The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented human crisis that is claiming lives, destroying livelihoods and disrupting economies across the world. With the support of UNAIDS, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) and Youth LEAD have worked together to increase the visibility and voices of trans and gender diverse youth leaders throughout Asia and the Pacific. This is the first in a series of six feature stories about trans youth leaders and the strength they show amidst the challenges of COVID-19.
Finding Myself Through Spirituality
My name is Amar, I am twenty-nine years old, and I consider myself a queer person or a trans men Muslim activist. After exploring my gender identity and being accepted by my family and community, I decided to share my story and encourage other young trans people to defend their rights and enjoy their spirituality regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Since then, I´ve been working on human rights, interfaith, and minority issues, engaging with socio-religious Islamic organisations, inter-religious communities, and LGBTIQ+ rights. I am now the co-founder of the Jaringan Transgender Indonesia (JTID), which aims to provide a space for transgender people to bring out our voices and fight for our rights.
Ten years ago, I was still wearing a hijab and trying to find my own identity. Raised in a very religious family, talking about gender and sexuality was taboo, even though for many years, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with who I was. I felt like I was someone else, a different person; afraid of coming out and being rejected by my family. Being trans and Muslim seemed like a complete paradox, and I thought that I would have to choose between them.
One day I thought I had to make a change and talked to my family about it. When I came out to my parents, I was so shocked to see how supportive they were. Throughout my journey, they have always loved me for who I was, and they were a significant influence on the reconciliation with my gender identity and my faith. It was their acceptance and encouragement that made me feel empowered enough to start my transition.
The unconditional support from my parents has shaped me into the person I am today, and I want parents to read this story and know that it is ok if you have a trans kid – you should never stop loving them. I used to believe that the only support system was through the family. However, I have come to realise one can also receive support elsewhere.
I reflect on my friends, the religious community and my faith – all pivotal playing roles in my transition. They have enabled me to reconnect with my own identity and heal throughout different processes, and always encouraged me to follow my passion for my spirituality and activism for LGBTIQ+ rights. Since then, I’ve been working with religious communities to promote acceptance of trans people and also share and explain the positive effects that religion can have in trans people’s lives. I hope that my work and my story encourages more young individuals and communities to accept other people’s beliefs and gender identities.
I acknowledge the challenges that many young trans people face in Indonesia, but I want to encourage you and let you know that there are always people willing to accept you and support you. I also have understood with the time that difficulties and challenges are part of life and that sometimes it is ok to be sad. But at the same time, we must learn from adverse experiences to become stronger, happier, and better people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a different side of Indonesia. In the last few months, the pandemic has drastically affected the Indonesian population with the rising cases making Indonesia the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also has the highest death toll in the region with a total of 2,267 fatalities due to the disease, far surpassing Singapore’s 26 COVID-19 deaths.
Young transgender activists leading the COVID-19 pandemic
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there have been instances when the religious community have shown increasing solidarity towards supporting trans people in Indonesia. The shift to online activities has enabled us to reach more young people through social media across Indonesia, and we have seen a massive rise in youth engagement and participation. The use of online platforms makes us feel safer as we can post and propose an agenda without being fearful, and we don’t feel like we need to be ‘underground’ anymore. However, many young transgender people remain under lockdown with their families as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn could adverse rejection and transphobic attitudes from families. Transgender people may encounter situations where they are forced to stop their transitions or to be repeatedly denied who they are.
With the financial support of Asia Pacific Transgender Network’s COVID-19 Community Support Fund, JTID, in collaboration with TransVoice, has been able to cover the living costs of 150 trans men and women who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Those in most in need of support include laborers, sex workers, and street singers, especially those living in remote areas of Indonesia. By providing support for their living costs, members of the transgender community can remain at home and not endanger themselves by going outside to work during a pandemic.
During this time, I was able to work on a personal project, Islam and Progressive Christian interpretation towards diverse gender and sexualities – a guideline and tool to inspire transgender people to reconcile with their faiths. I feel proud of creating this resource for people to let them know that it is ok to be them and to highlight that belief helps to overcome difficulties throughout the journey.
To all the trans young people or any person that is having a hard time during the COVID-19 pandemic, I want you to know that we are in this together, you need to be kind to yourselves and know that you are not alone. Whatever happens in your life, no matter how difficult it is, you will always get through it. I want to encourage you and ask you to reach out to your local organisations and initiatives to connect with others and find support.