Women Lead Pendidikan Seks
May 13, 2022

(Almost) A Love Story

What happens when a new law makes your sexuality a crime?

by Abi Ardianda Translated by: Gita D. Astari

I beg Biru to lie by telling me that life will be fine. On the chair next to the bed, he looks like he’s contemplating it. Dressed in a shirt and a pair of jeans that he hasn't changed in two days, plus a pair of sneakers with a logo of a star inside a circle, his day consists of only daydreaming and sleeping with his head in his arms. He refuses when I tell him to go home.

From the hospital canteen, he orders oil-soaked fried rice with slices of cucumber that has turned brownish. He then chews languidly, after my nagging because I haven't seen him eat anything all day long. It would be ironic if he'd have to be hospitalized, too. This bed isn't big enough for our bodies that are as big as those of bouncers. 

I think my wish isn’t too grandiose, since I almost never ask for anything. To be honest, I want to know if I could ask him to replace the violence-filled movies with romantic comedies when we watch streaming services on the weekends. I don't understand why there are people who are entertained watching movies with scenes of human intestines being stripped down. 

But I’m worried he would think of me as bossy. I ask him to not make any chewing sound because that makes me lose my appetite. Oh, and his favorite lube is the one with strawberry flavoring. Imagine, what kind of person would like that? But I don’t do any of that. I don't want to fuss over little things. As long as the conflicts aren't about principles. 

It would be fun to hear that mankind will not lose hope from Biru's mouth. That even for once, the world will be on the side of people like us, like me and Biru. I know, I always know, there are many injustices in life. But, I tell Biru, just once, I need something to calm me down. Something that can soothe my chest, which, for some reason, suddenly rumbles. 

Also Read: No Country for LGBT: Moral Panic and Persecution of Sexual Minority in Indonesia

This helplessness is making me paralyzed. So, I ask for a little bit of consolation. A lie that is told in mere seconds, maybe ten to twenty, to help me feel better. Because tonight, Azrael could very well come for me, so that my soul wouldn't inhabit the frail body lying on the bed of the hospital's first classroom anymore, which finally gives me a helpful reason to waste my money. 

If tonight really is my time to go, at least, I won't ever be able to taste the bitterness in my mouth as a side effect of Alprazolam anymore. I won't ever have to hear the sound of wheels squeaking on the floor, which sometimes would be accompanied by groans. So far, I don't understand why we still try to show our pain even though we know people would never be able to bear it with us. Why is it so hard for us to accept the fact that wounds can't be shared? 

I don't know where I'll be tonight. Nobody can predict exactly what will happen. So, I urge Biru once again. I don't have much time, Biru. Lie to me. 

But, instead of granting my wish, Biru massages his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. I need several seconds to understand that he is crying. His back is shaking. He begs me to stop talking smack. 

So, wanting a lie is smack? 

I refute Biru by saying that when our time runs out, we will only regret the things we didn't do. Compared to regret, longing feels more excruciating. That's why I asked Biru to kiss in front of the fountain in the city park, like Allen Bauer, played by Tom Hanks, who fell in love with a mermaid in the movie Splash from the year eighty-four. Or to walk through the office area in Kuningan at four in the morning, and then lie down on the sidewalk and watch Jakarta's skies that are never as bright at noon because they are always covered by pollution. 

We then ended up at a fast-food restaurant, ordering burgers with cheese and beef. They came with soda. Being woken up by the waiter at seven o'clock, with our heads limp on the table. 

Those kinds of silliness, Biru, are what I want to remember in my old days when I'm lying on my side on a cold bed alone. 

Also Read: In the Closet, Out of the Gossip: The LGBT People’s Urgent Need for Safe Space

Now Biru covers his face with both of his palms, not wanting anyone to catch himself grieving. Biru is also someone who believes that a man should not cry, just like millions of other people in this country who think that two men should not be holding hands. Okay, you're free to hold hands, and build a household, or even have offspring of your own, but not here. Because there is a custom that you need to respect. I wonder, what kind of custom is more valuable than humanity? 

But, Biru, let me tell you, when you’re dying, you won't care what others say. Right now, I only want to hear my lover lie to me. 

Anyway, Biru, don't you know that many lies have sustained human life? Somewhere, lies have helped someone to wake up on a pale morning, stand under a hot shower, rinse their body with antiseptic soap, and believe that their life is just fine. Pretending not to be aware that their partner has stopped touching them in years. That kind of fact is too hard to digest. 

Instead of dragging their feet to the bathroom, that truth will keep them curling up in their bed, trying to find out how a love that once blossomed is now withered. So, they turn to believe lies. At least, lies can help them sleep more soundly at night. You then know, Biru, lies, in their strange ways, can actually protect. 

Just to feel content, we all sometimes lie to ourselves. 

"How do you feel today?" Amelia, the psychiatrist who lately takes care of me, sticks her head out the door gap. When observing my feelings, I become furious because, unlike many people, I find it hard to imitate happiness. I can't show off a happy mask while cursing inside. "Do you mind if I keep you company?" 

I tell her that she can come in if she likes. After asking me to fill in five hundred psychometric questions that nauseated me last week, I hope she understands why it's quite hard for me to be nice to her. Because of that, I'm not interested in explaining how I feel today either. 

I remember that at a therapy session, I was feeling really frustrated and a discussion about the practice of destroying brain tissue in the prefrontal cortex was launched. The prefrontal cortex is the part with the functions of planning, decision-making, identity-forming, and attention-selection. The practice was hoped to cut off the overflow of emotions from the reactions generated by the part. Technically, a hole will be made on the patient's front skull, which will then be used to inject ethanol with the purpose of destroying the fibers in the prefrontal cortex. The doctor also did it through the eye socket. In any case, Amelia advised me to forget absolutely everything I had ever thought about it. The lobotomy practice has been illegal since the 80s. 

"So, are you willing to tell me about your dreams lately?" I can't differentiate dreams from reality; both seem blurry. They leave me with a deep feeling. When I dreamt of drowning in a bottomless pool one night, I jolted awake with sweat flooding my bed, my chest unbelievably tight. I think at some point in the past, I actually drowned. But when or where exactly, I can't remember. 

Also Read: How Homophobia Distorts Our Conversation about Rape Culture

Amelia routinely asks me to write down my dreams in a journal. From the notes, she would give her interpretations. It's hard to believe that I've been paying her a fortune just to imagine hidden meanings in dreams, just like looking through a Javanese primbon

"There's one thing that I remember the most. We were under the slide." Amelia fixes her glasses. 


"Me and my friend at kindergarten."


"When we sat face to face, his small hand reached into my pants and felt what was inside. I don't know what would have happened next if a new student didn't call out to me to go with him to another area." I glance at Biru, the one I came to know that day as a new student. Biru smiles, convincing me that his support doesn't need any words. "I think as a child, my best friend just didn't know how to deal with primitive desires." 

"It's not easy to say that. You're really brave." Amelia then pulls out a notebook and writes something down. 

"We, I mean I and the new kid, Biru, then often spent time together. We liked to eat ice cream." I squeeze Biru's arm that is now looped through my chest. "Since my tooth just fell out back then, I was allowed to eat as much ice cream as I wanted. Literally a lot, my tongue couldn't handle it and went numb." 

We laugh. 

"What flavor of ice cream?" 

When I try to remember the flavor of the ice cream we bought that day, the memory that surfaces is one of the slides with corroded paint. It’s the color of ivory. I can still feel the sunlight's sting on my thigh when I slide. There was the word “sodomy” written by someone on the surface of the slide. I didn't know what that meant, so on my last day of junior high school, I found the definition on the dictionary: Sexual intercourse with the same sex or with animals; oral or anal intercourse between humans, usually between men. 

Nobody has perfected the term and explained that sodomy isn't always perverted in nature. It isn't about animals as the object, either. Because the truth is people do it on the basis of affection, consensually and full of respect. If we were still biased in giving meaning to the word, how could people like me and Biru be seen as natural? 

"Are you still listening to me?" Amelia takes me back to the all-white room we occupy. I answer, yes, and continue with a random ice cream variant I pick as an answer. I then ask if I were allowed to leave the hospital next week to become a speaker at a conference held by a media NGO. 

"What will you talk about?" 

"The queer perspective on the law systems of some countries in Europe regarding the LGBTIQ community." 

"Impressive. Unfortunately, I'm not the one who decides that." My vision blurs that instant. It’s hard for me to properly look at my surroundings. 

With what consciousness I have left, I push her. "Then who?" 

Amelia turns her head outside of the room, "According to the police, you need to take part in a series of interviews after I make sure that your mental condition is recovered. The interviews are about your family's report regarding your sexual orientation. Surely you remember, after the Family Resilience Bill was passed, families whose members have a tendency of LGBTIQ behaviors are required to report, and…." My body loses all power. It’s like someone turns off the switch inside of me, and everything goes dark. 

After a few moments, my ears can barely record the sound of Amelia's voice. "The sedative is working. Today, he talked about a traumatic experience in his childhood, which then created an imitated reality he patented in his unconscious mind." 

"What do you mean?" Someone with a baritone voice responds. It sounds like the doctor that visits me regularly. 

"He talked about Biru, the new student who saved him when he was little. They stuck together and went on to be a couple as adults." I feel Amelia move to land her body on the chair next to my bed that is suddenly empty. 

Abi Ardianda published her debut novel, the psychological thriller “Kelab dalam Swalayan” (a club in a supermarket) in June 2021. She can be found on Instagram on her handle @abiardianda.