Sun, 21 May 2000

'Lines', an attempt to uncover the phenomenon of lesbianism

'Lines', a collection of stories of women in the margin; By Ratri M; Edited by S.S. Listywati; Millenium Publisher, Jakarta; January 2000; 195 pp

JAKARTA (JP): Is it true that the Indonesian community is still very much gripped by homophobia? Only we can answer the question. Amid the present hypocrisy of our society, one may say that the presence of homosexuals is still generally unacceptable to the Indonesian community. Worse still, lesbians, also known as lines, are more likely to be rejected than gay men. Gay men have proved they have greater courage to appear in public. When Dede Oetomo published a gay magazine under the title of Gaya Nusantara, people showed their understanding, which was much better than that shown when lines presented themselves to the public.

That's why in the publication of Lines, Ratri M. is only a pseudonym. Not even the publisher knows her real name as the manuscript was delivered through the author's manager. In this context, the Marxist theory of feminism has proven correct in its proposition that when a society marginalizes a particular group (including in the relationship with the factor of production), those marginalized most will be its female members, not the male ones. Kate Millet, a feminist, warns that every political concept can always be explained clearly, namely that it always refers to the major structure of the patriarchal power, so that finally the result will be a sexist (discriminatory) society. Millet also points an accusing finger at this discriminatory politics, saying that it is merely based on misogyny (hatred of women), which is the fruit of oppression in both the public and private domains. This patriarchal politics, in her opinion, is in operation not only in one or two cases alone, but in various aspects of life, among other things, in the biological aspect, sexual violence, social strata and even education.

It is indeed interesting to finally find that when the phenomenon of lesbianism is discussed in the context of feminism, the discourse eventually arising is not the phenomenon of lesbianism per se but rather the oppression of a minority group in a sexist society. Another radical feminist, Ti-Grace Atkinson, has said that when we talk about the expropriation of women's rights in the public and domestic domains, the entire patriarchal system must be rejected. Kate Miller's statement on the emergence of women's oppression in all aspects of life being right, there is no other way but to become a lesbian as otherwise any step made will lead one to a trap of the discourse based on the male frame of thinking. It is almost entirely right when she says that feminism is the theory while lesbianism is its manifestation.

About the author, from a number of conversations, I may describe her as a young woman with an attractive personality. It can also be concluded from our conversations that she is consistent with the ideology of feminism that she adheres to and that she has opted for being a radical feminist in her own way. It may also be the reason why the front cover illustration is dominated by the color of violet (read: sorrow), the symbol of feminism. Her short stories have been published in a number of mass media publications and she says that she became a short story writer especially because she wants to express her emotions on love and also because Indonesian society often treats its women unfairly. Some of her short stories, for example, Sebait Kidung (A Verse of Hymn), have domestic violence as their theme, describing that in such a case the victims are mostly women. Unfortunately, though, the writer has chosen to keep her real name to herself.

When I was a senior high school student I loved to read novels by Mira W. One of the novels I then read was Relung-relung gelap hati Sisi (Dark Recesses in Sisi's Heart), which has a similar theme. To the best of my knowledge, besides this one there are no other published literary works on the same theme. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when in early 2000 I finally laid my hands on Lines. So, my congratulations to the parties enthusiastically publishing this collection of stories.

When you read this book, it seems as if you were led to reread another phenomenon outside heterosexuality. Lines seems to deconstruct our consciousness in order that we may try to understand the lives and positions of lines, which are certainly still far from being comfortable in Indonesia. So, rather than moving away with a knitted brow and a suspicious look, we should approach them and try to understand their choice, which they realize is full of serious consequences, including the community's unfavorable judgment.

In Lines, Ratri M. seems to strive to delve into the stories of "marginalized women" with all their problems. For no apparent reason all her 23 short stories in the collection are divided into three episodes: Love, Doubt and Determination. The themes of the stories vary, from marriage, parental hope, career, future, love, intersubjectivity conflicts to life and death. Some of these stories are very interesting, for example the one titled Wawancara Itu (That Interview), which tells the story of a TV broadcaster hit by a dilemma during her career, which she may lose once people learn that she is a lesbian, and her partner's demand that they should not always hide their relationship.

Irony and gloom hung in my head when I finished reading the book. As a member of a society now moving toward egalitarianism, I once doubted whether we could prove that Indonesian society was not a closed society without any allergy to certain matters that would run against the grain. It is true that our society is one with a deep sense of morality and that at the same time it is also a sexist one. However, this is no reason for prejudice. Society must begin to learn to do away with discrimination. To be a lines or a gay man is not a crime. As we hope that our rights are respected, we must also be capable of respecting their right to chose the path they will take, regardless of the reason.

-- Adriana Venny

The writer is editor of Jurnal Perempuan (Women's Journal).