New book sheds light on gay groups in Indonesia

The Jakarta Post
13 August 2009

New book sheds light on gay groups in Indonesia

Ni Komang Erviani , The Jakarta Post, Denpasar

Society still strongly refuses to accept the lifestyle choices of gay men in Indonesia, causing many to lead double lives, a US scholar says.

Tom Boesllstorf, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, launched his book Monday titled The Gay Archipelago at the Queer (Q) film festival in Denpasar. Though the book has been in circulation in English since 2005, the recently reprinted version is in Indonesian.

The professor meticulously studied the origins and history of gay communities in Indonesia, and details the lives of several individuals struggling against social prejudices.

“Many gay men in Indonesia marry a woman they do not love just to meet the pressing demands of society,” he said.

It is very difficult for many homosexual men to reveal their true sexual orientation in Indonesia, he said, because they know their choice may not be accepted by their conservative families, friends, workplaces and the community in general.

“Often they [homosexuals] marry women as proof to their parents and families that they are `normal’ and straight. But within a few years, they come to realize they cannot keep up the false marriages and end up geting a divorce,” he said.

“I came across a gay man living in Sumatra who was married and divorced on the same day,” he said. Sumatra is one of Indonesia’s most devoutly Islamic and conservative areas.

Boesllstorf said he did not believe marrying women simply for the sake of social acceptance and security was the right way for a gay man to counteract any feelings about possible discrimination.

“Women should not be misled in this way. One must be honest and brave enough to reveal who they really are, and not marry without genuine love. That is unacceptable and deceiving,” he said.

The professor said a large number of gay men often left smaller rural areas for larger cities, where the “gay community live within their own circles”.

The book was based on research and study of gay communities in a number of cities including Makassar, Jakarta, Denpasar, and Yogyakarta.

Dede Oetomo, founder of Gaya Nusantara, the first organization which openly provided a forum for gay men in Indonesia, said he agreed with the content of the book.

“We are facing a strong wall of tradition when trying to open up about our real identities,” said Oetomo, a lecturer.

For gay communities in Aceh, Indonesia’s western-most province which strongly enforces Islamic syariah law, homosexual encounters can result in extreme punishments, he said.

“The punishment is very extreme [100 lashes with the rattan cane] and fines are around 2 kilograms in gold. Most people still link homosexuality with dangerous diseases, and believe it can be cured with a `normal’ marriage,” he said.

Sardjono Sigit, a gay activist, said he knew he was gay from a young age and at first tried to deny the truth. On his 30th birthday he told his siblings he was gay, but not his parents.

“I do not think they are ready yet,” Sigit said.

Despite being comfortable personally with his homosexuality, Sigit said he was still not entirely happy living in a heterosexual society that demands certain customs.

“There is still always questions about when I am going to get married, and they make me quite nervous,” said Sigit, who left his job at a construction company to join the gay organization.

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1 Response to “New book sheds light on gay groups in Indonesia”


  1. 1 indonesia 31 August 2009 at 12:00 pm

    hi,I pram of indonesian,this whereof y… about joy what about person which again merrymaking.


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