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Our friend Joko tells us about gay life in Indonesia

Our friend Joko tells us about gay life in Indonesia

“OMG careful you don’t get caned for being gay over there you two!”

We did of course point out to our concerned friends and family back home that Sharia Law is only in place in one small part of Indonesia in the Northern Aceh province.

If the rainbow flag gets out of control in Aceh, you risk being convicted by the Sharia police to 10-150 lashes in public for being gay.

And yes, this now applies to foreigners too!

Public caning Sharia anti gay laws in Aceh province Indonesia

Public caning in the autonomous state of Aceh which believes its extreme homophobic Sharia Laws will eliminate homosexuality!

But we don’t go around waving rainbow flags.

Nor do we have any interest in getting publicly canned in Aceh (our caning adventures at the Komodo National Park were more then enough)…

Muslim Sharia Law lashing for being gay in Aceh state Indonesia

“BAD GAY BOY STEFAN! THAT’S 100 LASHES!” Sebastien demonstrating some of the subtleties of Sharia Law

The good news, Indonesia is in fact a secular country. In addition, homosexuality was made legal in 1993: compare that to neighbouring Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore where you can (theoretically) go to jail for being gay. In fact, a law to criminalise it failed to be enacted in 2003 by the Indonesian parliament.

And, as the world’s 4th most populous country with over 250 million, statistically, Indonesia has one of the largest LGBT communities on the planet.

Gay Indonesia local Muslim interview

Statistically, how many of these Indonesian boys are family?

The good news ends there.

As with most countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has no laws to support the rights of its LGBT community and society remains largely conservative.

To make matters worse, the Law Against Pornography and Pornocation was passed in 2006, banning anything that publicly depicts sexual relations between persons of the same sex.

Yikes! No handing out the Nomadic Boys business cards too frequently in these parts then…!

Nomadic Boys risks of being gay in Indonesia

Sebastien pondering whether to publicise our Nomadic Boys card whilst travelling in Indonesia

Interestingly, Bali island is not only the gay oasis of this very conservative country, but also a popular gay destination in the world.

During our travels in Bali, we met local boy Joko who agreed to tell us about his life growing up as gay in Indonesia. Joko’s only condition is he is kept anonymous, much like our article with Kaluu about gay Sri Lanka.

Gay life in Indonesia Rihanna drag Bali Joe

Rihanna was one of the many fun loving characters we met in gay oasis Bali

#1 Apa kabar Joko! Introduce yourself:

Hi boys, my name is Joko, 33 years old and I was born and raised on Java Island. For the last 3 years, I have been living and working in Bali. I am also gay and a proud Muslim.

#2 Are you out to your friends, family and work colleagues?

Not really. My family do not know and very few of my friends do. In our Muslim community it’s not something you can easily admit to anyone. Homosexuality is perceived as a sin, so you technically cannot be a Muslim and gay at the same time.

At work I am out to a few people in my department, but I’m careful about who I tell. Being out in the work place can negatively affect your career and employment opportunities, particularly government jobs. This is why many of us avoid it.

And of course why I wanted to be anonymous on your blog (Joko is a common name for Indonesian men).

Joko LGBT Muslim Indonesian interview about being gay in Indonesia

“Where’s our Joko gone? Hope we haven’t scared him back inside the closet!”

#3 What’s it like being Muslim, and gay in Indonesia?

I am proud of being gay and also a Muslim.  

At the end of the day, faith and religion is personal to everyone. Of course I appreciate that gay and Muslim do not blend well together.  

But for me, religion is about peace, doing good to others and acceptance of self. This is something between me and the greater one. Whether I’m going to heaven or hell, let it be a secret between me and Him.

My faith is personal and I am proud of it.

Gay in Indonesia Seb heaven or hell conundrum

Would cheeky boy Sebastien go to heaven or hell?

#4 What’s it like growing up as gay in Indonesia? Have you ever faced any homophobia?

It was challenging. I knew I was gay from an early age. I was lucky to have a transgender neighbour growing up who lived with his partner. This helped me understand what a gay person is. But I couldn’t define myself like him because I don’t wear women’s clothes all the time everywhere.

I spent my childhood playing with mostly female friends and got bullied all the time for being a sissy/queer etc. But nothing major when I was older. Indonesian society is so sexually conservative anyway, that any form of open sexuality, regardless of your preference gets frowned on. As long as you’re discreet, you shouldn’t have any problems.

I try to educate people around me not to treat me differently because of my sexuality. The best thing you can do is to be yourself and show you are no different to anyone else.

Gay in Indonesia Bali bar drag show

Joko doesn’t always enjoy dressing up as much as some of his other friends do

#5 Are there any support groups for the gay community in Indonesia?

The gay and lesbian movement in Indonesia is one of the oldest and largest in Southeast Asia. We now have over 30 LGBT groups.

It began in the 1960s by transgender women seeking a voice and in 1982, Dede Oetomo mobilised the gay and lesbian community to form “Lambda Indonesia”, now called “GAYa NUSANTARA”.

In Bali, we have initiatives like the Bali Medika clinic, offering free HIV tests to gay men.

Dede Oetomo gay in Indonesia LGBT rights activist

Ded Oetomo leading the way for the LGBT community in Indonesia

#6 Where are the best gay bars and hangouts in Indonesia?

Bali is your best bet for the best fun, largely because of its strong Hindu heritage and also because it has so much international influence from the tourism market. You should check out this awesome article by (ahem!) a few friends of mine about the gay bars of Seminyak, like Bali Joe and Mixwell.

There are also gay bars in Jakarta, the capital city. But these close down and change frequently. It’s best to meet locals via apps like Grindr to find out where the latest hang outs are. At the moment, Apollo Bar in the Bellagio Mall in Mega Kuningan is my favourite.

Bali Joe drag queen gay in Indonesia Muslim interview in Seminyak

Making new friends at the Bali gay bars of Seminyak

#7 Are there any popular gay events in Indonesia?

In theory there are several, such as Bali Pride and a few events every 17th May to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transophobia and Biphobia.

In addition, we also have the largest LGBT film festival in Asia called Q Film Festival organised by “Q-Munity”. It is an annual 9 days festival in Jakarta, going strong since 2002.

However, due to violent threats, the anti-pornographic laws and lack of police protection, most LGBT events in Indonesia are cancelled last minute. As a result they go underground and are advertised in a clandestine manner like last minute text messages and word of mouth via Grindr.

Gay in Indonesia Q Film Festival Jakarta

An online for the 2015 Q Film Festival

#8 How do gay Indonesian men meet each other outside of Bali?

We use mainly social networking apps like Grindr, Scruff, JackD and Planet Romeo and if in one of the big cities there is usually a small gay scene with a few bars like in Jakarta. 

#9 What’s the situation like for gay men in Indonesia today?

We are getting more confident about ourselves, but most still remain in the closet, particularly for family and career reasons.

I have some friends who are gay but due to social pressure, they have married (a woman) and had children.

Gay in Indonesia Stefan in the closet

Stefan discovering life in an Indonesian closet in Nusa Dua, Bali

#10 Do you think progressive change is likely to happen for the LGBT community?

Of course we are positive, especially with individuals like Dede Oetomo and organisations like GAYa NUSANTARA leading the way. But it will take time. Society needs to wake up to and accept its LGBT community. The anti-pornography laws haven’t helped at all, but despite this, the media still gives us coverage.

There are a handful of serious and popular newspapers covering LGBT issues in an objective and sensible manner, showing us as equal and normal members of society. The 4 papers that come to mind include The Jakarta Post, The Jakarta Globe, Kompas and Tempo

Unfortunately on the other hand, you have plenty of media outlets who make us seem like we’re perverts and have chosen this way of life. These tend to be connected to hardline, conservative or fundamentalist Islam, such as Sabili, Arrahmah and the Voice of Islam.

Gay Muslim in Indonesia Islamic media Arrahmah

Screen shot from online homophobic Arrahmah publication warning of an “outbreak” of the LGBT!

#11 Finally, we heard about a special language spoken by Indonesian gay boys?

We have our own gay dialect of the Indonesian language (Bahasa) called Bahasa Gay, or Bahasa Binan. 

It all started by a transgender working in a small salon, who created a secret language to enable us to talk and gossip without anyone understanding what we are talking about.

It has since spread as a common language in the Indonesian LGBT community.

Now off you go you two cheeky brondongs and enjoy plenty of goreng!

Gay in Indonesia Bahasa slang brondongs Rinca Island Komodo

Two brondongs enjoying the scenery over the Komodo National Park and pondering when is a good time for some goreng

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Discover #gaytravel in #Indonesia with gay Muslim Indonesian local boy Joko

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54 Comments

  1. Guapo

    You’re not ‘brondong’ (twink) anymore i think. Lol
    Love you guys. Big hug from me.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Lol thanks Guapo- is brondong mean twink or a more generic word for “gay guys”

      Reply
  2. sabrina

    Thank you for sharing that, guys!!
    It makes me think much… in Italy we’re still (just in these days) quarrelling about child adoption for gay cuples and civili unions (for all) and for sure those who are against this are catholics. Well, no canes here, but I can see analogies in LGBT acceptance. By the way, you know what? I alway wander how can a person segregated by religions, still define him/herself ‘religious’. I mean… As a woman I think that after all catholicism made to woman, how can a woman accept the Catholic (or Muslim) doctrine? Well, respect, full respect, but I can’t understand.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Agreed! Thanks for your comment Sabrina 🙂

      Reply
  3. Bec

    I am glad you were able to find Joko and that he was comfortable enough to tell you his story. I wish that people could see past anything other how a person treats you and the love they can give you. Thanks so much for the post.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for reading Bec 🙂

      Reply
  4. Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers

    It makes me realise how far we have come in acceptance and rights in many western countries although we still have a long way to go. I hope one day life choices won’t be a consideration when deciding whether or not it’s safe to travel.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Agreed 🙂

      Reply
  5. Svet Dimitrov

    I see there is some progress made, but still it is quite hard in these societies, especially in Muslim countries, to wander around calmly. Thanks for sharing these this article!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Appreciate the comment Svet 🙂

      Reply
  6. Vicki

    Thanks for sharing ‘Joko’s’ experience, which i’m sure is synonymous with the experience of other Indonesian men. It’s nice to hear there is a basic support network – but there is so much room for improvement. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the time of universal acceptance and hope that it happens in my lifetime – with no lashes for anyone. ever.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      LOL – thanks 🙂

      Reply
  7. LeAnna

    While I don’t agree with the LGBT community not having rights, etc. I am still a big believer that when I go somewhere new that I am in THEIR country and have to respect their culture (and that is part of traveling- encountering vastly different cultures than what we are used to). I think that that is what makes travel so great- even when don’t agree with the local philosophy, it can open your eyes to other things (just how fortunate you are in your country for example). Hopefully they just keep gaining the confidence they need and one day it will be accepted everywhere.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Agreed…it’s one of the reasons we never hold hands in public…

      Reply
  8. Katie

    Love this interview with ‘Joko’ – an honest look into what it is like being gay in Indonesia. When I moved to Korea my eyes were really opened to how different cultures perceive being gay. I have had multiple people here tell me that there are no gay people in Korea! Yes that’s right an entire country and no gay people, can you believe it?! So to see that there is progress in Indonesia, albeit slow, it is something!
    Cheers!
    Katie

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Yeah Korea’s a strange one – so advanced, yet so backwards with their discrimination laws!

      Reply
  9. Hitch-Hikers Handbook

    It’s so strange that although homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, there are no laws to support the rights of the LGBT community! Very interesting fact about the special gay language!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Unfortunately that’s true for most of Asia 🙁

      Reply
  10. Av

    Must be hard being gay in a predominantly Muslim country. But good for Joko and Indonesia’s LGBT that somehow their voices could still be heard.

    And ’twas good knowing they have gay language, too! We have the same here in the Philippines, and even non-gays use their words. So much fun!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Av really? Tell me more? I would LOVE to learn gay Tagalog!!!

      Reply
  11. Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver

    Such an interesting story, I enjoy these interviews you two do. Getting a chance to really know what a community is like, a little bit about their laws and such. Glad to learn a little more as I head to Bali later this year. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Our pleasure 🙂

      Reply
      • Stefan Arestis

        Thanks Alyssa

        Reply
  12. Amélie

    OMG this photo of the public canning with everyone taking photos.. WTF :/

    Glad you guys found the brighter side of Indonesia, this gives me a bit of hope!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Amelie 🙂

      Reply
  13. Hugo

    150 lashes? Ouch. Crazy stuff.

    It’s a shame about LGBT rights. Hopefully, things will improve soon.

    That view in the last picture is insane!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Hugo 🙂

      Reply
  14. Sabine

    Thanks for sharing this interview with Joko. It’s interesting to read how challenging it was to grow up gay in a country that does not support it. What is funny is that they even have their own language. Why not, this is great!!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha – right? Loved trying to understand it!

      Reply
  15. Mar

    Wow a special language? that is quite interesting. It is a shame that Indonesia is so conservative and people have to hide. marrying a woman and having children to hide? what a shame

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Yeah – was sad to see that 🙁

      Reply
  16. Kathrin

    I really like the interviews you do! It’s really impressive what all the people have to tell and it’s great you give them a platform to do so.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Kathrin!

      Reply
  17. antonette

    I’m sad to read that interviews like these still have to anonymous … great that you are paying attention to this, it’s a little step towards the right direction!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks!

      Reply
  18. Meg Jerrard

    Really insightful interview, thankyou for sharing guys. It’s so amazing to me that a country can have laws against the cirminalization of homosexuality, though that the social reality of life is completely different, and that there are no accompanying laws to protect the community. There just seem to be so many contradictions in having one of the largest LGBT communities in the world but not actually accepting or supporting them.

    I have high hopes though that with the continue globalization of the world, homosexuality will become something which is accepted in these countries which attach a negative social stigma. We have to lead by example in Western countries where our free speech is protected and hopefully there will be a flow on effect.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      So right! Thanks Meg 🙂

      Reply
  19. Alyssa | Adjust Your Focus®

    You guys are amazing, thank you for sharing. Coming from the USA it can be easy to forget about the rules and customs other countries have. That is one of the reasons traveling is so important, it opens your eyes. I agree with Meg, “we have to lead by example in Western countries where our free speech is protected and hopefully there will be a flow on effect”.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      🙂

      Reply
  20. Jenna

    Such an interesting interview–thanks for sharing Joko’s story! It’s sad that people have to live in secrecy, but glad the amount of LGBT groups are expanding. Hopefully everything will keep moving in the right direction. I had no idea about the secret language–how interesting!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Right? How cool is that? Thanks for stopping by Jenna.

      Reply
  21. Joe Ankenbauer

    Great write up! I’m glad you guys were able to get Joko to tell his story. Happy Travels guys!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Joe 🙂

      Reply
  22. Dariece

    I love that “Joko” shared his story with you (and by doing so, shared with us). He seems to have a great attitude. And seriously, how cool is it to have a secret language?! 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Right? Thanks guys.

      Reply
  23. The Bonfire Dream

    It looks like a pretty liberal country. I always had in mind something else haha 🙂 You guys are simply amazing! xoxo

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks!

      Reply
  24. haris - ketimpringan.com

    Hi Brondong 😉
    I absolutely agree whith what Joko said…
    I was born in Indonesian, was an Indonesian, a gay and a muslim.
    When i came out to my family, that was the most horrible time in my life, and also for my family – my family are strong beliefers…
    Life goes on, and they accept me as a gay few months later (believe me, this months in between was scary)…. at the end i have to move to other city not because of being gay but because of our social life with neighbour, mosque, social community etc…. but i knew they love me, and i love them too. I didn’t move to other city in Indonesia but to Germany….
    Last month my partner and i visited my family in Java, and that was fine.. everybody was happy… and they are waiting for our next visit, and they want us to bring my mother in law for the next visit…
    You see? how wellcome Indonesian family are….

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha – brondong 🙂 Thanks for your very inspirational message Haris.

      Reply
  25. Dave Burke

    Hi
    There was a gay language in England also at one time called Polari ( look it up).

    I have a boyfriend in Jakarta and things seem OK in most parts of Java and Bali.
    But it’s rarely easy growing up gay anywhere in the world.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Yes

      Reply
  26. Edi

    Now, in September 2016 things look very unpromising for Indonesian gays. Some political parties want to ban all gay apps and even ban gay organisations. Not enough, Muslim fanatics believe gay people can be cured from their “mental disorder”. just frightening.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for that – but so so sad to hear 🙁

      Reply

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