Monday, August 17, 2009

Merdeka!

Things are wrapping up here in KL. The second annual sexuality rights festival, Seksualiti Merdeka, finished yesterday. Merdeka means independence, and it's timed to occur during the same month as Malaysian independence day.
Volunteers painted the walls of the art gallery where it was held. A lot of the art had political messages. It was a really lovely thing to see.
"I am HIV positive. So what??? Don't let me down... my friends, my family and my lover."

There were two bulletin boards where people could write stories of discrimination or acceptance on pieces of cloth and pin them to the wall.
"I was put in prison just because I'm a transsexual under the syariah law. In prison I was molested, teased, bullied, humiliated, just because I'm different. Why are people so cruel to us?"
"When I was nine, at the school assembly, a girl told everyone loudly that they would sin if they look at me because I don't wear a tudung (head scarf). My non-Malay friends asked if they will sin too, and she said yes. No one looked or talked to me for a whole week."

I really felt I was witnessing the beginning of something exciting. The air practically crackled with energy. It was a safe space, but it was also an open space. Straights, gays, transpeople, queers - the event brought all types together.

On a rational level, I don't believe in things happening for a reason. On a non-rational level, though, it's amazing how often things just... work out. I didn't plan to be in Malaysia for Seksualiti Merdeka. I didn't know the story of a budding activist movement was going to unfold right before my eyes. I didn't know anyone here at all - all my contacts were made over the internet.

In a way, Kuala Lumpur reminds me of Toronto. If you're only here for a few days and only see the obvious sights, it seems pretty dull. It's only when you scratch the surface and get to know the art, activism, and music going on underground that you really start to appreciate it.

And, like Toronto, I've started to think of it as home.

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