The on-going controversy over Malaysia’s Federal Court’s ruling which rendered unconstitutional a provision in the Selangor Syariah law relating to unnatural sex is just so, well, snazzy. There’s something about people putting, uh, things in certain ‘areas’ to derive sexual pleasure which, obviously, gets some religious folks heated up.
Our country’s antagonism towards and policing of LGBQT activities is one of many symptoms of some quirky institutional need to police sexuality (without, tragically, doing much about child marriages). One can only imagine the amount of time, man-power and documentation expended to dictate what lovers do with each other’s bodies.
But let’s not spend so much time on the motives behind the need to manage and rule over people’s intimate preferences based on a pre-determined view of what’s considered ‘natural’. Let’s talk instead about the effectiveness of such policing on the sexuality of those deemed ‘unnatural’ and, also, to ask what’s so ‘natural’ about sex anyway.
In other words, are people actually motivated away from sexual deviancy because of laws? And is there anything ‘natural’ about human sexuality in the first place?
Spoiler alert: It’s No to both.
Let’s begin with the first axiom:
1. Policing the erotic tends to eroticize the ‘crime’ being policed.
Try to tell people they’re not allowed to love in a certain manner and you may as well try to put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline. Prohibit a transgression, especially an erotic transgression and you’ll make the transgressors (or would-be transgressors) yearn even more for ‘it’.
This is why virtually all attempts to stamp out this LGBQT ‘problem’ tend to back-fire. If you judge how I want to have sex you’ll not only generate more heat than light, you’ll get me and my partner in heat faster than you can say ‘unnatural’.
For it is the nature of sexual desire is one of liminality i.e. it’s about ‘crossing lines’ (in every tantalizing sense of the word). Human sexuality involves taking risks (will our friendship be damaged if I declare my affection for her?), taking leaps (whatever her ‘answer’, things will never be the same), switching categories (after today, I am her ‘boyfriend’) and so on.
Such ‘liminal’ situations are like erotic dynamite. Forbidden fruit, as we all know, tastes the sweetest. Even if it tastes like a rotten durian, its very forbidden-ness will render it desirable.
Granted the Syariah council aims to protect sexual boundaries. In fact, I can’t imagine a traditional religion not attempting at least something similar. However, when you police and ‘criminalise’ a passionate situation and not only will there be shame, fear, trauma and bruises, those erotic desires may get even stronger. The esteemed members of the Syariah court may succeed in punishing one “inappropriate” liaison but that only inflames many other couples.
Intimacy is a tough deal to handle; wielding the strong arm of the law is practically the least effective way to go about it.
As a Christian, I’m not about to publicly promote LGBQT sexuality but neither — crucially — do I feel I have a right to public condemn anybody who doesn’t practice ‘traditional’ sexualities. It is, quite literally, none of my business how two consenting adults show intimacy to one another.
Furthermore, if I have theological or moral issues with ‘queer’ forms of sexuality, the absolute last thing I should do if I wish to sway or persuade people to my point of view is to condemn and legislate against them.
We can discuss. We can debate. We can dialogue. And we must.
Hence, my second axiom which I’ll phrase in the form of a question:
2. What counts as ‘natural’ sex anyway?
Isn’t the very process of human romantic courtship sorta unnatural?
Do we see dogs flirting with each other before, quite nervously, asking each other out for an ‘official’ date in which two people talk about everything under the sun but remember only the fact that they talked?
Do we observe cats blushing when someone they find attractive smiles at or talks to them, only for them to later agonize over ‘what the other may have meant’ by using a certain word or by (accidentally?) brushing her hand against mine?
Do we see birds spending hours picking out a suitable dress, wearing make-up and, ooh, revealing just that tiny ‘bit’ of flesh in the hope that the other person will notice?
Of course we don’t, but aren’t ALL the above part and parcel of how people express their sexual intimacy, and aren’t they all completely ‘unnatural’? Or, when we so severely punish what we consider ‘unnatural’ sex, shall we only limit it to physical copulation, as if human sexuality is exclusively about the act of intercourse (and nothing more)? If so, isn’t that to take the fun and pleasure entirely out of ‘having sex’?
Doesn’t the sexual act include elements like kissing, licking, biting, sucking, talking dirty and all sorts of strange ‘positions’ (which even heterosexual couples do) which would stretch the use of the word ‘natural’? Do we see elephants, dolphins and giraffes doing these kinds of things?
Isn’t the exclusive focus on the act of intercourse itself, in fact, a very NON-HUMAN way of thinking about sex?
The point is that the word ‘natural’ doesn’t apply to human sexuality in all its variety, fullness, feelings and even ‘toys’ involved. Therefore, to draw up criminal legislation based on one tradition’s understanding of ‘natural’ is, well, anachronistic (to say the least).
One final note: Am I therefore saying that all kinds of sexual relations should be permissible?
Again, it’s none of my business how people want to love each other. But, more importantly, sexuality is something that cannot and should not be an issue for legislation UNLESS we’re talking about protecting the vulnerable (hence, issues like child marriage, rape, etc.)
Let’s quit using the law to make our version of morality — especially in relation to what people do in bedrooms — the only acceptable one in the land.