Sweet vagary of the San Francisco weekend

San Francisco has historically, of course, been one of the major centers of sexual subcultures. We could only imagine, how queer folks from the smaller towns and villages around the wider area were heading up to the city once they could, to seek for those who thought and felt likewise, to step on for a self-realization on different grounds that small-town rigid morals and tight eye of the “big brother” would perhaps allow. It was not before the 1980s when Castro became the well-known gay-neighborhood, but don’t think that there weren’t any beforehand. I’ve heard it was then around Polk, but I’ve also seen some maps with dots referring to the gay bars of the 1950s, and there were so many all around the city.
I ended up having a drink in Castro already on the very first weeks I got here . Well, I kind of enjoyed it – Lady Gaga and big boys with big muscles on the LCD screens around the blink-blink shaded bar, and cheap tequila. But nonetheless it hasn’t really been an arena where I would rush back into. They say, Castro has become a tourist attraction in itself, and has been even criticized for that by some from the local gay scene here. Interesting. However much critique against tourism, consumerism or homonormativity I could possibly think of, I still feel proud passing the huge rainbow flag when riding up the Market street through Castro. This flag is huge!


For my personal heart-beat, I find more interesting the scenes that rarely get to be explored by random city visitors. Not that the latter would that much matter, but it’s more about the fact that the scene is small, specific, and gets produced by it’s own exclusiveness, that at the same time is inherently a drop-out.
One of the rules about this/these subculture(s) is not to gossip around the big wide web what is going on in those parties and those scenes, so I don’t have intention to do that. Besides, it would be a really hard task, almost impossible, as the writer, or me, who would try to do that, would sooner or later encounter alexithymia, i.e. an inability to describe emotions in a verbal matter.
This is the scene of vagary, full of unpredictable instances, desires, joys, unusual bodies, ideas and action. This is the scene of the drag, that renders productively the very Real, however chaotic and ungraspable.
Perhaps what Felix Guattari has said about the potential political power of the drag might give another glimpse of what I’m trying to say here: “The question is no longer to know whether one will play feminine against masculine or the reverse, but to make bodies, all bodies, break away from the representations and restraints on the “social body”.
And when I come think about my feelings towards the moments I experienced within this scene, I’d lay out another quote:
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” (Oscar Wilde)



“Are you a friend of Mr. Eddy?” – “Mr. Eddy? I knew her as miss.”

The humming parade of countless motorcycle wheels emits a cloud of strong fume in the air of  Sunday morning Yogyakarta. I try to keep my breath as I swing on my motorbike through they hideous traffic trying to make my way to the house of the parents or my lost friend. She only died this morning. It’s my last day in Indonesia  before heading back to Europe, which now seems as far as a blurry dream. I’ve grown so much into this world here, this life, this reality, and just after the last night good-bye party – the terrible news.

“Is this the house where the funeral is being held?” I ask modestly.
A young woman trying to find some shelter from the heat of the sun asks: “Are you a friend of Mr. Eddy?”
“Mr. Eddy?”
Right, she had mentioned me the name though.
“I knew her as miss, Miss Sisi Renata.” In Java it’s always a customary to use gender-and age-specific titles.
My eyes travels to the open room, in the middle of which stands the coffin. In front of it there’s a black and white photograph portraying a young man dressed in black suit. His looks is very serious, even sad. Next to the photograph there are some candles and sad flowers. And again I hesitate – am I still at the right funeral?

Sympathetic and modest Sisi Renata grew up in a poor family in Yogyakarta Old Town. Her mother raised her and her siblings alone, which in Indonesian patriarchal context is anything but simple. She wiped away the tears as she told me about her mother for the first time. She did not want to disappoint her mom at all, but already since little she had felt differently. She often found herself playing with girls and in early puberty accidentally fell in love with her male teacher. Later, she kept her love life under strict secrecy, and every night before going to bed, she held a spiritual wrestling with God, to try to deal with guilt of her “abnormalities” and ask for forgiveness for the “sins” she had committed in her fantasy world.

Sisi had worked as tour guide. Once she got an affair with one Dutch visitor. Their  remote relationship with regular meetings lasted for many years, they travelled through half of Indonesia. The man noticed his Javanese friend’s inner brilliance and sharp wit, and decided to give him – back then as Eddy – a respectable amount of money for education. Through her education and life experience she slowly began to move towards deeper self-reflection and harmony. And she realized that she had a soul of a woman, has always had it!
One day her Dutch boyfriend found an elegant lady in front of him when taking her out for a date. Sisi was employed for support organization for warias, where she was an outrage worker for waria sex workers and support person for HIV-positive warias living in the shelter.

Sometimes at weekends, she came up as a singer in clubs, dressed in fluffy bright green, singing tears touching ballads. To her mother, however, she never revealed her new life – she just did not want to create such a burden. Although it was obvious that the heart of a mother surely knows. Also, many guests at the funeral didn’t seem to have much idea of Eddy’s journey towards her better self known as Sisi Renata. Until she was suddenly knocked down by tuberculosis. 

This time we have a guest photographer here – funeral photos by Monica Dominguez. I love her and her touch in photography, see for yourself! 

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.

Everything must be good for something – meeting my key informant

„Aah! So you were studying the warias?” one fleshy security guard asked me, his eyes glittering. The word waria (or banci, as people often know them, although it bears some negative connotations) has a kind of magic power that makes Indonesians’ eyes glitter and smile on their face, of course unfortunately, this often a sign for ridicule. “This here is a waria! This is a waria!” he points at a guy who’s delved into the bed. The guy is probably the clumsiest and shiest, and thus is probably chaffed all the time.

Granny manifests: Legalize! a few-hour stop-over on Serui island

Already in the evening of my first day on the boat I had a feeling that this boat trip might be something I really need. I wandered on the deck, talked to people and had started going back to the cabin when I suddenly turned around. I noticed a interesting-looking girl, who apparently was a waria. Her name was Amanda. She’s from Bali, but for the past ten years she’s lived in Jayapura, where she’d escaped with her sweetheart from Solo. They had lived ten years in Jayapura like a man and a woman, but now they’ve finished their relationship. The man returned to Solo to marry a woman. I asked if her heart ached. And again, to my surprise, she too said it didn’t. “I’m happy we got to be together so long,” she tells.

Amanda went to Ambon and back. She’s travelling with three other people who sell coffee, snacks and cigarettes on the boat. Seems that many finance their trip that way. Standing there like that many gave me their hand to say hello and a few more words. One drunk Papuan man started babbling in English “oh, I’m talking to a waria, it’s a waria!” he mumbled as if he couldn’t understand what was going on. To illustrate what he’d just said he made some awkward dancing moves.  Already then I was afraid something insulting might be on its way, because there’s nothing that could be more tactless than a drunk Papuan. But the man said: “Yes, these are warias, they have trouble within themselves, but they are here, they are just like you and me, they are part of the world in Papua!”

On the contrary for the worst that I had expected, it seemed the man was moved that I,  a visitor from afar, had amongst the thousands on the boat chosen the only waria to talk to. This incident also illustrates something I realized during my three weeks here – Papuans take warias as something natural to the “modernized” (“indonized?”) world, they see waria as a colour, and what could they really have against beautiful, fun, sexy and well dancing warias? Since when have Papuans been those who dictate morale and order arising from it? This has always been the task of Indonesians or of Indonesian central power, who historically don’t really like the frizzy hair and the chaotic lifestyle of Papuans. If waria is a part of their “developed” world, so be it! A Papuan gets drunk and is delighted to have fun in the company of tall light-skinned Javanese warias. Why not?!

And Amanda became my most favourite girlfriend in the next town we landed.


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.