be seen in public going to gay venues. However, the gay venues there seem pretty coy with their frontage, even if their choice of location was pretty ballsy. So maybe nothing's new.
æ: Moving on to Seksualiti Merdeka, what motivated you to organise the event?
Pang: Jerome Kugan and I thought it would be a shame if our little exhibitionism doesn't find more audiences beyond Singapore. And we are lucky we both work for The Annexe Gallery here in KL, so space is not an issue. And it so happens we were organising our popular art bazaar called Art For Grabs on Malaysia's independence day weekend. And as in the past, we always invited some NGOs to take some free booths to promote their cause, and this time I thought why not do something ourselves. We quickly had a meeting with our activist friends and we'll now see two full days of events. (See schedule at the end of this interview.) We are also in discussion to try to get someone presenting in IndigNation to come over.
æ: How has the response been from the community?
Pang: Many support it. Especially my wonderful straight friends. The only negativity I have received is from a few gays. Some claim that I am testing Allah's wrath; some claim I am rocking the boat in a country where the authorities already close one eye on most gay activities... so I might cause a clamp down on activities. Well, we are doing our best to be careful and strategic about our programmes: to champion compassion, create understanding and empower the community. If the government wants to clamp us down for doing something that is right, then we are really living in a rotten country, and if that is the case, I am willing to find out.
Someone else even suggested I should be glad that at least I am not stoned to death here... Um yes, I am glad! So is it okay for me to stand up for my rights after I am dead?
But I understand the hurdle. Due to an upbringing that has normalised racialised feudal politics, patriarchal cultural customs and a religious education that encourages no questioning, a large part of the Malaysian gay population believe they are sinners and allow themselves to be subjected to the sticks and stones of ridicule, harassment and criminal laws - it is for their own good, they say. So some of these people disagree with my activism, some worry for my soul, but there are enough who support the effort to keep me going on.
I have learned from the Rosa Parks story that activism is not about a courageous lone ranger acting on impulse. She built her networks, went for community meetings, developed support before planning to do this. I have a community of activists here which include activists working in the field of women, HIV, Islam, democratic process, arts, etc.
æ: What do you think are the biggest issues the LGBT community is facing right now?
Pang: The need to accept diversity, even among the LGBT members. Racism, sizism and agism are rampant among the queer community. You find gays who complain they are not being accepted but in their profiles they will write, "No sissies and chubs and Indians." Sure, those might not be your sexual preferences, but perhaps we don't have to put it out there and hurt people unnecessarily. Nobody is truly free from the instinctive fears which drive racism - we are genetically coded to form groups, and to be repulsed by things we don't like. But as human beings, I think one of our greatest talents is the ability to reflect and to veto our own instincts. I only wish our politicians, instead of playing to our common fears all the time, will motivate people to counter their fears of others.
As I said, one of the hurdles will be to raise the consciousness of people. So we can all examine objectively the things we are told is true or untrue with our own mind. There must be a willingness first to accept that nobody has the absolute authority on Truth and much less the authority to impose it on others.
æ: What is your vision for the gay community?
Pang: I hope the gay community will become an active part of social work as well as in the political arena, and not just fight for their own rights but the rights of others. We all know there are other groups facing equally great if not greater challenges and injustices (for eg. Muslim straight women), and if we join our voices, we cannot be ignored. I believe many gays are already contributing in their own ways. It is a shame, however, that many of these heroes still have to hide their real heart daily while they give their lives to helping society.
æ: Tell us about a cause that you support?
Pang: For now, I really really wanna stop the violence against the transsexual community. The incidences of violence have escalated over the last few years, a few resulting in deaths. Some of the violence are allegedly perpetrated by individuals from bodies of authority. What's their reason?
It's against Islam. They see no wrong in beating the sin out of someone. Besides showing why this method of rehabilitation is as effective as exorcism, we need to sensitise them to the principles of human rights, and to show that these rights are universal and not just "western." I believe above all things, it is possible to focus on the principles of justice in Islam. In Islam, justice is paramount. Even justice for non-believers.
æ: If you could go back in time, what would you change?
Pang: Tell the guys who broke my heart how I felt about them. Maybe I will settle for gathering them all in one room, stripped and bent over for a good spanking.
æ: One last question, you have been described as a "connoisseur of personal ads." So what do you look out for in an online ad and do you have any tips for Fridae readers who want to improve their "hit" rates?
Pang: Seeing how most personal ad predators make decisions based on the picture and not the text, this really liberates the text to be an entirely separate entity from the pictures. Some people use it as their blog which they update regularly. Some use it to spew hate: "I am simple sensitive down to earth guy. No sissies or chubbies please." I use it to share some thoughts of gay pride and hope those interested in reading will be able to take away something, even if they are not interested in me physically... sob! That said, I have had people who sent me message to say they enjoyed the writing. My favourite was: "Your story made me cry. Can I suck you?"
Heartbreak heroes - Four Malaysians on surviving love, loss & a hostel in Singapore
Speakers: Pang Khee Teik, Prof. Farish A. Noor, Jerome Kugan and Jac sm Kee
Date: Saturday, 16 August 2008
Time: 3 pm
Venue: 72-13, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road
For speakers' bios and details, click here. Registration required.
Date: Aug 29 - 31
Venue: The Annexe @ Central Market
Address: Jalan Hang Kasturi
More info: email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: 603 20701137
Calendar of events
Fri, Aug 29
8pm - 10.30pm: Film: "Comolot" by Mohd Ikram Ismail, "Pangyau" by Amir Muhammad and "Arisan" by Nia Dinata. (Gallery 1, 2nd Floor)
Sat, Aug 30
12pm - 2pm: Forum: To Live Without Fear - Dealing with violence against transsexuals (Gallery 4, 1st Floor)
3pm - 5pm: Forum: Probing Sexualities - Recent research into sexual diversity in Malaysia (Gallery 4, 1st Floor)
6pm - 7.30pm: Lecture: Psychology of Homophobia - Find out if you fit the profile (Gallery 4, 1st Floor)
8.30pm - 10.30pm: Storytelling: Heartbreakers Anonymous - Featuring Jit Murad, Dara (of Air-Con) and others (Gallery 1, 2nd Floor)
Sun, Aug 31
12pm - 2pm: Lecture: From Panji To The Present - A short history of sexuality in Malaysia and South East Asia by Dr Farish A Noor (Gallery 5, 1st Floor)
3pm - 5pm: Workshop: Tongues Out - Borak-borak on our sexuality landscapes (Gallery 4, 1st Floor)
6pm - 7pm: Malaysian Artists For Diversity with Ning Baizura, Ida Nerina and more. If you are a Malaysian artist(e) and would like to voice your support or dedicate a song to the community, please contact us! (Gallery 1, 2nd Floor)
FREE ADMISSION TO ALL EVENTS!
The Annexe Gallery web site is being fertilised at the moment (www.annexegallery.com), meanwhile folks can visit The Annexe, Central Market Facebook group or blog.