Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis: Mystifying Indonesian Queerness

Who does not even know Hendri Yulius? A rising star whose expertise in (Indonesian) gender and queer studies is deservedly earned. He is well known not only for his non-fiction books like C*bul or Intimate Assemblage but also his fictional narration. Under the radar, Hendri (as what we normally call him) also wrote a collection of queer poems and published them under the title Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis (Stonewall does not stop in Atlantis). The series of poems were imagined from his contemplation during the COVID-19 that keeps raging each day. These poems also echohis concern about the condition of Indonesian queer and LGBT that can be considered as “too timid to live, but unwilling to resist.” The book is divided into three parts with total of 69 poems. Such a perfect number for a collection of Indonesian queerness. Ha! 

Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis: an AmerIndonesian Conundrum

A landmark moment for the LGBTIQ community began as a series of spontaneous protests occurred at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich village, in the neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York. The protest is fuelled due to a police raid that began in the early morning hours on 28 June 1969. These resistances were considered as pivotal in the establishment of the gay liberation movements in the United States of America.

Another act of police crackdown toward the LGBTIQ community also occurs in Indonesia, years after the incident in United States. The police confiscated several condoms, tickets, mobile phones along with the CCTV videos and the copy of the business permit of PT Atlantis Jaya. The raid happened to be a legal action following the same-sex party which was held in Atlantis, one of the fitness parlours in Jakarta on 21 May 2017. During the raid, 141 males were arrested and the police confiscated several tickets, CCTV video, condoms, copy of business permit, the poster of the same-sex gay party along with some other things. The news has become a headline in several Indonesian mass media in which the existence of LGBTIQ are scrutinized.

Both incidents aforementioned are examples that there is still an ongoing controversial discussion when it comes to LGBTIQ, either supporting or against it.. The same-sex preference and same-sex relationship remain unacceptable in most parts of the world.  In 2020, there was at least 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people violently killed in the country which is considered as LGBTIQ friendly, the U.S. Based on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, this number was higher than any other year. The HRC itself has tracked more than 200 deaths since 2013. The number is presumable higher noticing that LGBTIQ actors are often being marginalized as a second class-citizen. 

A recent trend in Indonesian society is the rapidly increasing act of violence towards LGBTIQ. The Indonesian heteronormativity rejects what they considered to be against the dominant socio-cultural and religious norms, in which LGBTIQ are outside the sphere. This lamentable condition will likely lead to a process of normalisation where people tend to be a moral guardian. The statistic says that almost 89,3 percent of Indonesian LGBT actors have ever subjected to violence and the harassment toward the community has increased rapidly. Those involved in the religious conservatism and the political agendas often regard LGBT as a crime. It is another example that the Indonesian state law is always intersected with the religious norm and culture. 

Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis: a continued rise of Indonesian queer poetry 

The literary products are not tangible like non-fiction, literature has consistently advocated issues related with social injustice and marginalization.. Since the mid-200s, there has been a remarkable increase in LGBTIQ-themed books. To start with, several writers like Seno Gumira Ajidarma, Ayu Utami and Mira W narrated their stories with a homosexual or queer characters in 1990s. It was not later than 2004 when a novel from Andrei Aksana’s Lelaki Terindah published. Telling a story about two men who accidently meet in Bangkok and fall in love there. This novel has become a huge success and it has been reprinted several times until now. The success also has brought certain encouragement to other writers to engage themselves and explored the same-sex themed in their books.   

This book is considered ground-breaking due to its vivid portrayal of LGBTIQ in Indonesia. It circles around the LGBTIQ notion: coming out of the closet, the social injustice and the acceptance to the sexual preference that they embrace. In the poem Coming Out, Hendri portrays the reality on accepting somebody’s sexual preference. 

“Pada ibu-bapaknya, ia coming out

dibalas dengan: kau minggat…” 

[To his parents, he comes out (of the closet). They reply: Get out (of the house)]

Coming out as a gay within the dominant Indonesian conservatism is not easy. The problem that often faced by the LGBTIQ actors in Indonesia is the acceptance from the people surround them including the family. As the consequence of coming out, most of the Indonesian LGBTIQ actors will be treated as a second-class citizen and being ‘normalised.” The worst part is that they will be subjected to violence during those processes of normalisation. Therefore, most of the LGBTIQ actors prefer to live a double life: having a family consisting of wife and children while keeping their sexual preference “in the dark.” In the poem Wahai Istri-Istri Bekasi, Bersatulah! Hendri puts this phenomena in the spotlight. 

“buat istri-istri yang stay di Jakarta coret. 

supaya rumah tangganya awet 

cegah suami biar tidak dipepet, diserempet, dan dijambret homo ngebet.”

[To those Jakartanese wives – underlined

to have a long-lasting marriage

prevent your husband for not being stolen by a homo]

 This poem also reminds us of the statement uttered by Wiwik Tri Adhianto, the wife of Tri Andhianto, the vice mayor of Bekasi in December 2019. In her statement, Mrs. Adhianto suggested the wives in Bekasi to beautify themselves in order to prevent the their husband from ‘kelainan seksual’  – sexual deviation. Interesting ha! My question is: will the tips actually work? I do not mind having a liposuction tho if the tip works!

The statement (with all due respect) also shows the superficiality of thoughts in which women are seen from the physical beauty. Ah, beauty or brain, gentlemen! That is the question. 

Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis: an Indonesian (Bohemian) Rhapsody to a gayish wrap-up 

Freddy Mercury,one of the greatest icons in the gay community once ever sang this lines, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landside, no escape from reality,” in Bohemian Rhapsody. The first lines of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is indeed the perfect lines to portray the condition of Indonesian LGBTIQ in Stonewall tak Mampir Atlantis. 

Atlantis is a fictional island mentioned in two works of Plato. The mysterious island is often depicted as a setting of place in movie or literary works. People assume that Atlantis in the bygone era resembles a paradise. Thus, the title Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis sounds a little bit intriguing, doesn’t it?

My assumption is that Hendri combines the Stonewall Riots and the mystification of Atlantis to portray the condition of Indonesian LGBTIQ which is “ngeri-ngeri sedap,” (caught between rock and a hard place). Why? The Indonesian moralists seem having no issues with LGBTIQ as long as the actors remain under the radar. This unequal treatment is what is referred in the first lines of Hendri’s poem LGBT; he writes;

“di antara L, G, B, dan T

masih ada 22 abjad lain

menanti untuk diperlakukan 

setara 

[among L, G, B, and T; there are other 22 alphabets; awaiting to be treated; equal]

A beautiful reflection of Hendri’s concern towards the Indonesian LGBTIQ and what the actors have been through.  I still remember back then when Hendri Yulius texted me after publishing this book, he said, “Know what? Writing poems is more difficult than writing those academic sheesh we normally write.” 

Yet after reading through his collected poems in Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis, I realised that Hendri was just being humble by telling me so. The poems do not only portray the social condition and injustice towards the Indonesian LGBTIQ but also are poetically described.  They are delivered in the witty ways using bebencongan – the Indonesian queer language as so called by Nuril Basri, another Indonesian author. 

Stonewall tak Mampir di Atlantis does not only show the rising of Indonesian queer poetry but also enriches the Indonesian LGBTIQ-themed literary works. Although it is a compilation of poems and a light read, it remains an entertaining works which takes on the real-life experience of Indonesian LGBTIQ and its notions. Ah, by the end of the day…, “nothing really matters…anyone can see…nothing really matters…any way the wind blows…” as so the  Indonesian so-considered moralists that will always blow their cool when it comes to the controversial issues about Indonesian LGBTIQ.