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A look at homosexuality in Brunei

(Siti Hajar, Borneo Bulletin) - In a nation that upholds the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy, taboo topics are, more often than not, shunned and swept under the carpet.

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20th January 2011 03:24

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Asia

However, in a national first, the social issue of homosexuality was discussed yesterday afternoon prior to the closing of the "Social Issues In Brunei Darussalam" seminar at the Chancellor’s Hall of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

Delivering the working paper "’Gay’ In Brunei Darussalam: An Initial Survey", Zulhilmi Haji Jaidin and Pengiran Khairul Rijal bin Pengiran Haji Abdul Rahim from the Academy of Brunei Studies said that Brunei Darussalam is not exempted from the social phenomena of homosexuality despite the nation’s image of being "peaceful and harmonious".

According to the UBD officers, homosexuality in men is part of the sub-groups and sub-cultures that exist in the country apart from "effeminate men, lesbians, gangsters and so on".

They said that ‘gay’ mannerism in the country "is not obvious within the general community" when compared to effeminate men. However, despite the gay community’s "silence", the number of the sub-group is rising and they have even formed clubs exclusively catering to homosexual men.

According to the dictionary, they explained that ‘gay’ is described as "men being sexually attracted to the same sex" and, more in-depth, the term may also be related to men who are attracted to men and do not have feelings for women regardless of the woman’s appearance or behaviour.

Prior to the 1990s, the Bruneian community associated homosexuality with effeminate men. In the 1990s, the word was used to refer to men who have sexual preferences for other men.

The working paper, which explored the concept, background and gay traits, was the result of a month-long study that involved 29 interviews with gay men from across the nation – 25 from Brunei-Muara District, two from Tutong and two from Belait. Researchers could not find any candidates from Temburong for the study.

Twenty-four Malays, three Chinese, a Filipino and an Indonesian participated in the study. Twenty-five of them are locals, while the rest are foreigners.

Most of them (25) are Muslims. Two of them are Christians, one is a Buddhist and the other is a Hindu.

Out of the 29 men who participated in the study, 28 are currently single. One of them is married.

Those who participated in the study explained to the researchers that gay men are not as similar to effeminate men, as the latter are men who act like women including their appearance, their speech as well as their mannerism and, when it comes to sexual relations, effeminate men play the "woman’s role".

Gay men, meanwhile, have attributes that are difficult to depict and may act and behave either like men or women, including during sexual relations in which gay men not only become the ‘woman’ but can also become the ‘man’.

Those involved in the study said they have a much "higher status" compared to effeminate men and explained to researchers that gay men can be categorised into two groups – gay men who have feelings for other men and those who have feelings and have sexual relations with other men.

When asked to elaborate further about the history of their sexual preference, 11 said that they "chose" to be homosexuals, five said they were "influenced" by their friends, four said they were attracted to the same sex, four said it was "natural", another four said it was due to "familial influence" and one said he turned gay because of a failed relationship.

Social backlash, especially from parents, were also asked and the majority of participants – 18 in total – have told researchers that their parents are accepting of their choices and 11 of the men say that their parents were not as accepting.

The higher number of accepting parents, the panel said, could be one significant factor that influences an individual’s choice.

Zulhimi bin Haji Jaidin said that the acceptance is an indication that homosexual men in the society do not necessarily feel discriminated.

Twenty-four out of 27 respondents (two did not provide feedback) admitted that they take part in sexual relations with other men. Twelve of the men said they do not ask for payment when the suggestion of performing sexual acts was brought up.

This statistics, said the panel, is an indication that having sexual relations "is the main agenda" within the gay community.

Three of the men, meanwhile, said that payment is subject to the other party whether or not they would pay for sexual activities. Two of them said that "rates" are expensive, whilst one said it would depend whether the other party was "handsome", otherwise, he would charge $200 for one night.

Others responded by saying they would charge anywhere between $1 and $400. They even accept "payments" in the form of Easi prepaid mobile recharge cards or "as adequate".

Based on the study, the panel said that homosexual men prioritised looks.

Twenty-two of the men said that they preferred good looking men and who have a specific type of physique, while two other said they preferred men who are "romantic and caring", two others said they preferred rich men and another two men said preferences varies. One of the 29 men did not respond to this question.

Nineteen of the men said they preferred other men who are not single, while 10 other said they prefer single men.

Most of the gay men (18) who took part in the study are between the ages of 21 and 30.

In terms of level of education, 15 have secondary school qualifications, 13 who have been to college / university and one did not go to school. Those working in the private sector totalled to 10, seven public servants, six have their own businesses and six are unemployed.

Those interviewed included men who hold jobs as administrative officers, clerks, teachers, make-up artists, entrepreneurs, technicians, stewards and hairstylists. Some of them are working in the army and police, as well as the aviation industry and ‘New Media IT Section’.

According to the panel, the gay community in Western countries can be seen receiving positive attention from lawmakers.

The Academy of Brunei Studies, meanwhile, disclosed that there are plans to conduct research on homosexually among women in the Sultanate.

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