perhaps, every day is always a ‘perhaps’, a ‘maybe’, for queer people in Indonesia, since every day is a fight, a faith, a hope
The personal is political is emotional is analytical is why I see my queerness, my gay identity, mattering substantially today, as my queerness is where insurgent powers and creative disobedience reside, as increased hostility from Indonesia’s government and conservative groups exclude queer people, as they continue to caricaturize us as abnormal, immoral, contagious, potential carriers of sexually transmitted diseases, as with the worldwide spread of marriage equality movements, recently reaching Australia, Taiwan, and soon, Thailand, perhaps, every day is always a ‘perhaps’, a ‘maybe’, for queer people in Indonesia, since every day is a fight, a faith, a hope for something better, although it often seems and sounds unreachable, ∞ yet, we are tired of hiding in-under-behind-beneath the closet, again, still, Indonesia’s homophobic conservative leaders persistently accuse queer people of building a structured, massive, movement to import same-sex marriage into the country, we are then framed as a an anathema to morality, powerful churlish imprudent menace to destroy society, built upon heterosexual-reproductive families, partenogenesis, reproduction, insemination, assisted reproductive technology, but no, Adam and Adam, Eve and Eve, Adameve and Eve, Evedam and Adam, would not be capable of natural reproduction, sins against nature, but yes, different from infertile straight couples, as long as, as much as they are straight, because how Adam loves Adam only exists in the West, while Indonesia, the East, upholding Eastern, Asian values, not the West, the Wild Wild West, the West Side Story, not an East Side Story, this is precisely where Indonesia’s queer fight resides: to say that queer Indonesians are not something foreign, irreconcilable with local cultures, local-foreign, local-global, log on, log off, standby mode, as what is local depends on what is global, what is local is reliant on what is foreign, binary, relational, fluid, because none live in a void, everything is interconnected, entangled, ∞ and, queerness is an infinity, an open-ended terrain, where we can always assemble, generate, and refashion the meaning of queerness, the meaning of local and global, at any moment, because queerness envisions new futurity, because the present is not enough1, and we always need to envision a (more) < (more) < (more) < (more) of queer futures and horizons, …a utopian longing that draws hope for the future out of the radical aspects of various pasts2 and present times, a formula that the pasts, the presents, and the futures are all entangled, interwoven, pita möbius, ∞, contesting the linearity of time, living in precarious time, facing day-to-day exclusions, queer Indonesians continue our struggle to gain entry into national belonging, social acceptance, the end of stigma, to be perceived as legitimate citizens, and on this battleground, queer Indonesians make sense of our selves and sexualities by disrupting the neat divide between local and foreign, local and West, local and global, glocality, glocalization, while at the same time, making our own histories, a critical attempt that is not new since Lambda Indonesia, the first gay organization, emerged in the country, in 1982, thirty-five years later I open the unpublished manifesto on Indonesian gay politics written by one of the Lambda founders, Dédé Oetomo, April 1982 like today, he writes clearly: While we cannot go back into the past, we can by understanding traditional modes of expression shape a uniquely Indonesian lesbian and gay subculture, that the orientation of queer Indonesians is never solely and certainly never always to the West, but rather, we aim our gazes, our orientations, our compasses to the pasts, by excavating different modes of traditional homosexual and transgender practices from the past, like bissu3, a transgender priest with five genders from 13th century South Sulawesi, or warok, a traditional dance of East Java, also dating back to the 13th century4, in which an older male dancer, to avoid an erotic relationship with a woman and thus retain the supernatural powers central to his performance, instead forges intimate relations with a younger boy, yes, these practices are not wholly representative of the meaning and scope of queer identity in this contemporary moment, as they are found mostly among men, and only in particular ethnic groups, here the Bugis from South Sulawesi and the Javanese from the Ponorogo region in East Java, and yes, these men are not always exempt from heterosexual marriage, and yes, these practices have been relegated to, exist only on, the margins of this present time, but this is exactly what makes it ‘queer’ when queer Indonesians today see ourselves in relation to these marginalized practices: we are looking ‘backward’ to make sense of our ‘present’ existence while striving to shape a ‘future’ of Indonesia, the pasts, the presents, and the futures, looking ‘inward’ to make sense of our ‘outsider’ identity as perceived by society, coming in, coming out, coming together, are all entangled, interwoven, pita möbius, ∞ and, indeed, with evidence of diverse cultural practices that celebrate the homoerotic and gender transgressive, queer activists believe and argue that past Indonesia was full of tolerance, that homophobia is indeed the product of modernity and monotheistic religions coming from outside the nation, and so the way the pasts inspire the presents to refashion futures is queer, queerness in Indonesia stems from the pasts, and by that, queer Indonesians cultivate an affinity with ancestral relations, not just with the Stonewall movements in the U.S., but with bissu and warok, not precluding inspiration from other contemporary queer struggles in different parts of the world, the pasts-presents-futures-presents-pasts, intermingling, coagulating, gelatinizing, melting gelato, ∞, Remember the old days…Remember the O’Jays…Walkin’ in rhythm…life was for livin’…When you can’t find the music to get down and boogie…All you can do is step back in time,5 queerness means creating an affinity with others who share some similarity, subordinated, relegated, marginalized because they are non-conforming to dominant, hegemonic values, narrowly-defined ‘normality’, yes, yes, yes, but the queerness of Indonesian queers does not end here, since engendering queer ancestries means dismantling the history, his-story, of Indonesia, of the meaning and boundaries of Indonesia itself, since boundaries are not only geographical borders, but also imaginaries, imagined, imagined communities, nation-states = imagined communities6, or in another way, the nation-state looks coherent because it is imagined to be so, and now, queer Indonesians are shaping new meanings of Indonesia, the queer-er-er-er-er-∞ Indonesia that recognizes its own queer histories, remnants from the pasts, because isn’t his-story just an assemblage of remnants, who and what gets cited at the expense of who and what gets excluded, a collection of remnants by which people make sense of their present world, and when queer people create their own queer-stories apart from his-tory they are pluralizing worlds and futures, because queerness = ∞.
Sydney and Jakarta, October 2019
Author note: The stream of consciousness style adapted in this piece is inspired by Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport (2019).
1 Jose Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia (2009,17).
2 Kadji Amin, “Haunted by the 1990s: Queer Theory’s Affective Histories” (2019, 287).
3 For a comprehensive discussion about bissu, see Sharyn Graham Davies, Gender Diversity in Indonesia (2010).
4 Tom Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia (2005, 40).
5 Kylie Minogue, 1990, Back In Time.
6 The concept of “imagined communities” comes from political scientist and historian, Benedict Anderson in his book with the same title (1983).