2018 has been a long year for Malaysian Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders (LGBTs)
Apart from being blamed for causing earthquakes, the lifestyle of Malaysian LGBTs have been compared to incest and they have been caned publicly for same-sex relations, among others this past year.
Moreover, they are not allowed to "glamourise" their "lifestyle" in the country, according to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah.
In line with Malaysia's official stance on LGBT, the government has been advocating and sanctioning different forms of "treatment" for the community to guide them to the "right path" – a practice better known as conversion therapy
Conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation to heterosexuality through psychological or spiritual interventions.
For instance, Islamic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa said in October that the Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) continues to carry out the 'Mukhayyam' (camping) program to "help" LGBTs.
Is the program successful? Yes, according to JAKIM's family, social, and community development deputy director Dr. Mohd Izwan Md Yusof. In October, he alleged that 1,450 LGBTs "recovered" from the disease through the 'Mukhayyam' program.
Camps and e-books are not the only ways LGBTs are being "converted" in Malaysia. Here's what we found about conversion therapy in the country:
1. 'Mukhayyam' program
In 2014, a transgender woman, Melati (not her real name) told Malay Mail that she had joined the camp, which was jointly-held by JAKIM and state religious authorities.
While the Malaysian AIDS Council had been involved in the early iteration of the programme, the council dissociated itself after signs of rehabilitation were introduced in the camp.
"MAC was involved (in the camp) with the sole purpose of elevating the socioeconomic status of transgender people who were bereft of employment due to discrimination," MAC said in a statement dated 22 December.
"However, in its later iterations, the programme deviated from its original intent. It was when rehabilitative and reparative components were introduced that MAC dissociated itself from the Mukhayyam programme," the council added.
While participants did cross-country trekking, climbing, and running through mud among other physical activities, Melati revealed that 'Mukhayyam' mostly consisted of health and religious talks.
Created in 2011, 'Mukhayyam' is a three-day camp held by JAKIM eight times a year, according to Berita Harian. JAKIM Family, Social, and Community Development director Zakuan Sawai had said that participants join the camps on their own will.
Here's an example of an activity at a 'Mukhayyam' program in 2011:
Nonetheless, Melati told Malay Mail that participants were made to wear men's attires during prayers.
"The ustaz would suggest for us to 'leave our mak nyah world for a while' when we are in prayers, by wearing men's clothes when we face God," she said.
JAKIM's claim of 1,450 "recovered LGBTs" has also been refuted through a testimony by another transgender woman, Anna (not her real name). Human Rights Watch reported in August that a picture of Anna and other transgender women was published in a local paper as 'successful cases' after they returned from 'Mukhayyam', even though they were assured that the goal of the camp was not to change them.
2. Islamic medical centres
Malay Mail reported last year that Islamic spiritual healing, offered in centres such as the Manarah Islamic Medical Centre above, is recognised in the Health Ministry's National Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM) Policy. Treatment at these centres are based on the belief that illnesses are caused by supernatural beings.
Islamic medical centres have been found to offer such treatment to "heal" LGBTs. As an example, the "master" of Manarah Islamic Medical Centre, Tuan Guru Dr. Hj Jahid Bin Hj Sidek, published details of his treatment for the community in 2014:
The stages are as follows:
1. Counseling to "spark consciousness" in victim
After getting victims to open up, "therapists" will "replace" the victim's romantic partner with the devil, in attempt to frame the partner as an enemy.
2. Perform prayers to repent
Both the "therapist" and the patient have to perform two 'rakats' of prayers to repent. Dr. Jahid did not state the frequency of which the prayers should be performed.
3. Spraying the victim's eyes with chewed black pepper
After reciting certain verses from the Quran over black pepper seeds, the "therapist" will chew on them before spraying them on the victim's eyes. The victim is required to keep his eyes shut for about an hour in order to get the devil out of him.
4. Islamic reflexology
An Islamic reflexology expert will lay the victim on his stomach before the treatment begins. The victim's butt will be wiped with vinegar water infused with salt and lime juice. The mixture has to be prayed over with Quran verses. The butt cheeks of the victim will then be beaten as the devil 'hides' in his butt.
5. Showering the victim and provide water infused with salt and lime juice
The victim will consume the mixture above after it has been prayed over with Quran verses. He will then be bathed in the same mixture to cleanse his body of the devil.
The centre also offers treatment for other diseases such as Alzheimer's, 'possession', hysteria, and more.
Here's a 2008 video of how the centre conducts its treatments:
3. Real Love Ministry (RLM), led by a pastor who dubs himself as a former transgender woman
Hailing from Melaka, Pastor Edmund Smith heads the Real Love Ministry to cater to LGBTs, who are labeled as "sexually broken". He also promoted a 'special' program – Seasons Of Recovery – to help LGBTs overcome the 'issues' affecting them:
1. Educational Season
Participants are assigned "befrienders" who will spend quality one-on-one time with them. Questions on sexual lifestyle and issues like gender will be asked.
2. Celibate Season
Participants will be required to abstain from sex and romance. Edmund reportedly advised the participants to "take a cold shower or get busy with things that interest you to get rid of your strong urges".
3. Dating Season
Participants will go out with members of the opposite sex to "resolve the barrier issue".
4. Marriage Season
Participants are now committed to a long-term relationship, and are ready to be a spouse, and later become a parent.
Participants are required to "graduate" from one season before moving on to the next.
Another program, 'Victory Meeting' was also created by Edmund to train 'befrienders' to the community. Last year, Edmund posted pictures of "graduation day" for the 'befrienders':
One victim of RLM, James (not his real name), a transgender man, told SAYS about the consequences he suffered during his treatment.
"I started getting non-epileptic seizures that he (Edmund) assumed to be 'the work of the Holy Spirit'... I was left alone and miserable as I had distanced my friends to heal my 'sexual-brokenness'," James said, before adding that he was "assigned" with another woman to build a Deep Platonic Relationship (DPR).
James added that despite Edmund's efforts in RLM, the pastor always had a DPR with him.
"He would kiss him on the cheek, hold hands in public, and spend most of his time with a DPR – more than he spends with his wife," James said.
As a result of Seasons Of Recovery, James was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression.
While Malaysia uses faith-based "treatment" on LGBTs, conversion therapy in India, for example, is vastly different
A 23-year-old Malaysian student, who studied in India, told SAYS about his experience after he admitted to his therapist that he is bisexual.
"(My therapist) gave me antipsychotics, which made me blank and I started lashing out at everyone. I had to take that pill three times a day or whenever I feel like I'm being 'irrational'... I basically looked like a living dead," Jamie (not his real name) said.
After he decided to stop the pills, Jamie's therapist took a more radical step – hooking him up to an IV filled with a vomiting agent three times a week. Jamie was made to watch erotic videos of men while he was hooked to the IV so that he would associate the negative feedback of puking to men.
Jamie did try to end the treatment when he could not take it anymore.
"I remember just snatching the IV out (at one point), but they'll restrain me and say 'you have to finish this (treatment)'," he added.
Existing research shows that conversion therapy leads to long-term mental health problems in LGBTs who go through it
A 1969 study on the harms of conversion therapy revealed that victims suffered anxiety, depression, impotence, relationship dysfunction, and even suicidal ideation. Other studies in the last century also found the same results.
Moreover, a 2009 report by the American Psychological Association found that consequences of the therapy include:
- Social isolation,
- Intimacy difficulties,
- Self-hatred and more.
One conversion therapy victim, Ryan Kendall was recently quoted by Wired as saying that the therapy tore his family apart.
"My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide," he said.
Nonetheless, despite the listed harms on the health of LGBTs, conversion therapy has only been completely banned in 10 countries around the world
The countries are:
- Taiwan, and
In these countries, offenders face prosecution if they are found guilty of conducting conversion therapy. In Taiwan, for instance, a person will face a maximum jail sentence of three years for conducting conversion therapy, which has been stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Perhaps this quote from Jamie, the Malaysian student will cement the serious harms of conversion therapy:
"When the therapy didn't work, I wanted to, you know, just (kill myself)... Can you imagine how disappointing it is that after three months (of conversion therapy), nothing worked out?"