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.”


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.”


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.


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