Malaysia opens boot camp for effeminate boys

Being a teenager who doesn't conform to gender expectations can be really difficult here in the United States. It's significantly more difficult in the Malaysian state of Terenggan, where education-department officials just established a boot camp for effeminate boys. Sixty-six boys from local schools were rounded up and sent to a four-day camp in the town of Besut, where they'll undergo physical training and religious instruction designed to masculinize them.

In an article in the local English-language newspaper The New Straits Times, tastefully headlined "Besut boot camp for 66 sissies," education-department director Razali Daud explained that "as educators, we have to do something about it before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return... If left unchecked, [effeminate behavior] could become a problem later in life for them, their families and society." He added, "We understand that some people end up as mak nyah [transvestite] or a homosexual, but we will do our best to limit the number."

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia; the country is 60% Muslim, and cultural norms are significantly influenced by fundamentalist Islam. (Above, Muslim students protest a 2010 concert by Adam Lambert.) But even the Malaysian government disapproved of the Terenggan education department's action, expressing "alarm and great concern"; according to Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil,

"...[B]eing singled out on the basis of perceived characteristics is an extremely traumatizing experience, in particular for adolescent teens. Such profiling has potentially serious psychological repercussions and could harm the development and mental health of the children, as it exposes them to prejudices among their peers and members of their family and community."

Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign have both also registered their protests. While this probably would never happen in the United States, remember that just this week, Fox News accused J. Crew of encouraging gender confusion in male children, after a J. Crew ad featured a boy and his mom painting his toenails pink, yet failed to depict the resultant sundering of the heavens and collapse of human civilization. This world can be an awfully mean-spirited place.

Commentarium (11 Comments)

Apr 21 11 - 1:15pm

I recall National Lampoon did an article in the 70's to the effect of "I Was a Captive on a Cuban Homo Farm," a satire of communistic "re-education camps," which made the point that putting a bunch of gay men in a camp dorm pretty much had the opposite effect of "straightening" them out. When real life and satire become indistinguishable, you know things are going strange. Well, at least this will let any gay kids figure out that even in Malaysia they're not alone, and maybe help them find a hot date.

Apr 21 11 - 1:02am

Reminds me of finishing schools back in the day.

Not to be insensitive, but won't Malaysia's prostitution industry suffer if they're suddenly without effeminate boys?

Apr 21 11 - 9:11am

Is there really a parallel between comments about a J Crew ad and (presumably) involuntary enrollment in the Malay camp? Discernment is key.

Apr 21 11 - 10:14am

Yeah, I think there is a parallel. I'm not saying they're of equal seriousness, but the mindset they're coming from is the same: one that feels threatened by people--kids--who don't conform to rigid ideas about gender.

Apr 21 11 - 11:04am

Seriously? Do you feel the same way about, for instance, males who dress as males in the workplace? Seems like they are conforming to a fairly rigid idea of gender.

Apr 21 11 - 12:26pm

Males who dress "as males" aren't necessarily telling anyone else what to do, are they? I didn't say I have a problem with people conforming to rigid ideas about gender. I have a problem with people forcing OTHER people to conform to rigid ideas about gender. People should dress however they want.

Apr 21 11 - 12:44pm

No, they are conforming to an orthodoxy that oppresses those who feel differently. Do you realize how many males would prefer to dress differently but lack the support to do so? You really need to open your mind.

Apr 21 11 - 5:24pm

I don't think that's an accurate comparison. There's a difference between making a common lifestyle choice and shaming/stigmatizing people who make an uncommon one.

Apr 21 11 - 9:24am

I wholly approve of this. Malaysia has entirely too many bottoms, not enough tops.

Jun 18 11 - 8:51am

First, the state is "Terengganu," not "Terenggan," which also happens to be one of the more conservative in the country. Second, Malaysia isn't so much influenced by "fundamentalist Islam" as "traditionalist Islam;" Wahhabis and Salafists are extremely radical when compared with traditional forms of Islam in the region. Third, there are plenty of Malaysians (Malays included) that are quite upset with this. Fourth, how is that any better than this, at the heart of it: ? Discrimination against homosexuals is a problem in Malaysia, but then again, it's only relatively recently that things have even started to get better in the US as well.

Aug 14 11 - 11:20pm

If they want to make homosexuality illegal that is their prerogative. It's very self-absorbed and arrogant for sanctimonious nations like the USA, or IGO's like the UN to dictate the decisions of other nation's societies, and then enforce it with military impudence (which they do all the time and are doing now). And Amnesty International, is a selective giver of amnesty. They only give amnesty to those who they deem worthy rather than to everyone. So they should go ahead and just call themselves Pretentious Philanthropy with an Ulterior Motive International and be honest about it.