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.

 

 

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)

 

1520928854956-tinder

(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.

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