PhD – Queering Spaces and Mapping LGBTQ Music-making in Kuala Lumpur (Rachel Ong)

Malaysian drag queen Kumela Kumslut performing at a queer event in KL in celebration of Malaysia's Independence day in 2022.

In Malaysia, where LGBTQ or Gender and Sexual Marginals face discrimination and even violence from the general public due to repressive government policies shaped largely by Islamic principles and ethnopolitics, queer spaces exist as underground (private) events and initiatives to support musical and artistic expressions of the LGBTQ community. Recognized as a ‘safe space’, these spaces also provide a site of resistance against different forms of oppression faced by the community. However, the permanence of these queer spaces relies on many factors and one of the major disruptions to the stability and sustainability of these queer spaces is the irregular implementation of the law, particularly Sections 377A and 377B in the common law and the Syariah law against those who are deemed to be morally and sexually transgressive.

My PhD project maps out LGBTQ musicking in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. I explore the ways in which the city provides spatial conditions for the expression of marginalised identity politics as well as how the intersectional social organizations such as race, class, religion, and politics shape or shaped the musical expressions. Noting how the queer community navigate the politics of in/visibility, my research not only looks at the physical spaces where queer events take place but also at online spaces such as social media platforms, independent and international news portals.  This ‘visibility’ is further complicated by the tension between the security of invisibility and the danger of invisibility; also, between the desire to remain hidden and to make known the issues that plight the LGBTQ community in Malaysia. As a researcher of ‘safe spaces’,  my greatest responsibility is to find ways to do my work without endangering any individual or the security and success of the scenes.