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.

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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.

His Love Is My Drug: Finding Love After HIV Diagnosis (Part 1)

Kids, I’m going to tell you an incredible story. The story of how I met my husbro. This gonna take a while so you might want to get comfortable. Make a good cup of tea. Grab the cookie jar.

Ready? Good.

You see, before I met my husbro, I had a different life. That is, a life before I was HIV-positive or, to be precise, before I found out about my HIV status.

Yes. I was single when I took ‘the test.’ It was, like, three or four years ago. I still remember how my doctor told me—after reading my test results—that I should “discuss the big news” with my “partner.”

“Just bring your partner here,” he said with eyes full of concern.

I guess he could see the sadness in my face. Well, how could he not? The life as I knew it was over. However, that was not the only reason I felt so sad.

“We can get him tested, too,” he went on. “Regardless of the results, you both can get through this.”

I finally shook my head.

“No, Doc, there is no need for that. There is no ‘partner’ or ‘boyfriend’ to begin with,” I said, bitterly.

Prior to that, I spent years and years looking for ‘the one’ but I did not succeed. I looked everywhere. Clubs. Social circles. Friends. Grindr. Jack’d. You name it. More than often I got rejected because of I’m more on the heavy side (read: overweight).

I was convinced that I was the problem.

I did, of course, occasionally meet someone who I ‘clicked’ for a while but somehow it was always between my (former) career and the guy. Obviously, at that time, I chose the former.

I told my friend about the situation and she said, “well, look at the brightside. Wehave a career. We don’t have time for boyfriends. Where would we put them in our busy schedule?”

Aye. So that’s what I did. I tried to look confident. At least you have a career, Mahel, I told myself. I convinced myself that the job was the only relationship worth fighting for at the time.

You know, the old mantra: be single and happy.

Now, kids, don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with being single. But, avoiding relationships when you actually want one is unhealthy.

In reminiscence, I guess, that was my mistake: I chose ‘career’ over ‘love’ not because I “wanted” a career, but more because I didn’t feel “worthy” to love and be loved back.

In order to fulfill my needs, I lived my life on one-night stands. Yes. Quick ‘love’. That was the only definition of “love” I knew at the time.

I was both insecure and reckless. So if a guy that I found attractive want me and he didn’t want to use condoms, I caved in.

It happened so many times I lost count … until there I was, in that clinic, thinking that my life was over. Thinking that I would never find a boyfriend, let alone partner.

I really thought I could do it alone. I didn’t tell my friends right away about what I was going through at the time (another stupid mistake). I tried to keep it together but failed miserably. I was a mess. I felt that I did not have a support system to carry me through (yes, another stupid mistake).

So I started to slack off at work, and, eventually, did a fatal mistake that ended up getting me fired. No job. No boyfriend. Nothing. All I have was me and the virus. I really, really thought my life would be over.

You see, kids, the funny thing about life was, when you thought it punched you in the face, it actually did you a favor even though it did not feel like it at first.

I lied to you. This is not the story of how I found my love. This is the story of how love found me.

Part Two released tomorrow.

First published on Bali Peduli.

No Lifeguard On Duty – The Condom Checklist

The harsh truth of gay dating life is that there is no “lifeguard on duty.” Yes, “swim at your own risk” because no one will stop you, even when you get too close to “sharks.”

The only thing that you can rely on is that little voice inside your head. Remember Olivia Pope from Scandal? If you’re familiar with this character from the American political thriller TV series, you’d remember how her gut would tell her everything she needs to know. Her gut is never wrong.

I’d say the same thing to you: Listen to what your gut is telling you. Trust your gut.

However, let’s face it: sometimes you may “swim too close” to “sharks” no matter what. I am the last person to judge you. The heart wants what it wants, right? (Indeed, even Pope once let her heart messed up her judgment.)

These “sharks” could be anyone: that hottie you met at the sauna, the hunky personal trainer on Grindr, or that cute nerdy-looking guy reading Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray on a train. Your heart beats faster. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, you both ended in his bed. Naked.

And, even though you want to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infection (STI) by using condoms, these “sharks” would give you excuses not to.

Sometimes “sharks” could also take the form of a guy you’ve been dating for a couple of months and, one night, he asked you whether you guys could go “bareback” or, in other words, “Honey, I don’t want to wear a condom. Just this once.”

What would you do?

Like I said, there is no “lifeguard on duty” here. You have to protect yourself from these “sharks.” Be the one that rescues you.
Wearing a condom is more than just a way to protect yourself from HIV and other STIs. In fact, it’s all about self-respect. Using condoms means you have enough respect for yourself (and for other people, for that matter) by protecting yourself from any harm. In addition, you don’t need someone who doesn’t respect what is really important to you.

Below are several typical scenarios that you might find yourself in and what it should look like. Hopefully, this will help your “inner voice” to constantly remind you to protect yourself.

First scenario: Sometimes all it takes is just one time.

So you met this hot guy at the gym. He gave you obvious signals that showed how much he was into you and, obviously, the feeling was mutual. The next thing you knew, you were kissing passionately in one of the toilets.

He asked you to bend over…. but you realized that you didn’t have any condom with you (well, obviously, the condoms were in your wallet and who brings his wallet to a sauna?). Yet the dude wanted to continue. He assured you that he was clean.

Here’s why this one is hard:
“But he was hot!” Yeah, I understand. But that does not mean you have to lower yourself just to get this guy in your list of hook-ups. Trust me. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Besides, if he could do this with you imagine to how many men he did the same thing before? It’s not worth it. I don’t care if he looks like Chico Jericho or Nicholas Saputra. It’s. Not. Worth. It.

What it should look like:
“I’m sorry. I’m just not comfortable with this. If you can wait, I have some condoms in my wallet. Let me grab them and we can continue. Or maybe we can go to my place or your place?” You said after stopping him.

If he really wants you, he would simply agree and hold off. If he doesn’t? Screw him. (Side note: next time, always have some condoms with you the next time you go to a sauna!)

Second scenario: The “classic” I-don’t-have-a-condom-with-me excuse

You were at his place. The kissing was hot! The foreplay was hot! And then you guys were ready for the “main course.” You noticed he didn’t wear a condom so you stopped him and asked him to use one. He told you that he didn’t have any condom with him.

“I forgot to buy one today,” he said.

Here’s why this one is hard:
“It was so close! I’m afraid that if I interrupt him like this he’d lose his mood and the passion goes away!” Well, honey, I understand. But I think it is better to pause it for one minute just to grab your jacket/bag/wallet and take out one condom. It would be worth it. And what is with this crap about “the passion will fade”? You are hot stuff! I’m sure you can light up the fire once again. If he really wants you (and, more importantly, respects you!), he’d wait.

What it should look like:
You have to bring condoms with you all the time. Always assume that the other guy do not have a condom with him. Remember: this is your life. So make good choices and go to the nearest drugstore before the hookup and buy some condoms. People are looking at you? Screw them. They won’t pay your bills if you get STIs or, worse, HIV, and need to take medications.

Third scenario: I don’t like wearing condoms!

You were so into each other, but when the time came for him to use protection he refused. He said that he did not like to wear a condom because it made him lose his passions. He told you that he was an adrenaline junkie and the sensation of going bareback is just priceless.

“Besides, it’s only this one time,” he said with a wink.

Here’s why this one is hard:
“It’s only this one time! I’m not going to get it just by going bareback once!” Honey, all it takes is one time. Seriously. I know a guy who got HIV just one month after he started to live a gay lifestyle. No one is safe in this “gay ocean.” Adrenaline junkie? Sensation? Honey, this is not porn. This is real life. Yes, it was probably his “one time” with you, but with others? Who knows?

What it should look like:
Go on now. Walk out that door. Just turn around now. Tell him: you’re not welcome anymore. He deliberately wanted to hurt you by not using protections. You never really know someone’s HIV status after all, so using condoms is the only way to make sure your safety. And he got the nerve to tell you to just “risk it”? You don’t need this loser.

Fourth scenario: I can’t “function” with condoms.

You already explained to him that using condoms is important to you. He told you he understood how much this mean for you. However, he admitted he could not “function” with condoms.

“I just can’t get it hard!” he whined.

Here’s why this one is hard: “But if it’s not hard how can we make love?”

What it should look like:
Oh, honey, do I have to remind you again how hot you are? Trust me, you can get him “hard.” Keni Styles, a British pornographic actor of Thai origin, once said, “You don’t make love to someone with your dick. You make love to someone with your whole body, your attitude, and your presence.” Sex is more than just a collaboration of two genitals. Be confident. Remember: self-confidence is sexy no matter how you look at it. (Uh, your partner might need a boost of confidence, too).

Fifth scenario: But good condoms are expensive!

I can’t even…. Look, good condoms are expensive but compare them with how much money you have to spend if you get STIs or HIV? Trust me. Condoms are cheap.

Conclusion:
In a previous article on Magdalene, I wrote that you can read all the information about condoms and other means to protect yourself from becoming HIV positive but, at the end of the day, it’s your heart and mind that make the difference.

This article is a “gentle reminder” on how you can use condoms to protect yourself. In the end, as I said, you would find no “lifeguard on duty” out there. So, please, respect yourself and make good choices.

Love your life.

*This article was first published on BaliPeduli.org, a website focusing on HIV prevention on youth.

**Also published on Magdalene
Love your life.

Confessions of a (Former) Heterophobe

Wait, so heterophobia is real?

Anyway, back when I was a journalist, I didn’t have a lot of gay (and lesbian) pals other than those I already befriended since college. I was never actually “in the closet”, so you could imagine how I had to try so hard to blend with my straight colleagues.

Some of these acquaintances became good friends (some girlfriends became my fag hags but, wait, do we still use that term? I prefer “fruit fly”, to be honest. It’s more empowering than “fag hag”), while others became what people call “frenemies.”

The guys made gay jokes about me (one of them involving teasing me, saying that I was actually into one of my sources) and, even though some of these jokes were really hurtful, I tried to just smile, and laugh, and play along.

At one point, though, I became so sick of them that when my friend asked me whether I wanted to hang out with her and some of the guys one Saturday night I told her that I just did not feel like it.

“Why?” she asked.

“I just don’t feel like hanging out with straight people at this point,” I replied jokingly. “I think I want to hang out with my gay friends tonight.”

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She laughed. However, the truth is, I was not 100 percent joking. I was so tired of trying to fit in with my straight friends.

I was so tired of hearing what I call “straight guy jokes” and how they often made comments about women in a slightly patronizing manner. I was so sick with their choice of music and movies (like, one of them said how they hated “musicals”, prompting me to snap back, “well, maybe musicals don’t like you, either.”)

I was also exhausted by some ignorant comments my straight friends usually made such as “Can you go shopping with me?” or “So are you ‘the man’ or ‘the woman’ in your relationship?” or “So how did you do it (and by “it” they mean “sex”)?”

Seriously, I felt just like a dissected frog in a biology class.

Once I read an article by an Indonesian gay blogger about “Heterophobia (Heterophobe)”, and I asked myself: am I becoming a heterophobe? (Sidenote: according to UrbanDictionary, “heterophobe” is “someone one who has an irrational fear or hatred of those that lead the heterosexual lifestyle.”)

I mean, if our straight friends can be homophobes (or as writer Rizal Iwan put it, “closeted homophobes”), why can’t we be heterophobes (or closeted heterophobes)? Wouldn’t that make us about square?

I asked Rizal about this after reading his article and he was like, “nah, any kind of ‘phobe’ is never a good thing.”

Guess he was right.

I still have a few good (straight) friends within the media industry, even though it’s been years since I left that business, and I feel blessed to have them in my life. As for those “friends” who likes to make mean gay jokes, I don’t hang out with them anymore but I’m 100 percent okay with it.

I am at that one point when I don’t feel like I need to beg people for friendship anymore.

But don’t get me wrong: I respect them. I mean, kudos for them to actually try to “accept” someone like me, but sometimes I think it’s healthy to let them know that we also have the right to feel objected when they (intentionally or not) demean us.

Yes, what other people think of us is none of our business, but when they actually tell that to your face I think you have the right to retaliate (just make sure you have a good sense of witticism.)

Acceptance is something that people like us always want, but lowering ourselves just to feel accepted is not a good thing either. Life is too short to spend it with anyone who makes you feel unhappy.

First published on The Magdalene

Reza Artamevia: The Return of Indonesia’s Queen of R&B

First published on The Magdalene

Illustration by Magdalene

(Image courtesy of The Magdalene)

If Britney Spears made it through 2007 and Mariah Carey rose from the cardinal flop that is “Glitter”, any pop star could survive any self-inflicted ignominy. The same thing applies to our very own Reza Artamevia, Indonesia’s Queen of Pop/R&B, who recently made a “comeback” at the 2015 Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta.

Celebrated for her sultry yet powerful voice, Reza came to prominence in 1997 with single “Pertama” (First) followed by her debut album Keajaiban (Miracle) and other hits such as “Aku Wanita” (I’m a Woman) and “Satu Yang Tak Bisa Lepas” (The One I Can’t Let Go).

Sadly, the songstress suffered physical and emotional breakdown after her much-publicized failed marriage with the late celebrity-turned-legislator Adjie Massaid in 2004, and the once sexy and energetic chanteuse withdrew from public shortly afterwards.

What makes me furious is that we live in a society where female singers  and artistes would be judged by her looks or behavior first and talent second. Screw her talent, as long as she has a good manner, not scandalous, doesn’t wear indecent clothes, and not overweight.

For example, at least two friends of mine told me in different occasions that Christina Aguilera should’ve lost some weight so that “the Genie could fit into her bottle” and I was like, “Girl, Aguilera has 4-octave vocal range and all you care about is her weight? Puh-lease!”

In Indonesia, Reza fell victim to this bias. While other “divas” such as Krisdayanti, Ruth Sahanaya, and Titi DJ continued to enjoy success (forming the trio “3 Divas”), Reza, who is just as talented if not more, was haunted by her past instead.

In order to protect her public image after her scandalous marriage, Reza “became more religious” and decided to wear headscarf for three years (she removed it later, but she continued to dress “modestly” and “decently”). Oh, and let’s not forget to mention her music projects with that spiritual teacher of hers, Gatot Brajamusti (by any chance, do you know any of her hits with this guy? I don’t).

She even changed her name once into “Rezza Artamevira” to reinvent herself.

Unfortunately, Reza seemed to forget to preserve her best asset: her voice. I remember once watching her performance at a local TV station and I was terribly disappointed by her vocals. It was raspy and weak, and she sounded tired.

But that was years ago.

This year, when I first found out that she was one of the performers at the Java Jazz Festival, I was so excited. I had a feeling that Reza had finally found her voice back and was prepared to come back with a bang. I mean, this is one of the biggest jazz festivals in Asia so, naturally, she wouldn’t screw up this opportunity.

Boy am I glad I was right.

Donning a green-and-yellow dress, Reza opened her jam-packed show with her first single “Pertama” and I almost cried with joy: she’s back! She hit all the notes, the highs, the lows and those in between. Her signature voice (deep, husky, sultry, sexy, and elegant) that made her famous was there it’s like it was never gone.

Other songs followed such as “Aku Wanita”, “Satu Yang Tak Bisa Lepas”, “Aku Takut Jatuh Cinta Lagi” (I’m Afraid to Fall in Love Again), “Ketulusan” (Heartfelt), “Dia” (Tell Him) and “Biar Menjadi Kenangan” (Let it Be Memories), which was her duet with Japanese singer Masaki Ueda. For the festival, however she invited former Indonesian Idol contestant, Marteza Sumendra for a duet.

“I want to thank all of you who have spent time, money, and energy to come to this show. Thank you Java Jazz Festival for involving me in this event!” she said to the cheering crowd. “Honestly, I was nervous before the show but thanks to your love and kindness, I feel warm at heart.”

Then, she sang her signature hit “Berharap Tak Berpisah” (Please, Don’t Let Me Go), which was to be her last song for the night, as she invited her backing vocalists and band members to take a bow together after the song ended. Clearly, the crowd didn’t want her to go just yet and screamed for an encore. In response, the songstress decided to close her show with her hit “Keabadian” (Eternity).

All in all, I’m glad to see that our “lost” diva is now found and that she’s doing well. She did what she does best: singing.

Reza, please don’t disappear on us again.