The rights of Indonesia’s sexual and gender minorities have come under increasing attack this year.
But that has not deterred Abhipraya Muchtar from his journey.
The transgender man recently met KBR journalist Ria Apriyani to discuss the challenges he has overcome.
As a teenager Abhipraya Ardiansyah Muchtar, or Abhi for short, was always called a tomboy.
Even though his parents were always trying to make him look feminine.
“My father used to say, if you grow your hair longer, I will give you a car,” remembers Abhi.
“I said I did not want him to buy me a car. Finally he gave up and gave me a car anyway. But he asked again and threatened me that he would take it back. I said, just do it.”
Abhi was born female to a Javanese Muslim family in 1991. Throughout childhood, Abhi faced intense pressure to act like a girl.
But it didn’t feel right. Abhi would get upset when he was told he couldn’t go to the mosque with his male friends, or when his family forced him to wear girl’s clothing.
So stressful were questions about gender for Abhi that when asked if he was a girl, he found it hard to breathe. He just didn’t feel that much like a girl at all.
“I accepted it, but deep inside me I refused it. I was tired. And when I got my periods, that was like a nightmare for me.”
Abhi found it difficult to describe what he was feeling, what was happening and suffered from bouts of depression.
Several times throughout high school, he tried to commit suicide.
But one day at college one of Abhi’s friends suggested he do some research on something he never had a name for before.
And that led to a path of self-discovery. Abhi finally had a way to understand his complicated gender and sexuality. He was a transgender man.
In 2014 Abhi decided to undergo hormone injections once a month, as a way to relive years of stress and depression and become who he wanted to be.
The gender he felt more comfortable being.
“I counted the cost and benefits and I did not want to sacrifice my mental health by pretending to be normal,” Abhi said.
He knew though that it would be a shock to his family. And he delayed surgery to give them time to try and understand.
His mother, and his friends, says Abhi, are now starting to come around.
“I asked my mother is she felt ashamed having a child like me. If yes, that was fine I would leave the house.”
Abhi continued, “my mother who is really Islamic said maybe this is my destiny, that you have been born in Indonesia with this condition. And she asked what she should say when people asked.”
The experience showed Abhi that it wasn’t just him that needed psychological support, but also those close to him. His mother for instance, worries about his future.
Being transgender in Indonesia is not easy, as Abhi well knows.
In 2014, for example, he turned down a job from an international bank because even though he looked like a woman, he didn’t want to dress like one.
“There was a management vacancy. I did all the tests and even passed the psychological test, and did a presentation about credit cases too. I was just waiting to sign the contract. But when I told them I could not wear a skirt, that all ended.”
The anger inspired him to draw up new goals.
Abhi wanted to prove that transgender people can be successful, and have a brilliant career.
That has led him to focus on representing the LGBTIQ community, to campaign for the rights of the marginalised, and prepare for a scholarship in the United Kingdom in 2018.
These days Abhi lives in the capital Jakarta, he is still close to his family, and happily identifies as a man. He has a thin moustache and a beard too.