In­done­sia Miss Trans­gen­der crowned in a slap for hard­lin­ers

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Trans­gen­der peo­ple from across In­done­sia have de­fied a wave of ha­tred against sex­ual mi­nori­ties to crown a Miss Trans­gen­der at a na­tional pageant held in ab­so­lute se­crecy. A hand­ful of jour­nal­ists were no­ti­fied just a few hours in ad­vance of the lo­ca­tion of the event, held in the cap­i­tal, Jakarta, to pre­vent any at­tempts by Is­lamic hard-lin­ers to shut down the pageant. And be­cause of the risk of dis­cov­ery and vi­o­lence, or­ga­niz­ers asked those present not to post any­thing on so­cial me­dia dur­ing the con­test.

Qien­abh Tap­pii, a 28-year-old rep­re­sent­ing Jakarta who wore a fig­ure-hug­ging, iri­des­cent metal­lic gown, tri­umphed over more than 30 other con­tes­tants Fri­day night to be crowned Miss Waria In­done­sia 2016. She will rep­re­sent In­done­sia at an in­ter­na­tional pageant to be held in Thai­land next year. “Waria” is the Indonesian word for trans­gen­der, a term for peo­ple whose sense of their gen­der is dif­fer­ent from their sex at birth. “I’m very happy, I feel like I want to cry,” said Tap­pii, stand­ing next to a 2me­ter (6.5-foot) -tall gold and red tro­phy while cradling a smaller one. “Tonight is the be­gin­ning of my strug­gle for my rights as a waria,” she said. “I want waria to be ac­cepted, ap­pre­ci­ated and un­der­stood in our so­ci­ety, and to be equal with other In­done­sians. I will work re­ally hard to achieve it.”

The suc­cess­ful stag­ing of the pageant was an im­por­tant morale boost and self-af­fir­ma­tion for a com­mu­nity that is in­creas­ingly un­der siege. In­done­sia, the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim na­tion, is of­ten held up as prac­tic­ing a mod­er­ate form of Is­lam. But that rep­u­ta­tion for tol­er­ance has been un­der­mined in the past year as the me­dia and re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers stoked prej­u­dice against les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple, fram­ing them as a threat to the na­tion. It was in part a back­lash against the world­wide ad­vance of LGBT rights, and in par­tic­u­lar the suc­cess of the gay mar­riage move­ment in the US and the high-pro­file bat­tles there over whether trans­gen­der peo­ple can use the pub­lic bath­rooms of the gen­der they iden­tify with.

In­done­sia’s con­ser­va­tives want to push LGBT peo­ple back into the mar­gins of so­ci­ety and deny them le­gal rights. It’s an agenda that has cap­i­tal­ized on low lev­els of aware­ness in a so­ci­ety where open dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al­ity is of­ten frowned upon. But it also clashes with the tra­di­tions of some cul­tures in eth­ni­cally di­verse In­done­sia that have for cen­turies al­lowed space for dif­fer­ent gen­ders and sex­ual iden­ti­ties. “If the pub­lic knew in ad­vance that there will be such an event, those who use re­li­gion as their mask could at­tack us. That’s why we kept it se­cret un­til the last minute,” said pageant or­ga­nizer Nancy Iskan­dar. “The rad­i­cals are very ar­ro­gant. I’m afraid that it could erupt into phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion,” Iskan­dar said. “We don’t want them to step on us for­ever. What’s in it for them any­way? We’re not do­ing any harm.”

Cul­tural events

Op­po­si­tion from hard-lin­ers pre­vented the lon­grun­ning event, which is or­ga­nized by Putri Waria In­done­sia Foun­da­tion and Indonesian Waria Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Fo­rum, from be­ing held twice in re­cent years. In­done­sia’s police of­ten side with or look the other way when Is­lamic hard-lin­ers at­tack or in­tim­i­date LGBT groups, re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, women’s rights groups and any cul­tural events they take ex­cep­tion to.

Fitri Paben­tengi, a mem­ber of the Bugis ethic group, which rec­og­nizes five gen­ders, said he trav­eled from Makas­sar on Su­lawesi is­land - 1,400 kilo­me­ters (870 miles) to the east - for the pageant. In his com­mu­nity he is “bissu,” one of the five gen­ders, which roughly cor­re­sponds to an­drog­y­nous. Bissu are tra­di­tion­ally priests or shamans. “I came all the way from Makas­sar to show my sol­i­dar­ity,” said Paben­tengi. “We Indonesian waria have the same feel­ings, what they feel in Jakarta we also feel it in Makas­sar.”

About 200 peo­ple filled the small theater for the fi­nale of the high-en­ergy show­case of ide­al­ized fem­i­nine beauty. Thirty-four trans­gen­der women vied for the ti­tle, com­pet­ing over three days, though four dropped out be­cause they feared the event might be dis­rupted. Aside from Miss Trans­gen­der, there were a slew of other ti­tles up for grabs, in­clud­ing most sexy, most in­tel­li­gent and most beau­ti­ful skin. “We want to show that waria can also do pos­i­tive things,” said Miss West Java, Dinda Syariff. “Peo­ple said that we are the scum of the so­ci­ety - that’s so not true,” Syariff said.

In this file photo con­tes­tants per­form dur­ing the Miss Trans­gen­der In­done­sia pageant in Jakarta, In­done­sia.

In this file photo, Qien­abh Tap­pii, cen­ter, holds her tro­phy as she stands on the stage with first run­ner up Sefty Cas­tanyo, left, and third place win­ner Amanda San­dova, right, af­ter win­ning the Miss Trans­gen­der In­done­sia pageant in Jakarta, In­done­sia.

In this file photo a con­tes­tant checks her mo­bile phone dur­ing Miss Trans­gen­der In­done­sia pageant.

In this file photo a con­tes­tant per­forms dur­ing the Miss Trans­gen­der In­done­sia pageant. — AP photos

In this file photo a con­tes­tant waits back­stage dur­ing the Miss Trans­gen­der In­done­sia pageant.

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