Have a political meme you want to share? Or are you itching to share stories about Malaysians showing their best and worst side? Then Subtle Malaysian Traits is probably the platform for you!
WeirdKaya’s Sarah Yeoh recently sat down with the founders of Subtle Malaysian Traits, Rain Lee and Payton Ong, and had a firsthand inside look into the group’s beginnings, challenges, and plans.
WK: Thank you, Rain and Payton for talking to us at WeirdKaya. Let’s start off with a brief introduction about yourselves.
Rain: My name’s Lee Lin Jun, but my mum chose the name Rain (which isn’t in my IC) as she was inspired by the Korean actor. I’m an Engineering student at Monash University Malaysia and although I was supposed to go to Australia, I chose to stay back due to the pandemic and it’s cheaper that way, so why not? (chuckles)
Payton: Heya! I’m Payton. I am based in Brisbane, and am in my final year pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree of Business (Majoring in Marketing) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
WK: We’ll now talk about the background of Subtle Malaysian Traits. What was the main inspiration for this group? Was it Subtle Asian Traits (SAT)?
Payton: SAT did play a role in the group’s creation, but we wanted to create something specifically tailored for the Malaysian community as SAT is comprised of Asians from all over the world. With Malaysia being known as a melting pot of cultures, there was a lot to share within the local scene.
Rain: Like what Payton said, SAT was catered for people from the Asian community and shares experiences which may not resonate with Malaysians. Therefore, SMT was formed to give Malaysians a platform to voice their opinions and share how they go through their daily lives.
There’s an interesting story as to how SMT was founded in May 2019. At that time, I had just completed a semester and was bored. So, while scrolling through Facebook to kill time, I saw the ‘Create Group’ button and thought, “You know what, I’m just going to create one”.
Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to handle it all on my own, I contacted Payton and asked whether she would like to be an admin of the group. My expectations of this group wasn’t high as I didn’t think it would take off and assumed that at best, only 200 people would join. I was wrong. I was really wrong about it. (SMT currently stands at 21K members)
WK: What was the response when SMT was launched?
Payton: For the first month in particular, it was growing rather slowly as it was just me and Rain inviting our Facebook friends to join the group. In order to increase interaction and communication, both of us posted lots of interesting articles that would kickstart discussions. As the months went by, more members began to invite their friends and even foreigners took notice of SMT and requested to join the group.
Rain: When I invited my main friend groups to be part of SMT, many of them told me that it was impossible to gain any traction and declined my invitation. This is not to say that they weren’t supportive, but they were just being realistic after I failed to establish my own YouTube channel.
I’m looking at the graph right now and we were initially stuck at 6,000 members throughout 2019, but it exploded to 10,000 members last August. I believe what contributed to this massive growth was the first Movement Control Order (MCO). By then, SMT didn’t need the power of the MCO to further expand as the invitations just kept coming.
WK: In your own opinion, what were some of the best/worst posts shown on SMT?
Payton: For me, I wouldn’t say I’ve seen the best or worst post, but I’ve noticed that posts related to LGBTQIA+ issues garner the most interaction, be it positive, negative, or both.
Rain: Personally, possibly the worst posts to be seen on SMT are those from scammers. It sounds trivial, but I call them that because they often fool members and even admins by posting wholesome posts, only to change it into something inappropriate or shameless self-promotion. This is quite worrying as it could risk SMT getting shut down.
WK: When posts covering taboo subjects (e.g. race, religion, LGBTQIA+) are uploaded on SMT, how do you address it?
Payton: When it comes to approving posts on these topics, I tend to look from the aspect of whether would it educate the public. My main tactic is to fight hate with love, not the other way round. If you fight hate with hate, you’ll never get anywhere.
As a LGBTQIA+ advocate, my sole request is for the government to enact anti-discrimination laws that will protect people like myself, and this will in turn create a better Malaysia for everyone. Setting up anti-discrimination laws can also help relieve tensions in sensitive topics such as race and religion.
Rain: While I don’t exactly combat hate with love, I would instead use logic and rationality to educate people on such topics.
Take myself, for example. A lot of people called me “gay” for liking people from the same gender, when I’m actually bisexual. When I correct them on that, they would say that since I like guys, I would fall in love with ALL of my male friends. I countered them by asking, “Based on that logic, does that mean that you, as a heterosexual, will fall in love with every single girl/guy you meet?” If that’s not the case for them, it’s definitely not for me too.
I’ve also personally seen many Malaysians stuck in the closet because they’re scared of what their friends and family might think. And that’s sad as quite a number of my friends decided to pretend to be “straight” just to please people around them when I can tell they’re really unhappy.
Many also accuse the LGBTQIA+ community of harboring an agenda, but we have none. All we’re asking is to be accepted for who we are and to live our lives peacefully.
WK: With a platform like SMT, are you hopeful that positive change can be brought on such controversial topics?
Payton: There is definitely hope, but realistically speaking, it will take years for it to come into fruition. Having managed multiple Malaysian LGBTQIA+ pages in the past, a lot has changed in the sense where the new generation and some from the older generation have become more open and accepting. I believe that by posting controversial topics, it will be helpful in educating the public and bringing positive impact. Change is happening, but not quick enough.
WK: Many have complained about their posts not getting approved and accused the admins of fast-tracking their own posts. What is your response to that?
Payton: I’d like to remind the members of one thing: the admins and moderators have a life to live and are not glued to the computer 24/7. Outside of SMT, my daily schedule is jam-packed as I have classes to attend and two ongoing internships.
There are two reasons why the admins can’t approve multiple posts in one sitting: 1) It will affect engagement and interaction in the group, and 2) it may impact the mental health of the admins and moderators due to looking at too many negative posts at once.
Rain: I’m personally not quite active in approving posts and would often screen through posts that have been approved. Sometimes, I ask myself why certain posts were approved as it’s either low-quality content or controversial topics that could land SMT in serious trouble. This is why I’m not keen in approving posts hastily.
Most don’t know this, but approving posts takes a lot of mental energy and if we’re not careful, we could face community strikes which may shut down SMT for good.
WK: What constitutes to members getting banned on SMT?
Rain: According to one of our moderators, Joel, this is what will get members banned from the group:
“We’re open to differing opinions most of the time in regards to such topics. When we feel that a certain comment exudes a sense of bigotry be in the form of racism, homophobia, and the like, we strive to educate them on their own bigotry to allow them to understand the detrimental effects of their own behaviour.
However, there is a line to be drawn; when one’s intentions are to purposely attack marginalised groups with no sense of remorse even when being corrected, they will be warranted a permanent ban, ESPECIALLY when threats of death and violence are brought into the equation.
Acts of bigotry can be corrected, but that does not excuse outright hatred, which we do not tolerate. There is a fine line to be drawn.”
WK: Does SMT have any plans to launch its own official merchandise?
Payton: We’re currently selling T-shirts but it hasn’t gained much traction. Perhaps when we have more free time, we will come up with more designs.
Rain: Due to limited manpower, we’re not able to explore further for now, but we could look into it in the future.
WK: Any closing remarks you’d like to say to the members of SMT?
Rain: I deeply appreciate every one in the group, especially the members. Without them, the group will cease to exist. It’s really heartening to see lively conversations, discussions, and even personal stories being shared on SMT.
Payton: I’d say the same things as Rain, except that I hope the members will be more understanding towards the admins as we’re still human, not robots that work 24/7.
Cover photos by ExpatGo via Subtle Malaysian Traits & Screenshot by WeirdKaya
Special thanks to Rain Lee and Payton Ong
Editor: Raymond Chen