If you thought the title of this article is juvenile, wait until you hear about the contents of a certain guidebook distributed to the teachers and parents of Malaysia last month. This pamphlet is designed to help its readers identify budding homosexuality in children, presumably so they can stamp it out before it blossoms. And it was released in September of Two Thousand and Twelve. Addo domini.
Without further ado, I present the guidelines as translated by the Huffington Post:
“Symptoms of gays:
Likes having a fit body and likes to show off by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes;
A preference for tight and bright-colored clothes;
Attraction to men; and
A preference for carrying big handbags, similar to those used by women
Symptoms of lesbians:
Attraction to women;
Besides their female companions, they tend to distance themselves from other women;
A preference for going out, having meals etc. with women and a preference for sleeping in the company of women;
Not attracted to men”
Now, I realize anyone living in a country with freedom of expression can publish any sort of crazy guidebook they want—there are probably pamphlets here in the US full of similarly ignorant drivel. But I would like to believe that, here in America, no high-ranking government official would condone these silly “symptoms.” Malaysia, it appears, is not so lucky; Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi has spoken openly about halting the “spread” of LGBT lifestyles at seminars in which the guidelines were distributed.
The original online reports about the guidebook claimed it was in fact endorsed by the Malaysian Education Ministry itself, not just Zarkashi, but this turns out not to be the case. Sadly, not all news publications are as dedicated to truth and journalistic integrity as your friendly neighborhood Nassau Weekly. But they didn’t exactly condemn it either, saying in a Facebook post that while the specific guidelines are unofficial, “the ministry views cases of social ills in the community seriously and will always give guidance…to all school children to ensure that they stay away from unhealthy activities.” In other words, the official government position is that the “concerned NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)” who think V-necks are gay have a point.
Not only is the list published by those NGOs grossly offensive, but it’s patently bizarre. Even accounting for sloppy translation (which, let’s be honest, I think HuffPo’s translator here was Google), everything about it is, quite simply, weird. As evidence, let’s talk about lesbian schoolgirls. According to the pamphlet, symptoms of lesbianism include “hav[ing] a preference” for “going out, having meals (with),” and “sleeping in the company” of people of the same gender. Now I’m no expert on female children, but I’m pretty sure that most of them love slumber parties, which means that this particular rule accounts for, if my math is correct, almost every girl in the history of forever.
But the warning against slumber parties isn’t the most absurd part of the pamphlet, nor even is the abhorrent bigotry of the entire concept. What really baffles me is the part about the V-necks: it’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. The notion of a concerned teacher telling a parent, “Your son has been wearing a lot of V-necks lately so I really think you should talk with him” is clearly preposterous. But it’s also so far out of my realm of conception as to be more than a little comical.
Should it be funny? I mean, yes, kind of. The so-called symptoms of homosexuality reveal such a startling naïveté that one can’t help but chuckle. But what if I told you that this actually happened in Mississippi, not Malaysia, and that the guidebook was endorsed by a member of the State Board of Education? You might still find it funny, because it would still be ludicrous, but I also bet you’d be pissed. At least some of you would be ready to sign petitions, send e-mails, maybe even donate some money to try and impeach the offending politician. Facebook and Twitter would go nuts and your e-mail inbox would be flooded with “Did you hear?” and “Help us stop this!”
Sure, Malaysia is far away, and it is a third world country (although it’s among the most developed of these). But that doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s happening there.
Look, the world is filled with horrible shit and it’s all over. War and genocide and famine and disease and pollution and murder and rape and poverty and, yes, ignorance, and yes, bigotry, and sometimes I really just can’t handle it. If I weren’t also able to laugh at some idiots in Malaysia who think fit guys in sleeveless shirts are gay, then I literally would go insane. So I allow myself to be amused. In fact, the first two drafts of this article had way more jokes on the subject. But it felt too crass, too tasteless, and worse, I felt like I was perpetuating the problem. If I portray serious issues in Malaysia as some exotic silliness, then I’m sustaining a culture where atrocities in other countries are just some kind of faraway trouble that we Americans should be glad doesn’t happen to us. But that’s bullshit. Because this absurd joke of a guidebook is being taught to real parents and real teachers of real children on this frighteningly real planet.