DENPASAR, Bali (JP): After Thailand, it is Bali with Kuta, Sanur and Ubudthat is often referred to as the world's gay paradise.
""Kuta is a heterogeneous place. Although its inhabitants are culturally conservative, they do not care about other communities that are obvious about their sexual preferences. There is a gay club here,"" said Putu Suasta, a young businessman.
At the end of last month a documentary film on gays in Bali was shown in a theater in Denpasar. A portrait of gay life in Bali, made by Harry Dagoe Suharyadi of Tukad Film Productions, depicts the life of gays whose number is fairly large in Bali. They come from various ethnic groups in Bali, Java, Lombok and Sumbawa, and from abroad. Even though the gay population originating in Bali may be numerous, individuals do not dare reveal their homosexuality in public for fear of rejection. Therefore, direct shots of their faces were not in the documentary.
One of the characters in the film is Ketut, who works in a restaurant in Kuta. He admits that he has a fiancee, a young Balinese girl, in his home village. In Kuta he has a boyfriend who, according to him, ""is somebody to give love to and to go to with my sorrows"". Having a fiancee in the villageis only an ploy to avoid derision.
Made Adi, a tourism guide, says in the film that he must hide his homosexuality from the public because it is not acceptable in the community. Moreover, the rural community in Bali qualifies homosexuality astainting customs and religion.
""The film does not describe the gay world proportionally. It's like a cheap film,"" said Rangga, a gay from Sumbawa who has lived in Bali for 20 years. The film can also give a negative impression of gays whose psychological life is very oppressed.
""The gay people depicted in the film are those in bars, engaged in transactions, or being kept like a mistress. The psychological development of gays since their childhood is not described, neither their dreams nor the extent of their psychological loneliness due to social rejection. If they gather in bars and discotheques, it is only compensation. The reality is not limited to that,"" he said.
Rangga is a gay who presents himself honestly without shame. ""Ten years ago many friends decided to come forward. Well, the state of being gay is genetic, is it not? It cannot be changed,"" Rangga said. On the subject of dreams for the future, ""Yes, my gay friends expect they will spend their old age in a home for the old. If at all possible, it is our hope that the existence of gay people can obtain the status of equality before the law asnormal people, the possibility to wed another gay, adopt and raise children, as in some countries,"" he said.
Like it or not, the gay population in Bali has apparently grown. Their professions are varied: general managers in star-rated hotels, restaurant employees, hairdressers, tourist guides, artists and so on. According to Putu Suasta who has many gay friends, they have established gay clubs and organize regular meetings to throw parties or just to tell each other theirexperiences. It is not surprising that Bali is considered a gay paradise. If gays are still reluctant to declare themselves in public, it is because of the pressure of the Balinese culture that is very strict in its customs. Wayan Pendet Windia, criminal law expert on Balinese customs at the Udayana University's School of Law says if one refers to customary criminallaw in Manawa Dharma Sastra, a person considered to show ""sexual deviation""is called a kedi. The term kedi includes both lesbians and gays.
""As inhabitants of a customary village they are recognized and allowed tosay their prayers in temples and other Hindu places of worship. But they cannot wed according to custom, adopt children, act as a witness in a Hinducourt session, nor do they have the right to inherit their parents' tetamian wealth,"" said Windia. The tetamian legacy is heritage handed down through generations.
However, it is still possible for them to inherit other wealth termed harta guna jiwa as long as they have caused no loss to their siblings, saidWindia. If it is discovered that someone is a homosexual, or a sexual relationship is discovered between man and beast, child and parent, those involved are considered to ngeletehin (tarnish) the village. The punishmentdepends on the customs in the village, ranging from the obligation to organize a pengeruwatan (cleansing) ceremony to expulsion from the village. Hartanto Aryoprasetyo, a Surakarta-born poet who has lived 20 years in Bali, does not object to gays and believes they should have the same rightsas other residents, have the right to wed legally and to adopt and raise children. ""Whatever the name for the sex, they have the same right to love each other and live together. What is seen as a deviation is not criminal but a natural biological phenomenon.
""If at present cultural norms ostracize them and legal institutions cannot recognize them, they can only wed unofficially. A sacred marriage cannot be hampered by formalities. Yet, many heterogeneous marriages which are considered normal and approved by formal institutions end in divorce and adultery,"" he said vehemently. However, to wed unofficially, a lot of problems await the couple concerned in the future.
Hartanto may be right. Budi Adnyana, a young lawyer and an activist of a Hindu youth organization in Bali, can well understand the wish of the gay community to obtain public recognition and to obtain equality before the law.
""Viewed from the aspect of human rights, equal treatment should be given to gays. In the case of people of the Hindu religion, they must continue toenjoy equal rights in saying their prayers in temples. However, I think that the Balinese community is not ready yet to accept more, e.g. marriage between gays or the right to adopt and raise children. Is there a Hindu priest willing to lead the ceremony of such a wedding? If there is one willing to do so, the reaction of traditional villagers would probably cause a violent clash,"" he said.
Apparently there is still a long way to go before the gay community in Bali receives equal rights and legal recognition.