Dad

I had a feeling that my dear father would leave this world earlier than my mother even before I got that horrible text messages on Oct 12, 2017.

When I left Indonesia in 2014, there was a voice inside my head that basically told me to prepare for the worst. In addition, my mother told me years ago that she would pray for God to take my father first.

“Why?” I asked her.

“Your grandmothers prayed to God to take your grandfathers first. When us children asked them why they said that they didn’t want to die first and leave your grandfathers alone with no one to take care of them.”

“But that’s silly!” I retorted. “Wouldn’t her children–including you–would take care of grandpas should they die first?”

“That’s what we told them, sweetie. However, your grandmothers insisted that us children should worry about our husbands and wives. Not your grandfathers.”

Indeed, my grandfathers died before my grandmothers. They got what they wished for. Apparently, my mother’s prayer was also answered.

I’m living in Shanghai, the People’s Republic of China where they a lot of apps such as Gmail and Facebook are blocked. In October 2017, the government blocked even more apps due to an important meeting that took place in Beijing (at least that’s what I heard).

One of the apps that were blocked by the Chinese government at the time was Whatsapp, which was how I contacted my parents.

Three days before my dad’s passing, I celebrated my 30th birthday. I was very excited about being 30. Hell, I was lucky to be this old considering how suicidal I am on top of being HIV positive.

I did exchange text messages with my father but, looking back, I should’ve called him. Don’t get me wrong, we did talk a lot. In fact, weeks (or was it months?) before his passing, I was actually in Indonesia and spent time with my parents.

I know that some of you would probably judge me because I didn’t talk a lot to my parents but do understand that our relationships were (are!) different.

After I came out to my parents, my mother insisted that I have a disease and there is a cure for me. She basically at one point blamed me for not ‘trying hard enough’ not to be gay. Until now, she still insisted that one day I would ‘return’ to the straight path, marry a woman, have kids, etc.

My father? Well, he actually responded better. He wasn’t angry even though I could tell that he was disappointed. He did tell me that, no matter what, I would always be his son. However, he also said that if I wanted to make him happy, I should stop being gay.

“But what’s the point of making you happy if that will make me unhappy?” I told him.

Anyway, it became clear that I’d never been able to be 100 percent open to my parents. Deep down, I think they knew that I’m living in Shanghai with my husbro but they’re just in denial.

As a result, there is nothing much I can talk about with my parents.
It is what it is.

Still, I’d never trade anything in my life to be my dad’s son (and also my mother’s son … she’s still an awesome mother).

My father was an oncologist who always put his patients first even though that could mean he didn’t make that much money (so for the rest of you who think that all doctors are leeches, you never met my father).

My father was a funny man who was beloved by his family and friends.

Once, when he was still in college in his hometown, he took his junior who was from another island under his wing and made sure he had friends. His junior (now a successful pediatrician) never forget my father’s kindness.

My father, more than once, gave away free surgeries for people who couldn’t afford it.

My father would always ready to share his knowledge with other people. He wrote books.

He was an awesome man.

In the end, I’ll always love my father.

Goodbye, Dad.

 

 

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What It’s Like to Date When You’re HIV Positive

It’s not as bad as I thought (I mean, hello? This is Indonesia)

 

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(Illustration by Dini Lestari)

The time I told a guy on Tinder that I was HIV positive he didn’t believe me.

“That’s not funny at all,” he wrote. “You don’t joke about HIV.”

I was kind of expecting this kind of reaction. It can be difficult enough these days to be a gay man living in Indonesia. It’s even harder when you’re HIV positive—or “Poz” as most people call it. I explained to Mario* that I wasn’t joking. I actually am Poz, and I am open about my status. Mario told me that I was the first Poz person he ever met, and then said the whole thing made him feel confused… should he feel sorry for me?

“Most people in our society are still afraid of Poz people and, deep down in my heart, I feel the same,” he said. I didn’t blame him.

Mario’s response was much better than one man who, after saying he’s OK with my status, told me it’s weird that I was still “playing around” on dating apps. “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everyone else does,” I told him, quoting Morrissey. Another man insisted that I should read the Quran more, pray five times a day and listen to more dakwah. Then he told me that he wouldn’t date me because we’re both men. Then why did he set his Tinder preference to include men?

After being on Tinder and Grindr in Jakarta and Bandung for three days straight, I didn’t see any profile that disclosed a person’s HIV status, which was worrying. Let’s be honest, it’s quite far-fetched to assume that all gay men on dating apps were HIV negative. Indonesia, China, and India contributed to around three-quarters of the total number of people living with HIV in Asia-Pacific in 2016, according to Avert, a UK-based organization that advocates for HIV education. And one of the most affected populations were men who had sex with men.

Nico*, a friend of mine who tested positive in 2014, said he never revealed his status on dating apps. He told me that his viral load was “undetectable,” meaning the level of virus in his body was so low that blood tests couldn’t detect it. In other words, Nico had no risk of passing on HIV to other people. Still, he refused to tell people other than very close friends.

“The gay community in Jakarta is very small,” he said. “I bet all the gay guys in this town will know about my HIV status if I write about it on my Grindr profile.”

Nico wasn’t worried about getting rejections on dating apps. He’s more concerned that people might refuse to be near him, drink from the same glass as him, or have a conversation with him. He even decided to not tell his sex partners about this, before or after hooking up.

“I feel sorry for them, but since I’m ‘undetectable’ I don’t feel that sorry,” he said.

The stigma, the fear of discrimination, and even fear of losing their jobs were some reasons why people living with HIV (PLHIV) refused to open up about their status, according to Jonta Saragih, an HIV/AIDS activist who studied Global Development and Gender at the University of Leeds.

“In the ideal world, the HIV status of a person should be confidential,” Jonta told me. “It’s up to that person whether he or she wants to open up about their status or not. However, if there is a risk of transmission, I think it is also fair for the person to disclose this to his or her sexual partners. Besides, only his or her sexual partners will know about this.”

Right now, Cambodia, Laos, and Singapore are the only countries in Southeast Asia with laws that can put a person in jail for not disclosing their HIV-positive status to a sexual partner. We don’t have anything like that yet in Indonesia, which I guess, is a good thing for now. With the way our lawmakers are mulling over the ban on gay sex and sex outside marriage, the criminalization of non-disclosure of HIV status may increase the stigmatization to the PLHIV in this country.

To my surprise, while I did encounter some “unpleasant” reactions on these dating apps, I also received some positive—no pun intended—responses. Most of them told me that we could just be friends, but some insisted to take me on a date.

Chandra* told me that he had a friend who was Poz. He was shocked at first, but he became more informed about the disease afterward and eventually realized it’s OK to have sex with Poz people, as long as it’s safe. “I think most people here are afraid because they don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Another guy, Ruli*, said that he didn’t worry at all about my HIV status. “Why not?” he said when I asked him if we could be more than friends.

A few men stopped talking to me but others, appreciating my honesty, continued our conversation. Some were curious about my medication, like whether or not I took my pills regularly. Others asked me if I was a top or a bottom, and one guy asked for a dick pic. It was business as usual.

“I think this is a sign that our community has become more aware of HIV issues, from infection, treatment, or campaign. We should appreciate this,” Jonta said.

 

*Names have been changed.

This article was first published on VICE Indonesia.

Click here for the Indonesian version.

 

‘The passion of Kartini: what I’ve learned from portraying the feminist icon’

Dian Sastrowardoyo

From the moment I was asked to portray Raden Ajeng Kartini, I fully realized that this would not be a walk in the park.

I have an obligation not only as an actor but also to other people who have their own expectations toward the film—including feminists.

I still have a lot to learn but I always consider myself a feminist. Therefore, in order to be able to portray someone who is arguably the first feminist icon of Indonesia, I’m determined to read all of the books about Kartini, her writings, as well as her unpublished work.

What I’ve learned during my research about Kartini has opened my eyes about her struggle. Her writings are still relevant to the current situation.

I’m aware that some people still have their doubts about whether Kartini deserve to be a role model—but for me she truly deserves it. Why? Because Kartini could write her own thoughts about the condition during her time. Her way to fight her cause was unique.

Kartini did not use a physical weapon during her struggle, but what she did during her lifetime (especially given her social condition) deserves to be admired.

Through her writings, Kartini recorded her own of history. She writes history and thus her struggle became well-documented. As a woman, Kartini is more sensitive to the issues that she encountered herself.

What Kartini did deserve kudos because her enemy was a tradition—something that does not have a physical form. She questioned things that she should not even bother to think about as she was born in the noble family.

Some people might question whether Kartini deserved the status as a national hero. Personally, I don’t really care about this status.

Kartini was the one who actually cared about the wood-carving artists of Jepara and she helped encouraging and promoting them so that the wood-carving industry in Jepara could enjoy their current reputation.

Kartini also played a role in the efforts to translate the Koran into Javanese so that more and more people could truly understand the religious text.

All of these might not be the same to the struggle of other heroines such as Tjut Nyak Dhien, Tjut Meutia, or Christina Martha Tiahahu, but that did not make what Kartini did was less admirable.

Kartini’s enemy is not a physical one. Her enemy is something that cannot be touch with bare hands, let alone weapons. Her enemy was a social construction. During her lifetime, probably there was no such things as ‘women’s rights’ but she thought about it during her writings.

She may not carry a weapon, but she has something that is also powerful: her mind.

It is a pity that to most of us, Kartini has indeed became a cliché due to the way we celebrate her struggle. We celebrate Kartini simply by wearing kebaya and other kinds of artificial celebrations. However, I’m optimistic that once people started to truly read her writings, they could see that Kartini is more than just a cliché.

One of her words to live by were, “we do not deserve to be stupid.

In the past, women pratically did not get the same rights to education. Now, women are free to pursue education yet still some of them—and also men, for that matter—simply think that education is only important to make money.

Kartini was among the first people of our nation who truly realized that education is important for humans to really become humans.

This is the passion of Kartini. For humans to be humans. Something that is still relevant to the current issues—including but definitely not limited to women’s rights.

Through the chance of portraying Kartini to the public, including to the younger generation, I hope that more and more people start to read her writings.

There are so many issues that we can observe through her point of view—not just women’s rights but also other problems including the rights of the marginalized groups.

As told to Amahl S. Azwar

Should I tell my sex partner that I’m HIV positive?

So I received a text message the other day from a guy who basically told me that I was a c*** for not telling him about my HIV status.

We hooked up like 1-2 years ago and, mind you, I already knew about my status at the time. In addition, I’ve been taking my medication since day 1. No holding back.

Guess what? The dude didn’t get it. He’s still HIV negative. Yet, he blamed me. He told me that had I told him about my HIV status, he wouldn’t want anything to do with me. He told me that I was a dickhead for not telling him and that I should tell every sex partner that I’m poz.

Easy for him to say.

My friends told me that I should just let it go. The dude was basically being a dick and he’s clearly not well-informed about it.

Easy for them to say.

The truth is, most of the time, I told my sex partners about HIV status but yeah there were points when I didn’t. I’m convinced that, as long as I played everything safe, all will be well. And sure enough, everybody is safe until now.

After all, it’s more dangerous for an HIV positive gay man who doesn’t know about his status and never takes his medication to infect others rather than those who know about their status and being responsible.

However, still, my heart is broken for this guy.

We cooled it off and remained friends–but things will never be the same.

I’ve tried everything, honestly. I once put my HIV status on Grindr and other dating apps and, guess what, none of the guys wanted to have anything to do with me. So I’ve decided to remove the HIV status and only told the person when we meet or, at least, already have a conversation.

Some of the guys were cool about it and since they are well-informed, nothing bad happened. There were guys who canceled the meeting or even blocked me after but hey for me it’s still better because at least I got the chance to talk to them first.

Sometimes I feel whether my decision to be this open about my status is the right decision.

What if I was a c*** for not telling people who probably didn’t read my blog? What if I accidentally gave the virus to someone else? Yes, I met some guys who are cool about my status and they ended up being my lovers but there were people who called me names.

It’s not really that big of a deal right now because I already have a partner but what about the time before? The time when I was too scared about disclosing my status that I decided to not tell them as long as I played safe. Yes, so far, nobody was infected because of me but what if I unknowingly infected someone?

I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand right now and I was introduced to this guy who knows about his status and refuses to receive any treatment. In addition, he also refuses to have any sexual relations with anyone, let alone romance. He basically told me that he is unworthy of being loved and he wants to protect others.

I feel sorry for him.

I hugged him and I told him to stay alive and there’s more to life than being positive but he figuratively pushed me away.

It’s heartbreaking, indeed. I’m telling you this because I know what it’s like to be in his shoes. I know what it feels like to be pushed away by potential friends and lovers just because of your status. However, I feel that everyone’s worthy of being loved. Even poz people.

My boyfriend is neg and we’ve been together for four years now. Seriously, as long as you’re being careful with your choices and always taking your medication, all will be well.

So, again, should you tell your sex partners about your HIV status?

Well, it’s a personal choice.

You can tell people right away and chances are some will push you right away. It happens.

You can put it on your Grindr (or other dating apps) and chances are some will push you right away. It happens.

You can tell them once you meet them and chances are some won’t want anything to do you with you. It happens.

You can refuse to tell them as long as you’re playing safe and chances are you’ll feel guilty later for not telling them even though you don’t infect them. It happens.

Personally, I always try to be honest about it. The one who gave me the virus didn’t give me a chance. I want to give people that chance.

However, looking back, perhaps the guy who gave it to me didn’t know about his status, either. He didn’t take medication (and how could he if he didn’t know about it?). That is also a possibility.

In the end, it’s a personal choice. You have the moral responsibility here. I shared you my story and I believe that you’ll know the right thing to do.

As for other guys, here’s the thing: unfortunately, you can’t expect all Poz guys to reveal their status to you … it’s not as easy as it sounds. So, always remember to protect yourself. And, more importantly, educate yourself.

 

 

Dear God, Are You There? A Gay Man’s Prayer

Dear God, it’s been awhile since I last prayed and it’s now Ramadan again. I’m sorry that I’ve been neglecting Your presence. Instead of being closer to you, I’ve been battling my personal demons, addictions and personal problems.

I forgot to pray, God. I was too stubborn to admit that, at the end of the day, I believe in You. I was wrong to forget that. But at least, I know it. I admit it.
Some of my friends stopped practicing their religion because the way some of Your “followers” treated them. I admit that I don’t practice my religion that much, but I will never forget how good You have been to me.

God, I know that I’ve been ignoring you for quite some time. I’m not even sure whether I deserve to pray because for some people I’m just a sinner. Granted, I am a sinner. But aren’t we all sinners? Aren’t we all children of God, still?

This time, I’m not going to pray for myself. For I know that You will take care of me no matter what. All I have to do is to pray to You, personally. This time, I want to pray for my people. My people who have been labelled as the “trash of society.”

Like that old Disney song, to be honest, sometimes I don’t know whether You can hear me or people like me. I don’t know whether You will listen to an outcast’s prayer. A gay men’s prayer, that is.

People like me, God, have always been an outcast. Maybe because the Koran and the Bible taught Your followers that we are sinners who must be shunned at all cost. Some people even think that we deserve to be caned, whipped, in some extreme cases, stoned to death.

God, what’s been happening in my country lately is very disheartening and I think You already know it. They caned two men who decided to have sex with each other in their private lives. I understand, God, that this is the Sharia law but the way people jeered and laughed at these men’s suffering (they even let their children watched this cruelty) hurts me. Isn’t it bad enough for them to be caned? Now they have to be humiliated too?

Maybe my understanding of Islam is not as deep as other people, but I know that this is a cruelty that no one (gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, or straight) should have to experience.

They arrested at least 140 guys in Jakarta who had consensual sex with each other and circulated their pictures to the public.

Why do they hate us so much? Do we deserve to be treated like second-class citizens?

Sometimes it feels like whenever something terrible happens in my country and bad people start to show their true colors, they will shift the people’s focus on LGBT people and the ‘bad’ things that we do. Even writing this prayer, for me, is a bit risky because obviously some of Your ‘followers’ will read it and they will say that I don’t deserve to pray.

I know that at least one person will say that I should’ve prayed for You to turn me into a “straight” man and completely miss the point that this prayer is not about me.

God, in the past, you’ve sided with outcasts a lot. Is there any way that You will side with us, too?

I refuse to believe that this is how You want us to be treated, God. I refuse to believe that Your prophets taught their followers to treat people this way. I believe that we are all children of God. I believe that we deserve to be treated just like any other people, in fairness, but, most importantly, with love.

This article was first published on Magdalene.

There’s Life after HIV/AIDS

Remember that family member of mine who was diagnosed with HIV years before me?

The last thing I heard from my dear mother was that he was currently lying unconscious in the hospital.

I found out too late.

Apparently he hasn’t been taking anti-retroviral drugs for years. The worse part was that I realized he wasn’t even open about his HIV status to his wife.

The truth is I’m not really close to this family member. Even though I’m open about my HIV status, my parents insisted that I should just keep this news between the three of us. This means, I couldn’t reach out to my relatives.

When I first wrote my story to Magdalene my intention was to have my story inspire other people to get tested as soon as possible so they could get treatment. Therefore, this latest news from my relative devastated me.

Currently in another situation, a dear friend of mine told me that her sister is also in the hospital because of AIDS complications. Her situation has gotten worse and worse because her sister, due to the stigma, decided to keep her medical situation a secret. This makes it even more difficult for the doctors to help her.

I can’t believe that it has been one year since I wrote my HIV coming out story in Magdalene. Although I think that I’m now healthier than ever, I realize that this is not enough. As I write this one-year anniversary story more people probably have needlessly died due to AIDS. The World AIDS Day falls on December 1st and I wish that by sharing my story again more people will realize that being HIV positive is not, I repeat, NOT a death sentence.

Here are several points that you should know about my experience so far with HIV:

Firstly, ever since I tested positive and started to take the medicine, I have never been hospitalized, not even once.

Secondly, of course there is still a stigma, however, let me assure you that being HIV positive (or to be precise, acknowledging that I am HIV positive) has led me to a number of amazing people, straight, gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, POZ and non-POZ, who simply take me as I am. And at the end of the day, these are the people who really matter in my life.

Thirdly, HIV will not kill you. But ignorance and denial will. There are people who live with HIV and yet they still manage to marry, have children and, furthermore, their children do not have to inherit the disease. This is very possible as long as you get treatment as quickly as you can. But you can’t expect to be treated if you choose to be in denial and refuse to get tested.

Fourthly, anti-retro-vial drugs are free; our government subsidizes it! You can’t imagine how lucky we are. I have a friend who has to spend more than thirty percent of his income to buy the drugs because his country doesn’t have the same system we do in Indonesia. Please be grateful for our health care system and get tested. And if you do get HIV, make sure that you value your life enough to start taking the medication.

Honestly, a part of me was a little concerned about continuing to write about my POZ experience.

Perhaps I just don’t want people to think that I’m overly dramatizing my life. However, the news about my family member and my friend’s sister made me realize that I have to keep telling my story. We all have to keep telling our stories. No more lies. No more self-hate. No more denial. It is time for POZ people to rediscover themselves and to reaffirm that they are worthy of living too.

Our lives should be cherished and celebrated. Everyone deserves this chance. Including POZ people.

First published on Magdalene. 

His Love Is My Drug: Finding Love After HIV Diagnosis (Part 2)

Kids, before I was left without a job, a dear friend of mine told me about a gay gathering off Phuket, Thailand in the beginning of the year 2014.

Of course, when I first decided to join (before my previous life was over), I did want to find sex and love at the event. However, after the HIV diagnosis, I did not think it was a good idea (plus, I needed to save what little money I had left).

I told my friend this and he convinced me to join anyway. He told me that when he joined the gathering the previous year, he met some HIV-positive gay men.

“You’d be surprised to see many HIV-positive gay men at the event. They’re not young anymore but boy they are healthy … and good-looking,” he added with a smile.

When I told him about my financial difficulties, he said I could ask for a funding. It looks like the Universe really wanted me to join the gathering and who am I to refuse?

So I went to the gathering … not to find love, but to be inspired. Meeting those HIV-positive gay men (some of them diagnosed in the first breakout in the US back in 1980s) would surely give me a boost of confidence. And it did.

What I didn’t expect was: when I decided to stop finding love, it was love who find me.

So there I was, at the ferry boat, cruising from Phuket to Koh Yao Yai Island, smiling to myself as I soaked up the sun when, this guy, with a smile that (until now) make me feel like a little child. We hit it off right away.

Kids, it was like teenage dream. That night, we walked on the beach, under the moonlight, and kissed for the first time.

When he wanted to take things to next level, I opened up to him.

“Guy, before we go further, I need to tell you something,” I told him. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m positive.”

I thought he was going to back off. I thought he was going to stop. Instead, he just said, “thank you for telling me. That was very mature of you.”

You see, kids, my boyfriend was negative. But he was well-educated about the virus. He does not care about the virus. He cares about me.

After spending so many times thinking I would never have a boyfriend, let alone marry, partially because I am HIV-positive, I finally found a loving and caring partner.

I often get questions like …

“Does your boyfriend know that you’re HIV-positive?”

“Is your boyfriend HIV positive?”

“So how do you guys … you know ….”

Well, as I said in the article, he know about my HIV status because I told him from the start. No, he’s not HIV positive. As for how we do “it”, we do “it” just like everybody else. Yes, we have to be more careful but that doesn’t mean it’s not as enjoyable.

Why? Because unlike my previous life when I fucked every single of those guys, with him, I do not fuck: I make love (okay, how cheesy that might sound).

Kids, when two people really want to be with each other, they will always find a way to make it work. He lives abroad so that’s another challenge. He’s American so that’s also another challenge. But we always find a way to make it work.

We have lived together for almost two years now and, guess what, last week, we proposed to each other.

Kids, I’m not saying that I would live happily ever with him nor did I say my life is easier now. However, I can say that both Robert (my fiancé) and I are rich in love, and that’s what matters. The ARV therapy does keeps the virus at bay, but his love, for me, is the ultimate drug.

First published on Bali Peduli.