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26 Mar 2001

queer religion part IV: religion, society, and family-blurred lines

In the fourth and final part of the series, Joshua Kreig records the conversation between five men at a dinner party who spoke about their religious beliefs openly for the first time in their lives.

(Author's note: This group discussion occurred in a restaurant, with clarifications made later via correspondence. Names have been changed to protect the individuals' privacy.)

They are some of the liveliest guys I have ever chatted with. It is often hard to get a question in as they feed off each other's sentences. The other patrons in the restaurant are wondering what is causing the uproarious behaviour. These five guys have known each other for almost eight years. They keep each other honest. The moment one says anything that another thinks is bullshit he is jumped on. As the dim sum morsels continue to come to the table we begin to unwrap the new generation's disposition towards religion, society, and family.

In Asia it is impossible to see where those three stand alone or where they heavily influence each other. But one thing is sure, they can all be compartmentalised not to be seen by each other.

Tan, 31, and Ganesh, 28 are Catholics. Steven, 31, is a Methodist. Ming, 27, is a Buddhist while Aziz is a 32-year old Malaysian Muslim. This is the first time they have spoken about faith or religion openly with each other.

Tan - "It's a non-issue for me. I was born a Christian, but I just try and live a good life now and I don't have to go around blabbing about God or anything. I don't think about it too much."

Ming - "For me, as a Buddhist my faith is always a part of my life. My parents always went to temple and took us children and we all made offerings. To this day I still go at Chinese New Year and other times. But for me I just do a lot of reading about Buddhism and just try to be a good person. I meditate a few times a week."

Steven - "You do?"

Ming - "Yeah I do!"

Aziz - "For me it is different coming from Malaysia. Homosexuality is very taboo for Malay Muslims. They can be treated very harshly. Supposedly the prophet Mohammed said that homosexuals should be killed where you find them or thrown off a high building. Mind you, if you ask me, anyone who was supposed to have God's ear would be a little bit more enlightened."

Ganesh - "I still go to services cause I find it gives me a sense of peace with all the shit going on in my life. Sure Christians say as fags we are condemned, but hey they also once said that slavery was okay too. It's just a matter of time when the conservatives wake up and smell the incense burning."

These guys seem to be a healthy lot when it comes to living a spiritual life and being gay. But as we talk more it becomes evident that the lines are clearly drawn.

Steven - "During a service a few months ago there was a reading from the Old Testament that talks about homosexuality being a sin. I began to squirm. "I think my mother knows about me and I heard 'amen' come from her lips after the passage was read. I wanted to scream" and leave but I just sat there.
Tan - "Why didn't you?"

Steven - "Yeah get real! Like you would have said anything. You keep avoiding the topic with your family. Who always goes away on vacation every Chinese New Year so he does not have to face his family?"

Ganesh - "Face reality. None of us have any plans to come out any time soon."

We start talking about how sexuality and family and even religion cohabitate in Asia. Most gays live lives that are compartmentalised. They have their work lives, their family lives, their religions, and their gay lives. A gay man in Asia can spend the night in a sauna, then go to church the next morning, and then to his parents' house for dinner. And one does not have to influence the other.

Ganesh - "It not like in North America where fags want everyone to know: their parents, their friends, their colleagues, and even their pastor. Gays in North America feel they can only be happy if they are out. It's not the same here."

Steven - "True, but the more Western influences in Asia, the more each generation wants to integrate all the areas of their lives. I just know my family is not ready for it."

But at the same time it is evident that they do influence each other. Most societies in Asia are built on the foundations of religious and filial beliefs of past generations. It is hard to say what is a religious belief or a societal custom.

Aziz - "This is very true for Muslims. There is no dividing line between faith and society. Every action is some how connected to one's relationship to God."

Ming - "Buddhism is more of a guiding spirit than a list of dos and don'ts, which is why I find I can be Buddhist and gay without much stress."

Being gay and spiritual does cause stress though. But whether or not being out would solve it remains to be seen for Asians.

Tan - "I think I would like people to know. I think the sneaking around does cause problems, especially if you are in a relationship and are trying to hide it all the time. It was too much for my last boyfriend."

Steven - "I am not sure I want my parents to know. I don't mind God knowing and am at peace with that, but I respect my parents too much and don't want to hurt them. They are of a different mentality. Plus do they need to know I was at the sauna last night?"

Tan - "You were!?"

Steven - "Shut up!"

Some online Gay and Lesbian religious groups and resources:

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