two steps forward

Malaysia’s First Gay Romance Movie Is Also Horrifically Transphobic

Dubbed Malaysia’s first-ever gay film, …Dalam Botol hits theaters in February and tells the story of a gay man who undergoes gender reassignment survey because he thinks his boyfriend will prefer it, but the relationship ends up cratering, and (he) starts hating his now-female body. Screened this week for bloggers and critics, the Malay-language flick (which translates to …In A Bottle) reportedly drew applause. But keep in mind: The country’s film board only recently starting approving movies with gay themes, and only those that do not condone homosexuality. So they were cheering a film that, even in its description, sounds pretty morbid.

But producer and writer Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman (pictured center, with the stars) says her film, directed by the actor Khir Rahman, isn’t anti-gay. Just anti-trans. Yes, really.

The film, which cost $320,000 to make and is based on a friend who had a sex change in Thailand some 25 years ago and came to regret it, is not “an anti-gay movie,” she says. “I believe it’s not wrong to be gay, but it’s wrong to have a sex change. … It is just a simple love story between a man and a man, and a woman and a man.” (Sounds like he’s been talking to this guy.)

The blog Lean Is Mean summarizes the plot:

Rubidin and Ghaus[‘s … relationship] is tested when the former decides to undergo a sex-change operation. But Ghaus is unable to accept “Ruby” and walks out of the relationship. Sometime later, Ruby decides that a woman’s life is not for him, and decides to stop taking the female hormone injections. Now back to the masculine Rubidin – minus a few parts – he falls in love with Dina (Diana Danielle) and they decide to marry. But can she ever accept his past? Can Rubidin make her happy? Though … Dalam Botol’s plotline may seem far fetched, producer Raja Azmi swears it is based on a friend’s experience. “I am not making a judgmental movie. I am just telling a story based on one of my friend’ true experience. In his case, he regrets going for a sex change operation. “I have no right to judge anyone. I am no angel. I have my sins too,” she told theSun in an exclusive interview.

And keep in mind: Malaysia’s Censorship Board was involved from the beginning, reviewing everything from the script at inception to the final product, which opens with Ruby and Ghaus (played by Arja Lee and Wan Raja) shirtless and massaging each other on the beach. (Don’t expect to see the men kissing, let alone in bed together.) The board nixed the original title, Penis In A Bottle, hence the ellipses.

So if government censorship officials signed off on it, by definition it can’t exactly be pro-queer. Especially when Malaysia’s Islamic leaders are also signing off on the movie, but only because it sends the message that sex changes are horrible nasty things: The movie very intently sends the message that you’ll regret a sex change. For government and Islamic officials, the film is precisely the piece of anti-LGBT propaganda they might put out themselves.

NB: Meanwhile tonight Bollywood sees its first film with a gay kiss premiere: Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun opens today in India.

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  • Daez

    Perhaps it sends the message that you should think long and hard before you consider something as drastic as cutting your dick off. Then again, I think that is a message that most trans people already got.

  • Ryan

    I worry that your analysis of this being transphobic might be misinformed.

    This definitely doesn’t seem like an overtly positive movie, but it does reflect the experiences of MANY people around the world – especially those living in Muslim majority countries. In countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal and condemned, it is not uncommon for sex-reassignment surgery to be relatively accessible (see Iran, for example, where homosexuality is punishable by death, whereas the country performs so many SRS that it is only second to Thailand).

    Countless people in homosexual relationships commit to undergo SRS in order to stay with their lovers and avoid painful discrimination and potential violence for being same-gendered.

    While I haven’t seen this movie, and I don’t approve of people being forced to undergo SRS in order to avoid discrimination, I do wish that western LGBT activists would think about what they’re saying.

    Just because LGBT people in the West identify one way or another doesn’t mean that the rest of the gender and sexually variant people in the world have to. Nor does it mean that we have the right to impose our views on them (to an extent beyond advocating for their human rights)

  • Aiden

    @Ryan: S are you fine with anti gay foreign films .I mean we shouldn’t impose our western views on them right?

  • Ryan


    No – that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to point out that the issue of addressing “LGBT” people in a global context is a LOT more complicated than this article, or most LGBT people, realize.

    I love our culture and our movement, but I also don’t think it’s our responsibility or our right to police the world telling people how they identify. Were there to be a film which advocated for or directly incited violence against LGBTs, I’d definitely be against it. This doesn’t however seem to be the case with this movie.

    In regard to Malaysia in particular, it’s likely that there ARE many people who choose SRS over prolonged homosexual relationships due simply to the ridiculous and outdated laws of the region (Code 377 being derived primarily from Britain’s “buggery” laws… thanks post-colonialism…).

    I don’t want this to be cast in the wrong light. This quite possibly could not be a transphobic movie. It could very well be a movie describing the experiences of cismen in a homosexual relationship who are forced to turn to SRS for their own safety. The problem here is the global decriminalization of homosexual acts to PREVENT people from being FORCED into SRS. It’s likely that people in this situation would regret their decision to be surgically modified – and understandably so. I don’t think that’s transphobic.

  • Aiden

    @Ryan: I actually agree with you.I’m trans and it’s hard enough when your going through it willingly.I was just being a little reactionary.

  • Deanna Chais

    This movie’s message is that gay men are men, can live their lives and love one another as men, and don’t have to pretend that they are women in order to make things work.
    That is true. It also is in line with what the gay movement stood for over approximately 40-50 years. But truth is incompatible with the religious doctrine of “LGBT”.

    This movie is very similar to a plot twist in the 1977 American TV show “Soap,” in which a gay character, played by Billy Crystal, plans to get a sex change operation, believing that this is necessary so that he can be with his football player boyfriend. The fooball player dumps him, he tries to commit suicide, but ultimately survives the experience and realizes that he needs to be happy as a gay person, not as a pretend woman.

    That a gay blog sees a problem with this simple and honest message in 2010 only shows how far we have allowed LGBT to corrode our identity and our ability to think honestly about who we are.

  • nikolai

    I am Malaysian,live in the country and am homosexual.

    I frequent Queerty and understand it is necessary for this website to take,and sometimes invent a sensationalist angle to any issue.

    This has been the situation in my country for a long time,there are perfectly normal and out gays although the LGBT lifestyle and culture is not something that is openly conversed about,be it on the streets or in films.

    I doubt the filmakers are trying to convey any strong message about whether they accept or condone either homosexuality or sex changes,films here don’t play a pivotal role,they are not catalysts to progress,a bulk of the Hollywood films screened here are brainless blockbusters.

    Yes,we are an Islamic country and homosexuality is a strict taboo,but it is not the radical,intolerant country Western media would like you to imagine.

  • kyals84

    Ryan: I totally agree with you on this.

    The fact is there are many countries where they force people who are gay but who are not trans to undergo gender reassignment surgery to allow them to have ‘legal’ relationships.. and ensure society stays heterocentric >.>. This movie sounds (on the outside) like it is addressing that idea to some degree.

    It also may be highly transphobic which is unfortunate :/.. but it is still a important message that people who are not trans should not undergo transition just to not be gay.

    Without seeing the movie it is hard to rly comment on how demonizing it really is..

  • CJ Maciejeski

    @Deanna Chais: You’re kindof a cunt, huh?

  • scott ny'er

    @Ryan: Thanks for your thoughts. I was totally buying into the transphobic idea until I read your comment.

  • j

    @CJ Maciejeski: Agreed.
    @scott ny’er: Here’s hoping you never buy into it again. It’s so much easier to stir hate than foster understanding.

  • Nick Farben

    Without seeing the film, I can’t say what the portrayal implies. But it doesn’t look like they’re demonizing gay or trans people. They’re just telling a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. If Brokeback Mountain was to be believed as a litmus for gay cowboys, then the moral of the story would be that living opening would get you lynched, and being closeted would make you sad and alone.

    To me, this film sounds like Malaysia’s answer to Madame Butterfly, and when it comes to Muslim countries, this is a huge step forward.

    Some states in Malaysia still have crazy laws against holding hands or kissing in public among straight non-married couples, so believe me, this is a huge coup somewhat.

  • Dina

    Let me understand this. So not only he regrets being transgendered, but he turns out to be straight, as well. Yep, so not anti-gay.

  • sm

    Mmmmm that guy on the right side in the second pic looks yummy! What’s his name? Can someone tell me?

  • Nigel

    There’s much wrong with my country. I’d be the first to admit it. But the people themselves are not overtly homophobic and I’ve lived as an out gay man with my partner for the longest time and in all that time we’ve met nothing but nice people.

    Having said that, I hear that it is harder for rural kids. There is serious stereotyping going on in the more rural states that clings to the notion that gay men are not quite men. This is perpetuated to a certain extent by gay men. I know gay men who won’t do anything but bottom. Whether this is conditioned into them, I do not know but it seems likely.

    I also hear through the grapevine of many unreported cases of transgender bashing. However, what Nikolai above says is true. In urban areas at least, Malaysia is very tolerant of LGBTs.

  • edgyguy1426

    Queerty, gender reassignment SURVEY? C’mon now

  • FND

    Just to add, there’s an underlying story to this. I’m a local and here’s what I have to say.

    The female director of this film, Raja Azmi, was never famous for making great films. All her films have been subpar and she had been trying for years to make it big. She just couldn’t take it why her films were never well received. I mean, it’s so easy to many coz its just plain bad, but she’s a little delusional I guess. Just call this one, an attempt by her to court some kind of controversy to sell some tickets. But hey, publicity is one thing, but when the film is bad, no press will ever redeem it.

    She also had an ongoing press feud (from her side at least) a few year back with another film director who was born transgendered, the late Yasmin Ahmad. The feud was well documented by the local press, and partly due to her jealousy of Yasmin being was very successful in her field. Yasmin had won many awards (our equivalent of The Oscars I guess), and was the nation’s sweetheart until her passing recently (R.I.P) due to a stroke. So this new movie, was also a cowardly attempt to make fun of the other director after her death. It is transphobic, because Raja Azmi is transphobic.

    This movie doesnt even deserve column space anywhere. It’s shite and even Malaysia had ignored it because it was in essence, a bad movie anyway. So dont give this director, Raja Azmi any column space.

  • Akira

    @nikolai: Well; I have to agree with you on that. Some people can amazingly tolerant towards us LGBTs (am a local too).

    But at the same time, it’s unrealistic to say that the general attitude in urban Malaysia is pro-gay. I’ve not come out to the general public yet, but whatever suspicions I’ve triggered in them has already killed half my social life. My brother, too, has faced a lot of persecution for being effeminate; and this applies for other effeminate men I know.

    Back to the subject; I noticed a lot of people stamping their label on the movie straightaway; which seems to be the same kind of reaction they gave concerning South Korea’s mask-wearing LGBTs during their version of the Gay Parade. I don’t know if FND’s comments are true, but the main point is that the Westerners have got to realise the definition of “pro-gay” varies according to country and culture. Of course we’d all love to strive for the same ideal, but at the moment, we’re still going through the initial stages as what happened in Europe and America decades ago. Expecting us to produce a richly vocal pro-gay culture is simply unrealistic when the basest human rights like safety and access to healthcare for LGBTs are still debatable.

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