Last week, the Indonesian gay web series CONQ was taken offline, after a lawmaker accused the series of degrading the morals of young people and called on the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to ban it.
With prominent film director Lucky Kuswandi at the helm and an all-Indonesian cast, CONQ is truly a home-made gay series. Consisting of 11 short episodes of about 10-15 minutes each, CONQ portrays the dynamics of Indonesian urban upper-middle class gay life through its two main characters, Lukas and Timo. The series aims to be a platform for examination of contemporary issues affecting the gay community, to promote tolerance and respect for diversity, and spread awareness of HIV and AIDS. The first episode, for example, sought to challenge the stereotype, common even in the Indonesian gay community, that being gay means living a life of sex, drugs and parties. A recent episode looked at societal pressure for Indonesian gay men to marry women. Although some episodes included sex scenes, the series was freely available on YouTube and could not be considered a “gay sexually-explicit video” (video syur gay) as it was described by some local media.
After initial fears that the site had indeed been blocked, on Sunday morning CONQ’s administrators released a statement revealing that they had intentionally put the videos on private while they figured out how to respond to the growing controversy. The administrators even urged fans not to draw attention to the issue by signing a Change.org petition of support, which they felt would force the government to ban the site or endanger the cast and crew. Whatever the case, the desired effect was achieved. One of the few fun and empowering online spaces for Indonesian LGBT people was closed.
What happened to CONQ is not new to Indonesians. Mild depictions of heterosexuality have also been subject to controversy. The cancellation of Lady Gaga’s concert, the imprisonment of the editor of the short-lived Indonesian edition of Playboy and protests against the Miss World pageant are just a few recent examples. A decade ago, television preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar, or Aa Gym, campaigned with the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) to ban the film Buruan Cium Gue (Kiss Me Quickly) for promoting premarital sex among teenagers. While banning of or controversy over heterosexual cultural products can be quite arbitrary, it seems that almost all expressions of homosexuality or LGBT life are suppressed.
In his exploration of porn and censorship, Money Shot (2012), Jeff Sparrow describes the approach to censorship at the Australian Classification Board. The classification process ranks films based on levels of sex, nudity, violence, coarse language, or drug use, resulting in a gradient from very mild (G), to high (R18+) and exceeds high (RC). The length of shots, and the use of slow-motion or close-up images are considered to produce a greater impact and result in a higher classification. This process is far from perfect, as demonstrated by the frequent lively debates during the classification process and the fact that perceptions of what is considered sexually explicit can change with time.
Indonesia’s Anti-Pornography Law (Law No. 44 of 2008) contains no such nuance. With a vague definition of pornography, any artistic product that reveals body parts can be declared porn. The law defines pornography as pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, conversations, movements of the body, or other forms through a variety of communication media and/or performances in public which contain obscenity or sexual exploitation that violates the moral norms in society. The elucidation to article 4 of the law even describes homosexuality as a deviant sexual practice.
The Anti-Pornography Law, and the Law on Information and Electronic Transactions (Law No. 11 of 2008), have been used to disproportionately target homosexuality. In 2012, for example, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology blocked the website of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which it labelled pornography. Similarly, in 2013, the ministry added the website of the local LGBT rights group Our Voice to its list of sites containing pornographic content, leading to it being blocked by several network providers. The fact that rights-focused and educational sites such as these can be considered pornography demonstrates the heavy-handed approach to expressions of homosexuality in Indonesia.
Dangdut – the local genre of music that combines Indian, Arabic, Malay and dance music influences – would seem to have little in common with a series like CONQ. But taking a closer look at dangdut further exposes the double standards in Indonesian approaches to sexuality.
The post-New Order era has seen the emergence of female dangdut singers notable for their sexualized lyrics and performances, chief among them Inul Daratista and Julia Perez (widely known as Jupe). Both are known for their assertive, empowered, and sexy images and performances, which have often sparked controversy. Many of their songs work on (blatantly obvious) metaphorical levels, such as Belah Duren (Splitting the Durian) and Kocok-Kocok (Shake It Up). Their sensuous delivery sometimes devolves into undisguised passionate moaning: “Ah, ah, ah”. This kind of overt sensuality (and sexuality) has come to define this popular music, which can be accessed easily by everyone of all ages on television or online.
The heterosexual sensuality and sexuality in dangdut videos rarely results in calls for their banning. It’s true that Inul’s signature “drill dance” (goyang ngebor) caused major controversy in the early 2000s, sparking calls for her to be banned from television. Since then, however, many more female dangdut singers have risen through the ranks, often with their own trademark salacious dance moves, such as Zaskia’s “duckling dance” (goyang itik), or Duo Serigala’s “dribble dance” (goyang drible). While some have caused a minor stir, most have passed by without any fuss. Recently, there has been the popular song Hamil Sama Setan (Impregnated by a Ghost), sung by Ade Perlan (featuring Litha Zima), which celebrates pregnancy and hetero(sex)uality with fun lyrics and rhythm. No one has accused it of damaging the morals of Indonesian youth. Likewise, nobody has accused Jupe of encouraging premarital sex with her songs Belah Duren or Jupe Paling Suka 69 (Jupe Likes 69 the Best).
Porn and sexuality in Indonesia are clearly complex and contested. Dangdut songs are able to slip under the radar, while positive and relatively benign expressions of LGBT life are labelled pornography. It seems unlikely that those calling for CONQ to be banned have even watched all the episodes. But ignorance and double standards are characteristic of the government’s approach to issues of sexuality. Calls to ban series such as CONQ are only the beginning. There is a danger that these calls could be extended to any issue deemed threatening to “public morality” and subsequently have far more serious impacts on health or security.