Indonesia's transgender couples surrounded by fear and persecution

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Kate Hodal reports on the dangers of defying taboos in the world's most populous Muslim country

It was anything but a normal wedding. The identity cards were forged, the groom's parents refused to attend, and only a handful of friends were invited. The event was so taboo it could have end with the bride and groom in jail.

"That day I felt like a freedom fighter, like liberty itself," says 28-year-old Noah of his Indonesian wedding, with the photograph album of last year's ceremony spread open across his knees. "But the truth is, we have no choice but to keep it a secret."

"It" is the fact that Noah, a small-boned man with teenage acne, a gelled-back crew cut and wispy moustache, is not yet – in the eyes of his government – a man.

One of a growing number of Indonesia's transgender people, Noah – who was born female, but is now pre-op female to male – is defying considerable sociocultural taboos in the world's most populous Muslim country to become who he feels he is: "A man who just wants to be with the person I love."

"There's no shortcut for this," he says, quietly, of his transgender life. "You have to plan everything – how to fit into society, how to act like a man, how to behave 'normally'. If you don't, you face discrimination – and physical, sexual and verbal abuse."

There are no official figures for the number of transgender people currently living in Indonesia. "She-males" – or waria – are some of the most socially visible, with the most famous among them, talkshow host Dorce Gamalama, considered the Indonesian Oprah.

But the transgender life is not easy in Indonesia. While legally allowed to marry, they can do so only after successfully completing realignment surgery, a prohibitively expensive process which costs 200m rupiah (£14,300). They must also wait for a government-issued identity card declaring their new gender.

In a nation where the average annual income is 20m rupiah, (£1,430) many transgenders and their partners are forced instead to lead what are, technically, same-sex relationships.

"This is a grey area in Indonesian law," says Yuli Rustinawati of the Jakarta-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) charity Arus Pelangi (Rainbow Stream). "The national government recognises sex but not gender, or – in other words – the result of realignment surgery, but not the process."

While neither LGBT persons nor same-sex relations are prohibited by the Indonesian state of 240 million, 80% of whom are Muslim, local governments vary in how they handle it.

Many states, such as south Sumatra, use anti-prostitution laws to restrict the rights of LGBT people, where "prostitution" is widely defined to include homosexual sex and lesbianism, as well as pornography and sexual abuse. In the sharia state of Aceh, gay sex is punishable by jail, while waria, once nationally deemed cacat, or mentally ill, are now categorised along with the homeless as a "social welfare problem".

According to Sardjono Sigit, of Gaya Nusantara, an LGBT rights group based in Surabaya, east Java, such laws simply prove that "LGBT people in Indonesia are still regarded as freaks who are part of some 'special community'."

"As an 'entertainer', an LGBT person can be free to express their sexuality as part of their 'performance'," he says. "But in daily life, they're still expected to behave as heterosexuals..."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/16/indonesia-transgender-couples-persecution

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Posted

Read the article this morning - I absolutely hate it when outdated religious views causes such misery.

Hugs

Caroline

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How many times have we said something like, "I've gotta get this done, or I'm dead," or "If so-n-so catches me, he'll kill me."

It's very sad that in some countries, when a person says something like Dian said in this article, "because if my parents knew I was living like this, they would kill me," they literally mean...they could be killed.

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