By Gary Barbour
Right now, my boyfriend is cooking lunch in his underwear. He has an annoying habit of asking for help in a list.
Give me the veggies.
Cook the rice.
Clean the dishes.
Where are the veggies?
Did you make the rice?
Can you clean the dishes?
As often as I say, “Let me finish one before you need another,” he continues to overload my goldfish brain by asking for help in a tone that makes every request equally urgent. As if each one MUST be finished right goddamn now or the kitchen will explode.
This is my life. We cook together. We argue about who mopped the floor last week and who needs to mop it this week. “I swear I did, you sneaky bastard!” is thrown around a lot in this house.
We also live in a country where the government is vehemently anti-gay. Last year, they commissioned a musical about the dangers of homosexuality. In it, a group of gay-ngsters (I’ve waited 7 months to use that word) convert a good little Muslim girl to the evils of Capital L Lesbianism. The internet exploded in self-righteous masturbatory rage. I read a handful of Malaysian bloggers who saw the musical and commented more on the lazy writing than on the potentially harmful message though they all quoted the writer’s admission that he “didn’t do academic research, because I don’t intend to create a war against them.”
I asked a local friend about how Malaysians feel when this stuff happens, and he told me “We laugh.” He suggested going to watch the show when it went on tour. If the government wants to look stupid on the world stage, I want front row seats.
But my boyfriend and I don’t hold hands in public. We draw the curtains when we want to steal kisses. It reeks of the 1950’s “confirmed bachelors,” two men, shacked up, doin’ it.
In the morning, we hold hands on the short walk from the elevator to the lobby. It’s one of the few areas of our apartment complex without cameras. It’s a small rebellion, but it lets us feel normal. That doesn’t stop us from watching behind us to make sure no one else got off the elevator. When we spot someone coming, we clumsily untangle our fingers, take a small step away, and continue as if nothing is different. If the person is far enough away, we laugh at how ridiculous it all feels.
Why shouldn’t we hold hands? Then someone points out the rising extremism in the area and we respond “Oh. That’s why.”
This is my new life.
Gary teaches English to Middle Eastern students at an American school in Malaysia. Read about the convergence of this cultural mishmash on his blog, Collecting Sparrows.