Monthly Archives: December 2012

One Muslim Warias Struggle

One Muslim Warias Struggle

Haiibalah is Muslim and transgender. The hostile reactions from other women and men towards her decision to wear the jilbab (muslim head scarve) in public was based on the belief of the irreconcilability of being [tooltip title="Info" content="Waria is a combination of the Bahasa Indonesia words for woman (wanita) and man (pria)." type="info" ]waria[/tooltip] (transgender) and expressing religiosity in the gender of choice.

While other waria do not mix gender identity with religious identity, women like Haiibalah attend prayers at the mosque alongside other cis-gender women much to disapproval of some, particularly those who argue that physical contact with Haiibalah’s biologically male body can render another woman’s prayers annulled.

Jangan lepas jilbabku begins in 1997 when Haiibalah turns 16. The writer describes her gradual transition from male to female as eventful as the moment Indonesia regains its democracy at the end of Suharto’s dictatorial regime in 1998. She describes the kind of woman she wants to be: an ordinary woman, good-looking even without make-up, someone who wears the jilbab, independent, headstrong, and accepted. In school, Haiibalah is an active editor of the school’s Islamic magazine, and a popular student. Using her popularity and religious image as a social buffer, Haiibalah began experimenting with her appearance. She plucked her eyebrows into a pair of thin, arching crescents; suffice it to say, this led to other arched eyebrows. After being told that her eyebrows were seen as “inappropriate” for young men, Haiibalah went on to tackle what ostensibly is taboo: she, a transwoman, wearing a jilbab.

Haiibalah is one of many transgender Indonesians who are religious and adopt the jilbab, but how the transgender community see themselves is diverse. Some, like Haiibalah, identify as women – within them lies a woman’s soul (jiwa) in a man’s body. Others, on the other hand, view themselves as both male and female, and there are waria who identify as the third sex. Unlike Haiibalah, some transwomen who wear the jilbab attend prayers in male attire but revert to women’s clothing and feminine demeanor the rest of the time.

The waria community has long been stereotyped as hairdressers, make-up artists, and sex workers in Indonesia. In film, they are doomed to dehumanizing comedic roles. But transgender Indonesians, particularly the male-to-female waria, have witnessed the rise of high-profile media personalities, such as Dorce Gamalama, cited by many as Indonesia’s answer to Oprah Winfrey. Her success is a significant step towards more positive representation of the waria.

More recently, the well-received film, Realita Cinta dan Rock ‘n’ Roll (Reality, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2006), foregrounds the relationship between a transwoman and her son. The film is a startling departure from older cinematic stereotypes of the waria, as it features a good-looking, affluent, judo-wrestling and salsa-dancing trans-mother. Jangan Lepas Jilbabku is not the first book by a transperson to make it to the best-sellers list. Both Jangan Lihat Kelaminku (Do Not Look At My Genitals) and Perempuan Tanpa V (Woman Without a Vagina) by Merlyn Sopjan are tales of personal triumph over transphobia, winning Sopjan fame and fortune as writer, later as beauty queen, AIDS activist, and mayoral candidate.

Although much of their media presence is highly sensationalized, the rising number of transgender Indonesians entering the public sphere in the face of increasing Islamization may be a strategy for acceptance. But as Haiibalah’s experiences attest, even religious expression is a gendered privilege. The hostility against transwomen like Haiibalah who adopt the jilbab as part their identity raises new questions about the hijab and femininity.

In this case, the jilbab becomes more than just a head covering, as it is perceived as a kind of privilege accorded to cis-gendered Muslim women. Also, it throws the issue of transphobia within sacred spaces into sharp relief. Denying a transwoman’s right to wear the jilbab highlights the fundamental notion that being a woman is reduced to a vagina attained at birth. Like public toilets, not only do places of worship pose as no-go zones for transwomen, but they undermine the assertion that transwomen are women.

Haiibalah sets a precedent for a public discussion on gender privilege and religious expression in Indonesia, and indeed, the discussion goes beyond the jilbab and praying next to other women, as it is fundamentally about power and privilege in religious communities.

Alicia Izharuddin is a postgraduate student in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental African Studies in London with a keen interest in sexuality in Southeast Asia. She has written for a variety of media outlets on feminist and religious issues. This article was previously published at Muslimah Media Watch.

GLBT Heroes 3

GLBT Heroes 3

Quentin Crisp

Virtually unknown to most in Asia, Quentin features on our list for one good reason – he was one of the first gay men to come out in the UK, and flamboyantly out, at a time when gay men were in the closet, and even getting married, to hide their sexuality. His bravery opened the path for those gays who are naturally effeminate and who can now openly be themselves without too much concern.

Quentin Crisp was born Denis Charles Pratt, on 25 December 1908 near London, and became a writer, actor and producer.

He changed his name to Quentin Crisp in his 30s after leaving home and cultivating his high camp appearance to a level that both shocked contemporary Londoners and provoked numerous homophobic attacks.

By his own account, Crisp was effeminate in behaviour from an early age and found himself bullied at school. After leaving school in 1926, Crisp studied journalism at King’s College London, but failed to graduate and went on to take art classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic.

He began visiting the cafés of London’s bohemian quarter Soho, especially The Black Cat, meeting other young gays and rent boys, and experimenting with make-up and women’s clothes. For six months he worked as a male prostitute, but said he felt degraded by the experience and had been looking for love.

Crisp moved to the centre of London at the end of 1930, and his outlandishly camp appearance (for that time) brought admiration and curiosity from some quarters, but mostly attracted hostility and violence from strangers in the streets. He also wasn’t the cleanest person, and never did any house-work, saying famously that “After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse”.

He tried to join the British army at the outbreak of World War II, but was rejected on the grounds that he was “suffering from sexual perversion”. He remained in London during the 1941 bombings, and started picking up American soldiers, whose kindness and open-mindedness inspired his love of all things American.

He left his job as engineer’s tracer in 1942 to become a model in life classes and posed for artists for the next three decades. “It was like being a civil servant except that you were naked,” he explained in his autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant.


Crisp had already published three short books by the time he came to write the The Naked Civil Servant, which was published in 1968 to generally good reviews. In 1975 a dramatization of the book was shown on British and US television and made both actor John Hurt and Crisp into unlikely stars. This success launched Crisp in a new direction. He devised a one-man show and began touring the country with it. The first half of the show was an entertaining monologue loosely based on his memoirs, the second half was a question-and-answer session with Crisp picking the audience’s written questions at random and answering them in an amusing manner.

By now, Crisp was filling theatres. His one-man show sold out at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London in 1978. Crisp then took the show to New York.

Shortly afterward he decided to move to New York permanently and in 1981 he arrived at a small apartment in Manhattan’s East Village with little in the way of personal possessions.

Crisp allowed his phone number to be listed and saw it as his duty to chat with anyone who called him. For the first twenty or so years of owning his own phone he habitually answered calls with the phrase “Yes, Lord?” (“Just in case,” he once said.) Later on he changed it to “Oh yes?” in a querulous tone of voice. His openness to strangers extended to accepting dinner invitations from almost anyone. While it was expected that the inviter would pay for dinner, Crisp did his best to “sing for his supper” by regaling his hosts with wonderful stories and yarns much as he did in his theatrical performances. Dinner with him was said to be one of the best shows in New York.

He continued to perform his one-man show, and supported himself by accepting social invitations and writing movie reviews and columns for US and UK magazines and newspapers. He said that ‘provided one could exist on peanuts and champagne, one could quite easily live by going to every cocktail party, premiere and first night to which one was invited’.

He made his debut as a film actor in the Royal College of Art’s low-budget production of Hamlet in 1976, playing Polonius supported by Helen Mirren, who doubled as Ophelia and Gertrude. He appeared in the 1985 film The Bride, which brought him into contact with Sting, who played the lead role of Baron Frankenstein. He was the narrator of director Richard Kwietniowski’s short film Ballad of Reading Gaol (1988), based on the poem by Oscar Wilde. Four years later he was cast in a lead role, and got top billing, in the low-budget independent film Topsy and Bunker: The Cat Killers, playing the door-man of a flea-bag hotel in a run-down neighbourhood.

The 1990s would prove to be his most prolific decade as more and more directors offered him roles. In 1992, he was persuaded by Sally Potter to play Elizabeth I in the film Orlando. He won acclaim for a dignified and touching performance, and then had an uncredited cameo in the 1993 AIDS drama Philadelphia. Some other small bit parts and cameos were also accepted by Crisp, such as a pageant judge in 1995′s To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Crisp’s last role was in an independent film called American Mod (1999), and his last full-feature movie was HomoHeights (also released as Happy Heights, 1996).

In his third volume of memoirs, Resident Alien, Crisp stated that he was close to the end of his life, but in June of that year, he was one of the guest entertainers at the second Pride Scotland festival in Glasgow.

In November 1999, Quentin Crisp died, just before his 91st birthday, in Manchester, UK, on the eve of a nationwide revival of his one-man show. He was cremated with a minimum of ceremony as he had requested.


GLBT Heroes 4

GLBT Heroes 4

Alexander The Great


One of the ancient world’s most brilliant military leaders was undoubtedly gay, and whose lifetime companion from boyhood was both one of his top military commanders and a nobleman, Hephaestion.

They were inseparable lovers till they died. It was a popular saying in the ancient world, long after Alexander and Hephaestion had died, that Alexander the Great was defeated only by one thing in this world – Hephaestion’s thighs.

The fact that both men married is not really relevant, as in those times, as in some modern societies, it was expected, and for Royalty it was usually a political expedient.


There is a famous incident that illustrates their deep love for each other. When the two of them went to meet the defeated Queen of Persia in her camp, she couldn’t tell which of them was Alexander. She was extremely worried about whom to greet first as she did not want to anger the victorious emperor. Because Hephaestion was more domineering in appearance, she mistakenly greeted him as ‘Alexander the Great’, but she was immediately informed of her mistake. The Queen started to panic. Upon hearing this, Alexander is said to have laughed and said, “Worry not mother, for he too is Alexander.” Words that have been forever engraved in history.

They lived as well as worked together. Many people were jealous of their intimacy, and one such person was Alexander’s mother Olympus. In a letter, Hephaistion scolds her saying, “Why don’t you stop quarrelling with me? In any case, it doesn’t bother me. You know quite well that the only thing that matters to me is Alexander.”


What is not so widely know is Alexander’s other love for the graceful eunuch Bagoas. Contemporaries describe him as ‘a eunuch of remarkable beauty and in the very flower of boyhood, who had been loved by King Darius and was afterward to be loved by Alexander…….who won the regard of Alexander by submitting his body’ ….. ‘After Alexander emerged from the Makran desert and his only defeat and the loss of two thirds of his army, he held games in which the young Bagoas won the dancing (and singing competition in the games held to cheer up the troops) and dressed in his garlands of honour, he passed through the theatre and took his seat, as a champion of the dance, by Alexander’s side; the Macedonians saw and applauded and shouted to the king to kiss the victor, until at last, he threw his arms around Bagoas and kissed him again and again.’

At a later stage having been insulted as Alexander’s whore by the Persian Oesines, Bagoas exerted his influence on the king and had him condemned. On his way to his death Oesines exclaimed ‘I had heard that women once were rulers in Asia but this really is something new – a eunuch as king.’

It often though that Alexander was a Greek, but the facts show that he, and his Empire, was firmly founded in Macedon.

Alexander is supposed to have been fair skinned, with a ruddy tinge to his face and chest. Plutarch stated that he had a pleasing scent. Like his father and all Macedonians, Alexander liked his liquor, but his fondness for wine also caused some of his outbursts of rage. Alexander liked drama, the flute and the lyre, poetry and hunting, but, just like his father Philip II of Macedon, what he truly wanted in his life, was a glory and valor, rather than easy living and riches.

Alexander the Great, the King of Macedonia and conqueror of the Persian Empire is considered one of the greatest military geniuses of all times.

He was born in 356 BC in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia. He was son of Philip II, King of Macedonia and he spent his childhood watching his father transforming Macedonia into a great military power, winning victory after victory on the battlefields throughout the Balkans. Philip hired the Greek philosopher Aristotle to be Alexander’s personal tutor when the boy was 13. He gave Alexander a training in rhetoric and literature and stimulated his interest in science, medicine, and philosophy, all of which became of importance in Alexander’s later life.

In 340, when Philip assembled a large Macedonian army and invaded Thrace, he left his 16 years old son with the power to rule Macedonia in his absence as regent, which shows that even at such young age Alexander was recognized as quite capable.

But as the Macedonian army advanced deep into Thrace, the Thracian tribe of Maedi bordering north-eastern Macedonia rebelled and posed a danger to the country. Alexander assembled an army, led it against the rebels, and with swift action defeated the Maedi, captured their stronghold, and renamed it after himself to Alexandropolis.

Two years later in 338 BC, Philip gave his son a commanding post among the senior generals as the Macedonian army invaded Greece. At the Battle of Chaeronea the Greeks were defeated and Alexander displayed his bravery by destroying the elite Greek force, the Theban Secret Band. Some ancient historians recorded that the Macedonians won the battle thanks to his bravery.

In 336 BC Philip was assassinated by a young Macedonian nobleman, and Alexander became King. He quickly disposed of all of his domestic enemies by ordering their execution.

But he soon had to act outside Macedonia. Philip’s death caused a series of rebellions among the conquered nations and the Illyrians, Thracians, and Greeks saw a chance for independence. Alexander acted swiftly and forced his way into Greece and as soon as he restored Macedonian rule in northern Greece, he marched into southern Greece. His speed surprised the Greeks and by the end of the summer in 336 BC they had no other choice but to acknowledge his authority.

Believing that Greece would remain calm, Alexander returned to Macedonia, marched east into Thrace, and campaigned as far as the Danube river. He defeated the Thracians and Tribalians in a series of battles and drove the rebels beyond the river. Then he marched back across Macedonia and on his return crushed in a single week the threatening Illyrians, before they could receive additional reinforcements.

By now in Greece there were rumors of his death which resulted in a major revolt that engulfed the whole nation. Enraged, Alexander marched south covering 240 miles in two weeks appearing before the walls of Thebes with a large Macedonian army. He let the Greeks know that it was not too late for them to change their minds, but the Thebans, confident in their position, called for all the Greeks join them against the Macedonians. They were not aware that the Athenians and the Peloponnesians, stunned by the speed of the Macedonian king, quickly reconsidered their options and were now awaiting the outcome of the battle before they would make their next move.

Alexander’s general Perdiccas attacked the gates, broke into the city, and Alexander moved with the rest of the army behind him to prevent the Thebans from cutting him off. The Macedonians stormed the city, killing everyone in sight, women and children included. 6,000 Thebans citizens died and 30,000 more were sold as slaves. The city where Alexander’s father was kept as hostage for three years, was plundered, sacked, burned, and razed to the ground.


Alexander’s next move was the stunning defeat of the powerful Persian Empire under Darius lll, who commanded an army of more than 60,000 troops, but the Macedonians’ skill and tactics won a series of strategic battles despite being outnumbered by the Persians. At the Battle of Issus, Darius fled leaving his family at the mercy of the victorious army. He was later murdered before Alexander could catch up with him.

The young King was such a successful soldier and leader that by 331 BC his army had captured land that stretched as far as Egypt, where he was welcomed as a liberator from the Persian rulers. On the Egyptian coast Alexander ordered the building of one of many cities which would bear his name, Alexandria.

In the spring of 331 Alexander made a pilgrimage to the great Egyptian oracle of Amon-Ra, who told him that he was a son of the god Zeus Ammon, and destined to rule the world, a prediction that came close to coming true in the then known world.

In the spring of 327 BC, Alexander and his army marched into India invading the Punjab.

The greatest of Alexander’s battles in India was at the river Hydaspes, against king Porus, one of the most powerful Indian rulers. In the summer of 326 BC, Alexander’s army crossed the heavily defended river during a violent thunderstorm to meet Porus’ forces. The Indians were defeated in a fierce battle, even though they fought with elephants, which the Macedonians had never seen before. Porus was captured and like the other local rulers he had defeated, Alexander allowed him to continue to govern his territory under subjugation to Alexander, in the same way he had done with the defeated Persian and Egyptian rulers.

Alexander was seriously wounded during one battle in India but survived to march his army to the mouth of the Indus river and then back to Persia, transversing the Gerdosian desert during the middle of the summer resulting in the deaths of thousands of his troops.

During a skirmish on the return journey, Hephaestion was killed. Alexander’s pain at his lover’s loss was indescribable. It is said that Alexander threw himself on the corpse of Hephaestion, embraced him, and cried for more than a day. He simply wouldn’t let go of him. In the end, his officers had to drag him away. He knew that the mighty Macedonian empire could not have been built without Hephastion, and that life could never be the same without him, personally and politically.

Alexander had planned to erect elaborate memorials his beloved Hephaestion all over his empire, but he died before he could achieve this. But he did pronounced him a god as was the right of the king in those times. And thus, he paid his final tribute to his life-long companion and lover.

Later, after elaborate victory celebrations in the Persian city of Suba, plans were made to march a fresh army towards Europe, but Alexander died at the age of 33 before the army could move out. There is speculation that he was poisoned. After his death, the huge empire he had built slowly fractured and crumbled.

Here were two truly great gay warriors who changed the world that they lived in, and our world might be a different place without them.


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