First off, I’m sorry.
As a community, or even as an individual you’ve probably been told that you don’t exist, aren’t worth anything, or are even harmful and detrimental to society at large. This is a shame, and while there are many that disagree with me I don’t believe you are.
Americans are constantly at war with gay rights and issues. I’ve lived in a country that has transformed slowly over years to make forms of love and relationships outside of opposing genders more acceptable socially, as well as protected with better legal rights. It’s in the media, in our religious establishments, in cafes, on our headlines, and in our hearts- one way or another. It is very challenging to live in America and not have an opinion on this matter. I’ve rarely met a neutral individual who stated they care not whether gays have the right to marry, claim guardianship to adopted children, avoid discrimination ect.
The amount of invisibility both society has shrouded you with and the denial of your existence is made incredibly clear with two moments in my life. The first is a conversation with my now husband about gay communities in Indonesia. I had asked if he knew any homosexuals, and he replied no. I then asked if he believed homosexuals existed in Indonesia. Again, no. I remember responding by throwing back my head in laughter, in some violent but sad response to the fact that his answer just meant they knew not to even be recognized as a subculture. They’re not even hiding in the shadows. Shadows didn’t exist in Indonesia. That’s how invisible they were.
The second moment was when I watched a video about the LGBT community from YouTube personality Sacha Stevens, which I’ve embedded below.
Homosexuals and Indonesians are so very rarely mentioned in the media but when they are it is inevitably Jakarta, the country’s capital. Other hubs include Bali which I assume are more easily found due to a huge tourist, clubbing, and urban feel. Indo-American drag queen, Raja aka Sutan spoke on air about growing up in Indonesia and being teased. But he had found a haven in Bali’s artistically inclined aesthetics that gave him a platform, as well as his more open minded American community we would grow up in as well. Also high five for throwing miss Manila some shade during Season 3 and calling himself more Asian than American-Philippine Manila Luzon but not being petty about it on stage. Manila’s stage name is an homage to her Asian roots which is fantastic, but Raja’s comments were classic.
I see some style preferences here in Bandung that would be hard placed on a heterosexual, most likely due again to the young, vibrant artsy feel of our city. I have seen exactly one homosexual couple holding hands in public but that was in Indonesia. I have met personally one lesbian couple here in Bandung but even in the confines of a small intimate game board cafe among friends aware of their partnership, they displayed no physical affection except for sharing a bowl of soup and sitting next to one another. Cues that had I not asked, would look like mere friendship.
My home and personal life was always reinforced with the idea that being gay was okay, natural, and yes tragic. My family biology is prone to depression. My uncle, who I barely remember, took his life when I was very young while struggling with depression. With certainty I can say that being gay made his life ever the more difficult and while I’m not saying him being gay is what caused suicide I am saying that it took a very heavy toll on his personal life. So I believe it is taking one on you too, Indonesia.
In my community, I grew up at odds with the perception that being gay was wrong. In high school you could be open but it was inevitably an invitation to trouble for most. I bought a t-shirt that said “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” from Hot Topic to which a terrified friend whispered “People will think it is true” as I ventured to wear it. You caught me! Nailed it. I personally am attracted to both sides but being straight was always easier. Theater was a haven for some who were aware, or not but were magically drawn to the space anyway. I think it has to do with the fact that acting, that is putting on a costume and being someone else, is an attractive idea for those who are constantly at odds with the image and person and social costume that society is asking you to wear. If it doesn’t fit, or doesn’t feel right, why not go learn the craft better? Disguises for everyone!
Sacha Stevenson, a Canadian expat who is more Indonesian than Canadian, published this video about public perceptions of the LGBT community in Indonesia.
For a majority, being gay is a negative quality. Those who are gay often hide themselves, their identity, their voice to avoid not just drawing negative attention to themselves, but to their families as well. Perceptions about being in social context with a gay person is expressed as being bad for the neighborhood, children, a lack of discipline, it is contagious, threatening to their manhood… the list goes on. Mind you the video is from those in Jakarta- the city’s urban capital and home to 10 million people by recent estimates.
Tolerance of minorities in Indonesia is becoming harder to come by. Holiday seasons are racked with raids, blasphemy charges put a Chinese Christian Jakarta (now former) governor in jail, and even minority Muslim sects have not escaped abuse. What room is there for tolerance and rights on a group that is condemned by most major religions? I’m not sure. The discrepancy is everywhere, and prolific gay leaders from Jamaica to Russian citizens face the consequences. Most often men seem to be the target.
Here is what I know has helped those I grew up with learn to be accepted and identify with their sexuality in a healthy way, even when others couldn’t face it:
- Find your people
- Move to a (more) tolerant location
- Protect your identity at your discretion
- Build inner peace and acceptance
- Join a social advocacy group
I don’t know in what order or the best way to do these things. I do remember sitting at my computer on June 13th (I was 12 hours ahead) when news broke of a mass shooting in my home city Orlando that targeted the gay population. A place I knew was frequented and even employed people from my past that I had kept vague communication with across social media. I cried alone in my hotel room while we were apartment hunting, and watched the whole world react with outpourings of donations, videos, and support with barely a blip on the radar in Indonesia. Nobody to talk to about it. Isolated not just by geography but by ideology.
I’ve seen communities fight and change public perception, or reinforce hatred too. But I know it possible to stop feeling isolated and alone. Go find your people, and know that there is a world and community out there who will tolerate and believe in your identity without trying to change it. Some of the Indonesian gay youth is looking to the future and wondering how things will change. “I was passing by Thamrin when I saw a sign saying “LGBT penyakit penular” (LGBT is a viral sickness). Why must our sexualities be so strongly correlated with depravity, or being “abnormal” or “cacat”?” writes Jaanam Jaswani in a guest post for The Jakarta Post.
The unfortunate answer is that no one is going to stand for you but yourselves. This is how the community was shaped and changed in America. Advocates gathered, took public office, and created communities where they could leverage their risks against a majority. Orlando’s Pulse was an example of that. Stonewall Inn is too. There is a space for you in the world but you may have to not only create it, but fight for it too.