I am just a mother. Sometimes I talk to and write about people with different faiths and backgrounds, because I always have. I like to talk to children, especially.
I just wanted to write down some things in light of all the absolutely distressing pronouncements and attacks on the LGBT community in Malaysia recently. I can’t even bear to go into the caning of two lesbians a few days ago as I go from clear to incoherent in a matter of seconds, I’ll fully admit my emotions take over and rage just runs through my veins.
About a week ago I was playing with my young son in a swimming pool. We were in Ibiza for a good friend’s wedding, but we had also decided to make it our family’s little summer holiday. There were plenty of holiday-goers in the family-friendly resort we were at, and in the pool there was a group of tanned teenagers chatting. There were about maybe two girls and five or six boys in the water, forming a circle of sorts – just enjoying the sun and breeze. They must have been about 14 or 15, I gathered. They spoke English and looked Mediterranean, although I couldn’t identify the accent or where they were from.
I overheard them talking, even though I was quite a distance. A boy was telling his other friends: “No I am not gay! I am homosexual!” Clearly a little flustered and defensive, he was then corrected by his friend as to what homosexual means. “OK I mean I am not homosexual! I hate homosexuals!” He then proceeded to ask his other friends, one by one, “Are you gay? I am NOT gay. Hey, are YOU gay?!” One by one, his friends shook their heads, smiling awkwardly, and he started giggling too, also rather awkwardly. They later moved on to another activity, water polo.
I was busy with my babies all day but that little conversation stuck in my head. I replayed that innocent yet potent exchange, full of bravado and bluster. I knew that they were just kids, and that by his tone and choice of words, he was not trying to be sinister or malicious. He was, like all of us, at one time or another, trying to fit in. Not wanting to be judged, made fun of, or ostracized. But words have weight, and I wondered what if he, or any teen in his group that day, were gay? How lonely it must feel. How scary and heartbreaking must it be to hear these things from your peers? How painful it is to not be able to speak, let alone live your truth. Or even to just explore who you are, what your identity truly is?
And this is just the social circle side of things. What if an entire state machinery clearly marks you as different, as unwanted, as unsupported? That you are green-lighted for attack, threats and animosity? That they could be concentrating on real crimes and injustices but no, they want you and they prefer to hunt YOU down? How ominous and terrifying it must be for anyone, let alone a teenager who is confused and conflicted about his or her identity and feelings.
I think about how Muslims in Malaysia are so grateful when other non-Muslims stand up against Islamophobia and attacks on Muslim minorities in countries like Myanmar, the US or here, in the U.K. I have seen for myself how fiercely some non-Muslims defend and fight for Muslim minorities in London, even though they may disagree with aspects of the faith. I have heard of people calling up radio stations defending the use of full face veils even if it goes against their own personal principles! I have gone through post after post and many hours of scrolling through controversial topics to see what people say about Islam, Islamophobia and related issues – I always look out for the people who stand up for others and those who take the time to educate people about context, culture, history and most of all, kindness. Trust me, it’s a massive pain in the butt to actually take time and patiently tell someone that no, Islam is not the terrorist-producing evil religion they have made it out to be.
I know this because I have had these conversations. I know this because I tune in to these issues by choice – I know the beautiful side of Islam, I once even considered entering the faith, and I stand up for the many Muslims I know when I can. I am only saying this because all too frequently I hear Malaysians say non-Muslims should just shut up about issues relating to Islam. That we don’t know, we don’t understand, and it’s none of our business. Right.
Many Malaysian Muslims would ask that we stand for Muslim minorities suffering cruelty and hostility because it is unjust, it is cruel, and we should protect their human rights. That despite our different beliefs, and maybe even in spite of our disagreements, we should respect each other as children of God. I just am filled with disappointment right now that most Muslims I know will not even touch the subject of protecting the LGBT, although they are clearly a vulnerable minority group in Malaysia. We are talking about hostility and attacks online and in the wider world – in real life: targeted, punished or even brutally assaulted. Where is the empathy and kindness, where is that fire you reserve for Palestinians and the Rohingya? Is it only injustice for Muslims you fight against? What is faith for then? What is religion for? What are the basic, most fundamental lessons a religion teaches humans?
But I will come back to that kid in the pool.
I wish I could have maybe had a chance to talk to him, in a way that wouldn’t freak him out. (Weird petite young-ish [cough] looking Asian woman talking about a conversation she eavesdropped on is perhaps not the best entry point.)
I would have said it’s totally okay if anyone was gay. And that it’s totally okay to be different sometimes. It is totally okay for other people to be different. That everyone tries, everyone feels, everyone hurts, everyone hopes, and everyone lives their lives as best as they can.
We may all have different beliefs and principles. Some are seriously incompatible, some are less so.
I think one thing we can all actually agree on is that we want children, whether ours or others, to be kind to others. We all would want our child to be the child who stands up for the one being bullied. We all want any child, really, to be one who protects those who are vulnerable. We want our hearts to expand with pride when we hear about young ones standing up for those who may be weak, different, or sad. We all want all our children to be so much kinder, wiser and more empathetic than we could ever be. If we can all agree on this, then despite our differences, there can be only one way to be and to live.
We need to model this behaviour.
I’m bloody tired of waiting for politicians to set the tone and discourse for us. They aren’t doing so. I am also sick of having men in power and influence set the rules and judgements on the lives of women and families everywhere. They do this every single day.
But I am only just one mother. My question is for the other mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins and anyone with a child in your life – what are you going to do to model this behaviour for these little ones who look up to you? Who do you stand up for? And what will it take for you to get up on your feet?