Sexual democracy: Variety is the basis of life – Julia Suryakusuma, Jakarta

Earlier this year, I was invited by my old friend Dede Oetomo, Indonesia’s most respected gay activist, to teach at a course on gender and sexuality in Surabaya. The course was conducted by GAYa Nusantara, an organization working for the sexual health of gay men, transgenders and male sex workers, which he co-founded. Recently the organization expanded into research and education but it has always been active in public advocacy.

The course covered a wide range of topics related to gender and sexuality, from sexual diversity, pleasure, prostitution and the sex industry, to media representation, religion, human rights and health and reproduction. I was asked to teach on my area of expertise — gender, sexuality and the state — which I have worked on since the mid-1980s.

I have been involved in countless public lectures, seminars and workshops, but none anywhere near as colorful, unique and inspiring as the GAYa Nusantara event. The 22 participants consisted of 10 men, 11 women and one waria (wanita-pria, literally, female-male, sometimes also referred to as transvestite or transsexual).

Professionally, the participants included NGO activists, psychologists, teachers, lecturers, health workers and one writer. There was a participant from Muhammadiyah, a Catholic marriage counselor and a gay theology student. About half were straight (some married) and the rest were a variety of sexual orientations, including one who was still questioning her sexual identity.

There were four male gays (one who performs in drag shows, another a devout Catholic), two ODHAs (orang dengan HIV/AIDS — people living with HIV/AIDS) one of whom was bisexual, and a number of gender transgressives, or transgenders. These are people who don’t conform to the sex assigned to them at birth. Transgenders are neither male nor female. They are a sort of third sex and include transsexuals and cross-dressers. They are consciously androgynous, and may be intersexed, maybe not.