Life is not easy for trans women in Jakarta. In Indonesia, being trans was considered a disease until recently. Heterosexual Indonesians frown upon homosexuality and cross-dressing. Currently, same-sex couples in the world’s biggest Muslim country are not eligible for any of the benefits available to hetero couples. The law does not protect members of the transsexual community against hate crimes and discrimination, and incidences of such crimes have been escalating in recent years.
Mama Yuli’s Pink House
Members of the disenfranchised community are making efforts to change this situation. One of them is Yulianus Rettoblaut, whom locals call Mama Yuli. Her Pink House, a home for elderly transgender persons, is located in a suburban part of Jakarta at the end of a dirt road. Children are playing and chickens are scurrying around. The house is like a retirement home for transgender and transsexual people – “waria” as they’re locally known.
Rettoblaut says she has known she was transgender since she was in the fifth grade. She lived in a small, isolated village on the island of Papua. At that time, “transgender” did not exist as a concept. Nobody around her was gay or lesbian either. When she was around 10, she started getting crushes on boys. The beginning of her self-expression came when she was at university. A transgender friend took her to an area of Jakarta where there were a lot of waria prostitutes. She met people who were like her for the first time.
Rettoblaut joined the ranks of waria prostitutes in Jakarta soon because jobs were hard to find for members of the trans community, which they still are. The work was hard and violent. She was abused by customers and chased by police and vigilante groups. Her family wanted nothing to do with her and her brother, who was a cop, said he would kill her.
A Community Leader
Ultimately, Mama Yuli became the first transgender person to get a law degree from an elite university in Indonesia. She became a leader of the country’s ever-increasing trans community after she decided to make a home for its older members. She says the government evades its responsibility by claiming they don’t know whether to place trans people in male or female homes for the elderly. Their families have no interest in taking care of them. A lot of them are homeless beggars.
Her own house wasn’t big enough, so she renovated it, extending the bathroom and adding a second floor. There are hundreds of waria on the Pink House’s waiting list.