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.”
“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.”
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.