Being transgender can be dangerous in Indonesia, a country which only recently stopped considering transgender people mentally ill. Especially for trans women, coming out can mean living in exile, being beaten or abused by family members, and enduring threats from the society around you. Many women are pushed into sex work or begging on the streets, which puts them in even further danger.
Mami Yuli, Indonesia’s first known transgender law graduate, is working to change all that with a facility specifically designed to accommodate transgender elders, particularly trans women. In Indonesian culture, trans people are known as waria, a term which encompasses a range of gender identities and includes both transgender and transsexual people. Waria can experience social marginalization that becomes especially acute with aging, when they may not have families or loved ones available to take care of them.
Here’s where activist Mami Yuli gets involved, both with efforts to improve the living conditions for waria in society overall, and with her offer of shelter to trans elders. Initially, she provided housing in her own home to her elderly sisters, worried after seeing them living in extreme conditions, and now she’s expanded to a facility dedicated to the purpose, which she’s hoping to enlarge over time. The Indonesian government is offering support to help keep it running, although residents also need to work to support the home.
As the care and housing of transgender elders becomes a growing issue worldwide, Mami Yuli is showing how community organizing and collective work can ensure that transgender elders have a safe place to live and be themselves. Residents are accepted for who they are, rather than being forced into homes that conflict with their gender identity, or environments where they might be unsafe and vulnerable to assault from other residents, orderlies, doctors and staff members.
Mami Yuli points out that many NGOs and similar organizations focus on trans youth, but not the needs of older adults, reflecting a larger problem with advocacy work for and among marginalized groups worldwide. Older adults are often left out of pushes to address concerns about issues like economic disparities, homelessness, trouble accessing health care and other barriers to full social participation and safety. Her advocacy on elder issues serves as a reminder that youth eventually grow into older adults in an ideal world, and those older adults need support too.
The landscape is changing radically for transgender people in Indonesia, and Mami Yuli’s home is only one part of a much larger, and very encouraging, picture which suggests that the government is willing to make positive strides when it comes to caring for all its citizens, including those who belong to minority populations. The precise number of transgender people living in Indonesia is unknown; estimates range from 35,000 to three million, but what is known is that many of those residents have trouble accessing health care and other basic needs, and that they are at risk of poverty, sexual assault, rape and marginalization in their communities.
Creating safe places for transgender people and bringing their issues into the open is a tremendous leap for trans rights in Indonesia.
Note: The image of an Indonesian elder used to illustrate this post is not from the facility discussed here.
Photo credit: Craig Cloutier