A lot of different things bring people to Indonesia, but Clayton Bond’s journey to Jakarta and through life is truly unique.
Originally from Detroit, Bond earned a master’s degree in environmental change and management from the University of Oxford, a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University and he served in various postings as part of the US foreign service. But he wasn’t stationed in Jakarta for work. Instead, he found himself in the Big Durian for love. In 2009, Bond moved to Jakarta with his spouse, Ted Osius, the deputy US chief of mission in Jakarta.
The couple returned to the United States last week, but Clayton left a piece of himself in the country. He turned his blog into a book titled “Djakarta Djournal.”
Proceeds from the book go to Yayasan Kasih Suwitno, an organization that helps fight AIDS in Indonesia.
Bond talked to the Jakarta Globe about his experiences as a gay man, his life in Jakarta and the inspiration behind his book.
How do you explain your book to people?
I think there are still a lot of people who don’t know any gay people or openly gay people, and so to answer that question, here’s my story. I don’t speak for everybody. I don’t speak for every gay person or black person, but this is one story that might help promote understanding.
A lot of people ask me a lot of questions, particularly with regards to Indonesia. A lot of people back home in Detroit, and the United States in general, ask, ‘What is it like in Indonesia?’ So I started blogging about my experiences here.
And where do the book proceeds go?
Yayasan Kasih Suwitno, an organization to helps fight AIDS in Indonesia. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could put together a book and use whatever proceeds to support YKS, and in that way give back to Indonesia.
How can we get our hands on a copy of ‘Djakarta Djournal’?
You can buy the book through Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble for theNook [e-reader]. It’s available in print and as an e-book.
How did you feel when you saw the place card, ‘Mr. Clayton Bond, Spouse of Mr. Osius, Deputy Chief of Mission’ at the state dinner honoring US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama when they visited Indonesia in 2010?
It was this range of emotions. First I thought, ‘Is this real?” Then, ‘This is great.’ But then I thought, ‘How official is this?’
‘Is this recognition from the most senior levels of Indonesian government or is it a sort of a one-off because [Obama] is visiting and it was allowed on that one occasion?’
But it was important. I recognize that and I have to say, like most of our experiences here in Indonesia, we have found Indonesians by and large to be very hospitable people. I saw it as a gracious gesture. It was very significant. I appreciated it.
With Ted being the US deputy chief of mission to Indonesia, you two have to attend a lot of events?
Sometimes we receive invitations to ‘Mr. and Mrs. Ted Osius.’ They don’t know who I am, and I’m not so inclined to accept. I think people make assumptions, they might know Ted a little, so it’s very much an indicator [of how well they don’t know us.]
If someone puts ‘Mr. Ted Osius and partner,’ I feel like ‘OK, that’s something. Let’s see what the invitation’s for, who’s sending it.’
If it says, ‘Mr. Ted Osius and Mr. Clayton Bond,’ I’m inclined to accept this from whoever it is because they respect me. They know who I am.
I think we have to continue to challenge [stereotypes], not just Ted and me, but in general. There are still a lot of people who think — fewer now — that think all Americans are white, blonde and blue-eyed. So if we can help change or further inform that perception, all the better.
Any advice for someone who might have just moved to the city?
I intentionally ended the book with the piece about keeping calm and being grateful because that’s the advice I would give to someone coming to Indonesia, or really traveling to any country for that matter. It has been a privilege to be [in Asia], particularly in Indonesia, where people are so hospitable.
I’ve learned to smile here in a way that I hadn’t really known how to outside of close friends and family. Here you smile and people smile back or they smile at you and you automatically smile back.
You reflect on coming out some 11 years ago, any advice to people who are struggling with the decision to live openly?
The people who are the least secure with themselves are the ones who have the most problems with other people. This would be one of the things I’d say to someone struggling with issues of identity.
Anyone who is giving you [flack] is probably struggling as well and so just be strong, even if you have to fake it.
I know who I am. I’m cool with who I am. Nothing’s wrong with me for being gay, black, or from Detroit, American or whatever. And this is related to [a piece] in the book about people responding to what we give off, what we project. If I don’t come across as confident about who I am then other people, even well-meaning people, will respond to that.
Can you elaborate more on the section of your book that covers identity, including writer Gore Vidal’s views on homosexuality?
It took me a long time to understand what he was getting at that being gay doesn’t define who I am. There are so many characteristics of a human being and sexual orientation is but one.
‘I’m not just a homosexual’: that was his argument. ‘I’m Gore Vidal, I’m a writer,’ and this, that and the other. He’s American, and all these things, and that’s one aspect of who I am.
I think what he was getting at was, if [being gay] is all people hear about they think that’s all there is there to you and then it’s easier to cast you as a monster, to not understand you, to dismiss you completely.
What was it like to work on The Kayon, the quarterly magazine you edited for expatriate American women in Jakarta?
I think there’s a number of expats, and especially expat spouses, who come here, and I think they want to be inspired and they want to know how they can help. For maybe the first month or so, it’s great, a vacation even, then you want to do something, it goes from being a tourist to being a prisoner. And for me one of the reasons to write and try to put this book together was to feel useful, to try to contribute in some way.
One of the outlets I was able to contribute was through the American Women’s Association. I’m not a woman, but normally the spouse of the deputy chief of mission is a member, so at the time I arrived in Jakarta, the president [of the association] invited me to join and the next president, the spouse of the current ambassador, was very welcoming. And through the organization, I ended up contributing articles to and then editing The Kayon, which was a tremendous experience.
You’re moving back to the United States in a few days, any plans to come back to Indonesia?
We would love that. We love being here in Indonesia.
We’ve been away for six years from the United States, from Washington. We’re looking forward to being closer to friends there and family. But we would love the opportunity to come back to Indonesia to live and work. But in any case, we will be back as tourists.