Being a Feminist Gay Male in a World of Women

Look. Introverts aren’t special. Extroverts aren’t special. Unlike what Lena Dunham or Zooey Deschanel or Jennifer Lawrence are saying, not having good social skills or people skills isn’t cute or quirky. It’s sad and taxing.

One of my good friends in a French class in Jakarta confessed that she used to hate me because she thought I was distant and aloof. No. It was because I didn’t have any friends in class and I didn’t know how to strike a conversation. I was (still am, somewhat) afraid of rejection and so I never made the first move. No one befriended me, so I concentrated on learning and getting good grades. This was back in 2002. Fast forward thirteen years later and I still don’t know how to behave.

I just came home from a public discussion where only seven out of dozens of attendees were men, and I might be the only gay man there. A few weeks ago, there was a breach of trust in the Tribal belly dance community. It involved a very well-known festival in NorCal that was organized by a bellydancer (and her husband). All these times, almost everyone thought that the husband was an ally, someone who supported the belly dance community, which, let’s face it, is predominantly women (whether cis or trans). Apparently, the husband of the organizer had a secret group on Facebook. The secret group was originally made for DJs. It started with discussions about DJ stuff, then it escalated. The husband, and another man (who is apparently a photographer and a husband of another female bellydancer), had posted photographs of belly dance performers (men and women) and making not just highly inappropriate statements, but very sexist, misogynistic, humiliating comments about them. Even posting real names of the dancers.

For some, this may not be a big deal. “They’re men being men,” or, “It’s not like they’re really acting it out.”

If it’s a stranger, I’ll probably get it. I do not condone it, I will still say that the statement “men being men” is very reductive, but I’ll probably get it.

But those remarks came from men these dancers had trusted. Those remarks came from men these dancers had hugged and kissed and confided in and had heart-to-heart conversations with.

The dance festival that was supposed to be a safe space, a haven (not just for women, although mostly for women, because again, bellydancers are predominantly women), no longer became a safe space.

And there I was, in the back of a room somewhere in Los Angeles, in a discussion about the dance festival. I listened to women share their very private experiences and fears and triggers. I witnessed these women cry openly as they confronted their fears and let everyone in the room know the hurt and anguish they felt as old wounds were reopened by the recent dance festival debacle. They held each other. The comforted each other.

Some men talked too. Straight men who have bellydancer wife/girlfriend. Straight men who made sure that they would never behave like those two sexist husbands. Some men said that they would kick the asses of those nasty, sexist men, and other men yelled yeah they would too.

But where does that leave me?

I’m a gay male. I consider myself androgynous, but by all accounts, I’m still a cisgender male. I don’t want to cut off my penis or grow breasts. I don’t want to not have sexual organs because I love sex and I love having an orgasm.

I feel weird calling myself a man because I don’t identify with that word, because there’s a sense of masculinity that’s attached to it, and I’m neither masculine nor do I want to be.

But still.

I used to feel comfortable hugging females and women, including bellydancers, but now, with this breach of trust, I feel like I need to take a step back. I always try not to wander into a female changing room. I always prefer to change in the bathroom. Some welcomed me inside their changing room and they freely changed in front of me, but it still felt weird. Part of it was probably because I was raised with different values concerning nudity.

I never feel comfortable hugging males, or even striking a conversation with men, especially straight men, because I don’t want to give the impression that I want to have sex with them. I don’t have a lot of straight male friends because of that very reason. And the reason is because I grew up learning that many straight males are afraid of gay males because they think gay males are predators and will turn them gay. It is my own personal crusade to make sure that I don’t have sex with straight males.

One of the husbands of the bellydancer who were present in the community meeting (not the sexist husbands), did say that as men, we have a lot to learn.

I know I do.

I have never experienced true grief. Both my parents are still alive. Both my siblings are still alive. I’ve experienced grief when I lost my cats, and they meant a lot to me, but without being reductive to my own experience, I’m not an empath. I can never feel what other people feel. Everything that I’ve experienced, my sex, my gender, my race, my sexuality, my upbringing, my socioeconomic background, my genes, all of these contribute to my identity and how I process thoughts and emotions and memories.

I can never know what females feel. Even if I were raped, I would never know how female rape survivors feel, because I’m not a female. I can never know what straight males feel, because although I have a penis, I’m not attracted to females.

I am unique and so is everyone around me.

I have different threshold of tolerance, to pain, to suffering, to humiliation, to heartbreaks. I deal with my own traumas differently. I deal with my life differently. And so do other people.

What is okay to you may not be okay to another person. A female dancer may welcome me to change in her dressing room while she’s there, because she doesn’t see me as a threat, but another female dancer may object to that because she considers me a man, and I’ll be happy to leave.

I am not inconvenienced by whatever happened to the dance festival. I never felt attached to it. I don’t personally know the organizer or her husband, but I’ve read some of the vile remarks from the DJ group and they angered me. But again, I’m not one of the performers who were personally attacked in said DJ group.

But I’ve made a decision. This decision is good for now. I may change it next month or next year, since I’m constantly growing and learning and educating myself. I will make mistakes. I’m not being pessimistic. It’s just the reality.

My decision is: my being gay has nothing to do with this. I’m still a male (notice that I don’t use the gender-term “man”), but there’s a bigger, more pressing issue here. I know that I can be an ally to women, but I’d also like to acknowledge that everyone is unique. Which is why, from this day on, I will try not to generalize. I will try to remember what everyone’s preference is when it comes to fundamental things like boundaries. I’ll keep a rolodex in my brain to keep track of what you allow me to do or to say and to be respectful.

But my brain is small, and my memory can sometimes be wonky, so please bear with me if I keep making mistakes and repeating them (hopefully not too many times). And always, always, always, remind me when I’ve crossed the line. Do it gently, do it harshly, do it however you like, but remember that like you, I also have feelings.

Know that I will avoid you if I think you feel uncomfortable to be around me, or if I think you can never forgive me for what I’ve done. I will wait until you can forgive me, until we can have an awkward but warm talk, until you’re sure that you can trust me again. That’s how I salvage a relationship, by giving time and space.

But I’m not selfless.

Know also that you and I have the right to shut each other out, if it needs to come to that, and it’s fine, because we both can survive without each other.

lambda literary reading

It was an absolute honor to be selected as one of the Fellowship recipients at this year’s Lambda Literary Foundations Writers Retreat. Here’s a piece about why we need gay clubs in Indonesia. 

 

holding onto anger and the art of burning bridges

Now let me tell you something, when you burn your bridge, you don’t just burn it.

For a small bridge, I’d soak it with benzene then stick at least fifteen lbs of TNT on each end of the bridge. Then I’d press the button and watch the spectacle as I sit down and eat a cinnamon roll. Or two.

I’d stand close so I could feel the heat of the blaze and the deafening sound of explosion and the windy blow of dust and debris would kiss my face.

I’d completely annihilate other sub-bridges that branch out from that main bridge.

Here’s the tricky part: don’t go on and pretend like it didn’t happen. No. The other person (or people) at the end of the bridge(s) will notice. They will send messages. “You haven’t visited in a long while,” or, “We miss you,” or, “What the hell happened to the bridge? I thought we could remain friends.”

But it’s your choice. It’s your choice to answer them (if they ever ask questions) or to ignore them.

If the person(s) at the end of the bridge do(es) not care, then your heart will fester in anger and in pain.

Do not let that anger and pain go. They are not poison. Keep them within you. Harness their energy. Use it to fuel yourself. No energy is bad energy, unless you use it to destroy yourself. Destroying others is fine, but you’ll need to learn of the consequence. Calculate. Is it worth it?

If you think you’ve burn that bridge and yet you still feel that anger and pain and yet you believe you don’t want the person(s) at the end of that bridge to care, then it can only mean one thing: regret.

You should’ve detonated the bridge with more glory. With more power. More TNT. More fire.

You wish you could’ve built it again and destroyed it again and again and perhaps, perhaps tie that other person(s) on that bridge and watch as they burn while you eat that cinnamon roll and make a toast for life. Ha. A toast.

Still, whatever you do, hold on to that anger. Hold on to that pain. Releasing them is useless if you can’t. But remember, use that energy for your own good.

Now go and listen to Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill.

so-and-so enters dressed as a girl

Here, come closer. Let me tell you a story.

Have you heard of drag queens? Yes. Of course you have. They’ve been with us for a long time now. You can find them in ancient lores and tales, reliefs and real life. The Romans, the Arabs, the Greeks, the Hindis, all great and not-so-great nations have men who dress as women and sing and dance and recite poems and jokes and make people laugh and cry and laugh again. Do you you know what “drag” stands for”? See this post’s title. So thank you, Shakespeare, whoever you are, for coining the word “drag”.

Now then, have you heard of Islam? Oh, absolutely. Well, I am not here to criticize Islam or muslims. Who am I to do so? It is true that I’ve spent all my life being persecuted by it and other religions, but I digress. What I’m trying to say is that Islam does not like men dressing up as women, and vice versa. What I’m trying to say is that Islam does not like women. Period. Especially her period. Period.

What if I told you that Indonesia had the biggest muslim population in the world? Oh, but it’s true.

Now what if I told you that there are drag queens in Indonesia? Not just in Bali, where Islam’s mighty claws cannot rip and tear them to pieces, but in places like Yogyakarta, where its Sultan called International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Intersex Association (ILGA) unethical and denied its right to hold a conference. Yes. In Indonesia, where even ILGA’s website is blocked, like a porn site, a smut site, an illegal site. Yes. In Indonesia, where protection of sexual-orientation is not recognized and homosexuality and cross-dressing are still considered deviations. Illnesses.

Yet nothing can stop these showgirls from shaving their face, from tucking between their legs. With their paddings and their stockings and their leggings and their heels and their rouge and powder and fake eyelashes and cream and bronzer and gilded microphones.

Nothing can stop these showgirls from receiving adoration from women, men, those who are both, and those who do not want to be either.

Nothing can stop these showgirls from being what they are, for being ahead of their time, for being brave, for being both frank and Francine. For defying death in a country whose main religion still condones stoning and cutting off hands and legs.

Nothing can stop these showgirls from coming, basking in the spotlight, and leaving a trail of glitter.

And that’s all they really ever want. Now go spread the word.

The drag queens of Oyot Godhong Cabaret Show at Mirota Batik / House of Raminten, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photos by yours truly.

The drag queens of Oyot Godhong Cabaret Show at Mirota Batik / House of Raminten, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photos by yours truly.

Indonesia, a country overrun by Islamic idiots.

Indonesia, a country overrun by Islamic idiots. Happy Ramadan and Eid.

***

Inspired by the Anachronism Prompt from the Daily Post.

hate the religion and the religious

You know, I’m really tired of reading/hearing people write/say “hate homosexuality, don’t hate homosexuals”. What in straight hell does that even mean? Homosexuals exist because we commit homosexual acts. No matter what anyone thinks, sex is a natural act and there are people who exclusively have sex with members of the opposite sex (like my parents, well, as far as I know anyway) and those who exclusively have sex with members of the same sex (like me).

So, in light of that statement, which is usually made by religious people from monotheistic and patriarchal religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), I say hate the religion AND the religious. Why?

  1. For wars (jihad, holy wars, whatever) they’ve created, especially the collateral damage (loss of innocent souls including and especially those of animals’, loss of reputation of country involved (yeah, I’m talking about my lovely country Indonesia, yay us!)). Seriously, do homosexuals create wars? Fashion wars, perhaps, because we’re chic and we know what’s gorgeous and what’s not (obviously this doesn’t reflect people like Johnny Weir) and we’re not scared to tell our friends, “Honey, don’t.”

    So many don'ts, so little time.

    So many don’ts, so little time. But then again, he’s not my friend.

  2. For the persecution of women and homosexuals. 

    I’m not only talking about the visible one right now (*cough*Islam*cough* and to some extent Catholicism (if I were a Catholic, I’d rather have a female pope)), but also past actions like this. Oh yeah, I still harbor resentment.To make matters worse, women of Islam, do you know that you only inherit 1/8 of your dead husband’s money, and that’s so much less than your son and your daughter? But hey, money doesn’t make the world go round, does it? No, of course not, but it offers a sense of comfort and protection, especially when one’s older and more feeble. Also, polygamy? Really?

    This is probably the least horrifying and gory image I can get from the Internet.

    This is probably the least horrifying and gory image I can get from the Internet of persecution of women.

  3. For wanting others to convert. 

    Oh yes. Classic. Pitting the “believers” with the “unbelievers”. You know, for religions as persecuted as Christianity and Islam, you think they’d be less of a bully. But no. This reminds me of one of my exes who told me he was abused by his boyfriend and then went on and did horrible things to me.* 

    Also, just so you know, the Jews welcomed Muhammad when he traveled (hijra) in June 622 CE from Mecca to Medina (then called Yathrib) after his failed campaign. The leaders of Jewish tribes in Yathrib were intrigued and let him come. Big mistake. Muhammad banished Jews, not only from Yathrib, but also from Arabia, beginning with the Qaynuqa tribe in 624 CE (that’s two years after Muhammad arrived in Yathrib). Want more evidence? Knock yourself out.

    As romantic as this looks, caravans crossing deserts had to deal with extreme desert temperature and raids.

    As romantic as this looks, caravans crossing deserts had to deal with extreme desert temperature and raids. Painting by Charles Theodore Frere.

  4. For basic intolerance. 

    Ah, my muslim friends acquaintances  fellow human beings countrymen who are now doing the fasting tradition in Ramadan. Do you really have to parade every sahur (meal before dawn to prepare for that day’s fast) and scream and shout every three in the morning? Not everyone in the vicinity is muslim, you intolerant bunch. 

    Also, the morning call to prayers? Can you turn the volume down, please? Some of us need sleep. I’m looking at you, the muslims at Masjid Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta. I live like a mile away from you and I can hear you loud and clear every goddamn morning and now, ever night from 1 AM to 2 AM, I can hear fiery (or is it angry?) preaching from your mosque, right before the sahur parade. Just a basic background for those who aren’t familiar with muslim practices: muslims pray five times daily, and it’s customary to be reminded with a call to prayer (adhan) that it’s praying time. This adhan is broadcast from minarets using loudspeakers (in some cases, REALLY LOUDspeakers). 

    In Malaysia, a Chinese couple was jailed for promoting the eating of pork during Ramadan and non-muslim students ate in a toilet TO PRACTICE TOLERANCE. 

    Indonesia of course has its own case to deal with: a member of Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam / FPI, a notoriously violent and stupid “organization”) was involved in a fatal hit-and-run while doing Ramadan raids in Kendal (no doubt driving under influence, as they’re usually drunk during raids to summon their courage. I’m not joking).

    I could totally relate to Grendel (from Beowulf tale). That poor, horrible creature just wants to sleep.

    I could totally relate to Grendel (from Beowulf tale). That poor, horrible creature just wants to sleep.

So, let me ask you this, how can you separate the religious from religion? I mean, sure not all religious people behave that way. Not every religious man or woman or whatever condone violence and driving out others who don’t share the same faith. Just like homosexuality and homosexuals. Not everyone of us is a predator. Not everyone of us wants to have sex all the time.

Happy Ramadan, happy Eid, happy whatever religious festivity you want. May peace be with you. Thank goodness I’m vegetarian, otherwise I’d eat pork in front of mosques.

But really, who am I to teach about hate? After all, I am not a preacher. Or religious.

Dat nose!

Dat nose!

*Addendum: on Facebook, a friend pointed out that religion wasn’t the core of problem, it’s power.

Why, yes. Of course it’s power. In the Old Testament, Jews were the victims, then they rose to power (and tormented Christians and Pagans). In the New Testament, Christians were the victims, then they rose to power (and tormented Jews and Pagans). In Quran, Muslims were the victims, then Islam rose to power (and tormented Jews and Christians and Pagans).

ah, islam

If this post is vague, it is largely because it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is Islam in Indonesia. In several parts of this country, the teachings of Islam have been adapted (diluted?) with ancient animism and mysticism, and Hinduism.

My mother converted to Christianity from Islam and so I still have relatives who are moslems. My best friend from primary school is a moslem, my best friend from junior/senior high is a moslem (the first gay friend I had and we still see each other until now), I’ve moslem friends from college and I’m close to several of them, I’ve moslem colleagues and business partners, I’ve dated moslem men.

In my life, I’ve been taught tolerance, and it is not an exaggeration if I say I’ve challenged it time and again, both with and without my knowledge. I think being gay and Christian in a country with the biggest moslem population in the world (approximately 250 millions) has taught me that tolerance, even as I’m living a rather charmed and guarded life, is not an easy thing to have and exercise.

Maybe I’m helping perpetuate the myths of and prejudice towards Sharia, the religious law and formal code of Islam. However, apparently there are moslems who don’t understand what complete Sharia is (this includes chopping off hands for thieves and stoning to death). There are good aspects of Sharia, such as its laws on money and economics, and these are the ones that most people like (obviously). The other more extreme aspects such as death sentence, not so much.

Thing is, there are 282 of 491 provincial districts in Indonesia that are based on Sharia. I’ve no idea to which extent this law is upheld, but considering that headscarf (hijab) is imposed in the province that started it all: Aceh (yes, the same Aceh that was hit by tsunami in 2004) even on women who aren’t ready yet to wear it, I smell religious oppression. Which makes me glad I don’t live in Aceh.

I’m not a mathematician, but 282 out of 491 is uh, more than half, right?

My question is this: what about the minority groups?

I’m not a Christian anymore, but every time I read news about Christians having to hide, to struggle just to pray, while moslems close down roads for Friday prayers and therefore cause traffic deadlocks, my heart weeps with despair, disappointment, and rage. In 2009, Islam hardliners sealed Beth Shalom, the last synagogue in Java. The building, a designated heritage site, was demolished in May 2013. This is not surprising, since the world-famous Borobudur (an ancient Buddhist temple that was once the greatest seven wonders of the world and a UNESCO heritage site) suffered an attack by a moslem called Ibrahim aka Mohammad Jawad aka Kresna back in 1985. Nine stupa domes were destroyed.

However, again, it is hard to define the Indonesian Islam. Hardliners take their cues from Arab countries (and then some), without realizing the Arab countries are on their rise against Islamic forces. I’m not a Lady Gaga fan (oh God, I’m an embarrassment to the gay community!) but it was the ultimate facepalm moment when her concert was cancelled just because some Islam hardliners went gaga and staged a protest (was it even legal?) against Gaga.

Going Gaga Against Gaga

Sign says: Say No to Lady Gaga the Devil! Click here for more photos and article (Indonesian)

The more peaceful Islam adapted to mysticism and animism and the ancient religions is considered musyrik, a heresy, and needs to be abolished. These hardliners are the ones that set Indonesia back to the ancient times, mar the beauty of Islam (as some of my friends have testified), whilst being the ultimate hypocrites.

Tifatul Sembiring. Would someone please fuck this guy with a 15-inch dildo?

Case in point: the people of Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (Prosperous Justice Party), who successfully championed the blocking of porn sites (I miss my Rule34, you assholes!) although, you know, they can’t block them all (yay!). Tifatul Sembiring of this political party is the information minister responsible for this censorship, and he’s a frigging bigamist and alleged corruptor. It’s a well-known fact that Islam allows poligamy, but to an extent. This is not the case with Luthfy Hasan Ishaaq, whose youngest wife is eighteen years old.

Oh yes, the things I could tell you about Islam in Indonesia, or whatever and however this religion has been corrupted by people of power and by people searching for power, because apparently, religion is still power here in Indonesia.

Talk about power fuck in its truest, most literal form.

i dream of satan

This is getting frequent, too frequent, he thinks.

He can’t remember exactly what the dream was – he’d remembered it when he woke up right after the dream, but he was too tired and dozed off again.

All he can he remember is that in the dream, there was a figure sitting in front of him, veiled under opaque white fabric, and then that fabric was yanked off and he saw the figure, he saw the face, the skin wrinkled and droopy and sagging and almost red, but maybe that memory is tainted by the images of the devil he’s seen in movies and paintings.

All he can remember is the realization that there’s something familiar with the face: that face was also his, with the skin wrinkled and droopy and sagging. That face was also his.

Then there was a sense of dread when he woke up, but as he dozed off again, he half-wished he could dream the same dream again, or the continuation of the dream.

His other satanic dream was two weeks prior. It involved falling down a rabbit hole. Like Alice. Down, down the rabbit hole. He was clinging to a figure. The figure was wrapped in opaque white gauze. As they were falling down, he unwrapped the gauze in panic, he unwrapped it and unwrapped it and unwrapped it until the thing beneath the gauze was uncovered and he was clinging on to it, and he woke up screaming and crying. He woke up alone.

When one dreams, one dreams alone. And that dread, the dread that comes from dreams, it can never be shared.