"I'm totally fine with gay people and I have gay friends, but I think the U.S. government made a mistake when they legalized gay marriage!" my friend said, looking at me for approval.
What the fuck? But as I struggled to articulate my cursing mind, I felt her gaze on me. I was a deer in the headlights, afraid that any sudden movements would instigate a question. Before she could continue, I cleared the table. And yet, the relief that I felt failed to compensate for the guilt.
Unfortunately, this is just one of the many “incidents” that I have experienced in the past 14 months. Moving back to Jakarta meant a change of scene. It means no "Pride Parade" in July. It means accepting the default by which every man or woman I will meet has a gender that matches his or her sex, and is automatically heterosexual. More importantly, it means keeping LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) out of sight and out of mind.
But, as I sat in my friend's living room, trying really hard not to argue with her, I realized that the removal of LGBTQ from my vocabulary was a choice.
Like a child who caves in to peer pressure, I had stopped questioning my friends’ inability or unwillingness to differentiate gender from sex. I refrained from correcting my friends when they used the word banci (sissy) to describe gay men – after they persisted that "freaks are all the same". And I resorted to silence when people made cruel jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. In fear of potential ramifications to my career, relationship, and future, I opted to return to the closet as a LGBTQ supporter.
By doing this, not only did I betray the community, but I also degraded friends and family as being plain old ignorant. Worse still, by keeping my mouth shut on LGBTQ issues, I couldn’t keep up my usual fight against sexism and racism. My silence was so severe that my oldest friends wondered what happened to my feminist rants, before chalking it up to a mixture of maturity and the coming of senses, i.e. defeat.
In addition to my fear of being ostracized, I abandoned the LGBTQ community because I did not have anyone to fall back on and I forgot the power of a conversation. I was convinced that because I had neither capacity to fight for equality nor a community that I could join to do so, I had no right to talk about it. When in fact, having an open discussion is one of the most pertinent parts of a movement. Pride can't take place on Thamrin if groups of people can't talk about the issue safely. Little progress can be made without some back and forth regarding the matter; its presence and growth across the archipelago; problems that are unique to our country; and a vision of an Indonesia that embraces the LGBTQ community.
Is keeping quiet making me an accomplice to homophobia?
As foolish as it seems, I needed some reassurance that there was hope for the Indonesian LGBTQ community. One sunny day, I attended the London Pride Parade. Miles away from home, I felt much safer to show my support. The coward within me found it agonizing to stand among such passionate members of the community. I kept quiet as fear took over, taunting me for my past behavior. But, all my inner conflicts turned into white noise as the flags of member nations passed by.
I stood on tippy-toes in hopes of seeing the Indonesian flag. I almost shat myself when I saw not one, but two Merah Putih flags: one for Indonesia and one for Monaco. Then passed a huge rainbow flag, symbolizing a diverse world in which gender and sexual orientation are fluid. The fear within me subsided as I saw others united in the cause.
Much like a conversation, having an Indonesian flag at Pride serves as a beacon of hope. Though flags may not instantly create a nation that embraces the LGBTQ community, they signal progress. More significantly, they may help members of the community, whether by reinforcing loyalists, reassuring doubtful supporters, or giving hope to an individual who feels isolated because the world does not seem capable of accepting his/her identity.
To those who are in the same boat as I had been in: listen to the little voice who feels guilty for keeping silent, and know that the voice is what keeps you a step away from total betrayal.
With this post, I have officially come out of the closet as a supporter of the LGBTQ community. And, man, after months in solitary, this chatterbox can’t wait to return home, explore the local LGBTQ community, make some new friends, and have an endless discussion.
T. Robyn Soetikno is a baby-faced Indonesian postgraduate student at Imperial College London. After completing her high school in Santa Laurensia, Tangerang, she obtained a bachelor's degree from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, where she gained a passion for topics surrounding gender equality and LGBTQ. She is trained in public health and theatre, two distinct but intertwined worlds. For the past two years, she has been working at IndonesiaMengglobal.com. Today she lives in Jakarta, stressing about her thesis and hoarding projects.