The Long Trail of Independence for Transgender People

Since the year 1945, Indonesians annually rejoice the country’s independence from the Netherlands. And since that year until now, Indonesians have been celebrating the notion of independence and freedom, every 17th August. And that notion has been developed and translated into several affairs, such as: freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of choosing a religion under the 6 acknowledged by the state (but not exactly freedom of faith, though), growing movement of gender equality and feminism, etc.

But alas, there are several groups of minority who haven’t quite enjoyed that notion of freedom and independence for their community. For example, the minority faith groups and the LGBT community. Talking about the LGBT community, this article will specify more on the transgender community, which is the most visible groups within the sexual and gender diversity spectrum, but yet, treated as invisible groups and lack the space and access to the privilege of freedom.

In talking about: ‘enjoying freedom’, I would like to clarify the definition of freedom for transgender people, that is often being misinterpreted. Most people tend to view that the freedom that transgender people want is to have free sexual behaviour, wearing sexy clothes to seduce men (for trans women), and encourage more “sinful behavior”. While in fact, the freedom for transgender people is: freedom for education without being harassed or bullied and discriminated, freedom to work (that allows transgender people to have proper jobs and no ceiling effect or stereotypical jobs), freedom for expression (expressing preference of attires in formal workplace setting), and also freedom to love.

The reason I can confidently say that transgender people in Indonesia still suffers the lack of space and access to enjoy their freedom is because:

  1. Formal institutional discrimination by religious authority. In 1997, Indonesian Muslim Scholars released a fatwah stating that the existence of transgender identity is haram.
  2. Informal institutional discrimination. There are still many transgender people that are informally not allowed to attend formal academic institution. Reasons to this are mostly related to: attire, a major barrier for transgender people to go to school. But other factors, like: the attitude of school staff, senior and peers also contribute the feeling of reluctance for transgender people to study in a secure mode. Moreover, recent backlash towards LGBT people from academic institutions has made transgender people more insecure about their safety within the academic field.
  3. Discrimination within family. Many transgender people often face discrimination and violence within their family. Family pressure to encourage detransition is strong within families in Indonesia.  Not only within family, pressure based on religious and moral values also happened in social interactions within peers and friends.
  4. Discrimination on employment. Many transgender people can’t enjoy the freedom to access proper jobs. There is a ceiling effect for career for transgender people. There are several position that transgender people can access, but once they’re in a certain job/position, many had awful experiences whereas their identity become the barrier for career development. The choice for work is also limited, ranging from entertainment industries to beauty industries. Formal employment for professional level are also limited for many transgender people.


Looking at all of this, we can generally conclude that many transgender people are not yet able to enjoy their freedom as an Indonesian. Transgender community is a minority group that have yet to taste the delight of independence that our ancestors has struggled to fight in the past. While the country promotes unity in diversity, the diversity itself is attacked with its own insecurities towards differences. As a nation that only focuses on the goal and not the process, being an Indonesian transgender individual requires great deals of sacrifices with limited opportunity to grow. Acceptance (or even tolerance) comes with a high price that a transgender individual need to deal with. For a transgender individual to be considered successful, one must achieve so much more at first, without prior support to access those opportunities.

I personally believe that this very own stereotypical insecurities that barred transgender people to achieve one’s dream, has been nurtured for so long, with no real action plan from the government to counteract these attitudes. Therefore, our government has a huge task to make sure that all Indonesians, no matter what race, religion, and sexual orientation/preference must all be free and independent from the shackles of colonialism. Because stereotypical insecurities and dogmatic conservatism can contribute to heighten and aggravate discrimination acts that may result in violence.

Some that are opposing the existence of transgender individuals, said loudly that transgender people are the result of outside influence, against the ‘eastern values’ that our country has, and that we should reject. Forgetting the fact that gender variant individuals have existed even before our time. This is an instance, where a stereotypical insecurity limits the freedom for transgender people to express their inner selves.

This state of growing intolerance cries the support from our leader. We need our leader’s rights-based action and influence to ensure that Indonesian people can learn to respect others. Through this way, the leader can encourage Indonesian people to guard together our diversity and teach people that respect to others is paramount.

And also, to gradually change stereotypical and harmful mindsets to appreciate other people without looking at their status is needed, in order to make a fundamental change in our country. We need to start appreciating other people without the need to look at their identity and appearance. So that, we all eventually have the freedom and the rights that we all have, for all members of society, including the transgender people.