I was the first born son in my family, hence I was told to be strong and tough. Since I was little I wasn’t allowed to cry; during the times I cried out of fear because I was scolded, I would be yelled at even louder, and ordered to be quiet. Whenever I cried, I’d be bullied by my uncle and aunt, because crying is what girls did. When I cried my family would call me a “sissy” (bencong). Because I am Palembangese (from, Palembang, South Sumatra), I was also expected to be brave when someone picked a fight with me.
Fighting is a cultural thing. Some say it is in our blood. We have saying, Galak. It means if we don’t have a fight now, we will postpone it until later, but we will have the fight! When I’d confess that I lost or I didn’t dare to do the fight, they would say, ‘’you’re a sissy!”, and then compare me with my grim/spooky-looking (sangar) father. My uncle would say: “Your father is so sangar, but you’re so soft!.”
Because of this, I taught myself how to be rigid. It’s hard, now, for me to express my feelings – happy or sad, – and also when it comes to romantic relationships. I became an unconfident person. I feel like I’m nobody in this world, so I would rather stay silent on the moments where I should actually express myself. Yet, when I try to express myself like when I’m happy, I feel like I’m overexaggerating and when I express when I’m sad by crying, I then remember that I’m a man and real men don’t cry.
I’m maintaining image of what a man ‘should’ be, but also destroying my own mental health.
The distinction of what makes a man and what makes a woman has always bothered me. That there are certain ways I need to act so that I’m not branded as a girl in my community. Yet, now I realize that many of those things can be done by anyone and it doesn’t have anything to do with being a man or woman: like crying; like backing off when someone wants to start a fight; like confessing your feelings to someone you care about; like being vulnerable. By not doing these natural and normal human things, I’m maintaining image of what a man ‘should’ be, but also destroying my own mental health.
After I graduated from University, I learned that there are many people who can express themselves without fear. I joined the Explore4Action research program conducted by UGM and Rutgers, where I met people from a variety of backgrounds who had similar experiences to mine. I became a confident person who not only could express myself, but enjoyed it. I even have male friends now where we can say that we care about each other, and to each other! This is the real me, whether my community wants to accept me or not. I can now say what I want to say and be who I really am. Now, I’m also brave enough to stand up for those who can’t, yet, express themselves because they feel like I use to: restricted and judged by the people around them for not conforming to what they ‘should’ be, rather than an acceptance of who they are.
Explore4Action (E4A) is a four-year programme investigating the factors that influence adolescents to make a positive and healthy transition from childhood to adulthood, and if and how comprehensive sexuality education can support this process. The Youth Voices Research is the qualitative research part of E4A, where young researchers in three sites across Indonesia interviewed their peers about experiences of sexuality and gender socialization. The first part focused on older young people aged 18-25, while the second part focused on younger adolescents aged 12-13. The findings of both parts are published in reports here and here.