Jakarta in the 90s - a dynamic megacity experiencing unprecedented economic growth but struggling with unchecked corruption and rising wealth disparity. People from all over Indonesia were moving to this metropolis in search of a better future, a chance of finding their fortune and for some, their first taste of queer life.
The growing queer scenes of Jakarta didn’t go unnoticed. Throughout the 90s, Indonesian waria*, lesbian and gay communities - their cultures, fashion and slang - were brought into the mainstream. This decade would also see the establishment of Jakarta’s LGBTQ+ organisations, who would join the many new organisations being founded across the nation. These activists would be important voices, pushing back at the sensationalist and scandal focused exposes, and arguing for their rights and place within Indonesian society.
*Waria is an Indonesian term that may be (perhaps inadequately) translated as transgender woman. Contemporarily the term transpuan is increasingly preferred. This exhibition utilises waria to reflect the preferred term of the community during this time period
By the 1990s, LGBTQ+ organisations already had a long history in Indonesia. In the 60s and 70s, many waria organisations formed across the country. The 80s saw the formation of Indonesia’s first gay and lesbian organisations.
By the early 90s, gays men’s organisations were being founded in many cities across the archipelago, often working alongside and sharing members with waria organisations. These organisations played an important role, especially in responding with the rising burden of HIV on the community, and the stigma it brought with it.
With the sensationalisation of the first publicised AIDS related death in Indonesia in 1987, LGBTQ+ communities, particularly gay men and waria, were thrust into the media spotlight as a topic of sensationalist scandal and puritanical concern.
The lesbian community was also a subject of curiosity for the general public. In 1990, a few years before their in-depth features on the gay community, Jakarta-Jakarta Magazine ran a similar reportage on lesbians.
This article, titled Ancient Lesbians!, informed the readers about the history of lesbians in western civilisation.
As opposed to the scandal laden articles on gays and lesbians, In September of 1993, Tempo (Indonesia's leading weekly magazine) published an 11 page in-depth feature on waria in Indonesia.
Tempo's feature painted the picture of waria using a different brush. The moderately positive feature places emphasis on community building and the successes of prestigious individuals alongside the challenges facing waria due to discrimination and stigma.
The article begins with a profile of Adhe Juwita from Lenong Rumpi, a Jakartan theatre company that gained came to national fame after their films and sitcoms were hits on the newly formed public television channels.
It also offers features on the activities of waria organisations in a number Indonesian cities such as Yayasan Darma Karya Fantastic Dolls in Jakarta, Perwakos in Surabaya, and the Pekan Olahraga Waria (Waria Sports Week) held in Yogyakarta in 1992.
As the 90s pushed forward, major venues begun to host regular queer events - costumes shows, dance parties, pageants and caberet shows all met under the mirrorballs of the new clubs and discoteques.
One of the longest-running organisers of these events was Ikatan Persaudaraan Orang-Orang Sehati or IPOOS.
IPOOS was established on June 13th in 1992. The founder, Paul K, a successful salon owner, established his modest home as a community safe house. Throughout the 90s, hundreds of gay men, waria, sex workers, preman would pass through the doors into Paul’s house, sheltering there for refuge from the struggles of their life, be they economic or social. For Paul, what was important about IPOOS was the ability to offer a sense of family, love and support for those marginalised from society.
It was in Paul K's house that IPOOS would be founded. On the second Sunday of June 1992, around twenty people gathered at Paul’s living room and decided to call their new organisation Ikatan Persaudaraan Orang-Orang Sehati (IPOOS).
During her time, IPOOS held regular parties, pageants and meetings at three clubs: Moonlight Discotik, Klimaxx Discotik, and Virgin. These events were open to all members of the community, although waria and gay men were the most enthusiastic groups participating in their pageants and shows.
IPOOS events often featured plays, caberats and live music, with various themes ranging from an Arabian Nights to traditional Javanese dances. As with the Gaya Betawi bulletins they published, IPOOS events were vessels containing messages of hope, pride, and sexual health messages.
Other than regular parties and pageants, IPOOS also provided entertainment for hire. IPOOS members performed plays, caberet shows and dances to a diverse clientele, such as the below Independence Day party held by a bodybuilders association. Performing at these events helped IPOOS to raise funds for their other events.
Pageants hold a long history in Indonesia, and offer a rare opportunity for waria communities to show their creativity, beauty and talent in a public event of their own creation. Monica (first from the right) contributed her personal collection of photos to the archive. Her collection displays her long engagement in waria pageants held in Jakarta during the early 90s, offering a brief glimpse into the pageant scene of the era.
Monica moved to Jakarta in the 1980s with her parents. She started hanging out with other waria in various parks and cafes in Jakarta before meeting an older waria who would become her mentor. She showed her the in and outs of the Jakartan waria scene during that time.
This older waria persuaded her to learn a trade so Monica can start her own business. With the idea to be able to support herself independently Monica chose to learn hairdressing, earning her hairdressing license in 1992.
She opened a salon at her house in one of the inner suburbs of Jakarta. Outside of providing hairdressing and makeup service for its clientele, Monica's salon acted as a social hub for her peers. Guests would come in often for quick chat, a group lunch, or an arisan (also known as hui, paluwagan, or lenshare in SEA). The salon became a place where friends, regardless of their sexuality and gender identity, socialised.
Monica is currently an active member of the Sanggar Seroja dance and theatre group, but throughout the 90s Monica was an avid participant of the pageant scene. Sometimes she entered by herself, other times her friends would make her costume for her. Her photos give us a personal glimpse of the extent and scale of the waria pageant scene in 90s Jakarta.
The lesbian community of Jakarta was buzzing with activities in the 90s. Quickly, Jakarta saw the immergence of multiple lesbian organisations, networks, buletins and articles however many of these organisations struggled with sustainability and finding their audience.
Images featured are from the Jakarta Jakarta Edition 1999, 21-27 April, 1990.
By the end of the decade Jakarta was in major upheaval. The financial crisis that ravaged Asia in 1997 fuelled dissent across the country as the economy collapsed and the currency was hit by hyperinflation. In the capital itself, civil unrest broke out in May 1998. Protestors, including those from the LGBTQ+ communities, called for the resignation of Suharto and the new order government which had ruled unopposed continuously since 1967. Riots and violence raged on for three weeks until Suharto stepped down from the presidency on 21 May 1998. His vice-president, J.B Habibie, stepped in as president. Indonesia entered a period known as Reformasi.
While many activists were hopeful that Reformasi would bring with it true democracy and freedom of expression in Indonesia, in the immediate aftermath the LGBTQ+ communities experienced the opposite. Conservative vigilante groups, previously repressed by the dictatorship, exercised their newly-gained freedom by shutting down public events held by LGBTQ+ groups and harassing community gatherings. These attacks included surrounding and intimidating activists September Ceria in 1999 and violent attacking an major HIV event in 2000.
QIA is very eager to hear from LGBTQ+ community members involved in the reformasi protest movement and would love to record stories and collect materials that reflect these times. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you which to share your experiences or materials from this period.