Asia Calling, Jakarta - Rebeeca is walking down a dirt road up to a very small pink house at the end of the alleyway …it’s a very suburban part of Jakarta—on the outskirts of the city.
There are chickens running around and children playing and it’s a very dusty road. It’s here that Indonesia’s first old people’s home for transsexuals, transgender or waria as they are own in Indonesia is being built…
In the doorway two elderly transgenders whose teeth are missing call out ‘good morning’….
Inside Yulianus Rettoblaut is looking into a mirror while a friend is going through the daily ritual of applying her heavy make up - thick white foundation, fake eyelashes, bright red lipstick and a long black wig that is tied in a bun at the back.
“I realized that I was a transgender when I was in grade 5 at school. I lived in a village in an isolated area on the island of Papua. There was no one there that was a transgender or gay. But suddenly I started feeling attracted to men when I was around 11 years old…I thought what is this feeling, is it an illness?!” she recalled.
“It was not till I was 18 years old when a friend at university who was also transgender took me to Jakarta to the prostitution beat for waria that I realized that there was this whole other world that existed…. I was so confused there were so many people like me dressed up so beautifully,” she added.
“How did you feel when you realized you were not alone?” Rebecca asked.
“I felt like a weight had been lifted from me – because I saw that if we wear beautiful clothes and got make-up you could easily attract guys and be paid money for it! So you get satisfied, get to be beautiful and you earn money.”
Jobs aren't easy to come by in Indonesia if you are living as a woman in a man's body and 17 year old Yuli end-up doing what many other warias do, working as a prostitute on the streets - a world she says was harsh and violent.
She says she was regularly abused and not paid by customers and they had to run away from the police or Islamic vigilante groups that tried to beat them.
It was during this time that she heard her parents had died.
“They had heard news that I was now wearing women’s clothes… I think I disappointed them so much that it killed them. I didn’t go home for the funeral because my family hated me- they said because of what I had done my parents had died,” she explained.
“My brother is a policeman; he was very angry and he wanted to shoot me because he said I had shamed my family. They said ‘in our family we have never had anyone like you.. how could you turn out like this?’ Because my family had high hopes for me because I got very good grades all through school,” she added.
“Your brother was really prepared to shoot you?”
“Yes, he put a pistol to my head and he wanted to shoot…. They shaved my head but I managed to run away back to Jakarta. I really hated myself at that time and I decided that I would spend the rest of my life showing the world and particularly my family that even though I am a transgender I can do good and they would be proud of me.”
She went on to be the first waria to gain a law degree at a leading Islamic university and is now doing her masters in law.
She is now a high-profile leader of Indonesia’s large transgender community who fondly call her Mummy Yuli…..
As a mother to the community she decided she needed to do something to support greying waria rejected by their family and society.
“As they get older people become even more scared of waria and we can’t sell ourselves in the same way young waria can. From a government perspective they are confused about whether to put them in the male or female old people’s home and their families certainly don’t want to look after them,” she said.
“So I see many of them struggling… begging on the streets and living under bridges. I feel really sad seeing them like that and no one is paying attention to this issue and my house was not big enough to house many.”
So she is now renovating her two bedroom house that also doubles as a beauty salon….
Yuli takes Rebecca out the back of the house…wherebuilding is taking place... a second floor is being put on and the bathroom is being extended.
She already has a waiting list of 800 waria who want to move. At the moment the house is home to three elderly waria. Photos of them as young a beautiful models line the walls and cabinets are full of their beauty pageant trophies.
Yoti Maya is nearly 70 years old and has lost all her teeth… She was disowned by her family when she was a teenager.
“My mother opened my door and found me in bed cuddling with a man and she told my dad and he called all my family together and said ‘I don’t want this in my family so you must leave the house now, if you lived or died I don’t care…you just have to get out of the house.’ " she recalled.
"I was just a teenager and they threw me out of the house at night with nothing but the clothes I was wearing. I was crying …I was young and I didn’t have a job. But I accepted my fate,” she added.
Yoti eventually found work as a chef on ships and has travelled across Asia. She’s now the cook for the nursing home.
The home also holds training sessions for elderly transgender so they can get skills to live independently.
And recently Yuli’s brother, who had threatened to shoot her, visited the old people’s home….
“He did not come in but just walked around and he started to cry…he said ‘I never thought you would change and become a good person. It doesn’t matter that you are waria...but you have become a role model for your community and you are providing a home for those in your community in need,” she said.
“Our family is very proud of you.’ He said ‘we couldn’t accept you as a prostitute but you have become a good person’. He said .. …He said that the past was the past but as a brother I am very proud of you,”
“A few days later I had my law graduation and he came along. He couldn’t say anything at the celebration...he came along ...he couldn’t speak because he was just crying… not long after that he died. I went to his funeral and he had left a message for me that ‘I must continue to be a good person,” she said.
In September 2015, Yuli got her Master degree on law. She becomes the first female transgender with Master’s degree in Indonesia - where most transgenders here end up as prostitutes, without proper education. Her thesis on home for old transgender is awarded as ‘the best thesis’.
She waste no time to enroll the Doctoral degree which she has been accepted as student, adding that she wants to be the first transgender professor in the country.
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