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Transvestites Brave Islamic Law

BY NURDIN HASAN


Peunayong, one night
Banda Aceh, TAG – Her face heavily made-up, ‘Bella Saphira’ struts a darkened length of cement path along the Krueng Aceh river in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh, wearing a loosely flowing dress but no Islamic veil.

Elsewhere in the staunchly-Muslim province of Aceh, which has been gradually implementing Islamic sharia law, Muslim women are required to cover their heads — but then, Saphira is not a woman.
She belongs to Banda Aceh’s small community of transvestites, who stake their claim on this riverside stretch every weekend after dark in an area where courting couples met before the December 2004 tsunami.
Tonight about 30 “waria” — Indonesian transvestites so named because they have the characteristics of a “wanita”, or girl, but are born a boy or “pria” — congregate and chat. Some are in full drag, others wear men’s clothing but wear carefully applied make-up.
Wafts of cheap perfume mix with the pungent odour of Indonesia’s clove-flavoured cigarettes. Pieces of costume jewellery strategically adorning ears, necks and wrists glint under flashes of headlights from passing cars.
“We’re just here to sit and gather together. We’re not here to earn money, but to get satisfaction,” says a smiling ‘Kiki Yohana’, whose manly features are barely covered by a thin sheen of foundation.
Kiki, a 23-year-old who works daytimes as a waiter on the outskirts of the provincial capital, wears a T-shirt and jeans.
“Kiki likes it this way. If I dress up, I’m afraid I’d run into relatives. I have a lot of relatives here,” she says as she explains that the masculine clothes are not because she fears capture by the sharia police.
The Wilayatul Hisbah regularly patrol the streets of Banda Aceh in search of improperly dressed or unveiled women, as well as gamblers, drunkards or members of the opposite sex being affectionate in public.
More than 200 Acehnese, both men and women, have received public lashings across the province in the past year, paying for infringing the sharia introduced as part of broadranging autonomy handed to the province by Jakarta in 2001. Others are given verbal reprimands.
But no transvestite has been at the receiving end of the lash.
“I am not afraid. We are only sitting together here,” says Yohana, who has been detained twice by the sharia police but released after getting a thorough lecture on morals.
“They came by earlier, but they didn’t say anything,” says one of the long-haired waria squatting nearby, wearing a woman’s Muslim tunic and pants.
Declining to give her name, she says that on busy Saturdays when the weather is pleasant, about 60 men, including some from outside town, gather here.
“They are very daring in offering their services. Even for 5,000 rupiah (50 cents), they are willing,” she says with a giggle.
Yohana says she is here not to earn money “but for pleasure”.
From pedicab drivers to police, young and old, she says plenty of local men from many walks of life, young and old, frequent the area to pick up the waria, who are otherwise shunned in every day situations.
A local gang provides protection in return for “donations”.
“If anything happens, they protect us, and we donate money to them,” Yohana explains.
Each transvestite gives 5,000 to 10,000 rupiah (about 50 cents to one dollar) each night to the gang members but if they are broke, they promise to buy them drinks when they are cashed up, she says.
Muhammad Natsir Ilyas, head of the Islamic sharia office overseeing the area, says action will eventually be taken against the waria if they are found soliciting for sex.
“We will summon them and provide them with guidance about what they are doing going against Islamic sharia, the very Islamic sharia we are trying to uphold here in Aceh,” he says, without giving a time frame.
He says the men will be told to stop dressing as women, but added that “we will also listen to them, what they really want. We will take a persuasive approach because they too are citizens”.
Saphira, who has remained quiet, drags from her cigarette and joins a group of friends noisily laughing in one of the empty huts serving as coffee and food stalls during the day.
“She has implants,” Yohana sniffs. “Others only use towels or even balloons.”
As she speaks a tall young waria arrives. Despite a broad chest and crew cut, there is nothing manly about Irfanda’s walk or talk.
“I just played around with a policeman for about an hour. Ooh, it was good. I really got drunk” (on love), she coos, adding that she wants to go home to get some sleep. [published on AFP – April, 12 2006]
Transvestites Brave Islamic Law Transvestites Brave Islamic Law Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on January 03, 2012 Rating: 5

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