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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 6.49.49 PM
Photo taken from

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.

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.


Ananda Sukarlan’s Chamber Symphony Orchestra No. 2: A Tribute to Ainun Habibie

Having bought the cheaper regular ticket and got stuck in traffic, my mind was filled with worry that I might not get a good seat where I could get a clear view of the stage, since I initially thought it would be a first-come-first-serve basis. But as I entered Goethe Haus, about 15 to 20 minutes before 7 PM, I soon realised that that was not how it works there. I claimed my ticket, and then I found out that the door to the recital would only be opened shortly before the performance began. I suppose that way we could all be civil and waited patiently outside. Of course, that would be the case if you put aside the people swarming in front of the entrance as soon as the door was opened. Long story made short, I did get a decent view from my seat, although it could also be attributed to the capacity limit of the hall itself. I even got one empty seat on each side of me. I felt like I could have as much personal space I needed there.

The first thing that came to my mind was the movie Habibie & Ainun which is a biographical movie depicting our second president life-love story as he strove to reach his dream to contribute to his country with what he had learned abroad and later on became Indonesia’s third president, yet mostly the focus of the movie is his deep connection and relationship with his late wife, Ainun. The impression became stronger as his son came up to the stage to gave a short preamble of the event itself: That it was a tribute to his mother, something which his father’s foundation, Yayasan Habibie & Ainun had started to do for some time now. The love story between his parents is already quite well-known for its romance, initially through his auto-biography which was later adapted into the movie I had thus mentioned, and at that time, what popped up in my mind was, “Wow. I wanna be loved like that,” thinking how deep was the devotion of the family towards this one woman.


Shortly afterwards, Ananda Sukarlan gave us a brief introduction and explanation on his concept on this tribute to Ainun Habibie, in which, he explained about the three movements for that night’s performance. The first one would be a sound of chaos as he illustrated it as the sound a child tried to make as they first learned to play the music. Simple melodies, practiced and intertwined, forming a harmonious, albeit still chaotic, sound resembling (and deriving, indeed, from) the traditional folksong from Makassar, Anging Mamiri. He did warn that it would be very loud–which, it really did–yet I couldn’t bring myself to completely cover my ears for fear of missing any part of the movement and its grandeur.

The second part, which is my favorite, was a tribute to love (I had already forgotten what he called this one part, only that it was utterly beautiful and moving), where, as the movement went along, each instrument would then formed a duet with another one, switching from two to another two, closing with a beautiful harmony from a short combination of all. It was, again, very, very beautiful, soothing, and moving, that I feared were I left to myself, I would definitely shed a tear just like the time I heard Joe Hisaishi’s Kimi Ga Iru Kara playing in one of his concerts in Budokan (from my iPad, though). It was, of course, completely an early Christmas/birthday/whatever-you-name-it treat for me when, after the end of the third movement, Sukarlan came back and told us they would play the second part one more time. I took out my camera right away. (Someone somehow very quickly posted it on YouTube already so here’s a glimpse of it.)

Then the third part, he said, was created to depict Habibie’s vision for his country–one that would one day be much more, and very advanced in technology, instead of the one still lacking behind its neighbours. Although a president, Habibie himself is initially an engineer, and more known as one, and during his short-term presidency, he did managed to fulfil the dream of having constructed a plane. Although sadly the project discontinued, nor did it receive as much appreciation as it should have deserved, it was a success, and that was one of the dreams of a-high-tech-Indonesian dream coming true. So Sukarlan made this third part as an embodiment of this effort, one that he warned would be really fast-paced. I have to admit, though, that although the first and the last part still could not replace the second part’s place in my heart, part of the enjoyment for the other two was actually watching each of the musician expressed themselves as they incorporated themselves with the instrument they played. So serious, and yet, very lively, and so dedicated. Some of them, I even imagined might have played it just like breathing just like me holding back my breath as I became too awestruck by their playing and finally sighed when there was a stop between one not and another, or as the pace slowed down and soften and then I took another long, deep, happy sigh. Of course I cannot speak for the musicians, but oh, maybe, just, maybe, right?

It was, after all, a chamber orchestra of no more than than 10 people playing–I’m afraid that I might inaccurately name or describe each instrument, though, so instead I would just attach along a picture and a video–yet the music produced was… overwhelmingly grand, and I don’t think the word “grand” is the word I need in order to do justice to the whole performance. I am at loss for words. I would not consider myself as someone knowledgeable in music, but I do enjoy very much the soft, repetitive, beautiful sound serving as the trivial background accompanying the solo–so much that in every musical performance I watched (Hisaishi’s concert in Budokan, The Lion King on Broadway, the musical play and movie of Les Misérables), I always intentionally looking for those “trivial” sounds. I would then imagine each of those sound as one of the many, but each one a unique, one-of-a-kind, as if each is equipped with a certain character, and then united and combined, forming a beautiful harmony as an important background for the solo. Trivial, but important, that they may be played unnoticed, yet when you take out those elements, the solo performance would be… Boring. In this case, in all three parts, I think it is safe to say that my favorite sounds in all three movements were the wind instruments. I fucking love the sounds they produced.

I tried to get the names of each musician online since I think they played wonderfully and deserve credits, but alas, I could find none. Nor would I trust my memory, since I was focusing more on the music instead of the names.
I tried to get the names of each musician online since I think they played wonderfully and deserve credits, but alas, I could find none, except for Anthony Hartono, the pianist, and Giovani Biga, the concert master (the violinist standing on the far left). Nor would I trust my memory, since I was focusing more on the music instead of the names.

P. S. I would admit that my knowledge describing any musical terms necessary is inadequate, hence, should I used any incorrect term to describe any movement, or expression and the likes, do forgive me.

P. S. S. This video below shows a glimpse of the similar show of the same tribute held last year, consisting of some of the same musicians playing yesterday: