Gema is 23 years old and might be gay. She’s not sure. (Not news.)
The problem about being maybe-gay is that Gema lives with her hyper-conservative parents, and has no legal rights as an unmarried Muslim woman in Indonesia.
She was in a bind. Her parents expect her to find a nice boy (of their choosing probably), get married, and make lots of babies. At 23, she’s older than any of her sisters or cousins were when they all got married, and the family is starting to look bad to their friends.
But Gema wants to get educated, wants to experiment with girls, wants to be her own person. Then, and only then, she might consider settling down with a nice boy. Or girl, maybe.
But she’s stuck. She must live with her parents until she’s married to a boy. She’s never had sex with a boy, nor will she be able to until marriage. But she’s also never felt attracted to a boy. The couple of times she’s had sex with girls have been fraught with shame and doubt.
Most countries expect immigrants to have a college education, something out of Gema’s reach. Even if that weren’t true, any visa she could get would require parental consent.
She has no options.
You knew there was a punchline…
When Gema told me her story, the first question I asked her was what the age of majority is in Indonesia. She didn’t really know what that meant, but she knew that people were considered adults at 18 in Indonesia.
I told her I had good news for her.
First, I told her, you are a legal adult in your country. I know you think your parents have control over you legally, but they actually don’t. The idea that you stay with your parents and listen to them until you’re married is purely a cultural constraint, not a legal constraint. That means that if you choose to, you may leave your parents’ house whenever you want. You are free.
I also told her that an Indonesian adult does not need parental consent to obtain a visa. Again, she’s free to make her own choices.
Finally I told her, you are not responsible for the choices or feelings of your family members. You cannot make them happy, and you also cannot make them sad. The way they respond to your actions is entirely their choice. If they choose to feel shame as a result of you living the life you want, that is not your fault. It is entirely up to them. You are only responsible for your own choices, not for the choices of your family.
Then, she lived happily ever after.
Gema politely thanked me, but restated her position:
There’s no law, she said, that specifically prevents me from moving out. But there’s also no law that specifically frees me. She said Indonesia just doesn’t have any law about the parent/child relationship as it relates to the age of the child. She told me that if she said “I’m over 18, so I’m free to decide my own life,” her parents tell her to shut up, they are an Eastern family, and she’s talking nonsense.
So I do what I always do when faced with an inscrutable question: I scrute it. I dug into the Indonesian constitution and law.
I told her that Chapter 10 of the Indonesian constitution guarantees that all citizens (Gema is an adult citizen) have the right to choose education, work, citizenship, and where they live. They also have the right, according to chapter 10, to express their opinion, to have freedom of thought and conscience, religion, and they have the right to not be falsely imprisoned or enslaved.
I explained to her that “age of majority” is the age when children legally cease to be minors and assume control over their persons, actions and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents over and for them.
That hit her like a ton of bricks. I saw the light flash across her face. She looked confused for a moment before widening her eyes. The law is on her side. She is not stuck. She is an autonomous person.
Gema immediately applied and was accepted for a work visa in Singapore. She might even meet a cute girl there.
You Are Gema
Gema had been “stuck” for years, laboring under this false restriction. She had a limiting belief, that her parents could control her every move, and that she was powerless to stop them.
For Gema, freedom was one google search away—just a quick glance through the actual laws she thought chained her down. Just a few minutes and Gema’s old chains were broken. Those chains were in her mind the whole time.
But I didn’t tell you this story because I think you particularly care about an Indonesian woman named Gema. I told you this story because you are Gema. We are all Gema, in our own ways.
Consider your desires, and think about why you haven’t fulfilled them yet. What limitations have you built for yourself that prevent you from being fulfilled?