In this blog post, I’ll be discussing how LGBTQ+ are represented in the media through the issues that surfaced in an Islamic drama series titled “Tanah Kubur” or “Cemetery” that was aired on Malaysia’s cable television. In the 13th episode of season 15 titled “Tok Kadi Kahwin Laki?”, it tells a story of a transgender woman who wanted to repent.
Before I begin with the main content, I’d like to touch a bit on the title as I find it interesting. “Kahwin lagi?” or “marry again?” is the common reaction among the Malay community to express shock upon hearing a (male) relative or a friend who is marrying again, despite it being permissible in Islam to be in a polygamous relationship. However, the word “lagi” has been changed to “laki”, which means “man”. This is a smart wordplay as it would not only cause the listener to be shocked but also puzzled if they heard it correctly. The whole sentence “Tok Kadi kahwin laki” could be deemed as blasphemous as Tok Kadis are respected male figures in Islam who are authorised to conduct solemnisation for Islamic weddings. Therefore, if a Tok Kadi were to marry a man, it would cause an uproar within the Muslim community.
In this drama, Ariana seeks help from the Tok Kadi as she wanted to repent of her “immoral lifestyle” as a transgender woman. Ariana wanted to marry Tok Kadi so that she could be guided to the “righteous path”. As expected, Tok Kadi refused Ariana’s requests and insisted that she is a man named “Alfian”. This shows how transgender individuals are being treated within the Muslim community in this region. Despite going through official procedures to change their identity, they are still recognised as their past identities. For instance, Lucinta Luna, a successful transgender Indonesian singer, is still being called by her birth name and labelled as a man, erasing the fact that she’s now a woman. It is as though the media wants viewers to ignore the importance of acknowledging transgenders’ new identity.
I believe that the production team has carefully chosen to portray a transgender woman as they wanted to avoid showing a man-to-man relationship in the media. This proves how heteronormativity is so ingrained within the Muslim community that a relationship between a transgender woman and a man can be considered “acceptable” but a relationship between two men is not. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Malaysia has portrayed a similar relationship in the media. There were 2 Malaysian movies (Sutun and Anu Dalam Botol) which also portrayed effeminate gay characters pursuing relationships with straight men. I have yet to come across any Malaysian dramas or movies that represent gay men as masculine or “straight-acting”. Most of the time, they are portrayed as flamboyant, feminine-like, docile and vulnerable. As compared to Hollywood, or even its’ neighbouring country; Thailand, Malaysia still has a long way to go in accurately portraying the various LGBTQ+ characters in the media.
Sadly for Ariana, she was told to return back to her male self if she ever wanted to repent. After going through a depression phase and self-harm, Ariana “transformed back” into a man by wearing men’s clothing. Only then she was allowed to pray in the mosque. At the end of her prayer, she was found dead. In Islam, it is believed that one of the peaceful ways to pass away is during prayer as it is considered that the individual died while worshipping God. This reminded me of how gays are often portrayed as the victim in movies where they would die in a gruesome death. They are often not given the opportunity to have a happy ending as death would be the easy shortcut (or even retribution) to end a drama or movie with such a sensitive topic like this.
It seems like there is still much that can be done in Malaysia to correctly represent the diverse LGBTQ+ community. As far as I am aware, only the trans community is largely represented in Malaysian media, albeit inaccurately. Hopefully, the other LGBTQ+ communities can be represented in the Malaysian media without prejudice.
(this post first appeared here)