I Told Mom Her Only Son Was Born This Gay

It was 2003 when mom found out I was probably gay. She read something she wasn’t supposed to read. Like what other Indonesian parents would do, she’d brought me to a psychologist. That was one awkward moment, and sad. Awkward cause I had to talk to a stranger about something I didn’t even dare say to myself, and sad cause mom looked wretched. A few nights prior to that, she’d told me how hard it was for her. In tears.

Unbeknownst to her, it was hard for me too. I’m certain it was harder for me. I was just 16. Growing up gay is such a pain in the ass (nah, I ain’t talking about anal sex), especially in Indonesia.

There were 8 stages I had to go through as a gay Indonesian. Not every gay man experiences all these stages below; some go through less, and I believe there are other stages I didn’t even deal with.

Stage 1: The Confusion

We were all raised in a society who believes ideal relationships are between a man and a woman. So imagine how muddled I was when I had a crush with a boy from my class. I was in the fifth grade.

Puberty hit me hard when I went to middle school. I had another crush, also with a classmate. This time it was pretty sexual. I remember having that kind of dream about him. I was perplexed, as every boy had a crush with girls or vice versa. They told me they’d jerked off watching naked women in blue films, while I was obsessed with Backstreet Boys; and it wasn’t really about the music. Their “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” video was my moment of sexual awakening. It’d made me feel so wrong. The most puzzling parts: the inability to discuss it with anyone, and the thought that I was the only boy attracted to another boy. I was completely alone.

Stage 2: The Humiliation

Oh yes dear, I wasn’t lucky enough to get away from bullying. I can’t say I’m feminine, but I’m less masculine than most men are. During primary and middle school, macho boys would made fun of me for always hanging out with girls and not playing sports with them. I couldn’t even kick a ball. They’d called me bencong, the Indonesian equivalent for faggot.

It’s true what they say: bullying has a deep impact on you. For decades, maybe until now, I’m still intimidated every time I meet a group of straight men, either in professional or casual relationship. There’s this fear they’d call me fag, even though I know for sure they wouldn’t, especially in progressive countries like when I lived in Australia or now in Canada. When being around straight men, I still feel obliged to act as manly as possible to avoid such mean words, cause that was what I did for years to make them stop making fun of me at school. The bullies still live in the back oh my head. I can’t forgive them for what they’d done to my brain. At least I’m glad to know one of them is miserably poor right now.

Stage 3: The Lie

Overcoming the loneliness, I had to fabricate a fictional story about my crush. I needed to talk to someone about my feeling the way others talked about theirs. But as I couldn’t mention it was a he, I spoke with my friends that I was in love with this girl named L. I told them how much I liked her, that we had a nice chat during recess, and many other shit. The stories weren’t lies, but it wasn’t L I was actually talking about. It was a boy,

It happened repeatedly. I fell deeply in love with a boy in high school named T but had to tell my friends it was a girl called R, and in college it was a guy called O but I told my friends it was this girl named G. The dishonesties made me more lonely. And guilty.

Stage 4: The Guilt

The guilt punched me harder when mom confronted me about my sexuality when I was in the senior year of middle school. I don’t remember the exact words she’d said, but I was pretty sure she was disgusted and would be embarrassed if my biological father (who cheated on her and had a baby with a neighbour) found out. She’d told me she was failing at parenting, and that I had to work hard to make myself straight by making more efforts with girls.

Her words confirmed I was a sick little boy.

I spent so many days in reflection after those uncomfortable conversations, both with mom and the psychologist. I felt like a sinner. One day I touched myself while looking at a girl’s picture I found in a magazine. I remember the exposed cleavage and the bare thighs. I tried so hard to reach climax, but I just couldn’t. I tried again and again. A liquid finally came out of my body, but it was from my eyes. Tears. I spent hours crying.

Stage 5: The Excitement

I learned about internet in the sophomore year of high school. It introduced me to mIRC and gay porn. It excited me as I learned I wasn’t the only sick person on this planet. Or even in my little town, Malang.

I met with this guy, a handsome dark-skinned man named F, who’s now an Instagram hoe by the way. He had a sharp jawline, full lips, and eyes that could kill. I liked his voice, heavy and masculine. He’s got big hands and hairy arms. It was in a supermarket when I agreed to meet him after hours of chatting online, and he’d brought me to a dark sport building near my mom’s house to talk. To talk. But I asked him to give me my first kiss. It was tender and slow. He played with his tongue inside my mouth, wet my teeth with it. My hand slide up under his shirt, and I trailed my fingers across his chest. He then hugged me, and somehow it’d fixed my loneliness. For souvenir, he gave me a hickey on my upper left arm that I had to hide from mom for days until it vanished.

Now that I knew I wasn’t the only boy having this weird “disease”, I felt less alone.

I decided to move out from the house when I was 18, migrated to Jakarta for two reasons: 1) I wanted to study at the country’s best university; 2) I’d heard there were many gay guys in the capital. All I wanted was to feel less and less alone.

Stage 6: The Heartache

Did I mention that all of my school and college crushes were straight? Of course I had a strict policy of not falling for straight guys, but it was an impossible scheme to follow cause I never knew whether or not someone was gay. Every gay man was in the closet, and it’s not that easy to identify them. I had a huge crush with a guy from high school ever since we went to Bali together. He was kind of womanizer; he loved getting his love wings spread to every girl in town (alright, I’m exaggerating). So he liked women, but I was convinced he was at least bisexsual, so I decided to tell him that I liked him.

And nope, I was wrong. He was completely straight and I bought that. He rejected me. I had predicted that to happen but that still broke my heart into pieces. The shittiest part: that was just the first time that I fell in love with a straight man. There was the second, the third, the fourth, and now I’ve lost count.

One day when I was 23, I finally liked a gay guy. He was an Indonesian, 33 years old. We had a real nice dinner date at one of Jakarta’s many overpriced restaurants. After finishing our entrées, he’d ask me, “Do you want to get married someday?”

“I’d love to, yeah. You?”

“Yes. I’m getting married in two years.”

I choked on my wine. “Wait, what? With whom?”

“I’m currently seeing a woman. We plan on getting married in two years.”

“Hold on. What are you talking about?” I was confused. “I thought we were talking about getting married to a man.”

“Married to a man? Oh God, no. We can’t do that. We’re in Indonesia… wait, do you want to get married to a man?”

“Hell yeah, I’d love to.”

“How would you do that?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Maybe I’ll marry someone from where same-sex marriage is legal. Or if he’s an Indonesian, we can get married in Holland or some shit.”

“What about your family?”

“What about them?”

“What will you tell them?”

“I don’t know, I’ll tell them the truth eventually.”

“You’re nuts.”

“So if you’re going to marry a girl,” my tone was getting serious, “what the hell are we doing here?”

“Well, even if I’m married to a woman,” he took a big gulp of water, “it doesn’t mean I can’t have a boyfriend. You can be my boyfriend. And I won’t mind if you decide to marry a woman.”

“I don’t wanna be a married man’s secret lover. I don’t wanna share my man.”

“But that’s common in homosexual relationships in Indonesia. My friends do that. Many people do that.”

“I am not many people!” I asked for the check and split it. I left; my eyes were teary. I liked him, I really did. I was even prepared to have sex that night. My heart ached, but I thanked myself for cutting him off that way, rather than waiting until he has two kids and dumps me after the wife finds out.

Stage 7: Acceptance & Anger

That dinner made me realize I’d actually accepted my “fate” to be gay. I wasn’t proud yet, but at least I acknowledged it. And I stopped thinking it was an abnormal mental health condition. At the same time I decided I didn’t want to be a Muslim anymore, cause I couldn’t believe in a religion that despises me for being who I am. I never considered religion as an important part in my life anyway, so being an atheist wasn’t a big deal. That being said, I no longer believed being gay is a sin. I didn’t even believe in sins.

But after accepting myself for who I was, I grew an anger toward my mom and conversation we had several years back. I hated it that she made me feel like a sick abnormal boy. For years I had to deal with that and she wasn’t even there for me. But I didn’t say anything to her. I let the exasperation fade away.

Stage 8: The Pride

Not everyone’s lucky enough to be on this stage. It was during Sydney Mardi Gras 2016 when I was so sure I was proud of my gay identity. In that carnival, I saw many straight people supporting their LGBT family members and friends. And that included the Australian prime minister, the police, firefighters, and big companies showing that love is love. That kind of confirmed that I was actually normal. I was just born in a wrong country, among a wrong society.

While I was already out and proud to my friends since almost a decade before, my big family didn’t know about it yet. So I decided to say something about that on Facebook, where they usually hang out. Oh boy they weren’t happy that I came out to them. A couple of cousins texted me, saying it was hard for their parents to know I was gay. I rolled my eyes. Please, it was harder for me.

Mom probably read that too, but she didn’t say anything.

Fast forward to end of January 2018 before I took off to Canada, which is just 2.5 weeks ago, mom and I were sitting in her TV room when she suddenly asked me, “So, are you certain you’re gay?”

“I’m certain I was born this way gay,” I answered directly after feeling surprised for a nanosecond that she finally asked.

I had nothing to lose saying that. I thought if she couldn’t accept my answer, maybe she just doesn’t deserve to have me. And I don’t deserve to have a mother like her. As simple as that.

She was then talking about conversations she had with her doctor friends; that they think gay people might be born with unbalanced chromosome. They told her many gay men tried to “cure” themselves by marrying women, but some of them failed and the “disease” reappeared.

“After years of struggle,” I cut her, “based on my experiences & constant researches, I have come to a strong belief that being gay isn’t an illness. So I refuse to say ‘cure’ and I’d appreciate it if you do the same. And my gayness is neither a decision nor a lifestyle. It’s just who I am.”

To my surprise, she said she’d love and support me just the way gay I am. She said she never loved me less. She loves me even more. And she’s proud of the man I’ve become.

I was delighted, obviously. Then I told her all stages I mentioned above. I told her about the confusion, the bullying, the heartbreaks, the acceptance from my friends, how proud I was with myself, and what I was gonna do in the future. That conversation, to me, was like celebrating 30 years of who I was, how I love, and what’s next. Too bad we had no champagne or cake.

“So are you going to Canada because you’re gay?”

“I am. I have to give up on my country cause I don’t wanna give up on myself,” answered me. “It’s like a war to me, you know? I don’t know whether or not I’m gonna win. But to win a war, I have to start one.”

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Celebrating 30 years of who I was, how I loved, and what’s next

The only thing that I think made her a little disagreeable about my openness is that I write about it online, where her brother and sisters wouldn’t be so happy to read. She’d ask why I do that, in which I answered, “Writing makes me feel good about myself. I hadn’t been feeling good for years in my life. I wouldn’t stop writing just because someone else is uncomfortable.”

As she nodded with approval she knew I didn’t ask for, my grudge at her had completely perished. I now could see the world from her eyes. As a woman who’s been spending her whole 51 years of life in a small conservative town and surrounded by religious people (I’m lucky she’s not religious), her view on LGBT could be that narrow. She couldn’t help it. She was closed-minded by nature and nurture. It was me who was probably too hard on her. I should’ve understood her better.

For her entire life she works for local government, where her workplace is I’m sure filled with sexist, racist & homophobic folks. She has never been exposed to the outside world and how progressive it is right now: that women drive trucks and buses, men stay at home while the wives work, that Americans, Australians, and Europeans aren’t all white, same-sex couples can get married, surrogacy exists, and abortion is a choice. She didn’t know all that until I told her. So her reaction when discovering I was gay was probably understandable, although I still think it was a mistake. But what’s important now is that she’s accepting; which is a tremendous progress for a country woman like her.


Two weeks ago in Toronto I watched a very important movie, Call Me by Your Name, after reading its incredible book twice. While the main story of both movie and book was about two bisexual men, the most powerful part of it was on the leading character’s relationship with his father. The last scene of the movie, which was the middle chapter of the book, really gave me a perspective on how I’d parent my children one day. And to not repeat the “mistake” my mom had committed to me, I suggest every parent and everyone who aspires to be a parent to read/watch this piece of art.

I’m a Refugee. What’s Your Superpower?

It was somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean when I woke up from my not-so-deep nap. I pressed the service button to ask the flight attendant for a glass of water. My mouth was parched, and I could feel my shrivelled lips. It took me a second to dry the glass out, maybe less. I worked hard to get back to sleep cause I knew I was going to be fidgeting if I was wakeful. But how could I not be nervous anyway? I was about to step into Canadian border and do something monumental for my life. That would be the first time ever I’d walk into a country neither as a citizen nor a visitor.

“What’s the purpose of your visit, Sir?” asked the immigration guy at counter 20, Toronto Pearson International Airport. It was a bearded white man who, I was certain, just washed her face a few minutes ago. His face looked refreshed and there were some water drops on his right cheek.

“I’m claiming asylum,” my voice cracked.

He looked deeply into my eyes. “Against what country?”

“The Republic of Indonesia.”

“On what basis?”

“Sexual orientation.”

“Welcome to Canada, Mr. Fahd,” it was rare that someone pronounced my last name correctly, “I don’t know what you’d been through, but I think you’re being very brave.”

Brave. Ha! He didn’t know I was scared as fuck and had been practicing this scenario a million times in front of the airplane’s washroom mirror. He then told me where to go: an interview room where some other asylum seekers were stationed.

 

The Interview

I had to report to a border agent named Choudry. I was sure he had either Indian or Middle Eastern background. He looked a bit intimidating with his lush beard and brawny biceps.

I looked around. There were three single mothers with seven whimpering toddlers. One of them was white, French-speaking, with a baby boy on her back and a slightly older girl she breastfed. She looked exhausted. Two others wore hijab, spoke no English, tried so hard to calm their kids down. There was also a man around my age, Latin-looking, with a pair of jeans he wasn’t supposed to wear anymore. A very old Chinese man sitting in the corner was accompanied by an interpreter, and two black women who’d been holding hands now wept each other’s tears.

Choudry called me to the photo room. After taking pictures and finger prints, he started the interview. He was kind enough to offer me either an interview in Indonesian language or an interpreter, which I refused.

Him: “So what happens in Indonesia?”

Me: “Indonesian society, including the government and authorities, is dangerously homophobic: ministers & the Vice President had released statements condemning homosexuality; LGBT people had been physically attacked by radical Muslims and publicly humiliated by the police; and the parliament is finalizing a new Criminal Code which criminalizes gay sex.”

Him: “If you return to your country, what would happen to you?”

Me: “I could get harmed by the conservative Muslims, or sentenced in prison for five years when the parliament finally enact the bill next month. There’s an increase of radical Muslims callings for the public to attack LGBT community, including when they said, ‘Your blood is halal,’ meaning that to kill LGBT people is religiously allowed in Islam. Many neighbourhoods, including mine, even installed banners saying they’re anti LGBT. The only way to avoid such mistreatment is by never having neither sex nor relationship. And by hiding myself forever in the closet.”

Him: “You could ask any authorities, such as the police, to protect you, couldn’t you?”

Me: : “I couldn’t. The police is on the extremists’ side as they always ignored calls from LGBT groups when they were threatened with attacks. Despite the absence of the law, they even announced they had created a special task force to crack down on LGBT community. Last year only: two consenting adult men were publicly whipped after being caught in bed together; women with unfeminine appearances were evicted from their private home as the police suspected them to be lesbians; and 141 men were detained after a raid at a sauna, forced to strip down and see the reporters, resulting on their faces and naked bodies being published nationwide hours later.”

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Just a few steps away from where I lived in Jakarta: “This area is free from communism, drugs, gambling, alcohol, radicalism, and LGBT.” It hurt me every time I saw this.

 

The Examination

That night after taking my initial statements and verifying my identity & criminal records, Choudry let me go and I set my feet for the first time on Torontonian snowy soil. I stayed at an airbnb house in downtown. Toronto looked black and white to me, no colour, cause I was too nervous to face an examination on the next day. There would be a more in-depth interview with another officer, and they’d examine if my answers were truthful.

So on my first day in the city, I was nervous and decided to distract myself with movies. I watched three movies in a row at a theatre in Yorkville area: Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. All three were magnificent, and successfully did their job to make me forget my own problems. When I went back to the immigration office for my appointment, I felt so powerful. I realized, in this kind of country, I won’t be judged by the society. I can wear whatever and blow whomever I want, just like my spirit animal Samantha Jones once said.

So I held my head up high and walked into the examination room with pride. I saw two familiar faces.

There were the black women I saw during the interview. They were a lesbian couple of three years, fleeing from the Bahamas. They told me how LGBT people face difficulties there, mainly caused by conservative Christians. The discrimination made it hard for them to find good job, and even fired after find ones.

Then I’d ask them, “So I saw you crying the other day. What happened?”

“Obviously it was a hard day for us both. We is in a new country where we ain’t been before, ain’t know a single soul, left our friends and family in the Bahamas… well, I sure you know how it feel,” one of them answered (can’t remember her exotic name).

The other one added, “I cried cause I knew it was hard for my family to see me go. Momma cried that morning, my sister cried. But my life is harder than they’s.”

“But we lucky tho,” she continued. “I mean, we two and you. We ain’t experience what the war refugees did. Remember the two Muslim women with kids the other day? I heard they from Syria. Bet the husbands dead. I ain’t flying to Canada with three kids with me. And the old Chinese man… thank Jesus we speak English. We can afford hotels, many of them stay in cramp camps. And we young. I’m 28, she 26. You, how old?”

“I’ll be thirty in a few days,” answered me, right before we three were summoned to go to the examination rooms, separately.

An officer named Luu, who I believed had a Chinese background, asked me to sit before him. He was around my age, bald, average-built, and very friendly-looking. He spent about an hour to learn my personal history in the last 10 years (my occupations, employers, travels, and addresses). He ended up asking the same questions Choudry asked me, with an additional one: “How long do you intend to stay in Canada for?” in which I answered:

“Intend? Forever, Sir. One should live a life one’s proud of. I would’ve been proud of mine if I was born somewhere in a sane place like Canada, but too bad I was raised in a country where love is illegal. I can’t change where I was born and raised, but I can decide where to grow old and die. But I can’t do it without the help from your government. I have endured too many years of insult in a culture broken by Muslim supremacists. But I believe in one thing: time, for me too, is up.”

He nodded, and asked me to come back the same time the next day to see his supervisor. His supervisor would decide if my claim against Indonesia was verified and if I had a genuine intention to be in Canada. If one of or both answers are no, they’d have to send me back. And that’s the only thing I was scared of at that moment. I went back to the city, counted every second in worry.

 

The Verification

I went back to the same place the next day. The friendliest officer ever, Tardiff a.k.a Choudry & Luu’s supervisor, met me. She was very tall, and I liked her blonde wavy hair. She kept addressing me as “my friend” as we spoke, unlike her inferiors who called me “Sir” or “Mr. Fahd”.

“We’ve verified your case, my friend, and you’re eligible to defend your case before the immigration board on May 31 at 12.30 PM.”

I exhaled in relief. “Oh, I thought you were gonna send me home today. I barely slept last night.”

“No, my friend. I hope Canada is home.”

As I took the train back to the city, I read every single document Tardiff gave me. I had my temporary resident card, healthcare, and many other things I had to guard with my life. There was also a form stating the immigration people would share my data, skills & expertise with potential employers to help me find a job.

I couldn’t believe I was officially a refugee claimant now.

I suddenly remembered my conversation with the Bahamian ladies the day before. They were damn right. I thought I was powerful enough to be able fly from my country, leave everything behind. But countless refugees, not just in Canada, had to carry extra luggages with them: kids, sick parents, wounded spouses… and even many of them flee without a privilege of buying airplane tickets. Many of them took undersized boats where their family members drowned and died after big waves attacked.

And they survived it. But not only did they survive it; they took the trauma, the hurt or whatever it was, and used it to fight.

I wonder what kind of power they’ve got.

It mustn’t have been just a power.

It must have been superpowers.

So I lift a glass to my fellow refugees who are very brave to fight for lives they deserve. I applaud everyone who has decided to live a life bigger than themselves. Everyone who decided to slay those dragons and say, “My dream burns brighter than my fear.”

I salute you all, and I am honoured to be your fellow refugee.

Being in this position really opens my eyes toward current immigrant & refugee issues. I respect every government and society, like Canadians, who’ve been letting us in with their arms wide open; and condemn President Trump and his supporters for making immigrants’ lives even harder. They had no idea what it is like to lose a home at the risk of never finding one again.

As I’m writing this, my mind is with those DACA Dreamers, TPS Holders from Haiti and El Salvador, and queer refugees in the United States. If you read this: America is your home. With our superpowers, we’ll resist & persist together.

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And now I’m able to see how colourful Toronto actually is.

This Heart of Mine Needs a Permanent Address

No matter how we choose to live, we all die at the end. Yes, we live, or we’re given the chance to, at least, but sometimes living is hard and complicated because of fear. For someone who spends all his pay checks for flight tickets, my most substantial fear was dying before visiting all countries and cities on my bucket list. Owing to that fear, I traveled ambitiously as if I was racing with death.

Whenever I was up in the air, I knew this heart of mine was made to travel.

One year ago today I returned from my 15-month world adventure. I moved around. From a couch in Gold Coast to a bunk bed in Sydney, from a hotel room in Auckland to a friend’s house in New York City. Every time my friends were on trips and wanted to send me postcards, they always asked for my address as they couldn’t keep up with my whereabouts. As of today, I even still use my hostel’s address in Melbourne as my card’s billing address.

“Forever traveling, never arriving,” said a drunk girl I acquainted on a wintry night in Stuttgart a few years back when she saw an airplane tattoo on my right wrist.

I smiled snobbishly when she said that, cause that was all I aspired in life. We all die at the end, who the hell needs a house full of furniture on our end days?

I, of course, am not the same person I was. I now can swim well, drive cars, love wasabi, and no longer think, feel, and sense the way I did before. I’m not even sure if I still want to travel. And I now fear of dying alone. A broader dream has emerged too: not only do I need a house full of furniture on my end day, I need a house that allows me to feel homesick after traveling for a while. Frankly I don’t know how homesick really feels. I need a building I’m proud to call home.

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So I guess that’s why I never thought about buying a house in Indonesia, no matter how many times my mom urged me to do so. Cause I knew in this country, my house would just be a house. Whereas, I dream of a house full of heartbeats. Heartbeats of a dog or two. Of children. Of a husband.

But no man in Indonesia can ever have a husband, let alone a husband and kids, no matter how big of dreamers they are. When I started having those seeds of dream on my mind, I didn’t think I should cultivate them. Nurturing such dream would only cause a heartbreak, and I can’t bear the expense of another heartbreak. But the fear of dying alone, together with that dream, generated something even more forceful: courage.

Bravery, nerve, boldness, grit, whatever one calls the ability to do something that frightens one. Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. This, I believe, is time for my fear to meet its ending. No more homophobic/religious bullshit, no more dreams that cannot make true.

So I pick up the pieces of my heartbreak and shattered dreams, put them in a luggage, and in no time I’ll hop off my plane at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Ontario, with my winter coat and that courage. A courage to give myself a permission to live a big life, to step into who I’m meant to be, to stop playing small. To begin life anew elsewhere. My arrival in Canada will be the day I, as Mark Anthony once said (and I modified), discover that I’m fierce, and strong, and full of fire. And that not even me can hold myself back because my courage burns brighter than my fears.

Obviously when courage happens, doubt follows like an obsessed stalker. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m brave or just insane. I doubted if I should quit my promising career in Indonesia at the risk of never finding a good job in Canada. I doubted if I should leave a handful of friends I’ve got in Jakarta in exchange with zero person I know in the whole wide country. I doubted if I should put my mental health at stake to catch something uncertain. I doubted if Ottawa, the city I intend to reside in, would not crack me the way NYC did.

It was in my best friend’s living room when we drank gin & tonic at 2 a.m. and she’d say, “We’ve hit plenty of fucking walls in our lives. Our fathers left us, I was sexually assaulted, and you just hired a shrink. But you know what, we’re not stopping. I think maybe that’s our best quality: we just don’t stop.”

That bitch was right. Those walls made the soldiers out of us. Out of me. It’s true that no matter how we choose to live, we all die at the end. But I want to live a life worth remembering, even worth bragging. So when I look at the mirror I’d be able to say not only “Damn, I have a great ass,” but also “My life’s dope too.”

Courage, dream, fear, doubt. Every human being should have all four of them, but the first two must always win over the latter ones. Without a dream we’ll never start, but without a courage we’ll never finish. That’s what I’m gonna tell my future children, in our home.

After finding that damn home, the first thing I’m gonna do is probably call my bank in Australia to notify them I finally have an address that’s not a hostel. Then I’m gonna adopt a doodle or golden retriever, or both.

So I’m gonna heal. I’m gonna start again. This dream pulls me back together the way it cut me in half. It’ll make the man in doubt disappear. So if you ask me as a gay man what I came into this world to do, I as a gay man would say, I came to live out loud.


Pic taken by Asyifa H Putri at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA on Nov 23, 2016.

5,800 Kilometers, 13 Freezing States and a Heart that Almost Froze

Have you ever had a moment when you look back to your life and think, “How the hell did I do that?”

I have, plenty of times. The most unbelievable moment goes to my 2016 winter trip when I did a kinda impromptu road trip, from New York City to Seattle, up to some frozen cities in Alaska. Seven freezing weeks, 5,800 kilometers, 19 cities, 13 states, a little bit of money and a lot of courage. I did it with my friend, Ifa, who was as insane as I was. There was something wrong in that girl’s head, of course, otherwise she would’ve not said yes when I told her, “We’ll be hitchhiking, at least from Pennsylvania until Montana. You know, standing on the road and waving to every car and truck.”

She’d say yes, and this is our story. Not about what we experienced in every city – I picked some of the most interesting moments. Some fortunes and misfortunes that make me cherish the moments every single day.

My Favorites: CLEVELAND, MILWAUKEE & BOZEMAN

If I have to choose which cities impressed me the most, my picks would be Bozeman, Cleveland and Milwaukee in that particular order. Milwaukee, in the state of Wisconsin, has a beautiful lakeside. Well, maybe beautiful is an understatement. I loved its scenic walking track that gives a magnificent view to the sunset. And I’m not talking about ordinary boring orange sunset. That afternoon, the sky’d turn magenta. My phone camera couldn’t do ay justice to capture its beauty, but my mind did. Not only that, it had several weird-looking buildings standing dashingly on that very same spot.

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Magenta sky over Wisconsin

Cleveland in Ohio left such a good impression, mostly because of the Clevelanders. They were super friendly, and I remember the food were extra tasty. I had brunch at a hip restaurant, ordered biscuits and gravy, and I still can taste them in my mouth. What I enjoyed most about Cleveland: Rock & Roll Wall of Fame, a huge museum featuring the history of American music. That day I’d see Elvis Presley’s original guitars, Taylor Swift’s music notebook, Beyoncé’s dresses and hundreds (or maybe thousands) of other historical musicians’ items. Cleveland Cemetery was also impressive. Yes, you read it correctly. Cemetery. It was the end of fall when I went there, and the falling leaves would make a cool golden brown & red color everywhere.

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Jimi Hendrix’s original stuff

Bozeman was the awesomest. It had the prettiest view. The city was surrounded by mountains with snow on their tops. My writing skill isn’t sufficient to describe how magical that place is, so I’ll just tell you to go there one day. It’s located in the south of Montana, close to Wyoming and Idaho. I stayed at a local guy’s house I met on Couchsurfing, Taylor Drummond, who gave me my first gun shooting experience. Very America. We shot some cans of milk in his backyard. I hit none of them, of course.

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Montana puts New Zealand to shame

 

Staying in a Crazy Lady’s House in CINCINNATI

Those who’ve been following my blogs since years ago know I’m an avid Couchsurfer. I love staying at local people’s houses when visiting their cities, including when I was in Cincinnati. A guy named Mark would host me and my friend, and he mentioned he had a housemate named Maggie. He’d say she was a bit of character, that was his exact word.

We’d arrive at his place around midnight and he introduced us to Maggie. She looked nice. She even cooked us delicious supper: mac & cheese, roasted chicken and assorted desserts knowing we were tired after a long day trip across the state of Ohio. They gave us their sofa in the living room to sleep for the next two nights, provided with many pillows and enough blankets to keep us warm. Before going to bed, she’d ask us, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” We said no, because she had given us more than what we needed. Our bellies were full, and our heads were more than ready to rest on the comfortable couches. However, she kept asking that very same question, probably until 15 times.

Yes, 15 fucking annoying times. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” she’d ask for the last time and my friend would increase her voice, “No, we’re good!”

In the morning, she’d treat us like royals. She made nice breakfast, both sweet and savory, and took all her cheese out of the fridge for us. She even offered to make us sandwiches for lunch, so we didn’t have to spend money for lunch when wandering in the city. That moment, I felt that woman was waayyy too hospitable. And I sensed there’s something terribly wrong with her. And I was right.

That night after cooking her and Mark an Indonesian food, she said she wanted to bake us brownies for dessert. She’d put the batter in the oven and sit with my friend Ifa in the living room, while I put my dirty clothes in the washing machine and had shower. Before I went to the bathroom I heard Ifa asked her, “So Maggie, which one’s your room?”

Thirty minutes later I went back to the living room and she’d talk to me in an emotional tone, “Ifa was being very polite to me, she asked me where my room was and we all know it’s a code to kick me back to my bedroom.”

I was like, “What?!”

She continued, “So you guys don’t like me hanging out with you in your ‘bedroom’. Do you want me to go back to my room upstairs, or watch your dirty laundry in the basement?!”

She turned all lights off and aborted the brownies. I was disappointed as the house smelled like chocolate already. We were shocked as she stomped her feet walking to her bedroom.

Hopping in to a Pothead’s Car in FARGO

It was -16°C when we were standing near a highway entrance in Fargo that morning. I was confident to find someone who’d stop for us, especially because it was pretty easy for us to hitchhike from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota. We were picked up by three different people along the way: a college student named Aaron who was about to have an exam, a trucker with his gargantuan truck and a Native American on his way to do North Dakota Pipeline Protest – who thought we were also Native Americans heading to the same place.

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First American snow in North Dakota

I thought my chance in in Fargo would be better as it was snowy and people don’t usually let other people freeze to death. My feeling was correct. Only after 20 minutes, a sedan stopped for us. The car didn’t have rear doors, so we had to crawl from the front to get to the back seats. After a few meters drive, we’d smell something funny. It was weed. And little did we know; this man was drunk as shit. He suddenly told us, “I’m on my way to meet my son for the first time in ten years. My stupid ex-wife never let me see him cause I drink too much and smoke a lot of weed.”

He started to drive recklessly, and when we saw a cop cap he’d yell, “Hey cops, I have drugs in my car but don’t you dare to arrest me!”

We were terrified, but we had to maintain poker faces at all times. He’d constantly look at us through the rearview mirror. He asked us, “What are you doing out there in the cold?” When I started answering, he cut me, “I don’t care about your story. I care about this beautiful woman.”

That sentence made me terrified. I was afraid he’d kidnap my friend and do something terrible to her. And he, most likely, had a gun in the car, just like most Americans did. I carefully unlocked my phone, activated the tracking service and sent my location to a friend in Fargo. Unluckily we couldn’t just jump out of the car as there was no door in the back. The only way to get out was through the front door after he stops the car.

When we were about to arrive in our destination, I’d hold my friend’s jacket tightly and put my camera on. Just in case I fail to retain my friend when he drives away with her in the car, I’d be able to take a picture of his car’s license number. Thankfully none of those shits happened. We got out of his car and went to a Subway restaurant to calm our nerves down.

WYOMING & IDAHO Country Drive 

It was definitely the most scenic drive in my life. We started very early from Bozeman, drove to the south to the state of Wyoming. We were aiming for Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National, two of the prettiest spots in the United States. They were not overrated at all. Both parks occupy three-quarter of Wyoming’s size. In those enormous places, I saw many things for the first time: huge natural hot springs, snow wolves, giant buffaloes and mountainous amount of snow.

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Wyoming oh so charming

We also drove across Gallatin National Forest in Idaho that looked a lot like the Wizarding World of Narnia. We made multiple stops just to take pictures.

First American Thanksgiving in MONTANA

A good faith brought me to Helena, the capital of Montana. A sixty-years-old-something couple I met on Couchsurfing hosted me and my friend during 2016 Thanksgiving weekend. They were very sweet. Jeff was a kind of outdoor man who brought us hike the highest mountain in town, and Vicky was a friendly lady with an amazing cooking talent.

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Two of my most favorite Americans

They had three grown-up children. The first and last born were somewhere in Colorado and Oregon celebrating Thanksgiving with their in-laws, and the second one did an NGO work in Maputo, Mozambique. Basically they were home alone, and happy to host us during the holiday weekend. We’d start the day by preparing the meal. I helped Vicky season the turkey and make the stuffing, then baked the pies. Around 11 am, we lightly grilled oysters and ate them outside their beautiful house, just by the frozen river in their backyard.

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Wish I could have the same food this Thanksgiving

My first Thanksgiving in America was so memorable. It was warm and friendly. I loved the turkey, the pies, the wine and the conversation. And of course, we ended the night by watching a football game.

Cleaning a Homeless Shelter in ALASKA

That December afternoon I landed in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. I came there to volunteer at a hostel owned by a 70 years-old-something man, John, that he turned into a homeless shelter during the state’s deadly winter. I could only imagine how miserable it was to be homeless in one of the coldest place on Earth. John was so generous to close his establishment for business and did such an amazing thing for the community.

I volunteered to be one of his elves. My main job was to clean up the hostel, from bedrooms, restrooms until public areas. Even though it was a homeless shelter, surprisingly it wasn’t dirty at all. A little messy, yes, but I could still tolerate that. The restrooms were clean. It turned out the homeless folks are more civilized that those rich people staying in the 5-star hotel I worked at in Sydney a few months prior.

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How do you do it, Alaska?

The hostel owner was also very kind to me. He brought me and other volunteers on a hiking tour in Anchorage’s highest mountain, which was covered in thick-ass snow. It was one of the best view I’ve seen. Alaska itself is an unusual state.

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And how the fuck did I do it?

 

 

 

Like Melbourne, Sydney Is Just Not for Me

I was so crazy stupid happy. I met a boy. A great, sweet, gorgeous, cool-ass guy.

I’ve spent three weekends together with him; this Saturday will be the fourth. But we’re not gonna make it to the fifth as I’m leaving Sydney for good.

You didn’t just misread that. Yes, I decided to move elsewhere after being here only for 6 weeks, way sooner than I planned. Why? Because things don’t go as expected. Just like Melbourne, living in Sydney doesn’t really work out for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty as fuck. From my traveling perspective, Sydney is still my most favorite city in the world. And Melbourne is still a very chic city I’ll always want to go back. But it’s different when you have to make a life and a living there.

Last year in Melbourne I was lonely. And underpaid. Both my social & working life didn’t go well, plus all adaptation shit & cultural shock I had to deal with. I met countless new people on my first month in Australia. However, all of them had no intention to make new friends, especially because I’d gonna be in Australia for one year only. They preferred to stick with their old friends and ignore my existence. And my shitty Indian boss, he paid me below the minimum wage. It was also impossible to find a better job, hence I had no more reason to stay there although at the moment I was seeing a real good man.

Now in Sydney the same loneliness strikes again, even worse than in Melbourne. In Melbourne at least I could have some good conversations with the people, but not here in Sydney. Because the people don’t really speak English. I’m not shitting you, it’s serious.

I used to work at a café in the city for a week. Beside the small pay, I left that job also because it’s fucking hard to speak with my fellow waiters (they’re from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan), both professionally and personally. Even the girl from South Korea has been in Sydney for half a decade, she’s an Australian citizen now. When we gave instruction to each other, I had to struggle. And I work not only to earn cash, but also to make friends. But it’s impossible to make friends with people who don’t even know what you’re talking about.

I got hired by a hotel’s housekeeping team. At first I thought, “Hey they have 20+ room attendants, I bet at least half of them can speak English.” But no, I was wrong. They’re even worse than my coworkers at the café. They’re mostly from Thailand, China, France, Spain, and Chile. I actually don’t want to judge people by their English ability, but frankly it kills me. On our break or after work, I had zero conversation with them. Chance to make friends = zero.

I live with five other people in my flat. They’re very nice, but it’s also difficult to get myself close to them as three of them start working at 5 am in the morning (hence they must go to bed verryyy early), and the other two work night shift. So basically when I get home around 7 pm, I can only say “hi” to my friends who are going to bed soon, and “see you” to those who are off to work. They stay at home on Sundays, but I don’t.

So yeah, it gets lonely. The fascinating city turns to be boring as I can’t speak to anyone. I only have one friend, a high school mate, who’s been living in Sydney for 11 years. She works at a takeaway coffee shop in the University of Sydney. Sometimes I visit her if I have my afternoon off, but of course I can’t do it everyday. I can’t hangout with only one person until the next five months.

And speaking about the boy I mentioned in the beginning of this article, he’s not a Sydneysider. He lives in a small town two hours from Sydney, therefore I can only see him once a week when he’s not busy. That’s also not enough for me. But I had to think twice before hunting for another job in other cities, because a part of me doesn’t want to leave him.

Based on my experience, small towns are friendlier than big cities. It was so easy to make friends with people in small towns because: 1) they’re all Australians who speak English (although the accent is weird), and 2) they’re more open to new people coming to the town. I made good friends in Cowes (Phillip Island), Launceston (Tasmania), and even when I lived in a rural farming town in Queensland. Aannndddd… small towns pay better too. When I was in Queensland I earned twice than what I earn in Sydney right now, with less working hours!

Last weekend, the God of Luck played his magic wand on me. After sending my resume & alcohol serving certification and doing a phone interview, I got a new job! It’s a very well-paid job (in fact, the highest-paid job in my life!) as a kitchen hand & bar staff at a roadhouse*) in a small mining town in the north of Perth. Yup, I’m moving to Western Australia next week! The better news: they provide cheap accommodation & meals for the staffs. That means my chance to make friends with fellow staffs is higher (I have made sure, they speak English), and I can save up more money for my big plan after leaving Australia at the end of this year!

So now I reallyyy hope this new place will work just fine for me. I’m excited to embark on a new journey. Adiós, Sydney!

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Til I see you again, beautiful!

*) in case you’re not familiar with roadhouse, it’s like a rest area by the highway. Truck drivers and road travelers go there to refuel their car at the gas station, eat/drink at the restaurant/bar, or take a rest at the motel room.