The Many Taboos of Being Gay

The Many Taboos of Being Gay is a stage performance consisting of four different scripts, four different plays, depicting the dilemmatic contradictions surrounding the life of homosexuals, be it stemming from the pretext of religion or the society’s expectations. I just saw this played performed at Teater Salihara last night.

Before I moved on with the summary of the play itself, I thought it wouldn’t really hurt summarising the social perception and condition on the issue in the country as a background.

So in recent times in the country, the issue of homosexuality has made it into the national news’ headline. Of course, this has previously been an undiscussed issue long buried or simply avoided in the country for some time, but the general opinion of the society especially in more rural areas where education access are still more difficult compared to, of course, in urban areas, is that homosexuality is abnormal–this is, however, an argument usually backed up with religion. I would rather not create an assumption that all Indonesians are extremists or chauvinistic, nor are they conservatives in a bad way. In fact, having been a secular state for so long, Indonesia is actually far from becoming extreme as of now, and the fact that the country’s majority is Moslem has got nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, the issue first came into public’s attention when a support group called Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC) at one of the university in the capital city said to offer a counseling for the LGBT groups. Protests on the group’s existence claim this fear, which I consider to be groundless, of the growing number of LGBT “invading” the campus. To make matter worse, our Minister Technology and Higher Education, M. Nasir responded on the issue by making a statement on denying access for those belonging or identifying themselves in and within the LGBT group into the campus. Our brilliant vice president then followed by saying that international organization–the UN included, yes–should stop channeling funds for any activities or community events, or research which is related on LGBT.

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Photo taken from thinkprogress.org

Ever since that day I no longer shocked when I saw a big banner with “Indonesia Darurat LGBT” (Indonesia Emergency State: LGBT)–which then basically mention this propaganda that LGBT is a disease and that it should not be allowed in the country itself–hung outside of a local mosque near Thamrin City.

So the debate on homosexuality escalated (well, why shouldn’t it, especially when you got the minister and the vice president supporting this baseless fear already), and for some time, that’s pretty much all I see in the newspapers. Oh, and added with another minister saying that homosexuality could be cured when you poured hot, boiling water to them. I’m beginning to doubt this is already the 21st century…

Anyway, I wouldn’t really want to give the impression that the play itself stemmed from this background, nor would I claim to assume that the script/playwriter bore this in mind back then as they wrote the play. They might or they might not, I think we shall not assume so just because I do so.

Anyway, The Many Taboos of Being Gay  features four different scripts, all set for two players each. In short, they’re gay, they struggled, and they’re still human beings nonetheless.

In the first play, Sweet Hunk o’ Trash, Rob met Gene and asked him to dance together, but he reluctantly refused, thinking that it would be too awkward for two guys to dance together. But as Rob smooth talked him and they talked more about their works and passion (explicitly and implicitly), Gene slowly warmed up to him.

The second play, Twenty Dollars Drink, however, was what has truly stole the show for me. Set in a fancy restaurant in town, Bete and Star, ex-lovers, decided to meet with each other to resolve undiscussed issues. Both used to be actors at a theater company, before Star finally gained fame and was now a star. Bete, on the other hand, was already married and no longer an actor. The tension was quite high in the beginning of the play, as Bete was obviously pissed off, and Star, looking awkward in front of Bete, finally broke the ice talking about the award he received three months ago. Turns out Bete was extremely pissed off at how he felt Star had treated him now that he’d become famous. What really stole the show for me, I guess, is the inner conflict within each character here. His anger, perceived by Star as envy and jealousy, was then revealed as frustration towards the people around him who seemed to have left him now, including Star, as he continued struggling in life trying to survive with his child. Star, on the other hand, stroke me at first as perhaps being a bit too cocky, but later revealed that he neither enjoy his new fame as it brought along with it responsibilities and unwanted attention he did not want, just like “whoring” to a lot of people now, as he put it.

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Photo taken from Salihara’s facebook page.

Then in the third play, Frozen Dog, I was intrigued to see how the play might turn out, as the two main characters in the play are pastors. Kevin wrote to his superior to have Vinny as his roommate, and later revealed that this is because he fell in love with Vinny. Unfortunately for him, Vinny had other thing in mind. Not only he fell for someone else, but he was also dead set on devoting his life for god, hence deciding to commit celibacy. Weighed down by the moral doctrine dictated by both the society and their faith, Kevin tried to show Vinny the extent of his love and devotion.

The last play, Uncle Chick, I think, is another gem. This explores further on the relationship which could occur within the family dinasty itself as Brian turned to his gay uncle to “guide him” and “direct him” as he bore the moral responsibility as his godfather. The uncle, Chick, however, had been meaning to avoid it, under the pretext that living as a homosexual in this world is not easy. As he tried to drive Brian away and dealt with his past instead–also seemed to be weighed down by the prevailing values and stigma the society from his day has implicated on homosexuals in general–Brian was dead set on showing him that such a thing should not instead dictate their way of life, nor should it become a pretext to prevent them to have a relationship.

These plays truly drew me in with the social issue they brought up, and I personally wish more people would see this play without any initial prejudice, hoping that watching this would instead open more and more minds that there truly is no different between them and us, and that they are just human beings like us.

I love how they display the inner conflict of each character, and the actors are excellent in showing these–between the humour, the sarcasm, the frustration, anger and love–I just love these intensity that I felt on the stage. And they all made it so believable and natural, so I guess they did a magnificent job after all.

I sure hope that I would see more of each of these play, since I think on a bigger scale, it could also show more explicitly on the context surrounding the story, which I think would be just as interesting to explore to see how the people around them would treat them and react, and how, should they do have any problem about it, they reconciliate with it. The cultural and social background here were mostly implied through the interaction of each character which affect their attitudes in treating their own homosexuality in relation to their work, or in finding their place within the society, but on a bigger scale, I suppose it would be interesting to see how that would be depicted in a bigger and longer play.

The only trivial thing that quite puzzled me is the perceived insistence to use Western names in all play, despite the fact that the plays were all set you in Indonesia, which made me start to wonder if the scripts were all adapted from foreign plays. Then again, thinking of the trend in the country to name kids in western-sounding names–something which has started quite long even before I was born, I suspect–this shouldn’t have bugged me too much. Besides, this is a tiny trivial detail (I could however, overthink and make an over-assumption on how this could be the byproduct of the impact of the global culture in the country).

That aside, I think the play is a genius concept.