On a recent dinner with a bunch of long time gay friends, one of my friends “Gatot” frantically asked all of his noisy friends for a moment of silence as he was about to answer a phone call from his teenage son.
“Please, silent for a while, cong!” he shouted in the flowery gay lingo of binan using the short form of bencong, which is a slang to address effeminate men or transvestites that is now widely used to address gay men in general.
His right middle finger curled as he daintily pushed the button on his cellphone. In no time he transformed himself from the flamboyant and effeminate man we had known him for years to a totally different God’s creature.
His body (and fingers) became stiff as his voice was adjusted a few pitch deeper than usual. He was a manly man, a tough father. If I were his son, I would not dare talk back to him. He deserved an Oscar for such a superb performance. After spending a few minutes on the phone, he seamlessly transformed back to his pre-phone voice and mannerism that suited more of a drag queen than a tough guy.
Gatot has been living as a human chameleon. At home he is a strict father, a loving husband and a respected head of the neighborhood unit (though, who knows, he might wear his wife’s night gown when he’s alone in the bedroom). Out with his real social circles – us, gay guys – he becomes himself again.
But an Indonesian proverb says no matter how good a squirrel is at jumping, it eventually falls to the ground. After years of marriage, his wife eventually found out about his infidelity with a number of men, despite his skillful performance (including in bed with her) to mask his homosexuality.
Gatot apologized to his wife and confessed that he might never be able to kill his attraction to other men. He would accept a divorce, if that was what she wanted.
Surprisingly, she begged him not to leave her and their three children. She loved him and would accept him as he was, she said. His mother in law, who lived with the couple, also begged him to stay in the marriage, saying he was the best out of her seven sons and daughters in law. She went further to say that Gatot was even better than her own children. (Gatot admitted to have always been respectful to his mother in-law and rarely spoken, fearing he would accidentally reveal his true self when talking.)
So the marriage continued with his wife accepting his homosexuality. Last year, their fourth child was born, because she had found their home too quiet after their three children were sent to boarding schools.
She only imposed one condition: that Gatot has to act straight in front of their kids in order to avoid gender confusion. This last condition has proved to be a challenge, however, when his adolescent kids began to sense something amiss with his preference of pink color and his penchant for stylish clothing on the photos they saw on his Facebook account.
Gay-straight marriages may be more common than we know. It is the product of an anti-gay culture long held by a society that holds fast to it traditional and religious values, one in which a grown-up man who chooses to remain single is seen as abnormal and sinful.
In a society like Indonesia, even the strongest gay men find it hard to live a life in which homosexuals have no rights, among family members who condemn the sexual orientation they were born with.
As soon as men reach their 30s or 40s, their families will pressure them into getting married. Many gay men eventually surrendered to the pressure, if only to attain a marital status, lest they faced serious consequences that can range from being disowned or disinherited to physical and psychological abuses.
At the above dinner I attended, three have either been divorced or were undergoing legal process of separation. One hurt wife retaliated by announcing on Facebook that she was cheated by her gay husband. One person stays in his fake marriage with a woman for ambitious economic interest; and another one clings to his shaky heterosexual marriage for the sake of his young children and out of fear of losing his respected social status.
Among them, I am the only one who has never married a woman, although I have been proposed by two fabulous, highly educated women, who were aware of my sexual orientation. One of them said she would marry me under certain conditions, while the other gave no conditions. But I chose this single life with all its consequences.
Both of these women have remained my closest friends until today, and one of them eventually married a handsome man, who often drops off his wife and young daughter to dine with me. The cute girl thinks I’m the best uncle in the world. She would love to be interviewed by me on camera when she’s all grown-up someday.
With a lovely female friend and her little girl like them, who needs a wife and kids? Well, at least not for now.
When not writing, translating and karaoke-ing, Jeffry likes to travel, alone or with a few or a lot of friends. He still tries hard to allocate some of his free time on wrapping up his first novel.