The sexual matrix of love

I have been totally  blessed to have lived the first month of my stay in Berkeley with J. He has an awesome girlfriend H, a total reflection of his interests with fit so well with mines. Just couple of days after my arrival she also moved in. So now we’re three. She’s also a reflection of his desires, a fascination for the unexpected. They seem to be sharing love in its purest sense, with no desire for control, no desire for ownership, just pure lust, respect, companionship and joy.

For me they’re almost like an archetypical Oakland couple. Looking really good, mixing up lots of styles from sixties, eighties, nineties, feeling powerful and camp. Secondly they’re open to cross any kind of socially constructed limitations for an institution we call “a couple”. Why monogamy when you could also be polyamorous? Readings of the Ethnical Slut. Thirdly, they’re really having fun with each other and also with other people, being themselves as individuals and partnering when the moment is right. And most importantly, they’re having their crazy love of their life. Sounds like a perfect fit for me.

Hanging out in the city night with them, rocking in the venues, talking on the streets and getting late-night burritos, made me rethink about my formerly raised question about the queer as it’s experienced again. Seems that queer can appear on the heterosexual scale, but it’s good to be aware that this is not a line, but it’s a matrix. Other people can come in, from the same or from the opposite sex. Fantasies can lift you up, no boundaries, only colorful selves. And love. And love. And love.

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Party in the hills, Papuan special

This night ended with a Papuan waria crying on my shoulder. In the distance there was a big car stuck in the soft grassy ground trying to speed off – to be exact, all the cars that had climbed up to the hill between Abepura and Jayapura were big and they expressed the wealth of the driver or the company in the car. Above us was a fabulous starlit sky, which here, away from the city hustle, seems as powerful as ever. N isn’t coming with us, “N is flying,” as P says, whose chubby boyfriend is sitting on the back of the motorbike, kicking his heels. P is a driver, the dude is sitting comfortably behind her. And on my shoulder there’s a frizzy haired drunken waria from Serui tribe crying. She was crying over the most important thing. It felt as if all the inevitability of the destiny of the warias culminated in her tears. Love. Love that seems so impossible, love that’s so unreachable. Because between the frequencies of their bodies and souls there’s suddenly some phallic extra.

“What happened? Are you sure you don’t want to go home with your boyfriend?” I asked.
“No, we’re over”, she shakes her head and wipes the tears off. “I don’t need you anymore! We’re through!” she yells once again to the guy who has vanished into the crowd. A few moments ago they’d clung around each other’s necks like love birds. I’d admired the sugar face that cool waria had found for herself.
I’d met L the same night around nine when she’d finished her work and was going home. On her way she’d stepped into U’s salon, where I with N, P, her boyfriend and a few other guys were killing time. We were talking in the hot N salon, where the air seemed to have stopped moving. There was sweat dripping from her neck to her wide cleavage, and a glinting circle appeared on her forehead that was surrounded by her frizzy hair. I remember that when we were talking about sex work she told that she didn’t do that much anymore, because she has a job. Every time she goes out with friends, she goes home at 1 am, langsung tidur, directly to bed. A few hors later we were hanging at Kali Acay and I noticed a beautiful guy trough my camera, a guy who wasn’t shy at all to be in the picture with a group of warias. A second later I saw him sharing a bike with L, they were both so happy. L gave a gentle kiss on the guy’s shoulder, and then she was impishly playing with her fingers near his groin. For me they looked like a hot couple and I was puzzled when the same sugar face came to me to beg my phone number, L still hanging around his neck. N set the things straight: “Her number is exclusively for warias only, khusus untuk waria.” Of course the guy tried his luck a few more times. Unfortunately I had no time to meet with them again, although from a researcher’s aspect it could have been interesting.
Our party started at U’s salon, where we had ordered a few bottles of a weird transparent drink, called Jenefer. Jenefer is bottled into a huge round one-liter bottle, it’s like gasoline and it’s often mixed with green Sprite. We closed the salon’s windows and doors and tried to gasp some air with a help of a fan or a piece of card board. It’s still unbearably hot, although it’s long after 9 pm. But of course no one of the neighbours or people passing by should see we’re sitting with a group in a salon that was opened a few moths ago and drinking alcoholic beverages. Not that it would be something that’s done very rarely on Papua, but social harmony is highly valued here. P’s boyfriend poured a shot of the green bubbly drink and passed it on, the beat coming from the big speakers set under the ceiling was ticking in everyone’s head.
P was seemingly worried when the shot reached me – because I was with a motor bike and I had told him that I didn’t have too much experience driving a motor bike in a Papuan night. But N said it was nothing, because the people in our country are used to drinking alcohol, there’s nothing to worry about. N seemed to have a lot of respect for our distant country. For example, once she introduced me repeatedly as „Cece, dari Estonia, ibu-kota Amerika.” Meaning, I’m from Estonia, the capital of America.
People nodded agreeably. Who wouldn’t know America?! It sounded so wicked that for a while I didn’t dare to correct her. I was giggling on my own. Estonia – the capital of America.
Despite of me having long term health problems on Papua, and of the weather being sweatting hot, and of being in a some stress arising from my research, I still thought I’d know my limits between social drinking and drinking that scatters the state of mind. It took about 3 shots. Actually it wasn’t the alcohol, it was life itself.


Ayu is a waria in Sorong, full of character, and especially renowned for her hairdresser skills. When I once again stepped into her salon, she offered me cake and asked a neighbouring girl to bring me some more cool ice tea.

Ayu cuts Staria’s hair in the popular Ayu salon in Sorong.

As I had expected, a few minutes later a customer came in. The young guy took off his cap, illustrated with a cannabis leaf – very much a style of Papua- , and sat himself on a chair in front of a mirror. The cannabis theme on Papua creates interesting connections, it kind of refers to the Jamaican rasta and reggae culture, but then again it here marks the arising pride of the darker skin colour. So far I have met no real rasta-man. If I’m lucky, I can tell that I’ve met a few people who can say that they’ve tried cannabis and it makes them dizzy. But this guy here isn’t Papuan, he’s from Makassar, like many other in Sorong. He gives Ayu 20 000 rp and in his yellow angkot-bus  he drives away.

Satria has worked on Papua for seven years already, mainly as a driver. He drives a yellow angot-bus, for which he has to pay a rent of 150 000 rp (15 EUR) a day, plus 100 000 (10 EUR) gas money. If he drives a full day he can make about 500-600 000 rp (50-60 EUR) – one passenger 3000 rp, two passengers 5000 rp. Which means he has about 200 passengers a day. To make the ends meet he has to have at least 70 passengers a day. If he skips a day or two he has to work harder later on.

„But nevertheless it’s better here than in Makassar. Makassar is troublesome (Makassar susah),”  he told me. When Satria came off a boat in Sorong seven years ago he had 30 000 rp in his pocket. He started from nothing. (And in a way he still has nothing. Because you can’t put a lot aside here.)

When he joined me on a drive to the red light district in Sorong a day later, he stopped at women standing on the pavement and asked them come on his bus. He commented: “I’m trying my luck, money for cigarettes.” But these women there, had different things in their minds.

It was already in the 1970s when the Indonesian government allowed legal prostitution in certain areas (lokalisasi), after what hundreds and hundreds prostitutes arrived from Java and elsewhere, too. Among them also the first warias arrived in Papua. A colourful urban legend states that later HIV-positive prostitutes from Java were sent here – it might have been the government’s conspiracy of how to infect local Papuans, who are the top clientele of the prostitutes in the so called “West” (Papua is geographically in the east, so they see the rest of Indonesia as West) – the poor Papuans have come to the city to make some money in mines and elsewhere. Not that I believed that there’s something true about this story but the legend tells a lot about the relations between Indonesia and Papua, and it also comments on the local sexual behaviour.

The red light district in Sorong is huge and its streets are well-ordered, the architecture of the houses points clearly at their purpose. Women were sitting in front of the brothels, in pavilions, and men were walking between them. Judged by the eye, there were about 300 women working.

There, in the red light, Satria, in his cannabis illustrated cap, sighed, if he had the money he’d definitely go in.

Saturday night – the night of the week we all get spoilt

Malam minggu or Saturday night has a special meaning here in Indonesia. This is the night of party, or as one of my friends here said: “The only night of the week, when we all get spoilt – kita semua hancur!”

Meanwhile I had already moved to downtown, to be closer to the night hotspots of the city and see what’s happening in the nightly worlds of the waria. The main hang-out area Tembok Berlin is just around the corner.

The only issue seems to be the fact that this here is not the typical Indonesia, which could be described as rather safe, even when being a single foreign woman at night-time in party locations. Some young warias warned me about motorbike taxis, which are very common means of transport in Irian Jaya: “Don’t you ever use the motorbike taxi at night! They pick you up, take you somewhere where they have group of friends waiting. Then they rape you – all of them!” Supposedly this has happened around here already quite a few times.

One of the nights we were driving to the southern market area in Sorong where there was some open-air party a’la Papua. We stopped the car, took a brief look from the windows and my waria friends stated: “No, no, this is way too dangerous – we can’t go out, you will be beaten up and you’ll get a knife!”

I saw bunch dark shadows of the Papuans dancing drunk in the beats of dangdut music – the kind of party no-one could imagine happening in some dark downtown spooky market area. Papuan spirit. And a drunk Papuan unfortunately is a very common stereotype here, and for a reason – you could really see a lot of drunk Papuan people on the streets, lost in life, probably discriminated for some generations. But my friends just couldn’t let me out to check out this party and we drove off to safer grounds such as Tembok Berlin.

Starlight nightclub stands alone and proud and glorious in Kampung Baru, Sorong, Papua

As it was Saturday night, warias were all nicely dressed up and beautifully shining. One of the older warias was sitting on the wall and proudly poring out strong local liquor – one for the waria elder of Sorong, another one for me, then again to the elder. Until it was time to head on clubbing.

I remembered my friend who’s a local minibus driver here, whom I met one afternoon when he was visiting a hair salon held by a waria. In just some minutes he picked up all the warias and other chicks, so the whole minibus turned into a wild and wicked party-zone heading towards more party. We all seven warias, four women and the driver and his friend took off with a deep beat of dancehall sounds, and it all just reminded me too much of the infamous scene in Wariazone where me and Kiwa together with some nine warias were riding around Jakarta nightlife, singing Indonesian anthem. And of course, it was Saturday night! Wish I had a camera with me up there in Papua, but see the scene of Jakarta in Wariazone trailer:

In Papua, when talking about the waria, commonly people point out  that the parties where the waria are present last the longest and get most crazy. This seemed to be the case with our night in the biggest nightclub in Sorong – the Starlight, or SL as the waria call it. Interestingly, the security took a brief look at us and asked exactly the ticket money for seven people, as if the ‘real ladies’ get in for free, and the warias (as if they were considered ‘men’) should pay the whole price. I tried my best to negotiate, but they were stubborn, and it was really stinking of discrimination based on gender.

But as we entered, the party got wild. There was a band from Yogyakarta, followed by a hot dance party, where the sweat took hold and strip-dancers lifted our sexuality. Some of the waria tried to use me and Minna to get connection with men, and I, of course, was happily playing along. Minna seemed to have a crush on the hottest strip-dancer, who then poored some vodka in her mouth, dragged her on the stage and we were all shouting: “Hancur Minna, hancur Minna!”

This, by the way, is a popular dangdut song here in East-Indonesia, which translates as ‘spoilt Minna’ – a girl who went from village to the city, stayed there for too long and lost her morals.

Zone of freedoms: how a boy becomes a waria at Berlin Wall

When mentioning our fatherly careful uncle that some of these nights in Sorong I’m going out to Tembok Berlin (translates as Berlin Wall), his eyes filled with fear – this is dangerous, people are drunk there, orang mabuk!
A lovely waria Miranda also warned me that sometimes you can be attacked with a knife at Tembok. But Tembok is precisely the place where most of the waria in Sorong gather at night, so there is no question for me – I have to get there. Tembok Berlin is the heart of the city that runs, as the name says, as a wall along the coast current. This is the city’s most popular place for enjoyment and rendezvous (“tempat Santai”). Here we have great gorengans, coffee, tea, grilled bananas and luxurious durian. This is the meeting point for all young people in love and all secret lovers. Among others,  both female and male prostitutes hang out here, and latter being even more popular, because having a same sex partner can become a good smoke cover.
“People who pass by then just think that you’re meeting some old school friend. Nobody knows that this will be followed by sex, so your family relations will not be at risk, even if you’re having an extramarital partners,” my friend, who’s active in the local gay scene, told me. And it does not mean that the customer is necessarily gay himself.

But after all, this place is called Berlin Wall and there has to be a reason other than just being a wall. This here is the house of liberties of Sorong. On the one side of the wall we have the city, cars passing by and the numerous sweet aunties selling snacks and coffee, people chatting, having good time. But the other side is wilder – here we’ve got warm see breeze, green waves in constant move, along some trash and young people secretly making out. The zone of freedoms along the Berlin Wall.

It was there were I met a sweet young native papuan waria from Biak. Her story seem to be quite representative for the case of papuan waria – she had escaped from her family to another city, because the family couldn’t cope with the child’s non-conforming gender identity. So here she is now – hanging out with the waria of the city, trying to learn about her new life, and the salon work. Her dream is to open her private salon one day. To finance her life, she also comes here at nights to prostitute, just like her friends. When after an exhausting night she returns home, she prays. For her sins. When I asked her, what exactly she sees as her sin she has to pray for – is it her being a waria, is it sex work or is it something else? She replies: “This here…” While all other warias are joking and laughing just next to us, she tells me with glassy eyes that she only does it for money. She doesn’t get any satisfaction from it.

“Miss Angola!”cries another sparkling waria to sheer up my papuan friend, when she walks across the street in her sexy short pants. She rolls some hips as a reply to the girls laughing. Of course, our gender expression is constructed under various forces, just as feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir has stated that one is not born a women, but becomes a women.  What I experienced at Tempok Berlin could rather be seen as how a “boy” becomes a waria. It’s how a waria becomes to be here at the local Berlin Wall – zone of freedoms for some, zone of sins for others, zone of pain and hopelessness for some. Whatever it is – we have to break on through to the other side. Here that would be to the side of green waves and warm see breeze. Sounds like freedom, right? Yet so often the other side comes along with random sex for random money, wanted or unwanted, that takes place between the piles of hopeless trash on the beach.

Makassar: who gets the business, and who don’t

I had met Jaka already previous time in Makassar. She had a pretty popular salon in downtown, pleasantly busy each day. Eka suggested we can stay at her salon and get to know her better. Eka was her junior.

On the way to Makassar, we met a party of warias around the area. We stopped and had a chat, I took a photo.

But Eka had to hurry, because she had an important meeting in one of the big hotels of the city. Makassar is the capital of Sulawesi, and its huge. There are big roads and colorful neighborhoods, something for everybody, including the rich fucks, as the anarchists would see it. Eka was sitting attentively behind the desk together with couple of other ladies from the village, who are running good in business and have some extras to invest. The hotel had some 20 floors, we all were served expensive fruit cocktails and chocolate cake – rarity in Sulawesi. There was young and smiling man explaining on a fake iPad how the money they give starts to grow. Like a tree. It’s growing. They could all see it in the graphics. The arrow moves up, more money is coming back. Especially when you give in bigger sum.

But how?

They never asked.

Eka has played with investing before – she has got already two cars. “From internet,” as she puts it. Maybe she’s been the lucky first one, or maybe this is the reality of Indonesia? Economic crash has not touched this base here, Indonesia is booming, but it still has a long way to rise. 

Actually I was invited to come over to Makassar to screen “Wariazone”. Professor Halilintar Latief, the largest researcher on bissu on earth, and that’s true, invited people from various background and different religions to see the documentary and have an open discussion on the matter of the waria in Indonesia. Makassar is a well-known hub for warias, although lately they are crying more of the lack of basic economic needs. There is so many people, so many warias and competition is high. Even when you open a salon. It feels unsafe to work on the street. And again I can’t help of seeing the social reality that is behind this situation, that is creating it. This is because of the narrow zone for the waria that is left out there. This is exactly the socially constructed playground the warias are trapped in and which thus also shapes their identity. Zone, zone, wariazone.

Granny has a secret

Would you ever think that this lovely old lady was born some 80 years ago as a boy? No, of course not, nobody would ever think of it. As far as everybody remembers her she has always been this sweet old lady wondering around the village.

Only that she somehow never got married and has no children of her own. But she has many grandchildren from her sisters, who would never guess that their granny has a major secret – that’s her male genitals and an ID-card of laki-laki (a man in Indonesian).

But does it really matter?

Personally I follow the feminist criticism on biological determinism. I don’t agree that our gender is supposed to be in accordance with our sex, that literally based on our genitals the whole society should be divided between men and women only, and there’s no room or just a tight one for any alternatives, both, in the scope of possible genders and sexualities, and also within the substance of these possible gender and sexual identities.

I think the case of this old lady – the oldest transgender I have met in my life -, who is living in the middle of the tropical village life, very down to earth, simple life of sunny and rainy Sulawesi, surrounded by rice fields and green hills, brings out fabulously the relativity of sex-gender pairing. Any foreign visitor, even an anthropologist, would see this world here ‘traditional’ – still out of the reach of modernity and globalization, that theoretically would bring along ‘the sexual revolution’. Yet this ‘traditional world’ here has reached far further than most of the societies in the West, taking the problem with gender with far more ease.

Granny can’t talk much about it, as the children are playing around and she wouldn’t want to let them know. But she brings out her ID-card where her sex is stated as a man. As Bugis culture distinguish between 5 genders, she has probably led a decent life as a calabai (male-to-female transgender) and finally people even forgot about that, seeing her as she is, whatever she wears under her skirt.