Post- Magazine

knowing love [feature]

reflections on queer love, community, and voyeurism in the archives

It is May of 1981. Tempo Magazine, one of Indonesia’s largest weekly newspapers, has just published an article about a wedding. “Their affections for one another are a little excessive, even in front of all their guests,” the author writes, seemingly amused. “Bonnie is pinching their ‘husband’s’ face. Jossie slaps their ‘wife’s’ butt.” Bonnie and Jossie, both in their early twenties, paint a vivid picture of young, unabashed love.

“But believe it or not,” the author continues, “Jossie and Bonnie are both women. And they’re here in the Swinging Pub Bar for their wedding reception…The first pair of women to do so in Indonesia, ever.”

Bonnie slices into their wedding cake. Jossie takes the plate, spooning a piece into her lover’s mouth. The bar, packed to the brim, erupts into applause.

As the article makes sure to emphasize, this was not a legal union. Neither Jossie nor Bonnie had ever dared hope for a legal marriage; Indonesia’s marriage laws had been explicit in terming marriage a union between a man and a woman, and their local registry had been firm in its denial. But the two of them, donning wide smiles and wedding garb, seem unbothered.


“We want an eternal love,” Bonnie tells the reporter when prompted. “And we’re happy. That’s all that matters.” 


Jossie and Bonnie’s wedding marked a turning point for queer discourse in Indonesia. For a nation that placed so much emphasis on the domestic sphere and traditional nuclear families, Jossie and Bonnie’s relationship was shocking. For some, it was an introduction to a new, freer conception of love. For others, it was a sign of Western cultural encroachment; the globalization of the wrong ideas.

More news outlets picked up the story, often without consent. Soon enough, the story of Jossie and Bonnie had grown from a tender account of love to a sensationalized, fear-mongering tale. The public’s response was hostile. “Pray more,” some remarked; “Find a shrink,” said others.

The year after, three young men founded Lambda Indonesia, the first gay organization in the nation. The discourse produced by Jossie and Bonnie’s case had spurred them on. There was a lack, they realized, of gay organizing and consciousness in Indonesia. Lambda sought to fill this gap, to prove “gay” Indonesians were worthy not only of acceptance but social inclusion.

Shortly after its formation, Lambda published its first newsletter, Gaya Hidup Ceria (A Cheerful Life). This newsletter was far from a large publication; its pages circulated only within the organization’s members. But the significance of its contents was clear. “Our emancipation,” the first article reads, “as Gays and Lesbians must be by our own hands. And for that, we must have pride—and we cannot wait a second any longer.”


Cover image for Gaya Hidup Ceria #3 

Gaya Hidup Ceria sparked something special, kickstarting a decades-long tradition of community publications, connections, and care. Lambda was disbanded within several years, and publication of Gaya Hidup Ceria ceased with it. But with this disbandment came a new wave of queer community publications and zines across the country. GAYa Nusantara, GAYa Betawi, GAYa Celebes, MitraS, Paraikette, Jaka-Jaka

The list goes on, and I’m so incredibly grateful that it does.


The zines in the Queer Indonesia Archive make me cry. The archive’s existence itself is emotional; to see the level of preservation and care that activists, historians and scholars have taken with these materials is touching. The Archive was only just founded during the pandemic, yet its collections of photos, letters, and texts lovingly preserved over the years have already grown to a staggering size.

It’s the zines themselves, though, that move me the most. Even today, with modern print technologies, zine-making is a labor of love. Zine-makers balance a myriad of elements, including content, layout, and visuals. And mass-producing them is another story entirely. In his article on Indonesian zines, Tom Boellstorff paints a brief portrait of the production process: the late nights in the back of someone’s house, the last-minute edits, and the scramble before the files are sent off to the local print shop. 

Reading through them is a joy. Partly because you can feel the love of the organizers and the effort inherent in the medium itself, but partly, too, because of their novelty. The zines represent such a range of queer interests and expression that it is difficult to sum them up in any succinct way. Each issue and section is a surprise in its scope and focus. Poems dedicated to one’s mother, short stories about queer love and desire, annotated bibliographies on queer studies. One issue, focused on queer sexual health, was littered with cartoon condoms and had an entire spread on intimate piercings (complete with explicit and detailed illustrations). Another depicted queer American cowboys, big and burly and mustachioed. 

With each one, though, I am most struck by the people. The lives depicted within these pages, their worlds frozen in time. 

There are photographs scattered all throughout these pages. There is something intimate, almost tender, about the process of going through them. Each issue brings a series of new faces; a new coverboy to meet, watch, know. A new series of personalities and stories to acquaintance myself with. A one-sided bond.

Sometimes the photos are of couples, locked in a loving embrace—moments so starkly intimate that I feel like an intruder. Other times the photos are of individuals, a portrait with a bright smile. Occasionally the figures are unnamed, their photographs included with no caption or context. Others are accompanied by entire biographies or articles—sometimes with details as intimate as their height, weight, and address.

And it didn’t always end there. Many publications would dedicate a page or two to a “Matching” section, where a subscriber could submit their name, address and a bio, inviting people to connect with them. Many of these submissions take on a flirty, confessional, intimate nature.

ARMANS, Ideal height and weight, using an alias. Exciting, masculine, handsome, educated, Javanese, just discovered my identity. Looking for idols above the age of 35…

MICHAEL, 20, 55kg, Buddhist, Chinese descent, romantic, a little feminine (but not 100%), loves swimming, music, and humor. Looking for a manly man between the ages of 20-25, someone cool and active that is understanding and has a moustache…

ADRIAN S wants to get to know you. Ask me anything, and I’ll certainly reply. And my face isn’t too bad, you know!


Leafing through these zines, I can’t help but feel like a voyeur, intruding on a period that isn’t my own. Adrian S. couldn’t have known that, in forty years time, I would be reading his bid for connection. Nor could Armans have known I’d have his full address, or his preferences for a man.

It’s hard to tell whether time has granted them anonymity.

I feel, in some ways, that I should look away, and yet I can’t help but want to learn more. Their names, their histories, their lives: all they have written and said. But what is my place as a historian? A reader? What right do I have to these materials?

In her article, “Finding Anne Moody” (a classic for History concentrators!), Françoise Hamlin touches on the ethics of historical research and the archives, and what it means to do justice for people of the past. Hamlin, while studying the life of activist Anne Moody, came across an unprocessed archive of Moody’s writings, and discovered a series of notebooks, bank statements, and ephemera—materials personal and chaotic in nature, their scrawlings reflecting her deteriorating mental health. When Hamlin contacted Moody’s family to inform them of the collection, they chose to have it destroyed.

Hamlin’s article grapples with questions of privacy and knowing in the archives, and ultimately, coming to terms with not knowing. Moody never intended to have these materials circulated, let alone archived. And though the Emory library waited until Moody’s death to provide access to these materials, the collection disregarded her desire for privacy in her personal life. 

While these zines are nowhere near as intimate or sensitive as in Hamlin’s case, some of the materials highlighted by the Queer Archive are deeply personal. A recent exhibit, Letters from Ger, featured correspondences between Ger, a lesbian, and Barbara Gittings, editor of The Ladder (a San Francisco-based lesbian publication). The letters are often emotional in nature, with Ger expressing her frustrations with the expectations of a heteronormative society. The letters are deeply personal and emotional, reflecting on queer love and perception in the 1960s. 

Reading these letters is voyeuristic, intimate in a way only the archive can be.

What makes Ger’s letters any different from Moody’s?

The ethics of archiving are blurry; there is no one standard for what should and should not be kept, circulated, and published. But I believe the distinction between respectful and careless archiving is in care and intent.

Ger’s letters were curated with love—with the hope that her experiences could provide comfort to another, even years removed. And that love makes all the difference.


The Queer Indonesia Archive and its materials, sensitive as they are, remain up and accessible for a purpose: for queer people in Indonesia and abroad to find themselves and their history.

In some ways, growing up queer in Indonesia is to grow up estranged.

I grew up with the same rhetoric many queer people have grown intimately familiar with: the dirty looks and insults and slurs. Hearing these things from peers and authority figures alike, I questioned, on many occasions, whether “queerness” was compatible with the nation and place I called home.

Forty years down the line, I find comfort in these words, these communities, these zines—just as so many must have done so long ago.

I love the archive, the lives and loves they depict, because I love just like they do. 

The Archive is proof that queerness has a home in Indonesia. One we must carve ourselves, and that we continue to fight for to this day—but a home of our own nonetheless.

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