“Gay life in Brunei” is not a cause for celebration but rather for secrets and hidden desire. Same-sex love is forbidden in the sultanate and punishable with imprisonment (up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of 30,000 Brunei dollars). It is a cruel fate to be born gay here under the shroud of Islam.
Nevertheless, many people are born with this sexual orientation–despite ignorant assertions to the contrary–and are faced with a life of suppression and anxiety as they try to fit in smoothly with their cultural traditions and with the rules of their religion.
First Formal Study
In recent years there has been a tiny opening to the issue of homosexuality in Brunei as a formal study was made by academics at the University of Brunei Darussalam and presented in January 2011 at the ‘Social Issues In Brunei Darussalam’ seminar at the university. Titled ‘Gay In Brunei Darussalam: An Initial Survey’, the researchers Zulhilmi Haji Jaidin and Pengiran Khairul Rijal bin Pengiran Haji Abdul Rahim, both from the Academy of Brunei Studies reported that Brunei is not excluded from the complex phenomena of homosexuality even though it may disrupt the idea that Brunei thinks of itself “peaceful and harmonious”.
In an interview with The Brunei Times, Zulhilmi, a lecturer in Deviance and Sociology, said he chose to conduct research on the subject because not much is known about the gay community in Brunei.
The Study: Gay in Brunei
According to the university researchers, homosexuality in men is part of the sub-groups and sub-cultures that exist in the country. 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.
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 (the eastern-most district in Brunei) 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.
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 totaled ten, 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 IT.
The salient points of the study are as follows:
– 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 categorized 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 (62%) in total – have told researchers that their parents are accepting of their choices and 11 (38%) of the men say that their parents were not as accepting.
– 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.
– Based on the study, the panel said that homosexual men prioritized 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. Most of the gay men (18) who took part in the study are between the ages of 21 and 30.
[GlobalGayz note] However, some of the conclusions drawn by the researchers indicate a simplistic and naive understanding of homosexuality. Such as “the higher number of accepting parents, the panel said, could be one significant factor that influences an individual’s choice,” and that “the acceptance is an indication that homosexual men in the society do not necessarily feel discriminated.”
Emotion vs Behavior
It also appears that the panel was distracted by the ‘act’ of homosexual behavior in contrast to the emotional meaning of ‘being’ homosexual. Their report said, “having sexual relations “is the main agenda” within the gay community. They go on to report about the commercial aspect of sex: “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”.
An interesting point report in this study was that all the respondents were openly gay to their families and friends and the majority of participants–18 (62%) in total–said their parents were accepting of their choices and 11 (38%) said their parents were not accepting. One would think in a strong Muslim country with harsh anti-gay laws that the percentages would be reversed, that most parents would reject their gay sons. This reflects the age-old adage that blood is thicker than religion or law, at least in Brunei. In other Muslim countries a gay family member would typically be rejected and possibly killed by family or friends.
The researchers included a reference to the “gay community in Western countries’ who were perceived as receiving positive attention from lawmakers, referring to anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage, gays in the military and child adoption in the US and Europe. There are plans to conduct research on homosexually among women in Brunei.
There are numerous comments from Brunei readers; here are three:
(1) “I am aware there are gays who knows that being gay is wrong in our society. They know that it is not acceptable to their friends, family and mosque so they try to hide their feelings in order to be accepted. They try to be straight but can’t and they are left distressed and confused. There are also Muslim gays who try very hard to become devout Muslims and ignore their feelings of attractions towards the same sex. But this make their lives very sad.”
(2) “…actually I’m gay..”, said a young man one day to his longtime friend. “I presumed all of you knew how I felt at that time.” There was a bit of silence and awkwardness surrounding us. All I could say that time was.. ”Oh..I see..” while nodding my head and stirring the spoon in the cup. I could see from his face that he was very worried of how I would react. I didn’t want to let him keep on feeling discomfort so I kept the conversation going.
“Then he said, “….I hope you’re ok with this…please don’t be afraid of me”.
Just imagine how terrified he was that I would run off and avoid him after his confession. My feeling of shocked and awkwardness turned into sympathy when he said that. As our conversation went on he said. “the thing is I just couldn’t change the fact that I’m attracted to guys. I’ve tried and forced myself to be straight but it doesn’t work that way. I used to try to have relationship with few girls before but it didn’t work out, I’m so stressed and I really didn’t know what to do. My parents will not accept me as their son if they know that I’m gay and my guy friends avoid me since they know that I’m gay. Please, I hope you’ll not abandon me as well..”
(3) A friend of mine from Brunei used to be gay before. There was a time when he was attracted to me that he kept on staring at me and tried to be close to me. He even confessed that he had before a relationship with a guy. The thing is he found this one girl, a good girl that became his good friend. She was religious. At first they were friends and perhaps that girl did guide him about the religion of Islam and somehow along the way he actually fell in love with her. I met this guy recently and he was still happy with the girl and he sincerely said that he really loves her. (I am glad for him but I don’t know how true that is.)
Compiled by Richard Ammon