It is only a small pink house in the middle of a quiet, secluded neighborhood in Depok, West Java. However, the house, currently under partial renovation, may well be the future haven for graying transgenders rejected by society.
The board in front of the pink house says “Yulie Salon: Pria & Wanita” (Yulie Beauty Salon for Ladies and Gents), yet the house presently serves as an administration office for the Indonesia Transgender Forum.
The forum’s chairperson, Yulianus Rettoblaut, 51, who has owned the house for the past two years, told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview that she had been working on a project to build a home for elderly transgenders, locally known as waria.
“We have to do [the project] bit by bit because currently no one is eager to support us financially. I hope that eventually people can see how important this is for our aging friends,” said Yulianus, better known as “Mami Yuli” by her peers.
The idea to set up a home for aging transgender people had been mentioned by the late model Jeanny Stavia, better known as “Avi Naif”, in the 2000s.
In one of her TV appearances, Avi, who died of lung cancer in January 2006 at age 35, stated that one of her unfulfilled dreams was to build a nursing home for graying transgenders.
“Especially for those [elderly transgenders] who have been disowned by their own families,” said Avi on a TV show.
Born Joko Wiryanto Suwito, Avi found fane after becoming a model in the music video titled “Posesif” (Possessive), a song performed by local pop band Naif. She won an MTV award for best model in 2001 as a result to her performance in the video.
“It is very unfortunate that Avi died before she could accomplish the dream, but we have to move on so we can continue her vision,” said Yulianus, who has Avi’s photograph on the wall.
Today the house is home to three waria, 67-year-old Yoti, aka Oma (Granny) Maya from Maluku, 67-year-old Sri or Mbok (Mother) Sri from Pekalongan, Central Java, and 71-year-old Iwan, or Oma Anita from Kuningan, West Java.
Yoti, who said she was a chef on a ship in her younger days, is the cook for the nursing home, providing them with delicious meals, from Sumatran to Javanese dishes. As a teenager, she said she ran away from home in Ambon, Maluku, after her parents disowned her for being “different”.
Oma Anita, who needs assistance to walk properly, is the oldest in the house and simply enjoys her old days. She said she had also been rejected by her family.
Mbok Sri, a seamstress, is luckier because most of her family members have embraced her as she is.
Depok, which lies directly south of Jakarta, is home to many churches and was once known as a Catholic area. The city was founded by Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) officer Cornelis Chasltelein during the Dutch colonial period.
While the city has considerably diverse residents thanks to many universities, including the University of Indonesia (UI), that were built in the area, the city is currently led by Nur Mahmudi Ismail, a politician from the conservative Islamic-oriented Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
Yulianus insisted, however, that most of her neighbors had accepted her presence in the area.
“Sometimes we organize dangdut performances for our neighbors as well as distributing free basic staple foods,” she told the Post.
She added that her organization rented houses in the neighborhood for transgenders across the country, for example, for pageants and other social activities.
Furthermore, she acknowledged that building a large nursing home for graying transgenders was still impossible in the near future because of the lack of funds.
Therefore, the current focus of the shelter is to serve as a training camp so the elders can support themselves in old age.
“We have successfully trained around 40 aged transgenders who currently live independently. Most of them are beauticians, tailors and cooks [catering only to orders],”said Yulianus. “But, of course, we will try to accommodate those, like Anita, who can barely walk anymore.”
One of the alumni, Elly, 57, who refused to reveal her birth name, has rented a 9-square-meter room in Cilandak, South Jakarta, which houses her beauty salon along with her living space.
While Elly thought that it was a good idea to build a shelter for aged transgenders, she laments some of her younger peers who returned to the streets, mainly as sex workers, despite receiving training.
“They have to remember that it is impossible to rely on our appearance all the time,” said Elly, who has stopped wearing female clothes because she is “not young anymore”. (asa)