On a recent Sex and The City-inspired dinner, one of my dear girlfriends gleefully scooped a handful of warm and toasted pork grind to go with her taco bite as if they were her last meal on earth.
Washing it down with refreshing lime iced tea, my friend, an agnostic who was brought up a Muslim, turned to me and expressed her disbelief at my insistence to abstain from pork.
“Since you’re having sex with men, you might as well eat pork,” she said only half-jokingly. She reminded me of my Mother who used to scold me for skipping karate class (in my defense, I was the only boy left in yellow belt).
She then expounded on a mock theory about the different levels of sins and hell according to Islam – with homosexuality being up there, a little lower than murder – as if life was a game on tablet, the players vying for the highest score to take them to heaven or hell before the “Game-Over” sign flashes on.
As much as I was annoyed by her casual observation, she did have a point. When you live in a world where spending a little time in a sauna can lead to a string of non-halal sex, why insist on going halal at the dinner table?
Still, it can be wearying to have to constantly defend my religious practice, even among the close friends who have accepted my sexuality. It’s as if I have to justify every single religious observance.
So I’ve decided to share some awkward insights here that might help readers understand how some of us gay Muslims live our lives. I’m not sure whether I can speak for the majority, but hopefully my friend will now stop offering bacon to me.
- Yes, it’s oxymoronic; stop reminding us!
“You can’t be gay and Muslim at the same time.” I’ve heard that a lot and I never pretend that the two concepts can happily bond like hair and gel on a good hair day. But the majority of us are not religious scholars or historians on a crusade to interpret the Holy Book. To me it’s pretty clear that the Holy Quran says homosexuality is not permissible. Nonetheless, I just want to live my life practicing the teachings – feeble, though, the attempts may be – while accepting who I am.
- It’s so conflicted – there’s no space for logic. And why should there be?
Being gay and a practicing Muslim means I have to constantly justify my conflicting actions. There are days when I just smile and make some mental notes about the bees and the birds, and then there are days when I consciously engage in fierce but meaningless debates. As contradictive as it sounds, I have come to a conclusion that in order to accept who I am – a happy, half-baked Queen – I cannot live my life forgoing my deep-rooted Islamic values completely. Moreover I have repeatedly found applying logics to conflicting actions making up bad analogies on incomparable actions (you get the idea).
- We just want to make peace with ourselves.
The truth is my apparent conflicting actions are my way of self-reconciliation. I’m trying to integrate religious values with my sexuality, because rejecting one for the other is like rejecting a large part of me. I have a need to love and be loved by other men, and I have a need to fulfill my spiritual beliefs. Both needs form the very part of me. I know that’s a fine line to walk but personally I don’t see anything wrong with it, because religious values tend to be conflicting anyways.
- Admittedly, we pick and choose our ‘sin’.
As a Muslim, I believe in the concept of heaven and hell. You do good deeds in this world and you rack up points for heaven. You commit ‘sinful deeds’ and you lose out some mileage and may end up on a budget airline to hell, so to speak. Having said that, don’t question me if I don’t eat pork, or when I fast in the Ramadan month or pray every now and then. I’ve got a lot of points to catch up.
- It’s not hypocrisy; I never try to change anyone.
Does it make me a hypocrite if I practice a large part of the teachings while accepting my sexuality? I don’t go around preaching at random times what’s good and bad for you. I would be a hypocrite if I tried to instill Halal values to others at the dinner table, and told my Muslim friends they’d go to hell if they ate that pork.
- But, yes, some of us can be Real Jerks and Hypocrites...
Like other semi-closeted gay men in Indonesia, I have mastered the art of living under different masks without sacrificing our identities. That’s our way to survive in this double standard and largely homophobic society. My semi-closeted life has led me to encounter some gay Muslims who end up becoming the most homophobic characters just for the sake of appearing straight. I once dated a guy who prayed five times a day and made hateful comments about gays in public (he was a radio personality, and has since moved on to TV. I’m too nice to name names).
- … and self-delusional…
I’m referring to those who choose to live completely closeted lives and settle down in a non-mutually consensual heterosexual marriage (to women who have no ideas their husbands are gay). This applies to all closeted married homosexual men in Indonesia, irrespective of their religions and beliefs. On online gay dating site, these are usually men who start their private messages to other men with the greeting Assalamualaikum (May Peace Be upon You).
- … while waving the religious flags.
And it doesn’t stop there. Come Friday and my Blackberry Messenger’s feed is peppered with calls for the Friday prayer from my contacts, many of them closeted gays. As if the world really needs the weekly prayer reminders by men whose Friday ritual involves uploading selfies of their vain self in Muslim tunic with matching skull cap.
- Then there are those who hide behind a secular mask.
When I was living abroad, I used to tell my non-Muslim friends that I was allergic to alcohol, rather than telling them the real reason I was a teetotaler. The few people who knew that I was an observant Muslim looked perplexed, “But you’re gay, aren’t you!?” I don’t get this reaction often anymore, but I’m sure there are those who still choose to hide their beliefs for fear of being socially scrutinized.
- Still, the guilt stays.
And here’s where I get philosophical: No matter how much we try to brush it off, most of us will always live with guilt. It’s like we divide our actions into two different boxes: the pink box in the far right corner, and the green box sitting quietly in the opposite corner. The gulf of separation doesn’t do much to uproot the guilt, despite the number of prayers we perform and those hundreds of days we’ve spent fasting.
The truth is everyone goes through an endless process of self-acceptance. Mine happens to involve two very opposing worlds that clash. I’m just trying to make the collision less violent and devastating for my own sanity.
I’m no straight talker (sorry, couldn’t resist) and I treasure my pork-chomping, ex-Muslim friend dearly, therefore I couldn’t find the fitting words to verbally express my irritation at her passing judgment.
But the next time we dine at that taco joint, here’s what I’ll tell her: "You eat the pork, sweetie, I’ll have the dessert." Probably while gleefully staring at the cute waiter as if he were my last meal on earth.
Named after a classic hit by Petula Clark, Downtown Boy a.k.a. DB is a twenty something hipster trapped in a thirty something gay man's body. He's a regular office worker in Jakarta and his hobbies include listening to oldies and doing physically challenging sports. He used to do martial arts but was forced to stop after he hurt his lower back. All of his friends suspect the injury was triggered by something fishy.