By Trish Anderton in Jakarta
The Jakarta Post
A gay man’s story who has led a double life for most of his 48 years
When a gay character appears onscreen while watching television with his wife, Iwan laughs. He exclaims: “That’s crazy!” His wife usually speaks up for tolerance. “That’s just how his life is,” she says sympathetically.
She would probably be less understanding if she knew her husband had sex with men on the side.
Iwan (not his real name) laughs when he tells this story. It’s not a cruel laughter aimed at his wife; it seems to spring from genuine amusement over the absurdity of his situation.
“So I’m a hypocrite again!” he says, wiping his eyes.
Iwan has led a double life for most of his 48 years. But if he’s a tortured soul, he doesn’t seem to know it. He agrees to meet at a South Jakarta cafe. He will not allow his name or his place of employment to appear in print, but he talks openly—sometimes so loudly that his voice bounces off the walls. Asked whether he’s happy, he says yes, and seems to mean it.
Iwan has been attracted to men early in his life. “I knew in high school I was different that way,” he says. He remembers noticing other boys on the basketball court. He didn’t know what to do or who to talk to about it.
“I felt it was wrong. I would ask myself, why do I like boys, why?” he recalls.
In college he was lucky to find a sympathetic psychologist who told him to follow his feelings.
“If you are oppressed by it, maybe I can give you something to decrease (the attraction),” he recalls the doctor saying. “But there is no cure!”
The attraction was strong, but Iwan says it was never exclusive. When pressed, he defines himself as bisexual, saying he is attracted “60 per cent to men and 40 per cent to women”.
He fell in love with a man in college, but it did not last, and Iwan is no rebel. When he met the right woman through his church, he married her. He insists he didn’t do it to cover or “cure” his homosexual side, or for the status conferred by a respectable marriage.
“I was like anybody else,” he says. “I fell in love.”
He had no illusions about ending his relationships with men, however. “No way,” he says candidly. “Maybe for a year, two years after marriage it’s OK, you can hold out. You’re focused on your wife, on your new household, you have to focus on that.”
But by the third year, he says, your attention wanders, and your body soon follows. Perhaps you lock eyes with another man at the mall. Or you find yourself at one of Jakarta’s many semi-hidden pickup spots, like the Pulogadung bus terminal, where there are all sorts of men for the choosing.
“I once saw a guy who’s a big figure in the government,” he recalls, amused. “He was wandering around over there too!”
The relationships are not complex. They last no longer than six months. “When we go out it’s not eternal. There’s no bond, so we always just break up in the end.”
He says he is careful about safe sex: “You know what is dangerous to do, and how to play safe.” But one has to be careful at the start of a new relationship, Iwan says, because the potential boyfriend could be a prostitute or a blackmailer. He prefers dating educated men with good jobs, like himself.
However, he adds that the relationships that seem to last for other men are the unequal ones. If both people work, he explains, eventually one of them will say, “I don’t need you, I have money”, and leave.
“But if one doesn’t work and the other works,” he explains, “that can last a long time. I’ve seen that.”
Iwan insists his wife doesn’t know about his hidden life.
“She doesn’t like gossiping with the neighbours,” he says. “She’s mostly in the house, or she goes to church, but we go together.”
Will he ever tell her? “Maybe someday,” he says vaguely, “but I would have to think a thousand times before doing it.”
Indonesians, he says, “are masters of hypocrisy”. Many of his friends cheat on their wives; some with other women, and some with men. If a woman finds out something bad about her husband, he says, she’s inclined to keep it quiet, because her family will tell her she just has to live with the situation anyway.
In what he sees as a world of secrets and lies, Iwan has chosen the path of least resistance.
“I go with the flow. I have to be careful, though,” he adds with a laugh. “That’s how it is when you’re a hypocrite!”