A queer Malaysian take on same-sex kiss
London & Kuala Lumpur – 3 August 2023
By Suri Chan
Since Matty Healy, frontman of the 1975, kissed a man on stage in my home country, I kept seeing the same comment pop up on social media:
“When you visit someone’s home, respect the owner. Follow the house rules. Don’t treat it like your own.’’
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia. Healy was aware; yet chose to disobey this important house rule. The three-day festival was promptly cancelled.
My fellow Malaysians called him “an entitled white saviour.’’ They mostly called him “disrespectful’’.
I agree that he didn’t pick the ideal time and place for activism. But he did not disrespect anyone.
Imagine being invited to a new friend’s home. You walk through the front door and discover – to your horror – that LGBTQ+ residents are whipped and locked in the basement. The home owner says these are the house rules, and you, as an outsider, must respect them.
This isn’t dystopian fiction. This is our lives. Homosexuality carries a 20-year jail sentence in Malaysia. Can anyone really respect that?
Healy may have been drunk when he ranted about the Kuala Lumpur regime. But under his sloppy, explicit-laden prose, lay a hint of truth.
Regardless of whether you liked his delivery, the message was clear. Malaysia’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people is a human rights violation.
Let’s not disguise homophobia as ‘Malaysian culture.’ Culture is food, clothing, art. Culture does not tell people who they can and cannot love. This oppression is not ‘cultural relativism.’ It’s bigotry.
I’m going to conclude by addressing all of the affected groups.
To the festival goers:
This is a huge blow to the struggling Malaysian music scene. But not getting to see the Strokes pop group is trivial, compared to what queer people go through every day.
If you’re non-LGBTQ+, this may be your first taste of persecution. It hurts to have your space taken away – to be stripped of your rights.
This is what it’s like to live as a queer Malaysian. The banning of our spaces is not only frequent – it’s expected.
Remember, Matty Healy didn’t cancel the Good Vibes Festival. The government did.
To the vendors and local acts:
It’s unfair that innocent people shoulder the biggest consequences. The vendors and local artists did not deserve this. Economic losses on this scale are devastating for little players. But blame should be put where blame is deserved: on the government that cancelled the festival.
To the queer Malaysian community:
I am sorry Matty Healy spoke on our behalf in a way that didn’t feel right.
I know the extremists may use this as ammo to further anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. These fears are valid. But our government will use anything to deprive queer people of basic rights. Malaysia’s LGBTQ+ community would be under attack, with or without that same-sex kiss.
Healy’s actions may spark backlash, but what social justice struggle hasn’t? Pushback often occurs before the eventual triumph.
Nevertheless, I am sorry if it feels like Matty Healy barged into our home and trod on what little space we have. I hope one day, we’ll have the tools to build a new, safer home.
To the world:
I hope this whole mess gives you a peek into my country.
Matty Healy may have been a reckless visitor, leaving chaos in his path. But he did some good too.
He pulled open the blinds, and showed the world that our house is really not okay.