‘Coming Out’: It’s not easy being green …or being gay
Julia Suryakusuma ; The author of “Sex, Power and Nation”
Do you remember Kermit the Frog from The Muppet Show and his signature song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”?
He laments his coloration: He thinks green is boring because it “blends in with so many ordinary things”. He wishes he could have been red, yellow or gold, “or something much more colorful like that”.
Members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community probably envy Kermit’s “predicament”, as they are all too often labeled abnormal, unnatural, immoral, different, deviant, dangerous — even a scourge to society.
At least Kermit should be happy that he’s never had a religious fatwa (Islamic edict) issued against him proposing the death penalty for being green, amphibian or having webbed feet, i.e. being a frog. Imagine!
Absurd, isn’t it? To criminalize and punish someone for being what and who they are? But this is precisely what the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has done.
On Dec. 31, 2014, they issued a fatwa (No. 57/2014 on lesbians, gays, sodomy and immoral behavior) that stigmatizes same-sex behavior. They recommend punishment up to the death penalty and have urged the government not to allow lesbians, gays and bisexuals to organize.
Announcing the edict publicly on March 3, Hasanuddin AF, head of MUI’s fatwa commission, said it was issued because sexual deviance was on the rise. It had infiltrated schools and would hurt “national morale”. He called on the government to set up rehabilitation centers to “cure” LGBT people and eradicate homosexuality.
Sigh. Another case of MUI moral panic. Don’t they have anything better to do? How about cracking down on sexual deviance in their midst, e.g. the kiai and ustad (religious teachers) who sexually molest and/or sodomize their students? Homosexuality is virtually institutionalized in pesantren (religious boarding schools) anyhow — isn’t MUI being a tad hypocritical?
I reckon the government would do better to set up a rehabilitation center to cure people like Hasa-nuddin of their (religious) bigotry and dangerous ignorance.
Hasn’t the MUI heard that the World Health Organization, the Health Ministry and all major mental health organizations worldwide no longer consider homosexuality a mental disorder? It’s simply a variation in sexual orientation. As Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956), the famous American sexologist said: “The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.”
LGBT and human rights activists, not just in Indonesia, but also internationally, were quick to condemn MUI’s fatwa. Rightly so. You’d expect that wouldn’t you?
Interestingly, 13 days after the MUI issued the fatwa, on March 16, a book called Coming Out addressing the issue of being gay in Indonesia, was published by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (KPG).
The author, Hendri Yulius, a 26-year-old scholar, researcher, writer, author and LGBT activist, is a very impressive young man who is as intelligent, well-read, and dedicated as he is talented. A prolific writer, he’s published more than 10 books on a range of topics and many articles in various journals. Ten books at age 26? Now that makes me jealous!
I first met Hendri when he came to interview me about two years ago for an academic assignment. He was then 24, still a student at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
It didn’t take me long to be impressed by Hendri’s intelligence, knowledge and pleasant, engaging personality. At NUS, he took four other minor topics on films and sexuality. He told me he’s been interested in gender and sexuality since he was a teenager and is basically self-taught.
Before Coming Out, in 2013 he had published Lilith’s Bible, his collection of feminist horror short stories. Feminist horror? Yes, you read right.
So given his background, it’s not surprising that Coming Out is an expression of so many things about the author. It’s about his personal journey, his scholarly bent (sic !), his research capability, his literary inclinations, and of course, his passion for the truth and justice.
The book is a very informative and fascinating read. It contains, among others, the history and traditional practice of homosexuality in Indonesia; analysis of the biological basis of homosexuality; discussions of bio-politics and the nation-state and highlights academic debates on homosexuality.
It addresses issues around homosexuality and the military; marriage (both heterosexual and same-sex); homosexuality in Indonesian literature, films and pop culture; and of course, the vexed connection between homosexuality with faith and religion.
Most importantly, Coming Out debunks and deconstructs myths and misconceptions about homosexuality and sexuality in general.
As Hendri points out in his book, historically and universally, homosexuality has been condemned, maligned and misunderstood.
This is strange, given that about 10 percent of people in any given society are gay.
Why is love between two men considered taboo, he asks, but blood, gore and killing are considered entertaining, sellable commodities? Go figure.
Given the ignorance not just of the MUI, but also the general public on LGBT issues, Coming Out should be required reading for everyone, especially MUI members.
What happens if we juxtapose the MUI’s fatwa with Hendri’s book? We see the personification of Indonesia’s past and future. The MUI and their fatwa trigger-happy ways belong to the past; Hendri’s knowledge-packed book, with a big dose of heart and compassion, belongs to Indonesia’s future.
Hendri’s triple-minority status (gay, Christian and ethnic-Chinese) represents Indonesia’s democratic pluralism, while MUI’s restrictive, judgmental, condemning, outdated, ignorant, moralistic way belong to Indonesia’s authoritarian past.
Who would you choose? Hendri or the MUI? It’s a no-brainer, right?
But let’s not forget our friend Kermit. If he wants to be more colorful, then he should join the LGBT Rainbow Coalition, which is not just a celebration of LGBT, but of pluralism, diversity and the human spirit.
But guess what? Indonesia already has its Rainbow Coalition: it’s called Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), our national motto. Hurray! ●