In Indonesia at the moment, the media is amass with discussion about the LGBT issue. It is literally a squall of shit that encapsulates exactly what’s wrong with an age where everybody is the purveyor of information: suddenly everyone is an expert and has an opinion; statistics and scientific data are conjured too conveniently without any chance or possibility of investigation; everyone enters discussions with a fixed pre-conceived position already, rendering considerations impossible and listening very selective. Confirmation bias at its worst.
Classic arguments include:
1. “Is LGBT natural or not?” (of course, but in case of not, why do we even care?);
2. “But they can’t procreate!” (good, the earth is severely overpopulated);
3. “Is gayness contagious?” (no, because those who become gay after identifying as straight already have seeds of gayness inherent within themselves);
4. “Can LGBT stand side by side with religiosity?” (of course, all it needs is for you to have the capacity to love another person more than you love yourself through your fixation of heaven and hell);
5. “Is HIV spread more prevalent within LGBT?” (of course not, but when it is, it’s because gay people struggle with self-acceptance, hence more inclined to do self-harm, because of you bigots’ hatred);
6. “It is disgusting to see men being intimate with another man” (each one to their own taste, lakum dinukum waliyadin);
and, two favorites:
7. “They will go to hell,” (well, you’re neither a God or a prophet, so shut up. Sodom was demolished because they were barbaric rapists like a lot of heterosexuals);
8. “Can we cure them?” (absolutely not, unless you’re a Sadist who’s into torture like waterboarding, electrocution, mental-breaking brainwash, Iron Maiden, you name it).
The aforementioned classic arguments, however, should not be the bulk of the discussion regarding how LGBT issues manifest in Indonesia as of late, for these are merely symptoms. The recent explosion about LGBT in Indonesia is best described through the economy of privilege under two intertwined sub-prongs: a perception of privilege, followed by a desperate clinging to heterosexist superiority.
A Perception and Allocation of Privileges
At the foundation of it all, the brouhaha we currently witness with great amusement (and worry, for the virtuous many) describes a dynamic of power discourse. Gender identity, in the Indonesian society, has always been a given one. It has never been traditionally a truly solidified concept, in which one ponders inwardly and truly identifies what concept of gender fits the most with them. This is particularly true with a heterosexual identity, as one’s dominant natural inclinations fits with the expectation of the society. There is no dissonance, hence, there is no need for revisiting or deeper investigation. Many heterosexuals are not used at all to the idea of defining or confronting their true sexual inclinations. Radical heterosexism borrows its credibility from biological determinism, the simplest gene roles described by chromosomes with its main function focused on procreation (and, later, the longevity of the human race).
Unfortunately, this is fallacious on two grounds:
- Biological determinism (male, penis, penetrate, fertilize vs. female, vagina, penetrated, fertilized) is no longer relevant. Simone de Beauvoir very aptly mentions that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. Biological determinism is functional for a labor-oriented society with job classifications such as hunters, builders, gatherers, caretakers, etc., but not within a modern industrialized community where a. labor roles are largely interchangeable, and b. nutrition has developed in such a way that biological determinism is no longer that separatory between the two genders.
- Various deconstructive methods of seeing gender, starting with the re-normalization of sexuality by Kinsey scale of the late 40s that shows most people are not exclusively gay or straight, by Foucault in the late 20th century, or Kosofsky-Sedgwick’s ultra-complex matrix of performativity extrapolated from Judith Butler’s early 90s’ performativity perspective, dictate that gender should not be classified as a binary. In fact, gender is a continuum with various shades of gray in between the two idealized but unlikely extremities.
Regardless of the fallacious nature of biological determinism, one cannot ignore its existent social privileges in the particular context of Indonesia. Heterosexuality enjoys its position as the dominant narrative, the old “normal” and not the fringe or the “other”, hence heterosexism (used to avoid generalizing heterosexuals with a pejorative brush) becomes a powerful social currency that buys acceptance and adoration from others, a powerful social incentive that shapes society’s behavior. Colluding in ignorance for the sake of accessing privileges is best described by Kosofsky-Sedgwick in Epistemology of the Closet (1990):
“Knowledge, after all, is not itself power, although it is the magnetic field of power. Ignorance and opacity collude or compete with knowledge in mobilizing the flows of energy, desire, goods, meanings, persons.” (Case in point: George W. Bush or ignorant rape laws that ensures privilege are retained by the dominant male).
Even though there are gay tendencies inside heterosexuals, most brush it off in favor of those social privileges. The masquerade of heterosexuality is accessed so easily with just a bit of kissing-ass, a bit of a show put for the outside world, a bit of denial of identity. Hence, it is perhaps rather unfathomable for heterosexists why one would not want to relinquish access to such social privileges instead of accepting them with “just a bit of work”.
Notice that this is a classic post-baby-boom, working-economy, asset-hoarding perspective. Notice that this perspective is at polar opposites with the millennials, which tend to forsake ownership of assets in favor of building an impressive resume of life experiences and a truer-to-self identity. What’s exploded in Indonesia is a classic case of intergalactic lost-in-translation between the pragmatists (“oh, what will the society think about this?”) and the idealists (“I need to be able to be happy first before I can fully contribute to the society).
Disarray at Privileges’ End: The Curious Case of Fickle Sense of External Superiority
First sub-prong cleared, what happens when the carrot, a proposition of privilege, fails at bridging this rift? What happens is a general feeling of threat. Heterosexual and heterosexist privilege does not suffice anymore, which is what Irshad Manji describes very well as a discomfort of radical reasoning felt generally by the privileged centrist when confronted with narratives they assumed was a dismissible peripheral.
In simple words, it is a knee-jerk reaction of a defensive ignorant. When one’s position of privilege (hence access to social power and enjoyment) is questioned, the reaction is described very beautifully by Virginia Woolf in her book A Room of One’s Own:
“Or is anger, I wonder, the attendant sprite of power?
… Possibly, when the professor insisted a little too emphatically upon the inferiority of women, he was concerned not with their inferiority, but with his own superiority. That was what he was protecting rather hot-headedly and with too much emphasis because it was a jewel to him of the rarest price …
More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, rule, or feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself.”
The subject matter of this quote (men v. women) does not really matter in the face of how uncannily similar the discourse of power or superiority manifests between different subjects.
Understanding that the root problem is the general mentality of inferiority means an intersectional look at various other social problems plaguing Indonesia. Men in Indonesia generally have to subjugate women or the effeminate men to feel powerful. Indonesians employ an invisible and non-formalized caste system, through an active practice of social hierarchy and lower ranks, reminiscent of past kingdoms, necessitating in the need to be served by subservient others, just to feel powerful. Indonesians have a pervasive lack of confidence when interacting with foreigners (sometimes it just manifests as giggly shyness, which is cute, other times it appears as a horrid case of sticky rice: a complete refusal to mingle); or, the complete opposite, overcompensation through fervent xenophobia. The religiosity of many Indonesians still depend on external and social perceptions instead of an internal contemplation.
A fickle, too-external foundation of superiority is unhealthy as subjugation is key to its success. If this continued, there will always be sometime scapegoated. In the New Order, it was the Commies; in 1998, the Chinese Indonesians; now, the LGBT. History repeats itself and unfortunately in a cycle that is way too frequent if Indonesia continues its horrible disease of short-term historical memory.
In order to prevent this, social thinkers should not be lulled by the surface and be trapped in a discourse treating Indonesia’s current explosion of LGBT in a specific-LGBT, isolated room. The issue is far more pervasive than that, thus needing a much overencompassing panacea in the form of better education, a more acute self-identifying on every aspect of life starting from a very early age, a relinquishment of fear towards the unknown, vitality in reacting to new changes, a culture of confrontation… some general efforts that does a lot to encourage a stronger self-conception to the next generation as opposed to just satisfying parents’ and families’ ego by giving and forcing a child to accept one. A better attainment of LGBT right should is only a consequence of a society that draws its healthy, balanced sense of superiority from inwards; whose heterosexuality isn’t as fickle as merely “my mom/dad/god/ustadz/friends told me so”.