Being Gay and Appropriated

“Everyone wants to be black until it’s time to be black.”

This statement has been quoted, retweeted, and shared plethorically since the late 2014 or the beginning of 2015 in which the case of Michael Brown’s shooting was talked about every social media-second of the day. Brown, an 18-year-old black teenager was found dead in the hands of Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police who fatally shot him after the former reportedly robbed a convenience store.

One of the most popular elaborations on the statement came from a twitter user called @locoernesto who tweeted “I have yet to hear anything about #Ferguson from Miley or Bieber. Katy? Iggy? Everyone wants to be black until it’s time to be black”. The tweet, sent on August 14 2014, called out the hypocrisy of celebrities who had capitalized on black culture throughout their career. They all had relied on cultural appropriation to help their way to the top of the charts, ignorantly dressing themselves up in apparent blackness while overlooking discussions of race with smarm or vagueness because they — and their agent — feel that anything beyond such stolen yet hit-generating exterior is not beneficial to them.

As an outsider witnessing such racial and political landscape from the media’s point of view, I tried to understand what the black community felt towards these artists’ shut lips — yet twerked backs and cornrowed hairdos — when police brutality in the U.S. was suddenly broadcasted heavily. Every thinkpiece of such issue made me grown weary of these celebrities’ abhorrence. They built a marketing positioning upon the premise of being black but then their idea of giving credit to black people is by treating them as exotic commodities whose social struggles aren’t worth coexisting with their FGD-approved pop tunes.

I got the urgency of caring about the trouble with appropriation, but I never realized how closely the issue hit home until I related it to my own experience of being a marginalized individual. As a gay man living in Indonesia, the way my so-called tolerant milieu has been treating my being so far is not that different from what white entertainment’s casual racism has done to black people.

Indonesia’s stance on LGBTIQ has always been blurry since the country reclaimed its democracy, to say the least. Heterosexual and cisgendered people acknowledge us, but do not thoroughly — or in the case of conservatives, won’t ever — accept us. It was a bold statement to make on my part considering the fact that I had come out to several people, and blatantly demonstrated my queerness on several occasions. The latter of which has seen many people being comfortable with my camp and conversations about gay sex.

That comfort usually didn’t last long, though. Especially when a topic about my rights was brought up.

“Well, if gay couples get married, what’s going to happen to reproduction? You won’t have an heir or something.” A fiend of mine who participated in one of those conversations once said with regards to my vehement belief in gay marriage.

Taking into account how overpopulated Indonesia is and the country’s decreasing education index there’s no better response to such argument than an eyeroll. As if by allowing gay marriage, all of a sudden everyone will come out as gay and straight marriage will face extinction.

Gay marriage? No. Gay sex? Judging by how interested they are in my carnal knowledge, I couldn’t help but wonder if they wish they weren’t straight.

“Oh, I never thought that gays were able to do any other sex positions but the doggy style.”

“Oh, so how many anal intercourses have you had to get rid of that “pooping” feeling?”

These are the questions that have been recurring ever since my identity as a sexually active gay man was revealed.

But everytime I ended the conversation with a wishful thinking that someday I’ll find someone I can settle down with, statements like “well, don’t you want to have a wife someday?” or “go get married in Netherlands or the US. You will never be able to do so here.” emerged from that supposedly progressive curiosity and took them backwards five decades.

Aside from sex, my peers seem to have a penchant for my attempt at imitating Naomi Campbell’s runway walk. As I strutted down the hallways of my office on lunch break, they welcomed me with awe-struck praises and applause. But then, once the fashion show was over and we were back to talking about social phenomenons during which I displayed my constant worry about being persecuted by the extremists and law enforcement — due to this or this recent case of sickening punishment for simply living and breathing, and well, being involved in a private orgy — they simply dismissed every single word that came out of my mouth as exaggeration.

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s pretty evident that gay act, for a lack of better term, also sells well as far as lowbrow entertainment goes on this country’s television screen. There’s a slew of hosts who behave campily and engage in queer-baiting by creating jokes where they share homoerotic tension with their co-host or guest star, only to be made fun of by the entire production crew and audience whose collective, ensuing hysteria actually unveils implicit homophobia.

One can say what they want about those hosts’ true sexuality or argue about why they’re choosing to remain in the glass closet, but one thing’s for sure, they’re contributing to the notion that a male’s feminine traits are meant to be laughed at. There’s no denying that the audience doesn’t reject the evidence that two males can kiss each other. But to them, such action is done for nothing but hilarity.

This country is familiar with LGBTIQ-associated behavior, mannerism and roles. Its people would even take great pleasures in witnessing them. The aforementioned viewers of those mass-market catastrophes we call TV shows and several friends of mine serve as a testament to this snail-like progress. However, these people would only appreciate us, the others, if our purpose to live is to gratify them. In a way, the whole backhandedness of such appreciation reminds me of — dare I say it — minstrelsy. As a demeaning, racially charged performance, minstrelsy ridiculed African-Americans by reducing them to a bunch of dim-witted, slothful, clownlike, and superstitious carricatures because it was what white audiences found to be entertaining.

It’s basically not that different from what my friends from the privileged majority have been doing all along. They see my gay stereotypes as amusement, which would ony be palatable to them if they’re not served with a side of social consciousness. To them, we (gay men) only matter if we’re projecting fun, brightness, and liveliness, which what being gay, etymologycally speaking, was all about. They forgot that the word “gay” had endured transformations since the late 19th. Century and as it stands now, the rainbow that we cherish in our hearts wouldn’t even exist without decades of resistance.

Just because some gay men enjoy sex doesn’t mean our aim for companionship can only end up in bed-hopping, and legal marriage to us will only be a thing to dream of. Just because we are comfortable in our lukewarm progressive bubble, in which we are privileged to be gay only to the extent that we’re not concerned with our rights, doesn’t mean we are safe from persecution, jail, or even death. And just because we are gay doesn’t mean our gayness would only cater to your laughter and commendation. The approval you expressed would mean nothing if, to paraphrase the statement at the beginning of this personal essay, “you only want to be friends with us until it’s time to be friends with us”.