In Bali, medical we meet Angie Angorro, a longtime resident of Bali who has Javanese roots. Angie speaks a handful of languages and is a former international runway model who lived throughout Europe. A talkative and popular character with bleach-blonde hair, Angie knows practically everyone in the cafe where we meet. He’s been at the center of the gay community in Bali for the past fifteen years, and we ask Angie about his experience living in Bali.
What is gay life like here in Bali?
Gay life here is really nice actually. People tolerate it here. In our culture, showing affection is not something which is very common. As long as you don’t show your business outside of the bedroom, it’s fine. Overall, people are ok with you. They probably just chuckle a little bit.
Do people face discrimination here for being gay?
Throughout the country, the education system is not at the best standards and people don’t understand. Before it was far worse. You couldn’t wear something fabulous and be too obvious or you’d get beaten up. I’ve had my share of beatings. I once had my eyeball detached from a hate crime when I lived in Java.
Are there ever problems with the law?
For the most part, what you do behind a closed door is your business. There are some movements in Indonesia to make things more strict, such as a recent pornography law which condemns provocative dress, kissing in public. There was also a movement to make pre-marital sex and homosexuality a crime. But the police leave you alone here. You [just] have to use common sense.
How do people meet here?
There are some gay clubs. We have a gay street. People sometimes meet with Grinder and Facebook. It’s also just luck and using your gaydar. We meet everywhere.
The new generation has fewer hiccups about being gay. When I was a youth and identified as gay, saying the term out loud felt very derogatory. Now, people are more able to say they are gay out loud.
How is Bali different from other parts of Indonesia?
It’s completely different. You still get beaten up if you are in Java. Bali is a special place. Balinese people historically ran away from persecution themselves because of religious difference. The Balinese people are very peaceful and open.
What do you enjoy about Balinese culture?
Balinese people are very family oriented. People are always there for you. There is an Indonesia saying that translates to “Even if you don’t have anything, what is important is that we are together.” That is the way the society thinks.
Where does the gay community fit into that thinking?
The gay community used to be left out, but now the community is stronger. Before you could only work as a hair stylist. But now a lot of us are in the right spot in our jobs. We gained power as people see gay men holding higher positions and professions.
Enough about the boys. Where are the lesbians?
Asian men are a lot easier to find. Lesbians stay at home. They like a quieter life.
So apparently, lesbians are indeed the same all over the world. After our interview, Lisa and I wave goodbye to Angie as he zooms off on his motorbike to meet friends for dinner. Angie is quite a unique international cosmopolitan for a local Bali resident, but he gives us good insight into the richness, diversity, and contradictions that abound in Indonesian culture.
Indonesia may be the world’s largest Muslim country, but the philosophy across the board appears to be “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” People can live in relative freedom as long as things stay behind closed closets. And Bali, as the standalone Hindu island with its many Western influences, serves as a special protective enclave for queer people across the country.