Traditionally, the elderly in Indonesia are cared for by their families. But that’s not the case for transgender people, who often have nowhere to go. A new home created specially for them is about to change that.
The estimated three million transgender people living in Indonesia are often rejected by their families, who are ashamed of them. Many of these people survive as prostitutes, but when they grow old, they have nowhere to go and end up begging on the streets.
But now, what might be the world’s first ever elderly home for transgender people is being built on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
It’s a very small pink house at the end of a dusty alleyway. There are chickens running around and children playing. It is here that Indonesia’s first senior citizen’s home for transsexuals and transgender people, or waria, as they are known in Indonesia, is being built.
Inside, 51-year-old Yulianus Rettoblaut watches in the mirror as a friend goes 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.
Not alone, but often isolated
“I lived in a village in an isolated area on the island of Papua. There was no one there who was transgender, or gay,” she explains. “I started feeling attracted to men when I was around 11 years old. I thought: what is this feeling; is it an illness? It was not until I was 18, when a friend at university who was also transgender, took me to Jakarta to the prostitution beat for waria that I realized there was this whole other world that existed. I was so confused. There were so many people like me dressed up so beautifully.”
Suddenly, Yulianus realized she was not alone:
“I felt like a weight had been lifted from me – because I saw that if we wear beautiful clothes and 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,” she says.