Last year, I received an email from a reader of my writings in The Jakarta Post. The person is a he-she. For the sake of respecting the person’s gender preference, using “she” is more appropriate.
She said that she had been following my writings about human rights and humanitarian concerns on various issues in Indonesia, including minority rights.
She was based in the US seeking political asylum as she has been experiencing unspeakable harassment and abuse as a transgendered individual in Indonesia.
She asked me to write a letter as an “expert witness” to what has been happening to minorities, including transgendered individuals, in Indonesia.
Only recently a survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) found a growing level of intolerance toward minorities, particularly toward gay and lesbian people.
As a San Francisco Bay Area resident who befriends gays, lesbians, transgendered, and queer individuals, among which include married homosexual couples and a woman who was a man, I deem such an email very touching. I have taken for granted how the liberated society such as the Bay Area has shaped my perspective about the world, its beauty and its equality.
In the last 14 years, I have come to believe that the world is equal, fair and just. We love each other equally, regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender orientation. We also respect each other no matter what our social, political and economic statuses are.
I have multimillionaire friends who drive Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but I also have friends who work as storekeepers, maids, waiters and waitresses, truck drivers, flea market vendors and food truckers.
Scott McKenzie’s song “San Francisco” illustrates my thoughts in a melodious way, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there.” Yes, the people of San Francisco are the gentlest of all, as they would accept whoever you are. Even one in seven residents was born overseas.
If you happen to like watching movies, you probably have watched Milk, a biographical film about Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and politician who was elected as the first openly gay person as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
He was nicknamed “The Mayor of Castro Street”, a district where the rainbow flag is flown proudly every day, as it symbolizes the liberation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.
His assassination was not a happy ending, but his activism still lingers to this very day and his spirit has fueled millions of hearts.
My reader-turned-friend was not that lucky. In Indonesia, she experienced discriminatory actions and years of harassment for having the heart of a woman while having the physique of a man.
She was not accepted to work anywhere — in an office, in a bank, in a school. She was boxed into an “outcast” category. She also said that her other minority statuses, such as being a non-Muslim and of Chinese ethnicity, also placed her in an even more difficult position. She said she could have been easily disposed if she was unlucky.
In my study about the LGBT community in Indonesia, I came to learn how some cultures in Indonesia actually acknowledge more than two genders, such as warok in Javanese and the three sexes and five genders with distinct social roles in Bissu, a Bugis Sulawesi culture.
In Jakarta, Taman Lawang is the place where prostituting transgendered individuals can be found. Waria or banci are likely to work in hair salons, as masseurs, or as entertainers. It is very unlikely they work in formal institutions, such as corporations or schools. People look at them with a big grin on their faces and look away.
The world is run by straight individuals, who are known as heterosexuals, and many of them are in powerful positions, such as politicians and religious leaders. Most of them are men, so the world we live in is built based on men’s eyes and convenience. Women, children and the LGBT community are placed on the back seat with very little power and a whispering voice.
I would love to see a “gentle Indonesia,” where the people don’t only smile and wear flowers in their hair, but also embrace the LGBT community with all their hearts.
I would love to see a political leader who is a homosexual or a transgendered. I would love to see a fair workplace for all, where a woman who was a man can work with kids at school. I would love to see an Indonesia that is fair and equal for all.
This dream is so close, but yet so far away.
Jennie S. Bev