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Jakarta Post

Accepting transgender, diverse identities on Peace Day

  • Ati Nurbaiti


South Tangerang, Banten   /   Fri, October 2, 2020   /   12:38 pm
Accepting transgender, diverse identities on Peace Day Sexual identity is not a mental illness, but the lack of sociocultural and institutional support for trans-people is causing psychological harm to many. (Shutterstock/taa22)

Going, going, gone. That blue Longchamp. The green Coach. Weather-beaten, soft-looking leathers. All at a fraction of their market prices, for these are second-hand, “preloved” items. Hundreds of spectators are gathered online, as the hunting and finding of the branded clothes, bags and boots, are aired live on Facebook.

The host, one potential buyer says, “looks like a banci [sissy],” drawing hilarious comments, for indeed, one says, the seller is a drag queen.

Gay activist Hartoyo started the now-popular online shop called Sriloved. Part of the proceeds support waria — transwomen — among the groups hardest hit by COVID-19. Mobility restrictions have closed their main livelihood sources — the beauty salons and streets for busking or konser — concerts in waria- speak. Another part supports the continued advocacy work of his group Suara Kita (Our Voice), from defending criminalized men attending a “gay party” in South Jakarta to supporting a young gang rape survivor.

The pandemic unwittingly gave birth to new fundraising ideas. The “preloveds”, Hartoyo told me, had become “a red carpet, a bridge to breaking the rigidity” of all the politicized frenzy that has landed the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people — in the position of public enemy no. 1, along with “communists” especially around election seasons.

Then, when things cool down, social and cultural acceptance of minorities in Indonesia returns, along with the difficulties, such as accessing public services. One waria said it was even hard to get a burial plot for a deceased friend.

Fundraising with “preloveds” had become a fun education tool, Hartoyo said, adding that most buyers and sellers were not gender minority activists. But many happily buy goods for, say, Rp 300,000 (US$20) but pay Rp 1 million, he said, knowing they could help the wellbeing of waria. “So many of the middle class in Greater Jakarta, not just celebrities, have tons of unused stuff,” he adds. Sounds familiar!

The transwomen were featured on International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, with a webinar discussing a new book titled Santri Waria: Kisah Kehidupan Pondok Pesantren Waria Al-Fatah Yogyakarta (Transwomen Islamic Boarding School Students:

Stories from the Al-Fatah Waria Islamic Boarding School in Yogyakarta), written by researcher Masthuriyah Sa’dan. The activist of NGO Solidaritas Perempuan (Women’s Solidarity for Human Rights) said she had been accompanying santri waria studying the Quran, since Islamic vigilantes forced temporary closure of the school in 2016.

The talks emphasized the struggles for full citizenship of gender minorities. While Islam recognizes all God’s “perfect” creations, including transgender people, the cleric Imam Azis said even obtaining an identity card was still problematic. “They have the same rights and obligations as everyone else, including the right to identity,” he said. However, when some waria fill in “female” in ID forms, local authorities refuse to issue them the ID cards, so many fail to access public services, including for health care.

The speakers and the accounts in the book made me realize a hero in my family — my aunt. She is the mother of a man trapped in a female body; that’s how my cousin describes herself — it’s hard to say “himself”, as I know her from childhood. I remembered “Ian” as I realized parents who have come to accept their children of such gender minorities are true heroes, bringing inner peace and self-acceptance to their offspring — just enough for them to be able to move on despite persistent hostility from their families and communities.

We’re not in a war zone, but years of hiding identities from families and friends surely must be far from a peaceful life for the many gender minorities.

A message of peace for the minorities has most recently come from Pope Francis.

In a recent encounter with parents of LGBT children, Pope Francis said “God loves your children as they are”. On Sept. 16 in the Vatican’s Renaissance courtyard, after a public audience with the Pope, the parents reportedly presented him with a booklet titled Genitori Fortunati (Fortunate Parents), which describes their children being considered “undesirable” by church communities. “The church loves your children as they are, because they are children of God”, Pope Francis said, reported.

The santri in Masthuriyah’s book say their pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) must be clearly for waria; it’s the only place they feel comfortable wearing either female or male prayer garments, and where preachers don’t condemn them to hell, even if some are sex workers. They had protested over one of their former clerics, who had written in a local newspaper that he had taught the waria to make them into “real men”. The late school leader, Mariyani, told him, “[…] being a waria is fate, not a disease that must be healed.”

Some of the santri declare confidently, “I am a waria and I am Muslim”.

My aunt’s acceptance of her daughter came slowly, after realizing Ian couldn’t be “healed”, and fearing a botched, possibly fatal sex-change operation that her daughter had insisted on. Some of the waria said they were lucky to have at least one parent accept them since childhood. Had they not, most individuals of gender minorities, like my cousin, would have experienced untold physical and mental pain in adulthood.

The theologist William Aipipidely noted hope in changing the laws to enable legal recognition of gender minorities. When believers of non-mainstream faiths succeeded in 2017 in changing the population law so they could declare their faiths on ID cards, “no one had thought this would be possible”, he said.

In struggling for inclusive citizenship, William added, “the holy book is the Constitution” which guarantees equality for all.

We have never asked our aunt, nor our cousin, about their feelings. We’re mostly surrounded by family and friends condemning or pitying LGBT, suggesting ways to return them to the straight and narrow.

But as really kind people they might want to help others in need, regardless of sexual orientation. One way might be donating idle items in their wardrobes, and choosing a preloved tote bag or two displayed in the funny FB videos.


The writer is freelance journalist, formerly with The Jakarta Post.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.