Love can be found in the most unlikely places, so is greatness. I was fortunate enough to have met Aulia during my visit to West Borneo this year and shared a slice of his life. He told me he sees his life as that of a mermaid, split between two realms. Having been born with a female identity trapped in a male’s body, he had fought hard within and without to be where he is today.
A transgender’s (waria*) life in Indonesia is dominated with stigma and discrimination. Marginalized by society, rejected by religion and ostracized by their family, many young transgender are left to ‘figure it out’ on their own. Most end up gravitating towards the dominant transgender community, already rife with its own issues of prostitution and HIV.
Seeing a friend died of AIDS, Aulia turned into a fervent volunteer for HIV prevention. Once, his friend weak at the full blown stage of AIDS needed to be taken to the hospital for help. Not having a vehicle of his own Aulia went from friend to friend to find someone willing to lend their motorbike until he found one. With the sick friend on his back they went to the hospital and there, they were faced with procedural and financial challenges. He took on the responsibility of guaranteeing payment for his friend’s medication. Without money himself, Aulia then raised funds within the transgender community to help the friend. On his friend’s death, he too had to make the decision on informing the friend’s family. ”There are moments when we need to make a decision to be a hero or a coward”, he said about the experience.
For the past five years he has been working as a volunteer in the the HIV / AIDS prevention field and for this he does not get recognized financially. He makes ends meet through working as a freelance / door to door hair dresser, earning around fifty thousand rupiah, equivalent to six dollars a day when he has clients.
Sometimes the very people he helped does not recognize it and turn their back on him. I questioned his motivation to keep going. He said to me “people call us (transgender) creature of the valley of darkness, but even within that darkness there is a ray of light that can help others. Time is precious, and as long as there is time for me to help others why don’t I do it? ”
My days spent with Aulia has enriched me in ways that are intangible. He shared with me the many facets of his life and with it, amplify my universe. I can see how much he loves his people, people with HIV and high risk communities such as transgender and sex workers. Embracing these marginalized group is more than a job or a passion, it is personal. ”I was once an outcast. Nobody accepts me. Now I want to embrace those who are rejected because I know how it feels” he told me later. There is a certain fragility about him, a kind of brokenness, yet he is immensely strong. Stronger then he or anyone thinks he is.
Visiting friends in jail
With friends on the street
Because everyone counts
It took him twenty five years to finally accept his own identity. He had found acceptance within himself, ” I travel my journey with what I have, with sincerity, that is my portion in life”.
One night in a cafe he shared a story with me. Once, during a training course the organizer asked the participants to draw their hopes and dreams. He drew a mermaid sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean and behind her, on the land, there is a family and a house. The mermaid, longing to live both on the land and the sea represents his current state of being, split between male and female. The family is his dream of one day becoming “the perfect human like everyone else” and to be able to have his own family. The house is his desire to be able to build a care house for people with HIV/AIDS, especially those who has no one to turn to. A place where they will be cared for physically, mentally and spiritually. A place of hope and dignity.
*Indonesians refer to transgender as waria, a word created combining two words that is: wanita (woman) and pria (man)