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I was born in a conservative part of Indonesia.* Well, most of Indonesia is conservative. I grew up denying my attraction to boys. Our society and religion both say that same-sex attraction is wrong and sinful, and gay men would go to hell. Gay men can be caned and publicly humiliated — or even stoned to death.
I was at war with myself over my same-sex attraction. Society hated the real me, which led to a huge amount of self-hatred. I had constant suicidal thoughts — and I was only 12 years old.
Born into a poor family, I always struggled to survive. My parents couldn’t afford a proper (or even adequate) education for me. So I took it upon myself to get the education I needed. I’d attend class in the morning and work in a factory until nightfall. Despite my full schedule I was, surprisingly, one of the best students in school, from junior high all the way to university.
I graduated cum laude in 2013 with a B.A. in English literature. A month after graduating I landed a job as a receptionist in a hotel, which is still my job today. Things were finally looking up, but there was still a lingering issue. I endured lots of attempts at conversion therapy, but none of them worked. I became even more suicidal, and my self-loathing had become intolerable.
One day I tried meditation. It was great. Not only was I back in control, but I realized I had to finally decide: Was I going to live in denial, and probably eventually kill myself, or was I going to accept that I was gay? I chose the latter — this was September 2015.
I was finally feeling good about myself. A psychologist suggested I use a gay dating app, and life became even better. I could find other gay men easily, even though I found — and still do — Indonesia’s gay community weird and confusing. There were (and still are) so many men on the down low who aren’t being honest with themselves.
I fell in love with a man. He seemed real, cool and smart. My life was great — or so I thought. But the relationship only lasted three months. It turned out he had more than one partner. He told me he was also dating girls. I moved on, not knowing that this brief relationship would be the only one I would have.
It was the prelude to a number of hardships. In April 2016 I was diagnosed as HIV-positive, and all hell broke loose. I can’t even describe the situation I was in when I received my diagnosis. I was devastated, and wondering about many questions, none of which I could answer. What about my future? What about my dreams? I was literally crying everyday. It took a long time for me to get back on my feet. I’d lost hope, and my life came to a screeching halt.
Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube playlist of videos about the Indonesian gay criminalization debate. At first I wasn’t really interested — I figured I knew what the debate would sound like. But curiosity got the better of me, and so I watched, even though I was frightened of what I’d see.
I saw high-profile officials, including Zulkifli Hasan, the current Speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and Chairman of the Islamic National Mandate Party (PAN) in Indonesia, and Mahfud M.D., the former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of Indonesia. It was scary to listen to. If the LGBT criminalization bill passes, being a gay man here would be like the United States before Stonewall. I find myself wondering if living as a poz gay man in Indonesia is even an option.
I’m a poz gay man, a huge stumbling block when it comes to seeking asylum abroad. But despite it all, I still have hope. Hope that my life will one day get better. I still want to live.
*This article was written by a Muslim HIV-positive gay man living in Indonesia. HIs real name has been removed to protect his privacy and security.