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The Story of Jakarta Transvestites

Updated on February 13, 2015

That night, the same as previous nights, the crossroad in front of ITC Cempaka Mas Jakarta was packed with vehicles. The crowd stopped only for a few moments when the light turns red. However, the short pause was not wholly void for these motorists. There is a plump-bodied figure with a beautiful face that attracted their attention.

With a lively and tuneful voice, the figure was singing popular songs that are entertaining. Some riders gave out small change as a sign of their appreciation, while some others only flirted. However, the singer is not angry and just reply with a sweet smile.

"Ah, I’m okay with the flirts. That just how men are," said Iin, the singer who is in reality a transvestite. According to him, life as a transvestite is inevitably filled with things that are not pleasant. However, it must not cause fear, or a sense of security will never comes.

Iin, whose real name is Indra, explained that he went to the capital from his hometown in East Java a couple years ago to meet a friend and get a job that was promised to him. However, it turns out the address given was wrong. Until this day, he has never met with the mentioned friend even once.

Having no fare to go home, he tries to find money by singing on the streets as a transvestite. Apparently, this ‘occupation’ has kept him alive in the Jakarta to this day. From his daily work, he can get up to 40 thousand rupiahs or around $5 per day.

In addition to singing, Iin sometimes uses his expertise in makeup and hair styling to earn extra income. He often helps neighbors in the area where he lives to look more beautiful when they wanted to attend the wedding ceremony. His goal is to have his own business place. "Later, if I have enough money, I want to create my own beauty shop," he said.

Although he became a transvestite, which some people considered taboo, Iin’s family back home does not object to this fact. "I'm feminine even when I was little, so my family in the village understands why I am a transvestite now," he said.

As a normal human being, Iin also has the need for love. Currently, he has a male lover who works as a street vendor who will accept him for who he is.

Similar to lin, Soleha is also singing at the intersection to make a living everyday. According to him, it was done because of economic pressure. "Rather I can’t eat, I’m better off singing here. I can get money doing this," said Soleha, whose real name is Soleh.

He also said that the biggest difficulty faced when working on the streets is the raids by the Kamtib officers (public police). When it does, sometimes he had to run for his life to escape pursuit by the officers.

Although so far he has never been caught by the officers, but he was very scared about it happening to him. Based on stories from friends, the treatment to transvestites who are caught is no joke.

He hoped that transvestite who is just singing in the streets, like he did, not experience the same treatment as transvestites who are prostituting themselves. Because, transvestites who are singing not violating any law and just trying to survive in the capital.

Based on the data held by Srikandi Sejati Foundation, a foundation which is engaged in the empowerment of transvestites in Jakarta, nearly 60 percent of transvestites who lived in Jakarta are making their living on the streets. Most transvestites are coming from outside Jakarta and came to the capital because they are not accepted by their family and communities.

"From about 4.000 transvestites who live in Jakarta, nearly 60 percent are making money on the streets. Most of them are from outside of Jakarat and go to the capital because they are not welcomed by their family and communities in their areas of origin. They survive in the capital by way of singing or prostituting themselves," said Srikandi Sejati Foundation chairman, Lenny Sugiharto, who is a transvestite himself.

According to Lenny, the hard life on the street turned out to be a major problem faced by the transvestite. During 2008, several cases of violence have fallen on the transvestites who make a living on the streets. In fact, there are three cases that led to death. Meanwhile, in the year 2007, there were 5 cases of violence against transvestites that lead to death.

In addition to violence with a motive of robbery and the feud between fellow transvestites, there are also cases of violence by public when conducting raids against transvestites who prostitute.

"Transvestites who offer themselves indeed have violated laws and regulations. However, they don’t deserve the harsh treatment they received when raids conducted by the officers," he said.

Help for Them

Srikandi Sejati Foundation has made various efforts to provide guidance so transvestites who are still working on the street can get a decent living without having to face the harsh street life. It emphasizes the empowerment of transvestites' livelihood by helping on businesses creation.

In addition to business creation, transvestites are also trained in various skills. These includes making various handicrafts such as necklaces, earrings and various other accessories, makeup skills, cookery, sewing, computer skills, singing and so forth.

Since 2002, the activities of the foundation also emphasis on health care for transvestites in the form of informationdissemination on HIV/AIDS infection that is increasing among transvestites.

Sustainability of the foundation is not separated from the help of various parties, both as a sponsor or donor. Some of them are USAID, HIVOS and various foundations in the field of health, particularly HIV/AIDS. Srikandi Sejati Foundation was established by transvestites, University of Indonesia's social organization and other parties in 1998.


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    • LisaKoski profile image

      Lisa 6 years ago from WA

      Such an amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from California

      Everyone has their "thing" and I do not understand why people in this day and age can not just "live and let live"! So what if this person is a transvestite, as long as it does not hurt anyone else, it is really none of their business. Society tends to isolate those defined as "different" at a very young age and I truly think that is where the problem with acceptance starts.

      If young people are taught that everyone deserves respect then they will grow up with a more open minded attitude! If children live with hate then it is not surprising if they grow up to be haters, sometimes for no apparent reason at all, just because that is all they know.

      Thanks for sharing this story! Rated up and interesting.