The French philosopher Michel Foucault once said that homosexuals are a species clearly distinct from heterosexuals. Through his idea of Scientia Sexualis, Foucault based this statement on analyzing sodomy in order to distinguish between homosexuals and heterosexuals. This distinction helped establish the notion that homosexuality can be seen as a kind of disease which can and should be cured. The idea that homosexuality is a disease is widely shared in Indonesia, where many LGBTIQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/intersexed/queer) suffer the consequences of a severely homophobic society.
A straightforward example of how Indonesian LGBTIQ are discriminated was when the “Queer Film Festival” was held in Jakarta in 2011 in cooperation with a number of European Cultural Centres. A very conservative Islamic organization called the Front Pembela Islam or the Front of Islamic Defenders (FPI) went to the French Cultural Centres and tried to get the festival cancelled. This because, according to FPI, the movies that were being screened were porno’s or at least contained elements of pornography. To get the festival cancelled the FPI threatened to burn some of the cultural centres that were responsible for the organisation of the festival. The only way the festival was able to continue was by going “underground”.
Being gay in the Indonesian Context
To avoid being stigmatized and discriminated, many of the Indonesian LGBTIQ migrate to other countries. Standard academic literature on migration distinguishes between “Push” factors are caused by the economy (lack of employment, natural disasters, lack of food or shelter, lower standard of living), social (lack of health care, educational opportunities, and of religious tolerance), and political factors (unfair legal system, disenfranchisement, war and terrorism). “Pull” factors also consist of economical factors, social factors such as religious and sexual tolerance and politics factors such as gaining protection under the law.
At the beginning of the 1980’s, homosexuality became closely connected to the spread of the aids virus in the minds of many Indonesians. As a consequence, in Indonesia, people call gay people ‘the sick’ or ‘orang sakit’. To avoid being discriminated many Indonesian gays have played a form of “hide and seek”. According to some interviews that I have conducted, they pretend to be a “real man” and to be happily married to a woman for a while. Later they leave Indonesia all together, many moving to Paris instead. They often used several kinds of excuses to do this: vacations, to search for a job, and to study.
Migration to Paris, France
To find out why so many of them decide to migrate to Paris, I have interviewed 40 Indonesian gays currently living in Paris. To gain access I relied on an Indonesian gay who had settled in Paris more than 10 years ago and who could make a rough estimate of the number of Indonesian gays living in Paris. My research method was predominately qualitative. I met them, face-to-face, in a location of their choosing, for example in their apartment, at the coffee shop, at the junk food restaurant, etc. I encouraged them to tell their stories the way they wanted, only in some cases asking the questions I prepared previously when the interviewee didn’t cover a specific topic.
My research found that many of them did not know that much about Paris initially. Very few of my respondents mentioned that they consider Paris a city that accommodates gays looking for freedom. Many imagine that Paris is a city of romance, based on the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Notre Dame, and French men with their French kiss. Of course, it is not that surprising many indicated to know less about living in Paris than about living in the Netherlands based on the very strong historical ties between Indonesia and the Netherlands.
Almost all my respondents indicated they are comfortable to stay in Paris for the time being. This is what Park, Burgess, McKenzie and Wirth explain as “comportment urban” where every person feels well and can adapt quickly to the different roles, finding strategies in his life, and have some mobility. Park, Burgess, and McKenzie consider cities a kind of living organism where struggles take place between individual and individual, groups and groups, or between individual and groups in order to survive their life. The city of Paris offers a number of facilities for people to freely express their sexual orientation. An example this is the “Quartier Le Marais”, located in a quite bourgeois area of Paris. Le Marais is a very popular quartier, particularly for gays. If you pass this neighbourhood, you can find many clubs, bars, saunas, coffee shops, shops, real estate agents, etc., all focussing on homosexuals clientele. Although this neighbourhood is well known as a quartier for gays, we also can find some restaurants, coffee shops, bars, pubs, shops, etc., that are considered as a “neutral zone”, explicitly open to all kinds of people. Because of the existence of neighbourhoods like Le Marais, it becomes easier for (Indonesian) gays to adapt to and settle in their new environme
Migration of Indonesian gays is a state failure
Under the current circumstances, the migration of Indonesian gays cannot be prevented. This because being open about their sexuality makes them particularly vulnerable to be discriminated by society, religious leaders, and even by the state. As long is these push factors do not change, migration will become the “natural way” for them to avoid being mistreated. Because the Indonesian state is unwilling or unable to ensure and protect the basic human rights of its citizens I consider the migration of Indonesian gays a state failure.
In my opinion, the state should have prevented Indonesian gays to move to other countries by ensuring their safety and by providing them the opportunity to make their contribution to their own country. After all, gay, lesbian or heterosexual, we are all human beings, and therefore have the undeniable right to express ourselves.