The Straits Times
Published on Feb 20, 2013

Elderly transgenders in Indonesia find a home and a happy ending


JAKARTA (AFP) - A dozen elderly women are gathered inside the pink house, set on a narrow dirt road in a dusty suburb of Jakarta. Together they sew, bake and chat. On first sight they look like a group of benevolent grandmothers, but the sunken cheeks and deep lines on some of their faces tell stories of hardship.

All of these women are "waria", a term used for Indonesian transgenders, and the house in the country's capital has been hailed by activists as the first old person's home for that gender community.

The word "waria" combines the Indonesian for woman (wanita) and the word for man (pria). It is used to describe a range of gender identities, though it particularly refers to men who feel they are women and is applied regardless of whether they have undergone gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy.

A home for elderly waria is an unexpected sight but perhaps also typical of the many contradictions in a nation where, until two years ago, the official government line on transgenders was that they were mentally ill. As part of new moves towards acceptance, the government will next month begin supporting the home, which officially opened in November, with a basic nutrition programme while offering business seed money to 200 transgender residents in the city.