Rumah Singgah: A Home for Jakarta's Aging Transgendered

Collection with 28 media items created by Elisabetta Zavoli

Indonesia 01 Mar 2014 00:00

Photo essay and video Video length - 7:01 "Rumah Singgah" literally means “shelter house." A project developed by Mami Yulie (aka Yulianus Rettoblaut), the 53 year-old leader of the Indonesian waria (transgender) community, the shelter hosts elderly transgender with no means of living on their own for free. 'Waria' is literally a combination of the words wanita meaning woman and pria, man. At Rumah Singgah, they create a sort of microcosm, a small community ruled by tight family-like bonds. Rumah Singgah is also Mami Yulie's home, where she lives with her own family: her foster children, her husband and sometimes her relatives.

Almost all waria in Indonesia are chased away from their families of origin when relatives find out they are transgender people. When they are young they can survive thanks to prostitution, but when they become old and sick, many are left without others to help care for them. Rummah Singgah is a space where elderly waria care for each other and are looked after by Mami Yulie and the shelter's caretaker.

“When I was at school, I used to play with the girls. I used to draw flowers, houses, weird stuff…. When I grew up and become an adult, my parents understood that I was a transgender so I was chased from home," said Mumun, the 68-year-old caretaker of Rumah Singgah. "I was ordered to go away. They didn’t want their son to be a transgender. My parents disowned me asking me to leave the house. I was beaten up with wood and bamboo sticks and fell down in the rice field. I was beaten up there, so I ran away. I left. I took a train to Bogor. When I arrived I didn’t have relatives to go to nor did I know anybody”, she said.

This is a common situation among many “waria” in Indonesia. Most of their stories starts like that of Mumun: they experienced exclusion and abandonment by their families when they came out as transgender. Their new life, the choice of becoming who they feel themselves to be, always starts on the street. Waria people consider themselves women trapped in men’s bodies. They say that their soul and heart are that of a woman, so a waria is a man with a woman’s soul. Becoming transgender is not a choice for them. It comes from the heart. Many people in Indonesia think if someone hangs out with a group of transgender, he/she can become a transgender. This only furthers the stigmatization of the waria, many of whom already live under precarious circumstances.

“The problem in the waria community is that people forget there are many old transgender," said Mami Yulie. "This is a problem because when they get sick or die, they don’t have a proper place for burial. The community rejects them. They are taken to the police, who take them to hospital and bury them in a mass grave. This happens again and again, and it prompts me to think that I have the responsibility to help them."

When transgender become old, making a living becomes very hard for them. “I am sixty eight year old now. I am too old to make a living in the evening. I am not sellable anymore,” Mumun said.

In Rumah Singgah, a lot of elderly waria have been helped to become independent, to improve their skills and to be able to create a home industry. However, the shelter’s capacity is limited. Only about ten to fifteen people can be accommodated according to a rotation system. If there are five or ten people coming in, five or ten people must leave. The great challenge of this project is to find enough financial support to pay for food, medicine, electricity and water for them all: and the transgender community in Jakarta has eight hundred and thirty one elderly waria who need to be taken care of. Residents also pray and practice their own religion at the shelter house. This vital time helps them prepare for the day when they will die. They can share their thoughts: at the shelter house, their main job is to provide peer support to each other. This process helps to create new strong family-like bonds between them, and the tiny community becomes a new big family for people who often have no one left in their life.

Mami Yulie, originally born in Merauke, Papua, moved to Jakarta when she was chased from her family home. She began her life in Jakarta working on the street as a prostitute, where she met her partner fifteen years ago. Since then they have been inseparable. Mami Yulie was the first Indonesian transgender to graduate at University. Leaving the street life behind, her biological family welcomes her again. They come to visit her and stay in Rumah Singgah from time to time.

“At this age, I have been given a long life," Mami Yulie said. "I was able to study, to appear on TV, to go in and out of government offices. This wouldn’t be possible without the will of God. He is the only one to help, me because I believe there is nothing impossible in God’s name."

Indonesia Waria Transgender Society Sexuality Identity Elderly Age Family Rummah Singgah Jakarta Depok

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Rumah Singgah: A Home for Jakarta's A...
Depok
By Elisabetta Zavoli
28 Feb 2014

Length: 7:01
English subtitles

"Rumah Singgah" literally means “shelter house." A project developed by Mami Yulie (Yulianus Rettoblaut), the leader of waria community (transgender M to F) in Indonesia, the shelter hosts elderly transgender with no means of living on their own for free. There, they create a sort of microcosm, a small community ruled by tight family-like bonds. Rumah Singgah is also Mami Yulie's home, where she lives with her own family: her foster children, her husband and sometimes her relatives. Almost all waria (transgender M to F) in Indonesia are chased away from their families of origin when relatives find out they are transgender people. When they are young they can survive thanks to prostitution, but when they become old and sick, many are left without others to help care for them. Rummah Singgah is a space where elderly waria care for each other and are looked after by Mami Yulie and the shelter's caretaker.

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Rumah singgah 01
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
07 Jun 2014

Chili and salt are smashed together until they form a paste. "Sambal" is the common dressing for every Indonesian dish. It is made fresh every day by Homa Yoti, the caretaker and cook of the shelter-house.

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Rumah singgah 02
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
14 Nov 2012

Lili, 72, is an occasional guest of the shelter-house.
She still manages to make a living as street coffee vendor. In 1980 she married a rich man from Taiwan who paid for her plastic surgery and silicone injections in her cheekbones and chin. After 15 years of marriage she left him.

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Rumah singgah 03
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
05 Jul 2014

Homa Yoti, 71, the caretaker of the shelter-house, lives with Mami Yulie since several years ago. Originally from Ambon, Maluku, she ran away from home at 17 because her parents did not agree with her choice to be a waria. She started working as a cook on ships and, later on, as a prostitute.

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Rumah singgah 04
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
06 Jun 2014

Soraya, 50, has been a guest of the shelter house for about a year. She does not have an identity card, and for this reason she has been arrested several times. She has always lived on the street as a prostitute but since stopping - because of her age - she has begun to earn a few rupia by singing at traffic lights.

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Rumah singgah 05
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
17 Jun 2014

An old photo of Mami Yulie (standing in the center, with curly hair) with some waria friends in the 80s in Jakarta. Many of them have already died due to AIDS.

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Rumah singgah 06
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
06 Jun 2014

Mumun, 68, after making up and dressing up, helps Soraya, 50, put on her wig. In the mirror, the reflection of Homa Yoti, 71, the caretaker of the shelter-house.

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Rumah singgah 07
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
06 Jun 2014

After making up and dressing up, Mumun, 68, is putting
on her wig in her tiny loft in the shelter-house.

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Rumah singgah 08
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
05 Jul 2014

Mumun, 68, was beaten by his parents and chased away from home at the age of 16, when they realized he was a waria. Since then she has made a living from prostitution between Bogor and Jakarta. She has been a guest of the shelter-house for about a year.

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Rumah singgah 09
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
07 Jun 2014

Mumun, 68, a guest of the shelter-house, is hanging out the laundry. Elderly waria help each other at the shelter house, doing the laundry, cleaning toilets, cooking, like in a family.

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Rumah singgah 10
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
14 Nov 2012

Mami Yulie's arm holding fake flowers in the shelter house.

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Rumah singgah 11
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
25 Apr 2013

Homa Yoti, 71, on the right, is the caretaker of the shelter-house. Benny, 50, on the left, is a friend who stopped by to have a nice chat. Time passes very slowly at the shelter house while doing housework and spending time chatting with friends and live-in guests.

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Rumah singgah 12
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
06 Jun 2014

At sunset Homa Yoti, 71, the caretaker of the shelter-house, rests under the patio of the pink house, where two elderly waria reside. The house is located in a traditional Indonesian neighborhood, a Òkampung,Ó made of small single houses adjacent to one another.

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Rumah singgah 13
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
04 May 2013

Mami Yulie, 53, looks at Anggi, 5, and Dilla, 2, daughters of her partner Agus, while they are playing in the living room of the shelter-house. With them there is also Dewi, AgusÕ wife. Often, the whole family spends time together at Mami YulieÕs house.

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Rumah singgah 14
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
07 Jun 2014

Mumun, 68, is massaging the back of Mami Yulie, 53. In the shelter-house, elderly waria live together, recreating close sibling-like bonds, constituting a new family different from those of their origins.

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Rumah singgah 15
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
21 Jan 2013

Mami Yulie (Yulianus Rettoblaut), at 15 years old together with his brothers and sister in Merauke, Papua. At 23, Yulianus explained to his family that he felt he was a waria, and they chased him away. Afterwards, she lived on the street as a prostitute. Eventually becoming the leader of her community and completing a Bachelor of Science in Islamic Religion, the family wanted to renew ties with her.

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Rumah singgah 16
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
20 Feb 2013

Mami Yulie is putting on her makeup before leaving home.
For waria people, make-up is one of the ways through
which they try to align the body with the soul.

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Rumah singgah 17
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
05 Apr 2013

Mami Yulie (Yulianus Rettoblaut) leads an educational seminar on how to prevent HIV infection to a group of waria in her shelter house for elderly waria.

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Rumah singgah 18
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
14 Apr 2014

The shelter-house is the house of Mami Yulie, 53, leader of the Indonesian waria community. Mami is a practicing Catholic and loves pictures so she has covered walls with photos of herself, friends, relatives and the various personalities she has encountered along the years as the head of the community.

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Rumah singgah 19
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
12 Mar 2013

Mami Yulie, 53, is reading some documents in the shelter-house while Anggi, 5, watches her. Anggi, the second child of her partner Agus, is like a daughter to Mami Yulie.

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Rumah singgah 20
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
16 Apr 2013

Mami Yulie, 53, leader of the Indonesian waria community, is the founder of a shelter-house to help elderly waria in her community to live out the last years of their lives peacefully and with dignity.

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Rumah singgah 22
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
29 Jun 2014

For Mami Yulie, 53, being a waria means to be born in a man's body but to have a woman's soul, "it is something that originates from deep inside our heart," she says.

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Rumah singgah 23
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
25 Apr 2013

One of Mami Yulie's favourite evening gowns is hanging on her bedroom wall.

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Rumah singgah 24
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
21 Jan 2013

Mami Yulie, 53, and her companion Agus, 32, sleep in their room in the shelter-house. Their relationship began 15 years ago when Agus was working as a laborer in a construction site and Mami Yulie was working as a prostitute on the same road.

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Rumah singgah 25
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
28 Jan 2013

Mami Yulie, 53, takes care of Anggi, 5, the second daughter of her partner Agus. About 10 years ago, Mami suggested that Agus marry a woman in order to have a "normal" family that would be publicly recognized. Later on, he had three daughters. Sometimes, all of them come to the shelter-house to spend time together. Mami Yulie loves the girls, who are like daughters for her.

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Rumah singgah 26
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
03 Jun 2014

Every morning, Mami Yulie, 53, leaves home at dawn to do some physical exercise: she walks barefoot in her neighborhood for half an hour and then she stops to stretch in a football court.

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Rumah singgah 27
Depok, Indonesia
By Elisabetta Zavoli
21 Apr 2013

Mami Yulie and some elderly waria wave from the car on their way to a meeting with local authorities about projects for the transgender community in Jakarta.