May, 10 2019
How I Found the Maternal Figure I Had Needed in Maggie Agusta

A two-hour meeting with writer, trainer and gender activist Maggie Agusta, who passed away yesterday, made him realized she was the maternal figure he had needed in his life.

by Fajar Zakhri
Wo/Men We Love
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Yesterday we lost Margaret “Maggie” Agusta, a trainer and mentor at The Jakarta Post and a great supporter of the women’s rights movements whose powerful and honest essays on Magdalene have touched the hearts of many. To honor her memory, our music columnist Fajar Zakhri wrote this essay and poems.

For better or worse, I’ve always harbored a nonchalant attitude toward death. The way I see it is it’s a trivial fact of life: just as people get born, people also come to pass. But as was the case with my high school paramour, the passing of Maggie Agusta had me more than a little gobsmacked. The first time proper – which, as fate would have it, proved to be the last – I had the honor of sitting down and spending some time with her was a little over a year ago when she and her son Paul hosted me and a group of friends in their residence.

We had a lively chat, with Maggie naturally acting as the sage matron. Over the course of two hours, I felt genuinely blessed just being in her presence, acquiring new knowledge along the way that ranged from the throwaway (apparently you burn calories instead of stacking them when consuming plain, unflavored popcorn) to the profound (as it turns out, the chemicals in your body only begin to, proverbially speaking, settle down past the age of 25 – as Maggie relayed this piece of information, it’s as if a lightbulb went over my head. This was the explanation I’d so desperately needed as to why it felt like my system was turbulently coming to terms with many things in my life as soon as, and after, I’d hit 26).

Maggie’s gentle, tender manner of speaking, coupled with her vast, steady stream of lore so generously imparted to us wide-eyed millennials over mouth-watering oatmeal cookies, endeared to me greatly.

“It’s like paying a visit to our grandma’s,” joked a friend who tagged along after the enlightening jaunt. Except that most of us who were there most likely lacked the grandma figure in our lives, let alone someone like Maggie. I never had much of a relationship with my own grandmas prior to their respective passing, and despite the myriad women in my extended family, I doubt any of them would hold a candle to Maggie’s ASMR-inducing demeanor and unassuming grace, and most of all, her wit.

Margaret “Maggie” Agusta at Women's March 2017. Photo from Maggie's Instagram

I was both nervous and excited to meet Maggie that day, partly because coming to someone’s house is always nerve-racking and partly because of her essay on being a parent to a gay child. My lifelong rocky relationship with my own mother means that the rift between her and I is so enormous that I know for sure despite being otherwise out, my mother will most probably never come to terms with my gayness even if she repeatedly lets me know that she loves me and all that performative, motherly jazz. Which is fine. I’ve personally made peace with the fact that not every parent-child relationship is meant to be all sunshine and flowers.

That said, I’ve always been intrigued by seemingly bright and flowery parent-child relationships, especially when gayness is thrown into the mix. Having your parents be okay with your being gay is one thing, but having them not only accept but also live with your same-sex spouse and take him as one of their own the way that Maggie and her also-departed husband Leon did is a level of acceptance that so many gay folks in Indonesia and beyond would typically chalk up to nothing but wishful thinking.

That rainy afternoon, this was the scene that played out before my very eyes, leaving me fascinated and moved in equal measure. I remember reckoning that Paul must have also owed his fine skills as an actor and filmmaker to his upbringing in the type of household that encourages honesty and openness, one that makes perfect sense to have laid the groundwork for someone who would go on to craft possibly the most important gay-themed film in the history of Indonesian cinema. 

I had met Maggie and Paul at Women’s March shortly before I visited them at home. I will fail to accurately recall the words of encouragement she uttered to my friends and I as we exchanged pleasantries and whatnot, but I will never forget the look on her face as she scanned us in our most outlandish, queer get-ups (for one, I had a skirt, combat boots and red hair on), perhaps feeling moved herself at the sight of these youngsters being their authentic selves while demanding to be seen and heard as such, all in the sweltering afternoon heat.

I felt her compassion, but most of all, I felt her pride. I may not have been part of her bloodline, but those two afternoons, she was most definitely the maternal figure I’d never quite realized I needed in my life.

With these memories in mind, I figured there was no better way to honor Maggie than by posting the two poems that are more or less retellings of the home visit and the visceral impact that ensued, on the very website that she always championed.

Thank you for your words, Maggie. Here are mine to you in return.

---

 

Smoking Weed

Last night I smoked weed for the first time

Told you I was close to getting high

But not all the way high

And it's true I laughed a lot

In my dreams I laughed even more

Probably laughing at life

And all the stupid games that account for

Our struggle and strife

In the pursuit of meaning

When maybe none of this

Means anything at all

 

Earlier that day I met somebody wise

Who talked to me about life

Imparted her wisdom and insight

To my anxious heart and troubled mind

It was cosmic how one thing led to another

She suggested taking it slow

Whenever I think about going faster

At full speed there's no room to breathe

Much less space to grow

 

In the space of two hours

She taught me all there was to know

About rules and obligations

Trials and tribulations

How to avoid the error

When we punish ourselves

For mistakes we made in our youth

And how our youth

Lasts longer than we think it should

So when we think "I should"

Retort with "Well who says that?"

Maybe that's how

We'll get our common sense back

 

This morning I was thinking about

How much I depend on the validation of others

To give me a pass

And determine my worth

How life's big lessons get forgotten

In the thick of the moment

Can't see the bigger picture

It's images and projections

That reflect not who you are

But what you become

When you're forsaken

Amid the mounting demand

You're trying to understand

When you're wearing thin

You no longer care

Whether surrendering is a sin

 

Another day you'll atone

But right now you're just stoned

 

I felt her compassion, but most of all, I felt her pride. I may not have been part of her bloodline, but those two afternoons, she was most definitely the maternal figure I’d never quite realized I needed in my life.

 

Chemically Settled

Somebody told me past the age of 25

Physiologically you start settling down

And beforehand the chemicals in your brain

Were in constant turmoil

Coming into their senses

Realizing the perils

Of adulthood

With the type of attitude

Best described as stolid

And sometimes I might as well be 16

Preoccupied with matters no longer valid

Like how my psyche is supposed to develop

And why mind is enveloped

In letters so trivial

Rendering the blank spaces emotional

 

I am terrified by the absence

Of the fire that used to be burning

Now I am disenchanted

By the mere thought of trying

And if I am cooling

I might as well turn cold

The faith I’m losing

I trade it with hope

That comes and goes as it pleases

I’m no longer won over by wishes

Or doomed with self-lacerating

It’s only my will depleting

Does this mean I’ve stopped growing

 

And I would tell you I want to make a living

Enticing the crowd with words and sounds

Making them sympathize and perhaps cry

That’s how my success is defined

Seeing new shades in well-worn hues

Distilling the red from the brewed blues

That’s the kind of life I would choose

 

And I would tell you I’m willing to work for it

Until boredom creeps into the blank spaces again

Throwing me out dejected

From moments of stillness

I would crave the hustle and bustle

And feast on scraps of pain

I would bow out of pressure

And cave in to mistaken graces

 

Though somehow someway I would still try

To make them understand

Draping accoutrements

All over the mundane

Sharing a self-baked cake

In tiny little bites

Hoping you’ll munch on it

And digest it to your mind

Hoping it tastes good enough

Hoping I am good enough

Hoping my mind settles down

And still learns not to give out

Read Fajar’s review on Anggun’s post-natal elevation.

Fajar Zakhri wants you to break up with your girlfriend, because he’s bored. Feel free to drop him a good line or two via Twitter (@whatsthefaz) or Instagram (@whatsthefazzz).