The Struggle of Being a Transman in Indonesia

It is challenging to change identity in Indonesia, one of which is being trans man. Not to mention if you receive a painful statement like this, "It's a man. Why is the ID card (written) female?" and “If you have long hair, you're beautiful!"

“After 10 months of marriage, a woman in Jambi just realized that her husband is a woman.

For ten months, a woman in Jambi, N, was unaware that she had married a woman named Ahnaf Arrafif.

That’s more or less about the news that circulated in June 2022. If you still remember, the information about the story of N and Ahnaf Arrafif was then crowded on social media. This story was viral when N revealed himself on Twitter. wrote, to N before getting married, Ahnaf claimed to be a Neurosurgeon Specialist and coal entrepreneur with a long academic degree. The two then have an unregistered marriage. They could not marry legally because Ahnaf, at that time, did not carry an ID card. Ahnaf said this because, at that time, he was in the process of changing his name after he became a convert.

N only realized that Afnaf was a woman after 10 months of their marriage. After that, photos of Ahnaf with feminine gender expressions circulated.

The case then continued in court. Ahnaf was charged with forging an academic degree, revealing his official gender identity.  Ahnaf is a trans man.

Some groups then seek to profit from this case, such as frying the issue of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/LGBT with the expressions of hate speech that they spread.

Various content and news in online media are also full of hate speech that spreads against LGBT in the comments column. A condition that causes stress, especially for trans men.

Since then, all trans men have always been associated with people like Ahnaf. But from the Ahnaf case, we also know how difficult it is to be a trans man.

It’s hard to be a trans man

Being a trans man is like something that was not allowed to be done. They were decided by others to be someone else. Thus, the case has a social impact on transmen, making them vulnerable to violence and discrimination if they admit they are men. Ironically, cases like Ahnaf are not the first time this has happened in Indonesia.

1. In 2010, the public was shocked by Alter Hofan’s case, reported by his father-in-law, with the article on falsification of identity.

2. In 2015, Ichal Saser in Polewali Mandar was reported by his wife for committing identity fraud.

3. In 2016, Efendi in Boyolali was reported for identity fraud.

4. In 2017, Farel in Tanjung Balai struggled to get justice after being reported on identity fraud and child neglect charges.

5. In 2018, Ryan in Bandar Lampung was reported by his wife’s family for falsification of identity. Ryan used fake documents to get married and rent a house.

The number of cases of criminal lawsuits and is considered to have faked identity should make the trans male community more careful in changing their identity. This is definitely not something easy.

Ahnaf’s case is not only a material for learning and reflection but also a reminder that the need for a legal identity that is compatible with gender identity is one of the crucial needs for a trans man.

The Long Road Towards State Recognition

That also happened to me. Since deciding to transition medically and legally to change my identity, I have provided various information and knowledge regarding trans men in Indonesia. One of my goals is a change of legal identity.

Unfortunately, in the trans men community, there is no credible information that I can access. Because most of the trans men who have changed their identity are reluctant to share their experiences. This has become a dead end for trans men’s collectives, who are expected to become community information sources.

All I can do is read a lot and study court decisions regarding changing gender identity from female to male. From this simple research, I got 3 conclusions:

1. A person can change gender identity from female to male if proven to have intersex conditions or certain sexual organ disorders. For example, the Aprilio Perkasa Manganang case is known to have hypospadias.

2. Transmen who have performed all gender adjustment operations can have their request granted to change their identity.

3. Transmen application can be granted if a psychiatrist has a robust supporting justification, regardless of the medical action.

These three conclusions apply if a trans man wants to change his identity with the mechanism of a civil application trial following the Adminduk Law.

In the rules of civil procedure, 3 pieces of evidence are needed to corroborate the request for a change in gender identity. First, evidence of factual witnesses can be done by family or closest colleagues.

In Indonesia, there is an unwritten norm, namely that a person is considered an adult only after marriage. If you are not an adult, you need “permission” from the family. However, are all transmale families willing to accept their child’s condition and are eager to testify in court? This is one of the most common challenges for trans men who wish to change their name and/or gender in court.

Second, documentary evidence explains the entire medical process the applicant has carried out.  According to applicable official standards, the medical transition is carried out in a series of stages, namely: counseling and assessment from a psychiatrist, referral to an andrologist or obstetrician for hormone therapy, referral to a plastic surgeon for reconstructive chest surgery, referral to an obstetrician for removal of the uterus and ovaries, and referral to a plastic surgeon for genital reconstructive surgery. The complete documentation of these stages is documentary evidence. For a trans man, the medical transition costs tens to hundreds of millions of rupiah.

With the stigma and systemic discrimination experienced, is it possible for every trans man in Indonesia to have the financial capacity to go through the process? Medical transition is also related to personal and bodily rights. Especially if someone has certain health conditions that make it impossible to make a medical transition.

Third, expert evidence. Generally, the experts needed are doctors who directly handle the medical transition. It can be a psychiatrist, surgeon, and ob-gyn.

So, how do we get expert evidence if we don’t go through an official medical transition process? Access to medical transitions is only available in big cities. Because looking for trans-friendly health workers in Indonesia is like looking for a gold needle in a haystack. It is also possible that trans-friendly religious experts are also needed according to the religion of each applicant, as anticipation if the judge wants religious experts to be presented. This is like looking for a gold needle in a haystack.

Legal assistance is crucial because trans issues are susceptible and closely related to privacy, especially for those who do not have a legal education background.

I’ve tried to contact 2 legal aid agencies that are known to work with LGBT organizations and communities, but unfortunately, neither of them is willing to provide the assistance I need. The first institution does not offer assistance but can only provide strategic advice.

They will only provide assistance if in the future discriminatory actions are found. The second institution even refuses to provide assistance if the entire medical transition process has not been completed. Is this issue considered not a vital need for the trans man community? Is it because this is a civil application with a single judge, and there is no plaintiff?

So the only way is to use the services of a private lawyer who is trans-friendly and understands the issue of SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sex Characteristics).

Even though you have to spend tens of millions of rupiah, this is commensurate with the expected service. Starting from planning a joint strategy, making and discussing legal letters, preparing witnesses, and mentoring in the courtroom to the registration process in the Civil Registry.

Again, I was lucky not to have a transphobic judge. The trial process was closed to the public 4 times. The first trial is to provide documentary evidence and examine factual witnesses. The second trial for expert examination. The third trial was for reading the conclusions drawn up by the attorney, and the fourth trial was for the reading of the determination.

Knock knock! The knock of the judge’s hammer signaled that the state had recognized my gender identity as a man. The next thing I have to do is report the determination to the Department of Population and Civil Registration 30 days after the derivative of the decision is received. So, the official change of my identity.

The Length of Identity Management: Vulnerable to Criminal Liability to Extortion

The medical transition, which requires a large amount of money, coupled with minimal access, has enabled only trans men from the upper middle class to access legal identity changes. What about those who are not financially capable? What about those who do not have access to information about identity change mechanisms? This gap makes criminal cases of identity falsification often occur in trans men.

Within the transmen community, some individuals invite other trans male friends to make ID cards by illegal means. This is done by cooperating with civil registration officers to look for the Population Identification Number/NIK of other people who have died or have not been registered on the e-KTP. Then, the contents of the NIK are replaced with customer data. The cost reaches millions of rupiah for results whose legality and safety are questionable.

Some make fake ID cards by using image editing applications and printing them in such a way that they are similar to the real ones. Some people claim to take this path because they want an instant and more affordable process. It’s tantamount to committing identity fraud.

According to Article 378 of the Criminal Code regarding fraud, the threat of identity falsification is a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison. Meanwhile, Article 93 of Law no. 24 of 2013 concerning Population Administration is threatened with imprisonment for 6 years and/or a maximum fine of Rp. 50,000,000.00. This threat ensnares people who choose a path like Ahnaf and similar cases.

It’s a different story with those who go through the trial process. Joko, one of the trans men, had to spend hundreds of millions of rupiah for attorney’s fees. The lawyer gave a 100% guarantee of success by “cooperating” with certain judges to smooth out Joko’s application. Feeling that he had no other option, Joko agreed.

“I don’t know where else to go for help. If it is the same organization, it will be directed to LBH. I had asked my FTM (Female-to-Male) friend for help, but instead, he tricked me. I asked one of the seniors, and I was just given access to a psychiatrist in Jakarta. The psychiatrist gave the lawyer contact. He said that the lawyer used to take care of the FTM,” said Joko.

He also realized that he did not have strong enough medical evidence as evidence. The process that Joko has gone through is psychiatric counseling and hormone therapy. Consider the attorney’s fees incurred to cover the lack of evidence.

“I talked to my mother. Do you want me to operate or take care (change of identity) first? You disagree with me having surgery. He prefers that I take care of the legal. But, if you want to do that, the cost is not small, and I can’t afford it. Fortunately, my mother wants to pay for everything until my ID is done, “he explained.

Joko wants the trial process to be closed and not smelled by the media. The trial is conducted online. However, several months after the trial, Joko found news about his trial in the local press. Fortunately, the news did not go viral like the current Ahnaf case. During the trial, until his new identity was accepted, Joko was often asked for additional costs beyond the mutually agreed upon agreement.

“In the letter of agreement, 100 million. Other than that, I was asked for something else. In total, there are almost 200 million,” said Joko.

After the trial process was completed and all his new residence documents were received, Joko was afraid and reluctant to deal with the lawyer again. He is also not the first to experience something similar from the same lawyer. From Joko’s case, we learn that not all the narratives written in the stipulations are as beautiful as they are in reality. When a judge grants a trans man’s request, let’s look at what’s happening behind the scenes.

Joko’s experience is different from Bambang’s. Bambang has evidence of very complete medical documents and experts. Bambang has gone through counseling, hormone therapy, chest reconstruction, and removal of the uterus and ovaries. During the trial, the judge did not ask stigmatizing questions and tended to be trans-friendly. However, the trial of Bambang’s determination was postponed for 3 weeks due to the pandemic.

“When I arrived at the PN (District Court), I saw my lawyer coming out of the clerk’s room. He said the judge had an ‘ask’ for this,” said Bambang while showing his five fingers. “If I don’t give it, the trial won’t start. So what? Instead of me repeating the trial again from the beginning. More cost and time. I’d rather pay 5 million there. That’s not a lot of money for me, but it’s not even a small amount.”

Sure enough, after depositing the cash through his attorney, the trial for Bambang’s determination began, and his application was granted.

The transphobic justice system and lack of access to legal aid have caused trans men to experience financial violence in changing their identity. We must realize that socialization and education regarding the Adminduk Law are still lacking. Let alone changing gender identity, many people still do not understand the procedure for changing their domicile.

Changes in gender identity in Law No. 23 of 2006 concerning Population Administration regulated in Article 56 stipulates that the Civil Registration Officer’s recording of other “important events” is carried out at the request of the resident concerned after a district court decision has permanent legal force. Meanwhile, what is meant by “other important events” is explained in the Elucidation of Article 56 paragraph (1) of the Adminduk Law as follows:

“Other Important Events” means events determined by the district court to be registered with the Implementing Agency, including changes in gender.”

Education regarding Administrative Law, criminal sanctions, and its relation to trans-male identity is minimal. Information like this is like no one has provided. You have to look for it yourself. Even affordable legal aid is not available. As if the issue of changing legal identity has not become a priority. In fact, this fact exists and is really on the ground. It can be seen from the cases that ensnare trans men that exist almost yearly.

This problem will not be solved if there is still an assumption that the issue of changing legal identity is only owned by upper-middle-class trans men. Does their social class reduce their identity vulnerability?

“Honestly, I’m disappointed. It considered people who were in the upper middle class did not deserve to be helped. We are not supported by rich parents like Joko. If it’s not important for them (read: trans man activists), it’s not necessarily important for others,” said Bambang.

They are easy targets for extortion and financial violence by people who seek profit. It is undeniable that the need for recognition of legal identity is shared by every layer of the trans male class. It took me and some friends several years of hard work to make our dream come true. Bambang and I were not born into a wealthy family. In fact, we also helped the family’s economy.

If the transman movement demands justice, will it work? Those who have successfully made a change of identity also need a secure space to share. Because everyone has the right to privacy and the need to continue living.

The question is, are these spaces already available in the collectives and organizations of the transmen community? There are still many trans male individuals out there who need information regarding identity changes. Those who don’t know where to turn to look for credible help. Those who are not reached by community organizations. Those who dare to take risks because their efforts end in a dead end.

Again: Patriarchal Values

The patriarchal system rooted in our society believes in heteronormativity. According to heteronormativity, a person with a vagina is definitely a woman, must express femininity, and must be attracted to a man with a penis, likewise for men. They must be a penis, masculine, and attracted to women with a vagina. Those who do not meet these criteria will be marginalized.

Automatically transmen are outside the heteronormative criteria. Stigma, discrimination, violence, and marginalization were already a part of life when we decided to come out. With such social construction, trans men often have difficulty accessing public services. Especially when it comes to dealing with residence documents. We must prepare a prime mentality to deal with public service providers.

“Mas, it’s a male. How come the ID card (written) is female?”

“if you have long hair, you’re beautiful!”

Sentences like that have become daily food for trans men. Not to mention if you have to face impromptu lectures from service providers. It is not uncommon for us to be considered lying when we show our female ID cards.

The next challenge is in a romantic relationship. Transmen related to cis women are often required to marry their partners. Because in a patriarchal society, a woman must quickly marry her male partner.

The Marriage Law in Indonesia only recognizes heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. In other words, gender identity must be legally changed to marry. The only choice is to marry a partner or end the relationship. This pressure makes trans men take a risky path to change their identity. In a society that considers marriage as an achievement in life, the need to get married is a factor for most trans men to change their identity.

“My boyfriend had always asked when we got married. I don’t want him to wait too long. So, I have to quickly take care of (the change of identity),” said Joko.

After marriage, the problem is not over. What happens if someone finds out and reveals the identity? Criminal punishment will come if he commits identity falsification, as seen in media coverage. Not to mention the social sanctions he received. This is the factor that makes some trans men choose to close their past tightly after the transition is complete. Including staying away from the community and everything related to transmen. Because there is personal and family privacy that must be protected from transphobia-based bullying.

The patriarchal system also has an impact on a heteronormative judiciary. A trans person is considered against nature, so he does not deserve to be given the legal status of the sex following his gender identity. Decisions like this have happened to both trans men and trans women. During the trial, they were often asked about sexual orientation. It would be safe for heterosexual trans men because the attraction is the same as that of men. But what about trans men who have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual? There is a possibility that the judge’s application will be rejected because it is not under the prevailing norms if they tell the truth.

Now I no longer have to be afraid when asked to show my ID and identity. The name and gender are two lines that write down my life journey. A journey to be yourself. Without going through that journey, I would not have been able to see the injustice that has been done to people like me. Not only by the state and the judiciary but also by the community itself. Injustice is there to be recognized and confronted.

My parents also knew about Ahnaf’s case, “how could something like that happen? Didn’t anyone tell him it was dangerous? If there is a trans man who wants a transition to come to you, also tell them that the path you are taking is high risk. Don’t just tell sweet stories!”

That message will permanently be etched in my mind. It may take tens to hundreds of years of struggle to change this country to be more inclusive of trans men. But life goes on. Our battle to fight also needs to be continuously evaluated.

There are different fighting methods on the front lines and behind the scenes. Both are individual choices that must be respected. Let’s learn to listen and understand each other so that cases like Ahnaf’s does not happen again.

(Translator: Marina Nasution)


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