Regulated Sexualities: ‘Unnatural’ Encounters with the Law – a seminar by Tan Beng Hui (Wed, 16 March 2011)

Speaker: Ms Tan Beng Hui (PhD Candidate, Southeast Asian Studies Programme, NUS)
Date: Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Time: 3:30pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

Since the mid‐1990s, official discourses on sexual morality in Malaysia have given a distinct impression that deviations from heteronormativity are strictly regarded as unacceptable. Both civil and Syariah legal provisions confirm the state’s intolerance towards those who do not comply, prescribing a range of penalties for behaviours and appearances that are viewed as ‘unnatural’ or ‘indecent’. But while the state appears intent on imposing a narrow definition of sexuality, what is the impact of these laws on
those who are seemingly targeted for regulation? Exactly how important is the project of sexual control to the state? More specifically, how critical is the reigning in of those with dissident sexualities?

This paper will show that rather than resembling a well thought‐out plan of control, the instances in which the state has flexed its muscles on those it perceives as sexual deviants (i.e. gay men, lesbian women and transsexuals) reveal a pattern that is selective and haphazard. Determined by a range of factors that are examined here, such encounters are shown to be more frequent and painful for some
but not for others. Also, even though far more heterosexual transgressions have landed up in the Syariah court, the stigmatisation and demonisation of sexual marginals means that those who have been violated rarely have recourse to justice. Significantly, the paper examines the curious proposal by the Federal government to set up a new Department of Syariah Enforcement and Prosecution—curious
because the enforcement of religious laws has never been viewed as sufficiently important to command the resources required to match the official rhetoric of promoting ‘good’ morality.

About the speaker
Tan Beng Hui is a PhD candidate at the Southeast Asian Studies Programme, National University of Singapore. This paper is part of her thesis about the intensification of efforts to instil ‘good’ morality among sexual marginals in Malaysia from the mid‐1990s onwards.