[This article was originally written as a response to Margaret Agusta’s article “Neither, Nor and Nowhere in Between: Raising a Gay Child in a Heterosexual Paradigm” published here on Jan. 16, 2014]
You are a lovely mother every gay person dreams to have. Unfortunately, you may be a rare exception in this part of the world.
I’m writing this in my study, just a few meters away from a living room where my own mother is sitting. She is a different kind of woman, whose love for me, her gay son, is no less than your love for your son.
Unlike you, my mom comes from a traditional village in Sumatra and has never lived abroad. She does not have your level of education either, having only finished a schooling equivalent to junior high in the 1940s.
She does not read English paper The Jakarta Post, but she reads Kompas daily and Tempo magazine and watches news on TV. Although she does not understand English, when we were young she forced us to watch English channels to help us learn the language.
She may lack a formal education, but she decided on which schools and universities her sons and daughters attended. She filled out the administrative forms and dealt with academic matters, and consulted with the faculty directly when my younger brother had troubles with his study in university. Almost all of us her children have a post-graduate degree now, while her grandchildren have graduated from university or are still pursuing their studies at home or abroad.
My mom played a matchmaking role for all her five now grown-up children. Except for my younger brother and me, her children are married to someone she picked. I have stayed single, and my younger brother was recently divorced. We both managed to stay away from a number of women introduced by her.
Now over 80 years old, my mother remains a traditional person who upholds strict religious values. And having a foreign educated and cosmopolitan husband, who has long tolerated and accepted my gayness. has not helped changed her views on homosexuality. Nor has playing host to our foreign guests, which she enjoys and which gives her exposures to modern ideas. She remains steadfast that homosexuality is a western concept not suitable to our religious and eastern root.
I don’t think it’s the lack of education that shapes her views on homosexuality, because her belief is shared by some of my foreign-educated PhD. holder friends.
Is it then a lack of exposure to gay people? No way! I’ve brought home enough gay friends to meet my mother, who accepts them, and expresses respect for their work and achievement, but still does not agree with their sexual orientation.
To my mother I have presented every scientific argument on homosexuality. I told her about the ongoing development in the western world, such as the gay marriage and other legal rights now recognized by gay people.
“You just don’t fully understand your religion and why God considers it as a sin. You’d better learn your religion more seriously,” she said in return.
I’m not against religion. As a child I was a runner up in a Quran reading competition. I consult with religious scholars and follow public debates on gay issue involving religious groups, scientists, and the pro and anti-gay activists. Often I follow this on the TV set in our living room, with Mom and Dad sitting next to me. Still, she would not budge.
She wants me to marry a woman, any woman I am comfortable with, and have children of my own so that I will live according to God’s way, win a ticket to heaven in the afterlife, and meet her there.
“Please trust me, homosexuality is wrong. We can’t question what God says. We are just like a dust in the wind. Sooner or later you will die and face the consequences of your wrong choice, and your opposition and question over God’s teaching”.
“Before it’s too late, please come back to the truth, do not be a sinner, be a normal person!” she begged me.
These days I rarely discuss the gay issue at home anymore, and she has stopped ‘attacking’ me with religious teachings and Quran verses. Even better, she no longer asked my aunts, uncles and family friends to come and ‘brainwash’ me, telling me all the wrong things about living an unmarried life.
My other friends do not understand why I still continue to live with my anti-gay mom (and a pro-gay dad) well in my forties.
The truth is I wish I could live happily ever after with a loving gay partner, but I am not lucky enough to have one. I don’t want to live alone as a miserable old gay guy, but neither can I stand to live in a non-stop party house with my exuberant gay friends either.
I tell myself all the time to never stop loving Mom because of her anti-gay stance, to never believe that God forbids homosexuality, and to never hate our religion for making my mom and friends opposes who we are. And I dream that someday some influential religious leaders will come up with a more accepting interpretation on homosexuality.
But before that time comes, life must go on. What better thing can I demand in this short life than a loving mom who puts authentic home-cooked Padang meal on our dining table everyday, who takes care of me when I am sick, who wakes up at three o’clock in the morning to prepare a hot early breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice when I have to catch a 6 a.m. flight?
For every time she prays that I return to the “straight and right” path, I know at the end of her prayer she will ask God to forgive my every sin. Because that’s what mothers do, right, Maggie?
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.
*Photo by Frank Boston.