Less known than her neighbours to the north, Thailand and to the south, Singapore, Malaysia is a country of multi-racial peoples, cultures and religions. An exotic and tropical former British colony, Malaysia boasts some of the richest cultural heritage and architectural wonders known to the modern world and its popularity is fast spreading to the rest of the globe.
If the media portrayed a country where gays and lesbians are jailed for what comes naturally, then it has painted a lopsided picture indeed. Although strict (and arguably fundamental) laws and a narrow-minded conservative Asian mentality pervade societal norms and expectations, gay life is very, very much alive. Colourful queens in cutting edge fashions, toy-boys, divas, musclemen and the occasional celebration speckle society and stand testament to the vibrancy of the Kuala Lumpur Gay Scene.
The Gay Scene in Kuala Lumpur (known to natives best by it's abbreviation, KL) works in pretty much the same fashion that most Gay Scenes do - as an underground subculture. Often derided, systematically ignored but rarely far from the public eye, the KL Gay Scene renews itself at every turn. Despite the fact that fundamentalists continue to ignore it, the homosexual community has made its mark on society.
What then constitutes the Gay Scene in KL? For starters, with a country so abundant in a rich mixture of races, an exotic breed of attractive and diverse gays and lesbians have emerged as key players. Holding on to the richness of their heritage, they also embrace the need to play by the Western World's rules.
Armed with education, resolve and ambition, Malaysian gays and lesbians have broken away from the Asian stereotype that homosexuals amount to nothing in the culture and shouldn't be taken seriously. Street smart and sexually savvy, Malaysian gays appreciate a good party and are not averse to letting their hair down for a good time. In short, a combination of Asian charm, Western ideals and chutzpah cast Malaysians as a formidable, yet fun-loving community.
Every player needs a stage and acute Asian business acumen has created appropriate venues for boy-meets-boy or girl-meets-girl scenes. While the infamous party-to-dawn haunt of all gays, The Backroom, has had its doors closed by the authorities, other drink-and-dance options remain. Liquid, Blueboy and Actors still remain and are the major party avenues for the community. This stands testament that no matter where you may decide to travel in the world, a hard beat and hot dance floor can be unearthed by the diligent searcher.
Liquid's charm rests on innovation, good marketing and a predominantly Hong Kong worshipping crowd. Blueboy has earned its reputation by being the oldest gay bar in town and although not as stylish as Liquid, it does have its place. Actors is securely tucked away in a concrete citadel where comfort, dashes of brio and a mellow crowd is the attraction.
Though a far cry from Sydney's Oxford Street, the bars form the core of favourite watering holes for the exotic Malaysian beast. Thanks to the conservative nature of the country's culture, go-go bars and strip joints are non-existent, at least from a commercial standpoint. Don't expect the 'meat for sale' atmosphere that permeates the Bangkok scene, but rather openness for chance (and also contrived) meetings.
As time moves along and East becomes more enmeshed with West, a denizen of cruising spots takes on a more refined front. The bright lights of Bintang Walk have become a prime area for cruising, further developing KL's personality from a scene standpoint. Although it's not strictly gay spot, Bintang Walk affords the opportunity to sip cappuccino while scoping out some action, but it does also beg a little discretion. The area is dotted with fantastic shopping malls, further enhancing its attractiveness to the gay population of KL. And the parade of men that pass by are in fine form.
Drugs are a huge issue in the country and the death penalty awaits traffickers and users alike. Ecstasy, once easily obtainable on the party scene, has become almost scarce thanks to Malaysia's aggressive anti-drug stance. While obtainable through the underground, drugs aren't worth the risk. The gay scene has recognized this and while some hard-core party animals simply can't live without it, the word on the Scene is 'stay clear'. A few hours of flying high aren't worth a term in the slammer, or worse, death.
Support for the gay and lesbian community is available in the form of the Malaysian AIDS Council and Pink Triangle. Although only the latter is admittedly gay, both have worked to advance gay life by leaps and bounds through education and outreach. Their support has been instrumental in the coming out process of many gays and lesbians, as well as providing the backdrop for gay celebrations, such as Mardi Gras 2000.
Kuala Lumpur's Gay Scene is seeing a new period in its growth -- one of support, rediscovery and reassessment of character and goals. To project that KL will possess one of the hottest scenes in the region is not unreasonable. Fun is still the focus and the development of gay and lesbian identities are surging. While the actual mechanics of the Scene still has its kinks, the exuberant spirit of gay life is very much alive.