A trans male was once prevented from ‘meeting’ his God: “Even if there is heaven, but if it is not according to my choice, then it is not heaven. If I go to heaven but am forced to take a path that is not my choice, when I get to heaven I will be confused because I don’t like it. That’s not called heaven is it?”
Fikri, a trans male, has experienced a mental crisis due to bullying and the stigma he received. He was ‘rejected’ when he took off his hijab. He has also been promised an A-score if He wants to return to being a woman and wears clothes that are considered feminine, such as a pink skirt.
However, Fikri’s decision to become a trans male was unanimous. Various treatments, both from psychologists, and psychiatrists, even to the ruqyah that he underwent, were not able to make her feel “return” to a woman as expected by the people around her.
How did Fikri proceed and go through the struggles to finally find himself? The following is Konde’s conversation with the trans man who turns 28 this year in Serpong, South Tangerang in mid-March 2022.
What would Fikri look like?
If asked how I want to be described, I can answer as transgender and devout Muslim.
When exactly did you accept yourself as the current Fikri?
I had experienced struggles like many other transgender friends. At first I also felt like a tomboyish girl, but then I learned that the dimensions of gender and sexuality are diverse. It was only then that I discovered that I was transgender, that was when I was 21 years old or when I was in college. The times I searched and found myself, I finally learned to accept myself.
Can you tell me what kind of struggle it is?
What I experienced may be a bit unique. So I was once taken to a boarding school, for a kind of ruqya, entrusted to the kyai (an Islamic expert) and my father to let me proceed. So that when I returned from the pesantren I could return to being a woman.
But at that time I didn’t oppose it, I let it go because I wanted to proceed, and if it’s true that ruqya can heal, as they say, that’s okay. At that time, after I decided to become a woman, I had several times in ruqya. In some places.
I tried to process it, there was a moment when I felt that I hurt myself. Because doing things that are not what I want, there is inner turmoil there. There is a psychological dimension that is also disturbed because of it. So it’s kind of depressing, it’s not because I chose to be trans but because I’m trying to change, which isn’t me. That’s to follow the standards in society, if someone is born biologically as a woman, then you must become a woman.
I’ve also been in a critical period mentally because I was tired of bullying and stigma. Then I also got stigma at college, being exiled because at first I wore a veil, and then suddenly I took it off, the stigma immediately appeared.
There was even one of my lecturers who said, “If you wear feminine clothes or a pink skirt, I’ll give you an A-score. There’s even a dimension like that. That’s scary, yes, even though it’s on campus. This made me too lazy to go to campus.”
But in the end, maybe my parents realized that there was something wrong with the process, so I finally had a dialogue with my father.
“So this is the result, it’s not because I refuse to proceed, I already want to proceed, even though I came to the place myself. But this is the truth, that nothing has changed, I’m still who I am. And my default is like this, I can’t do anything about it either!”
How did your parents react?
My father is silent when he is angry, he is silent for a long time. For about a month he did the silent treatment, only after that in a very simple conversation he accepted my choice.
So, my father likes to eat soup. Then I was invited, that was the first time after I was silenced. So acceptance can be from small things. During months of silence, I tried to get close to my father, so that day I invited Abah to eat his favorite soup. Why does he want to, and we talk. And then he said it for the first time, though not explicitly.
So at that time, my father said, “If you are happy with your choice, then you don’t hurt other people, you also benefit the people around you, and what you do is also beneficial for humanity and brotherhood, I support you. But if you make your choice, you continue to harm other people or commit crimes, I don’t approve of that.”
Fortunately, I’m clear with that understanding, the important thing is not to hurt each other, whoever it is.
How was Fikri raised?
So I was born and grew up in a pesantren environment, my big family has an Islamic boarding school. Besides that, I was also sent to another Islamic boarding school and it has become a family tradition to explore each other’s knowledge about religious knowledge. So when I was in middle school and high school, I was in a boarding school too but outside the city. And, until now I also continue to work at the boarding school.
Were you still a student at that time?
Back when I was in junior high/high school, I didn’t expressly declare or come out as transgender. And, I don’t think I’ve ever come out directly saying, “Hey, I’m transgender! It’s not like that, but if I present myself as I am, then people will have their perspective about it. But I think that I am transgender.
What expression changes did Fikri make?
The expression is very different. From the start, I didn’t like wearing skirts. So even though since I was a child in an Islamic boarding school, I prefer to wear pants, I don’t want to. So I want to be put in a boarding school if I’m not prohibited from wearing pants or I’m wearing a sarong which is more universal! And, I chose the sarong myself, the one for the guy. So that expression was from childhood. Since I was a child, I didn’t feel like playing with dolls.
When you finally accepted, how did you feel?
Of course, it’s nice to have acceptance from parents. Being accepted as a human is already very happy. Because all this time what has happened is as if LGBTQ friends are not human. So it’s a pleasure for me to be accepted as a human. I feel that this self exists, visible at least.
What about other families?
My mother, frankly until now still refuses, in the sense that she doesn’t understand yet, that this is what I am. But, when I said that I was different, my mother understood, because my instincts as a mother already understand what I have been through since I was little. But he also thought, “You can’t be like that”. So it’s still in denial.
I’m sure, the instincts of the parents of LGBTQ friends feel that their children are special. And they just need to be supported and considered to exist. But because those around us don’t allow non-binary norms, we end up being led if it’s not a girl or a boy, until finally, our parents refuse if we declare ourselves as trans.
Comments often come from the environment around you, so now I don’t live with my parents. I live in my own house outside the city and visit my parents at least once a week. One of the goals is to reduce the pressure from around that is very strong. I don’t want to, because of my choice, my parents will be affected, although I’m sure the stigma will still exist.
I also want to tell the people around me that LGBTQ exists. The person is there. So I show that I am a citizen who has rights and obligations, so I keep participating in activities and socializing with the surrounding community. If they can see us as humans, there’s no problem. As long as we don’t collide or harm others. Conflict with the rights of others.
Have you ever experienced rejection regarding Fikri’s current identity?
When we talk about identity, that is something that is attached to us. But actually, we are all human. Since we are both human, why should we hurt and discriminate against each other? Why should there be a difference in treatment just because he has a different choice? Everyone has a different fingerprint, I think that’s also a form of God’s print on diversity. So indirectly God has told you that there is diversity here.
Why do people tend to belong to certain groups? I think it’s because of their ideology or perspective which can’t be opened up. Too stiff, finally seeing a little different he was shocked. Because if we see things that are different and continue to be shocked, their lives will be stiff. Our life doesn’t develop.
It can be said that the rejection that Fikri received was not too heavy?
I think that rejection takes various forms. And, I don’t want to talk about the kinds of rejections that I experienced. Because, in my opinion, there are a lot of rejection narratives. I just want to tell you that there is always hope.
For people who don’t know about LGBTQ, let’s learn. At the very least, if he can’t appreciate that we need treatment, he can respect it humanly. First, we must realize that we are all human.
I also experienced a lot of rejection. Like the ruqya, although it seems simple, the process shakes the soul. Because there is an affirmation to someone to be someone they don’t want to be.
He was also indoctrinated that these things were not by religious guidance which made him think. If I don’t comply with religious guidelines, can I go to heaven or not? So in this world, it is not good, in the hereafter, it is also not good. Fortunately, at that time I already felt that heaven and hell are not us who decide, but God.
But if there is heaven, but if it is not according to my choice, then it is not called heaven. If I go to heaven but am forced to take a path that is not my choice, when I get to heaven I will be confused because I don’t like it. That’s not heaven, is it?
Now, what are Fikri’s activities?
I teach at a tahfiz house. I was involved from the start, and when I conveyed my stance, a good tahfiz house is one with good character. Because if we only memorize the Al-Quran, but if we don’t master the contents, the fall will only be memorized but not grounded. Later there will be nothing or what teachings can be shared with those around us. Finally, there are lots of character classes in the pesantren.
Is that what developed Fikri?
One of them was me and several other people at the pesantren. I teach a few classes, I teach a language class, a fairy tale class, a film class, and a theater class. Also, literacy classes so that children want to read. So I want to teach that Islam is friendly. I invite my friends to see there are many perspectives. By seeing there are various contents of the world. So the insight is growing.
Regarding gender, currently, many pesantren only recognize men and women. The other spectrum was never mentioned. I want to introduce a different perspective in the ways above.
How do the children and the environment respond there?
If children are happy because it is what they like and is developing at this time. And all of that is adapted to the Quran, so children’s imaginations are not limited. Regarding heaven, let’s try to introduce another dimension.
There are still rejections, but what I focus on is if there are rejections, there are still things I can do. So keep doing it, because if you get rejected and quit right away, there will be fewer and fewer people struggling on this path. So when someone gets rejected, I think about what else I can do. And I don’t want to violate the rules or run into them, there is a bargaining process.
So you don’t want to go face to face?
I’m always face to face, it’s just that I don’t feel angry, fighting or hostile, or fighting. So I always try to look at the bigger agenda, our agenda, and what are we in this world. For example, peace, so that there is no conflict.
We are both aware that suffering is not good. Moreover, we only have one earth, we don’t like living in the same house but we keep fighting. So what is the big agenda, for example, if our rights are fulfilled and do not interfere with the rights of others, we will all feel comfortable. That’s all I do, but if any of my rights are not fulfilled, I will vote.
For example, I am a Muslim, I have the right to worship. But because of my identity as a trans, I can’t be free to pray Friday in the congregation. I was once asked when I wanted to pray in congregation, and when I answered I was looking to meet God, so if it’s not allowed in the mosque, maybe my God isn’t there.
But as long as it’s personal, I’ll do it personally. I choose to base it on what the essence of worship is.
Not everyone understands, what should be done?
Each person has a method that has advantages and disadvantages. I’m not in a position to say this is better and that is worse. My principle is that if my rights have been violated, I will fight for them in my way. Even though it’s very simple. If I feel someone doesn’t know, I will learn.
If you don’t know yourself, then learn. Because there are still people who don’t understand him. If he has learned, he will accept his good and bad.
Are you happy with what you have achieved so far?
Very happy, because I have gone through the times that I think are dark. And after that process, I feel very relieved. Making peace with myself in my opinion is very relieved. Because in many cases, the first to reject LGBTIQ were themselves. That’s why many people are still in denial, and I’ve experienced it. At that time what I did were things that hurt me.
As you can imagine, on the inside, I’m not comfortable, with how I can deal with people outside myself. During that time I had to go through a long struggle, I had to go to a psychologist, psychiatrist, and kyai. And, there are so many levels that I have to go through.
Still, have a desire to change your physique?
For this, it seems clear. I realized that men don’t always have to be men. So it can be said that there is nothing I want to change with my body. Physically, this God-given is a blessing to me. For example, my chromosomes are more male.
If there’s one thing I want to change the most, it’s how people don’t just see one group, try to see that diversity. Even trance alone is very diverse. I don’t mind if someone knows my past. I want the names of my parents to be a puzzle in my life.
However, some trans friends want to change their gender immediately, because it will make their lives easier. And this is very important for their life. So indeed LGBTQ friends’ rights have been taken away, and they are currently suffering.
(Translated by Widia Primastika)