Keith Hargreaves, 62, is gay and has been with his partner ‘H’, 57, for 34 years.
This is a love story across continents and cultures.
However, H is from Indonesia, where homeosexual relationships are less
accepted - which is why we haven’t shared his real name or shown his picture.
Betty Bennison met the couple to find out more.
After meeting Keith and H, it made me feel like love could overcome anything. The magic ingredient is compromise! They’ve been together for over 3 decades. However, their story isn’t simple. Keith was born in Lancaster, H in Indonesia. In July 2007, they were joined together in a civil partnership ceremony in Lancaster. They came to live in Leeds in 2012. I started by asking H how he met Keith. I knew they met in Indonesia, where Keith was working for the United Nations, but I wanted H’s side of the story.
H is hiding so much of his life from his family; my family know all about us and came to our civil partnership
H: To be honest, I like a white man. I have friend called Bagus. I asked him about it. I believed he had friends who were white men. He said, yes, I will introduce you. He gave me Keith’s number. I rang him and we had a conversation and arranged to meet ...
Keith: ... and to cut a long story short, we’ve been together ever since!
Betty: 34 years together!
Keith: It was 1987 we met.
H: 1987 – in November.
Keith: Around about my birthday.
H: I was airline staff, ground staff, with an airline called Garuda.
Keith: We met in Indonesia, where H is from. But I travelled a lot. In my career, initially I did 5 years in Indonesia – where I met H - and also spent time in Switzerland and Cambodia.
Betty: Did H accompany you on your travels?
H: Yes, but not in Cambodia. I visited just once, for two weeks. In Geneva, yes, I was over there for three-and-a-half years, then went back to Indonesia. After a few years, in 1999, I got a letter from Keith, he said, “I have good news! I’ve got a job in Indonesia. Please find a nice house, so we can live together again.” It was a very exciting letter for me.
Betty: I’ve been to Switzerland, it’s one of my favourite places.
Keith: We were in Geneva, of course, where the UN European Headquarters is.
Betty: What about your interests?
Keith: We like going to the cinema, we are cinephiles. Obviously, we watch a lot of TV, when the weather is miserable. Actually, we have quite different interests. I like crosswords, art and dance. But we share a lot with food. H is a professional chef and I like to cook too – and eat.
H: I like listening to music with nobody distracting me -
Keith: - which doesn’t happen very often!
Betty: What do you disagree on?
Keith: An interesting question. In astrology, I am a Scorpio and H is a Cancer – and these are exact opposites. But in some ways, opposites attract. But we do disagree about a lot of things, partly because we have quite strong views. Often, you’re informed by your culture. As you grow up, thinking about what you believe to be true. It’s only when you meet someone from a different culture that you realise what you think is true isn’t “true”, it’s just different. The same issue can be approached very differently, depending on where you come from. We disagree a bit about public space – what you can do in public versus what you can’t do.
H: When we watch TV together, sometimes a programme comes on and we disagree. For instance, when we watch Gogglebox! We always have a debate about what they say on that. Especially about family.
Keith: You might see on British TV that children disagree with their parents, and they are quite straightforward about it, but in Indonesia it’s very difficult to do that. Parents rule everything; you daren’t disagree with them. Another thing is that I come from a very working-class background. I grew up on a very rough estate. But H, his family came from a bit of money. So that’s different. But we don’t argue about it. I’m not very religious (thought I grew up as Methodist), and H comes from a very religious family – they built their own mosque. H is quite a strict Muslim, in a way.
Betty: What do your family think of you, H?
H: I am the only son from my father’s side. My father has two wives. My father wanted me to get married – all the time. When he died, this message passed on to my mother. My mother wants me to have a family and continue the family line. That would make her happy. I always say, “I’m not ready” and give an excuse. I can’t say the honest truth that I’m gay. It’s unacceptable. That’s very hard. Thank goodness I met Keith and we can move here. So, I feel my life is relaxed. I was 50-something when I moved here. Maybe I should have done it earlier.
Keith: H is hiding so much of his life from his family; my family know all about us and came to our civil partnership. But, somehow, I feel I’ve lost his family. When you marry someone, you do tend to marry the family as well. We do give some support to his family – secretly. My role can’t be talked about. And I don’t get to have the advantages of having in-laws. In another way, it would legitimise our relationship too. Had I been a white woman, whilst there would have been issues, it would have been easier to get over than the current situation.
Betty: So, it might be very convenient for you to go first Keith!
Keith: Ha ha, that’s right.
H: In 2009, we bought an apartment in Jakarta. Most of the money came from Keith, his salary was higher than mine. It was a lovely apartment. But if I were to die first, that apartment would have to go to my family – that would be awful for him.
Keith: Because it was in H’s name, not mine.
H: In Indonesia, a foreigner can’t buy property, that’s the rule there.
Keith: But it was worth the risk, because it meant we could live a good life in Jakarta together.
Betty: Where will you live when you retire?
H: I’m happy to be here but I have to compromise because Keith loves living back in Indonesia. So, we haven’t decided yet. It’s between Indonesia and England.
Keith: Or possibly both. H now has his UK citizenship, so he can live here anyway without me. I’ve lived most of my life overseas. I came back to the UK in 2012, having left in 1983. I’ve never really lived long-term here. I’d really miss the Asian connection. Lockdown has been really hard – no travel at all. We usually travel all the time. It’s been a strain. In terms of retirement, I’m unlikely to retire fully. I am already semi-retired; I only work one-and-a half days and I’m happy with that.
Keith and H still together after 34 years
Betty: Of all the countries you’ve visited, which is your favourite?
Keith: I have to say Indonesia! I know it so very well. It’s a massive country. It straddles the equator so it’s very hot. You might have heard of Java? That’s in Indonesia. The main island, where the capital is. Bali, too. Everyone says Bali is a great holiday destination, that’s part of Indonesia too. It’s a very tropical country. 13,000 islands. The largest Muslim population in the world. The 4th largest population in the world! It’s the sort of country that has so much going for it, but is really bad at advertising itself. So it’s in the shadows somewhat. It was never really a British colony. It was actually an important Dutch colony.
Betty: You both sound very happy with each other! I’m on my third marriage – so you’ve done very well at 34 years! What’s your secret?
Keith: The big C – compromise. Particularly when you come from very different backgrounds. We’re lucky though – because I lived in Indonesia for so long, I had an in-depth understanding of what’s going on in the country. I speak the language very well, so I can ask about things I don’t understand. And H’s English is really good. And having lived in the UK for while, he also understands what it’s like, living in a foreign culture. We’ve got that in common. It’s good to be able to step into other people’s shoes and look at things from their angle. I do feel strongly about the loss of his family, about how we can’t get to know each other. But it’s his decision, that I have to support.
Betty: Thank you both for speaking to me and for being so honest.
It was a real pleasure to talk to Keith and H. It was easy because they were so comfortable with each other – I could see how it had lasted so long. Despite having different skin colours, different cultures and religions, and coming from different countries, their relationship has lasted. Long may they continue!
Thanks to Betty, Keith and H. Keith Hargreaves runs Sage, which offers support to older gay, lesbian and transgender people in Leeds.
To find out more: www.mesmac.co.uk/our-services/leeds/sage
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