It was a calm Thursday noon at office, and I had just gotten my daily podcast script. Apparently, the news of Risa Santoso becoming the youngest Rector in Indonesia ranked second on the day’s top news. As I was trawling Twitter to see netizens’ view on her, I stumbled upon a narrative that was triggered by the question: “What is your biggest achievement at the age of 27?”
In answering this question, it took me an hour of self-reflection to finally come to an appreciation of my own self-value.
The age 27 is a good time to take a sabbatical break. Rupaul Charles once said on his podcast that after 25, you will ask yourself whether you want to continue doing things you are currently doing or whether you should start over your dream.
Some may be driven enough to make that leap; while others are less motivated. Some lucky friends choose to travel the world; some settle in a marriage. But for queers like us living in homophobic country, the challenge multiplies. Some of us even don’t even have the privilege to reach certain age.
I am fully aware that I am one of the few lucky Indonesian queer individuals. Not only do I have access to pursue the things I want in life, I can also take a break from these pursuits by going on a sabbatical leave.
Last summer I decided to have a career break to travel to Australia and New Zealand. During my nine-hour flight back from Auckland to Denpasar, I was reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, and here’s a quote I found in Chapter 3: “The knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations.”
The book’s premise is that our human existence is basically problematic. We tend to seek greener lawn – in my recent case, ITB’s young rector – while failing to acknowledge our own accomplishments. By 22 I had shaken hands with the UN secretary general. I am not such a bad investment after all.
The problem of validation of our human existence is universal, regardless your gender or sexual orientation. However, I might add another challenge to the lives of queer people like us: conformity.
As a queer young man, I grew up super competitive in whatever I did in my attempt to compensate my sexual preference, which I used to think as a sin. Most queer people have to conform to heteronormativity throughout their whole lives, and this often means suppressing themselves even when they might have reached their peak.
In 2012, I was chosen to represent Daejon Metropolitan City at Superstar K season 4, South Korea’s talent show TV series. This I had thought should be sufficient enough to showcase my potential, but when I returned to Indonesia to join Galaxy Superstar audition, the country’s version of the talent show, I only made it to the bloopers edit. Later I learned from the staff that I was considered too feminine when I danced.
I was humiliated on national television, and it was enough to end my singing career and to focus on my studies.
Imagine being good enough but too embarrassed to tell people for fear of backlash. Conforming is most of the time the biggest life obstacles that end our dreams and – for some – lives. While some lucky queers have no problems showing their true selves, and some may be really good at conforming, many continue to struggle throughout their lives.
In 2017, I started sending my writing to Magdalene. The first one was a piece that highlighted the police raid on the Atlantis Gay bath house. The writing felt like a self-healing process; I had wanted to do something for my community, even if it was just a small bit.
As I slowly accepted that it was okay to be mediocre, I also found it easier to find other inclusive “average” queers on Twitterverse or at the workplace, compared to finding vocal gay right activist in Indonesia.
I will never say it is okay to be oppressed, but this piece aims to tell every struggling queer to stay positive. You are not alone; we struggle together.
It’s okay to take a break if you’re tired. Watch Rupaul Drag Race, Queer Eye – whatever shows make you feel loved. To be able to breathe right until this moment, to have loving family and friends, to be able to work against all odds show our true strengths.
We are the best and most valuable investment a parent can have. We saw the darkest shade of dark, and all existing colours of rainbow. We shall be as happy as the true semantic meaning of the word “gay.”