A Tale of Queer Migration in Indonesia

This episode is based on their short comic trilogy called “The Rites of Passage: A Tale of Queer Migration” by Asmara S. Wigati. In this episode, Asmara and Bonni discusses the trilogy, Asmara’s journey, and how we can build better connections and collective care for queer people in Indonesia.

INTRO

Welcome to New Naratif’s Southeast Asia Dispatches. I’m your host, Bonnibel Rambatan, Editorial Manager for New Naratif. New Naratif is a movement to democratise democracy in Southeast Asia, and this podcast is one of the ways we attempt to do just that.

When we talk about human displacement and forced migration, we tend to think of refugees, or stateless people, or overseas foreign workers. A lot of trans people, and queer people in general, however, are also often forcefully displaced due to abuse, disownment, or simply in search of a less queerphobic place to live.

The experience is so common, in fact, that comic artist and anthropologist Asmara S. Wigati calls migration a “rite of passage” for queer people.

A lot of the time, the experience of being queer can feel very liminal. In Indonesia, trans people can be considered illegal immigrants in nature, as their identity is not legally recognised by the government. This can lead to a series of problems such as:

  • Economic and employment security,
  • Home security,
  • Transportation and accommodation security, as well as
  • Healthcare and vaccination records, particularly among HIV-positive transgender people.

Add to this the problem of poverty, where many queer and trans people live under systemic prejudice and discrimination. It’s no wonder, then, that many queer people flee their homes in search of a better life. Fortunately, queer communities and the practice of collective care can really make a difference.

SPEAKER INTRODUCTION

Thank you so much for inviting me to this podcast. My name is Asmara. I’m an anthropologist and an artist and I’m based in Indonesia.

That is Asmara S. Wigati, a visual artist and anthropologist based in Indonesia. As an anthropologist, they are particularly interested in the intersection of queerness, popular and alternative music, and contemporary Internet subcultures. As an artist, they are driven by queer melancholy and longing, conveyed by their mostly black-and-white and monochromatic style.

This episode is based on their short comic trilogy called “The Rites of Passage: A Tale of Queer Migration”, which you can find on newnaratif dot com. The first episode of the comic talks about boundaries that many, if not most, queer people must cross. The second episode explores the bureaucratic challenges trans people face when looking for jobs and other necessities. The final episode closes out the trilogy on a hopeful note about how queer people have always been at the centre of collective care. 

INTERVIEW

Backstory

Thank you so much, Asmara. So you have created a very beautiful comic trilogy for a new narrative called the Rise of Passage, a tale of queer migration. So let’s just start there. Tell us more about that.

Why did you choose to create it? And what is the reasoning and the story behind the creation of that comic?

Okay. So that comic is actually autobiographical. So that is autobiographical and also ethnographical. So it is my own. The guideline, the most part of the story, is my own experience of migrating, of running away from my home house, a post home in West Java, and moving here to a safer place in the Eastern part of Indonesia.

But the ethnographical part of the comic comes from…

So I tried to make a tapestry between my own story and the stories of other displaced queer people that I know of. Because when I came here, when I came to this new place and I got to finally reconnect with my queer friends, I realised that, let’s say, from 10 people that I was hanging out with and I was seeing every day, and I’ve come to accept now as a family, from 10 people, eight of them were displaced.

Eight of them were forcefully removed from their home or had to flee their home. Or they don’t have a good relationship with their blood family with something that’s supposed to be their roots.

And I tried asking them, how do you feel with your journey of migration? How do you feel now that you have to get out from a place, from your own family to try to find a new one, a safer place to live and try to find new people that you can call your family?

This comic is basically a tapestry of my own worries, my friends’ worries during the first few months of migrating and coming into a new place because a new place is always scary.

Sometimes we find ourselves being scared at an old place. But migrating as a queer person, especially in pursuit of a better place that is inherently, for me at least, and for my friends that I’ve interviewed, that is an inherently terrifying experience.

And I was so glad that I was able to write and illustrate the comic with the stories of these people in mind. And I got to interview them, talk to them about it, and be able to… What do you call it? Be able to retell these experiences in a somewhat fictional way. Rap it in a fictional way, but it’s not fictional, but it is because it’s the life of a lot of people at once, but creatively.

Most Common Issues

Yeah, and I love that because when we talk about migration in your narrative, it’s forced migration. We usually talk about overseas workers or stateless people, all of these people who are displaced due to climate change or war or stuff like that, which are important. They’re no less important.

But I think your perspective here brings the intersections of forced migration and displacement with the experience of queerness itself. And not only that, but presenting that as an integral experience of queerness, which I think is very interesting.

You mentioned earlier that it’s autobiographical, but at the same time, it’s also ethnographical because you did interview a lot of people. I believe that’s also the reason that you gave the title, The Rites of Passage, because a lot of queer people, like most queer people, go through that displacement. Let’s explore that a little bit.

In your process of research, in your process of interviews, in making this comic, what are the most common experiences of displacement of these things?

I mean, you talked about this briefly, but could you tell us a bit more about the shared experiences that they told you, or maybe some new facts or some facts that surprise you that, hey, everyone actually goes through all of this.

Yeah. So after I interviewed my friends, so it’s not actually an interview, formal interview, like, okay, let me schedule a Google Meet with you and let me talk to you. But it’s just hanging out at my place.

And sometimes, we tell stories about each other. And we always come to a point where we would tell, quote unquote, each other’s back stories like, oh, I came here at this point in my life this year because I was forced out of my home because of this, blah, blah, blah.

And the little red string that I could then I could thread upon all of us, the similarity between all of us were like, we all tried to be, I wouldn’t say complicit or complacent,

we all tried to downplay the magnitude of that displacement at one point in our journeys. And we never really thought that it was a huge thing. It was a huge trauma that happened to us until we actually came out and we found like minded people.

And we were like, oh, so that was a huge deal because a lot of us… So let’s say, again, back to the same analogy, out of 10 people, eight were displaced, and out of those eight people, five were displaced out of religious reasons.

That was one of the common grounds because I was displaced and isolated and I experienced a shit ton of abuse because of religious reasons for my family. And there was one of the common themes, I guess, that’s similar between me and my friends because we did not conform to a certain religious standard.

We did not conform to certain expectations of our parents that were directly influenced by the systemic religious values. And because of that, we were abused. And by then, while I’m during those abuse, we realised that… I think the same philosophical thing that we all realised that because we were all, what do you call it?

We were all displaced under religious reasons as I’m going to take charge of my own life because in my head, in my belief,

I don’t think that God would not be benevolent to me just because I’m queer.

And I would think me and all my friends that were isolated and abused under the same ground were like, Okay, I’m going to take charge of my own life because I know God will allow me to do so. That was one of the most profound realisations that I had.

But unfortunately, I could not make it to the comic because I tried. I really wanted to avoid too much of a religious undertone, so it wouldn’t be too controversial.

But another problem that arose and that we had the similarity with the economic problem, like maintaining and building economic stability. The first few months of arriving at a new place is always hard. You have no job. You have no…

Okay, you mentioned displaced people, undocumented people. I always tell my friend, and we all have the same belief that

essentially us queer people, especially trans people, when you don’t even have legal identification and you don’t even want to be identified as your dead name, we’re unidentified as well. We’re illegal as well.

Like me here staying in this new place with my old legal identification, with my old residential place still in my ID. But I’m staying here. I make a living here in this new place. Isn’t that not unidentified? We always have the same belief about that.

We queer people, displaced queer people, we’re also undocumented people because the state, the Indonesia state, and maybe most states in Southeast Asia, they just don’t allow us to freely change our name or freely change our gender or just erase our gender or our religion in our legal ID.

And that’s the topic that I try to bring up in my second episode. The whole message was we’re also undocumented. We’re also not provided actual legal aid to be able to build economic stability in the way that is suitable to the norm.

Because a lot of during job interviews, during job interviews mostly. And I also try to convey that feeling also in my comic, during job interviews and such, employers, everything, they would look at my ID and be like, You don’t look like your ID. And I feel like even though I’m a trans masculine person, sometimes I still pass as a saleswoman. And that’s me. That was very dysphoric to me.

And I could not imagine what it would be like for someone who looks completely different from their picture and their ID. And just because of that, you can’t survive. Just because of that, you can’t find means to sustain yourself and maybe others, too. Those are two of the most common themes that I found between me and my friends.

Religious reasons, we were out of religious reasons, we were abused by religious reasons, and we all endured economic difficulties at some point at the beginning of our journey. But I am very glad to say that we’re all getting better. We’re all getting way better now.

Post Credit Scenes

Yeah, good on you. The strong, hopeful tone of the comic, I love that. But also coming back to your point about being undocumented. There are multiple ways of being undocumented, right? Sometimes you’re undocumented because you’re a refugee or you are stateless in one way or another.

But also sometimes you are documented just in a way that’s just completely not you. So you have to pretend or must to become a completely different person in order to be documented, in order to be considered a valid citizen of a country, which is like, it’s pretty wild. I think shedding light on that dimension is really crucial.

The comic is published, right? You’ve made the comic, you’ve done the research, you drew and full disclosure to the listeners. I’m the editor of the comic, so yeah, I love working on that with you. After it’s done, after it’s released now, all three of them, how do you feel?

I feel so light, actually. Because there was months and months of work and we had a few roadblocks here and there. But wow, I feel so light after that. So, so light. My body just went… Oh, I feel weightless.

Yeah. And have you received any feedback or maybe from the friends, from the people that you’ve interviewed? Obviously, they’ve seen the comic, they’ve read the comic. What did they think about it?

So a little fun fact about my comic is that I would put Easter eggs of my partner, my friends, on my comics. And if you see people, characters in the comics, those are actual real life people that I know. And I’ve asked their consent to be featured in the comic.

And a lot of the numbers or little names, little trinkets, they’re always like someone’s birthday or my anniversary date with my partner, or little things, always Easter eggs about my friends, my partners, because the comic is just an oath to how much I love them as people.

So when it all comes out, but I never really tell them, I never really show them what I’m working on. I’m just saying that I’m going to draw today. And then when all the episodes were released, they all told me that, I know you’re working on something emotional, but I didn’t expect you were writing something this emotional.

And I’m like, Yeah, let me throw you in that terrible light there. I’m going to make you all cry. But that was the feedback from my friends. They really did not expect me to write something that emotional because I’m a funny person in life. I’m just in my silly goofy mood all the time. And when they saw that I was able to make something that emotional, they were like, Where was this person all the time?

And that was a lot of feedback from people that knew me in real life. They were like, Where’s this person all this time? Were you this emotional? Did you have this emotional depth all this time? I like to surprise people.

But what I’ve been getting from people that I don’t know that are complete strangers, that a lot of private accounts would DM me on Instagram. And at first I was very annoyed because, well, of course, it’s a displaced queer person. I’m not really a huge fan of anonymous messages, but I tried looking in one by one at those messages, and all of them were mostly young, a lot of trans masculine, a lot of trans masculine kids. I think their ages are mostly Gen Z, mostly Gen Z. But some are also transgender and people, but all of them are trans.

They all messaged me and they were touched by the comic, especially with Episode 2, because, again, as you said, not a lot of people shed light on the fact that we’re practically undocumented and we face difficulties in the legal area more than cis people.

And they were really glad that I was able to wrap our anxieties, wrap our problems, our hardships in such a hopeful tone. Because that’s what I wanted to do. Because that’s what I wanted to convey there.

I wanted us to be able to acknowledge that we’re facing structural hardship, but I don’t want it to bring us down as a community.

I want us to be able to be like, Okay, we’re facing hardships together. How can we overcome this together? And it was really touching for me to be able to hear that, especially from trans youth, from younger trans people.

And I wish I had read my own comic when I was 19 or 18, honestly. And I wish more people read it and they’re able to get the message that I’m trying to get across as all these kids have come across.

Rites of Passage and Liminality

Yeah. I have heard feedback for it as well, lots of positive feedback about how… Even from people who are not trans, actually, but they really felt the emotional weight of the stories and they really liked it. They really enjoyed the comic. They told me it was beautiful.

I can imagine how people who are portrayed or directly connected to you in that comic would feel because it’s emotional even to complete strangers. Again, I think it’s beautiful the fact that you’ve received feedback from trans youth and then getting this message that, Hey, you’re not alone. It’s a rite of passage, and we all go through this. Let’s talk about that phrase, though, the rites of passage.

Again, I mentioned that in the beginning that it’s something that every queer people go through. But the rights of… There’s the words that you use, you choose to use in your title, which is like passage, transition, liminality, homeward, and all of these other things. They portray a certain journey, which I think liminality is the best word to put it. Let’s talk more about that. Those choices of words, those concepts.

Me choosing Rites of Passage, it’s not actually intentional because just letting people a little bit on the script writing part of the comic. If you remember when I sent you the first draft of the script, I didn’t even write the title. It’s just queer migration in Indonesia. That’s it.

Because I didn’t know what the title was going to be. And as I did some research, I talked to my friends, I tried writing the rumination’s dialogues, the other dialogues. I realised that, oh, this is a three part comic.

And the first episode really resonated a lot with feeling like you’re at the edge of something. You’re at the edge of something, you’re anticipating something’s going to happen, but this is a discomfort. And it reminded me, while I’m an anthropologist, my formal education, I was trained in cultural anthropology, and it reminded me of the Rite of Passage.

And then here at the anthropological concept that basically tells us, literally, the literal meaning of the term. Think of circumcision ceremonies for little Muslim boys. Think of bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, all these ceremonies that signal you are already in the next stage of your life.

You’re maturing. You endured something that was not comfortable for you, but that was needed for you to be able to understand that, Oh, I’m going to shed this old part of me and I’m going to move on with my life as a new person. It signals maturity, it signals growth. That’s the whole concept of rite of passage, the whole ceremonial thing about rite of passage.

When I interviewed my friends, I realised that we all leave an old part of us behind at the home, at our old home, at our old place with our families, with the friends that did not accept us as queer. It was always an old part of us.

There’s always a part of me that I left behind in my hometown with my parents, with my friends, with my cis friends, with my cis-het friends. And those were the parts of me that mask all the time to not pass as queer, to not pass as trans.

I feel like queer people always go through these moments of rites of passages in order for them to be able to come in, truly come in with themselves and be able to finally get out of that situation with a conclusion that, yes, I am queer and I’m not going to pull these punches anymore.

I’m queer and I’m going to let people know I’m queer. Okay, maybe not enhance it, let people know that I’m queer, but I’m going to let myself know that I’m going to be at peace with that. And I feel like a queer rite of passage can be anything.

It can be your first graphic relationship. It can be, oh, wait, your first graphic situationship. It can be your first time putting on your binder. It can be, at least for me, when I was a teen, it was my first time chopping off my hair to a pixie cut. That was a rite of passage for me because a lot of people told me that I looked bad, but I actually feel really euphoric because I, Oh, wow, I look good. And, Wow, maybe I’m not a girl.

That was one of my first rites of passage as a queer person. But with queer migration, migrating, moving out physically and geographically from the people that don’t accept you and moving out geographically for you to be able to remove yourself from that situation, to be able to heal as a queer person, to be able to make more room, make more space for you to accept yourself after interviewing my friends, after putting myself under a microscope many, many times, talking to my partner about it, talking to my best friends about it.

I feel like queer migration is the ultimate form of queer rites of passage because you physically remove yourself from that equation, from this equation that makes you the old you.

You remove yourself from your family. You remove yourself from that place geographically in order for you to make room. So you could come in, make more room for acceptance for yourself, for more love, for more support.

And of course, living out of the titles of my comic, Liminality, a separation in Liminality is the first stage of Rise of Passage. So a Riser of Passage usually has three stages according to anthropologists.

I could never get his name right. It’s either Arthur Van Gennep or Arnold Van Gennep. I’m going to have to look it up. But an anthropologist said that. And it’s either Arthur or Arnold Van Gennep.

So according to him, Rites of Passage has three stages. The first one is separation and liminality. The second one is transition. And the third one is return or homeward. And titles of my comics, titles of my episodes, pun intended, the first episode, separation and liminality always, of course, it really dives into the core aspect of liminality, which means removing the person, removing the person who is going through this rite of passage from a situation that they’re already comfortable with.

They’re already accustomed with a set of norms that they already know, from a set of situations, from a set of people that they already know and come to a state of comfort, like a comfort zone. A comfort zone doesn’t have to be a place that you feel totally comfortable in. It can just be something you’re, Okay, I’m used to this.

And that’s something that you can get used to, oftentimes can be abused by your own blood family, by people. It can be homophobia. Sometimes you tune that out too much, it gets to your head, it gaslights you and you get used to it.

And when you get out, when you get out, when you finally realise, Oh, I need to get out of here. And you finally step out, let’s say for me, when I finally got out of my own home, got into that bus and left my hometown, it was uncomfortable for me because like, Oh, this is a new set of situations. This is a liminality. This is something that I’m not comfortable with because I have to be able to, okay, I have to throw myself at these new situations, these new set of rules, this new set of people.

I was out of my comfort zone. But a lot of us queers don’t realise that that comfort zone is just sometimes it’s just abuse that we’ve come to internalise. And after that liminality, that separation, yours has separated from that space or that place.

And going through a liminality, we always go through a transition, like getting to know this new place, getting to know these new people, getting to know this new set of rules. And that’s also what happened to me and my queer friends when we first came here.

Apparently, when two obviously openly queer couples, let’s say, if they would hold hands here, it’s just fine. No one’s going to throw anything at them. No one’s going to bat an eye. But that’s fine, apparently.

And maybe that’s one thing. And maybe the other thing is that, Oh, queer parties are more acceptable here. We don’t have to do, let’s say, we’re going to have a party but we’re not going to disclose the location for our safety, blah, blah, blah. You can just go to a place that’s stated on Google Maps. And when you come inside the party, it’s all queer people just slaying and like, Oh, that’s fine here, apparently.

And it was also weird for me to be able to just tell people, Oh, I’m queer and be like, oh, yeah, slay. Not like, Oh, why? That was also weird for me. That was also a transition for me.

And also what most queer people don’t talk about is that some of us, queerness doesn’t mean… Just because you’re queer, it doesn’t mean that you have a sensibility as a working class person. Sometimes there are rich queers, there are poor queers, and these rich queers who go through these transitions, they would find themselves in these situations of, Okay, I’m out of my family home. I’m out of my economic safety net. How am I going to survive now out in the world on my own, make my own money as a queer person?

Me and my friends would call it class suicide, basically. These rich queers doing class suicide. They would get out of the comfort bubble, out into the real world and just, okay, how do I… How did I become working class overnight? How did I realise that living was this expensive? How could I never realise that people were struggling because they were struggling to have ends meet and to live?

Ends meet doesn’t mean I want to buy shoes. I don’t have money to buy shoes. I really don’t have money to eat or for electricity or for water or for super basic needs. In my place, in this place that I’m living, I am with a variety of queer people, from actual working class queers to this rich group of queers that I meet.

I often meet at parties and they would tell me about those experiences. I used to be really comfortable at home. I used to be really rich at home with my parents, but I don’t want to compromise my own identity for an economical statement.

I don’t want to sell out as a queer person. That’s why I left. I would rather be poor. I would rather relearn everything about life, about survival than having to live a comfortable life, but having to endure abuse all my life.

I think that’s interesting because we tend to overlook the class intersection with queerness. And that is the transition part. So transitioning socially, transitioning economically, a lot of those parts. And with transition, after a little bit of separation, with transition, after you’ve come to terms with this new life, you’ve come to terms with this new set of rules, there’s always a feeling of return.

Return is the last part of the rite of passage. You’re used to this. You found a new home in this. And that was what I felt when after a few months here, five or six months here, I finally had a pace, I finally had a routine, I finally know the small loopholes to surviving, like how life hacks, how to not get broke at the end of the month, or like I finally know which friends I could count on, I could really count on.

I finally know which people that I could think of as family because not all my friends are my family. That’s natural selection as you go through the transition. And after finding that return, going home, finding a new home, it is just easy. This is you. It’s just, oh, this is why I got out of the first place. This is what I was trying to find.

And I was able to find that sense of home all through community care, through my friends who cared for me when I was sick and who took care of me when I was poor. When I had nothing in my bank account, they would send me food.

They would stay over at my place and my partner’s place. They would let me stay at theirs and such. And then I would be the same for them when they’re going through a hard time as well. And when they’re sick, I would take care of them. Even when their cats are sick, me and my partner would come to their house and take care of their cats as well.

That feeling of returning home, it all comes back to me when I finally realised that, oh, now I have a family now this is family. Because I didn’t do that with my blood family. I didn’t take care of them. They didn’t take care of me that way.

But my queer friends, my queer family here, we do take care of each other that way. If you don’t have money, it’s okay. It’s all on me. If we all don’t have money, it’s okay. We can be broke together. We can try to find a solution to survive together. If you’re sick, I will take care of you. If you’re healthy, I will cheer for you. If you have a new opportunity, if you have a new job, I will support you.

What people tend to overlook about community care is that if you fuck up, if you make a mistake, I will be the first one to call you out of it. But with compassion, if you make a mistake, if you make a questionable decision in your life, we as your family, we will call you out on that. But of course, in a way that doesn’t guest light them, in a way that also brings them compassion, in a way that also validates them as people.

And that’s how I came. I think that’s how I woke up this tapestry, this comic into like, oh, now that’s a rite of passage. And I only wrote the rites of passage as the title of the comic a few days before we released it, if I remember, because that just came to me while I was done editing the dialogue, I’m like, oh, this is a rite of passage. I’m going to add this into the comic. And I feel like that was a great choice.

The Progress

It definitely was a great choice. And it’s Arnold, by the way. It’s Arnold Van Gennep. I just looked it up. Yeah. Okay.

So it’s beautiful how you connected the being displaced physically in order to make space. There’s the mental space and the physical space, being interconnected, stuff like that. But I want to move on to your statement about community care and about having this found family, which is a very beautiful thing.

But I want to ask, we did talk about the rites of passage as an individual, but what about as a community? Do you feel like as a community, as the queer community as a whole in Indonesia, in Southeast Asia.

Do we also progress in that manner? Do you think we have progressed from the moment that you were migrating until now? Maybe you’ve also seen that, oh, as a community, we actually are progressing because you did mention it’s different, the situation in this geographic location in your hometown versus where you are right now.

So do you think as a community, we also go through these rites of passage or this journey? What do you think? 

Definitely. I feel like as a community, what I feel, what I’ve always felt from the first time I learned rites of passage is that life is just one big ass cycle of rites of passage going through it over and over and over again.

Just because you’ve already returned home, just because you’ve already had your return, it doesn’t mean you won’t have your liminality again. It’s going to happen again and again and again.

I feel like that cyclical pattern is what I feel like that applies to the queer community, at least in Indonesia, from what I experience and what I know. Because have we progressed past the hardships of finding community? Of course we have.

I feel like we have because now due to technology, I guess, I’m not a STEM girl, I’m not a STEM guy. I’m just going to be as shallow as possible when talking about technology. But due to technology, I feel like at least it has helped me find like minded queer people on the internet. On Twitter, I used to find a lot of ums and moots on Twitter, and we were all like minded people because it was so hard for me to find other queer people as a teenager.

The way I would try to find queer people back then was virtual signalling in real life, like, Hey, did you watch these certain TV shows that are super queer coded? Let’s say, Glee. Do you watch Glee? I’m like, Oh, yeah, I do. And from there it’s a game of guessing, are they queer? Do they just like queer media? Do they fetishize queer people? There was a long, long, long, long chart that I had to go through when I was a teenager.

But as I stepped into college, if I remember correctly, there were a lot of online spaces opening up here and there, especially on Twitter, that facilitated a lot of queer people, but just to hang, just to hang, get to know each other and like, Oh, be able to identify each other.

And now as an adult, I feel like we have really progressed in terms of queer communities because I’ve been seeing a lot of certain organisations that are very queer friendly, that make safe spaces for queer people. I’ve seen a lot of queer centric organisations and affiliation groups such as QIA, Queer Indonesia Archive.

I would never think of something like Queer Indonesia Archive happening in Indonesia when I was a teenager. A group of queer people archiving in a contemporary Indonesian queer history. That was something that I could never imagine.

And in Indonesia, we have a… I would say it’s a national community because we have one in every city and every city is interconnected with each other. We have QLC, queer language club. So let’s say I’m from Jakarta. I’m from Jakarta, let’s say. I’m from Jakarta, I joined QLC Jakarta and one day I want to go to Yogyakarta, let’s say. And from QLC, they would hook me up with people from QLC, so I could meet queer people in. Let’s say hypothetically like that.

So it’s easier for me to find queer people transnationally across islands in this archipelago. But that is the context of progress in terms of access, in terms of resources, in terms of finding more queer people as a quantity. Now it’s easier for me to be able to find hips, a flock of queer people anywhere in the online space.

Physical space, yes, if we translate online meetings to physical meetings. But in terms of the content of those communities. I feel like we’re just going through that cycle over and over again.

I would not say that all communities are the same. There are different segments in queer communities in Indonesia. But I remember in college when I first started figuring out about these queer groups on Twitter, they were just…

So I joined this group chat, I guess, and they were just girls trying to find girlfriends. And it’s not inherently a radical or critical thinking space. I wouldn’t say it’s a space that cultivates collective care because oftentimes a lot of drama would come from all that. I wouldn’t say it’s a space for collective care. It’s just a place for people to competitively get partners.

But then after that, I feel like that is the type of community that resonates with me. I tried joining a human rights study group in college, and a lot of queer people were there. And that’s how I met my partner, too, in 2017.

And I feel like from those communities, from the communities that were driven on, oh, we’re going to learn something about humans, about the nature of us as queer people and where our place is structurally, and how we interact and intersect with a lot of identities as a whole.

Community learning as a basis for community, that was one of the communities that I felt like, oh, now this one resonates with me. But that one also didn’t really resonate to me in a community care way because at the end of the day, a lot of us were competing against each other to find jobs, to find jobs, to find economic stability because that community was based on academic validation.

That community was based on basically academic validation. Who was the smartest of them all? And I fell off with a lot of my friends there just because of them and me just trying to fight dominance over who’s the best and who’s the best and who’s the smartest in critical thinking, basically. And that’s not a good thing for collective care.

And as I grew, plus that now I’m an adult and I find my queer family now, I believe that the most, I wouldn’t say most, a strong basis for a community care collective, for a collective of queer people that’s going to do healthy community care is survival at the end of the day.

We are people that survive together because when you know, when we acknowledge these people are also surviving, these people are also trying to just get through another day without mentally breaking down or get through another day without being poor or anything.

We approach these relationships with a delicateness that I myself have never experienced before, with a space, a delicacy, with a gentleness that I’m going to let you have space if you want it, if you need boundaries.

But if you need help, I’m not going to hesitate to come and get you to get some help. So me and my friends practise these very, very, very flexible boundaries of, Okay, maybe we’re not going to see each other these few days because they’re going through something.

But after those days are over, we’re going to meet each other again and we’re going to talk about how we were when we were apart. And it doesn’t change anything because we know when we’re going through hard times, we will have each other’s backs because we have to survive together.

And I feel like the baseline for a healthy collective care is to be able to acknowledge that you are gathering with these people. You are loving these people. You are with these people because you want to survive with them. You want to be able to thrive in life with them. And you want to be able to share your little or big successes with them.

You want to be able to tell them, Hey, maybe I got this promotion, and you want to hear those news back. You also want to celebrate their big wins. You also want to celebrate their big, small wins. And when they’re sad, you want to console them. You want to comfort them. You want to be there through them, through all that.

Me and my friends, our running gag is that whenever all of us are going through a hard time, we would take a mental health camp. You would sleep over at someone’s place. It could be mine and my partner’s. It could be my friend’s. We would sleep over for a few days and just sleep and talk and go about our day during the day.

But at night, when we come home, we’re going to talk, how was your day? Did you have any triggers? How was it for you today? Is there anything that we can do to help? But then when we all immediately feel better, we’re going to be like, Okay, I’m going to go home now. Thank you for the beneficial Mental Health Week, Mental Health Camp. It was a running joke, but I’m starting to take that seriously now.

Good word joke, you all. Oh, look at this little camp of mentally ill people. They’re setting a camp. Wait, I’m going to take this shit seriously. This is a really good way of taking care of people while also maintaining their boundaries. I’m going to keep on doing this. Probably that. 

So I wouldn’t say we have progressed or regressed because everyone’s dirty and everyone and every community has its own purpose, its own baseline as to how these communities are formed. But me personally, I believe that in order for us to progress to a point of healthy collective care, we have to all acknowledge that these united people, we’re all going to survive together.

En Voyage

Yeah, that’s beautiful. So I guess a follow up question to that would be where do you think we’re heading? Because on the one hand, yeah, it’s beautiful how much collective care, how much community can really help us survive.

And I think in terms of access, as you mentioned, in terms of survival for those with the access to the right communities who practise collective care in a proper way, respecting boundaries and stuff like that, as you mentioned, that’s all really beautiful and important.

But at the same time, there’s these issues of the documentation part which you covered in your comic. Also, there are obviously issues of increasing transphobia with new legislation and everything like that. We talked about the health bill several times in this podcast as well.

With those in mind, where do you think we are heading and what do you foresee? What do you hope for the queer community to move forward? Because obviously we can’t. I mean, survival is important. But then do you feel like, okay, we will progress to a point where we eventually will manage to push back against all of this?

Or do you think, yeah, let’s just concentrate on surviving for now and just increase our survival rates. And then what are your thoughts on all of these?

I would love to be able to push back on all that. Me and my friends here, we all used to be raging activists in college. We used to go to marches. We used the criminal code bill, the RKUHP demonstrations in September 2019, we were all there. We were all tear gasped. We were all running amok with all the demonstrators. We were all there.

And sometimes we would talk about it. I would really love it if we could do all that again. Yeah, me too. I miss that. I miss being… I really miss being… My friends and I would joke, I miss being smart, even though we are smart.

I miss being critical, even though we are still being critical, but not in a physical way. But I would love to be able to push back on all that again physically with a ton of effort. But as for now, as for me and my friends, we are focusing on survival.

I hope that in the future, this stage of prioritising survival does not have to happen again. We can just all focus on how to strive, all of us, all queer people, on how we could all strive for a better future, how we could all fight against systemic injustice, how we could all organise against that.

And usually me and my friends, it all happened just because we were hanging out. We were hanging out and then, oh, we ended up having the same political opinions. And we were all like, oh, how can we push back against that? How can we fight that injustice? And it used to be really fruitful.

Okay, how do we fight it? We’re going to form this collective, this group. We’re going to go to this march on this day. Standard operational procedure, Gen Z activism. If there’s a march, we’re going to go there. And that used to be us in college.

But now, since we’re all too focused on surviving, I just wish that we didn’t have to be presented with these situations so that we could… I really wish it didn’t have to be like a spike focus. I really wish it’s surviving and pushing back against injustice, but be on the same path, on the same line. It’s not even a different parallel highway. It’s just the same road that we’re taking altogether. But I feel like how we push back against that now is…

So basically, we tuned that out. We’re not ignorant to that. We still read the news. We’re still really aware of everything that’s going on. But when we’re together, especially when either one of us or maybe us as a collective, we’re all obviously going through distress, we’re all obviously triggered, going through distress due to all these circumstances, what we would do is just, let’s not talk about it. Let’s just be in our comfortable little bubble for a while.

And then, I don’t know, talk about TikTok, talk about funny things, talk about, I don’t know, what did you eat today? Or what did you wear today? Anything trivial, anything funny, anything that doesn’t really use our critical thinking.

But when we’re better, when we already feel better, that’s when we talk about it. That’s when we get angry about it, when we have dedicated some time and space to be in a small little bubble of just, I’m going to tune this out for a while so I could make space for myself mentally to be a bit more healthy. And when we’re all a little bit more stable, that’s where we engage in that.

That’s where we come back to a place of, Okay, how do we push this back? How do we fight this? How do we find structural loopholes through, let’s say, legal identification? So me and my friends, five out of 10, we all have date names, we all have new chosen names. And the five of us have been trying to find a way as to, okay, how do we get a passport? How do we get legal identification? How do we renew our family card? Is it a family card in other countries in Southeast Asia? Is it a thing?

Yeah. It’s a thing in Indonesia, you have to get a family card. It basically states that, Oh, this is my family. My mom, my dad, me and my sister, my siblings. And if you’re not a part of a family, you have to get one. And that’s what me and my friend have to talk about. Okay, how do we get into the same family card? So if anything happens, someone could just have the document ready and just make copies of everything. We’re trying to find loopholes. We’re trying to find legal ways on how to do it.

And we’re trying to find legal ways on how to do it that really presses our costs. That’s always on the back of my mind. And it’s a collective effort. Let’s say today, one of my friends gets, okay, I got this information that you could get a passport this way if you don’t have your family card. 

Or maybe tomorrow someone would come in and be like, you guys, I found this one office here that could help you get a contact paper for free or cheap or anything. So it’s always a collective effort on how to push back on this little choking, inconvenient, nuisance, bothersome thing that affects them at a structural level.

And when we, let’s say, we stumble upon news, transfer with news in touch, we always like, Let’s get that person blocked. How we practise health care is just doing social media on easy mode, basically. Just blocking people here and there. Just like, Oh, I’m not going to engage these people. I’m not going to watch these videos. And just tune out. Just tune everything out. That’s our way of self care.

Because if we don’t find room to tune out, if we don’t find room, if we constantly engage in discourse, if we constantly if we don’t tune all that out, we’re not going to find a space for us to be able to recover mentally and try to strategize, try to organise as a collective.

It’s going to break us down as individuals. So what we get, that’s what we do. We tune out individually. And when we’re all feeling okay, we get them back together and just, Okay, how do we strategise? How do we organise? Collected care is inherently in line with organising, I believe.

With organising a mass of people on how to voice their demands, voice their rights. And if a group of people are able to do healthy collective care, then they can also organize in a way that works, in a way that gets our voices heard. That’s my hope. That’s my aim in the future.

If we have already mastered this art, I say, of collective care, we’re also going to be able to master the art of organising a lot of people. But I guess that’s just how I think of it.

Yeah. I think building that solid foundation is the same between doing a found family and organising, mobilising. It’s just the context. And like you said, the time and space is different, whether you want to focus on survival or movement building, pushing back, fighting against certain things.

But I think that very great parallel that you mentioned, the foundation is the same, right? Having a community and then organising that community. Of course, you have to have this healthy way to take care of each other first. I think that’s where this queer community… If we want to say the future of the queer community is trying to find better and healthier ways to form collectives.

Then later when we all feel better, when there are less people in critical conditions, hopefully, then we can begin to push back against all of these.

You can’t also mobilise and organise people for, let’s say, strikes or demonstrations or other, I don’t know, pushing back against injustice if they’re also not feeling well. If they’re also still feeling distressed, if they’re also in a place of discomfort and in a place where they’re not at a good foundation themselves.

So I feel like with perfecting collective care, with perfecting how to care for each other in a healthy way, we can also… I don’t want to say effectively, that’s such a capitalist buzzword, but that’s how we can organise effectively. We can mobilise these people with more room, more effectively. Do you have another word that doesn’t make me say it effectively?

What Can the Listeners Do?

Well, I think we can reappropriate effectively to mean in a non capitalist way. Okay, so on that note, though, I’m pretty sure a lot of the listeners here, they may be involved in queer communities.

They might be looking for connections to various queer communities, or they might be allies. What would you say? What would be your suggestion? This would be the last question, the last discussion point here.

What can the listeners do to actually move things forward in that direction to help the queer community in Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia, perhaps in order to build better connections and collective care or provide better access for queer people? What would you say to them? What would you tell them?

For allies, please, if you want to help queer people, if you want to help us, please be sensitive in how you want to help us and why you want to help us. Because if you don’t treat that lightly, if you don’t treat that with sensitivity, with gentleness, it’s not going to work.

You have to be able to find a place of genuine care, genuine sensitivity to care for queer people to be able to be conjoined with our method of personal care and collective care.

But for all my queer friends listening here, listening now, what can I say? What can I say? Again, be sensitive, but in a way that’s not similar to allies, but be sensitive to queer people around you, to queer surroundings, queer presence around you. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. 

We have always been here. While we have always been here, and while sometimes it’s so hard to maintain being ourselves today, just know that you’re not alone. You’re never alone. And again, bringing back my point of rite of passages,

If you feel like you’re going through the absolute worst liminality, just know that there’s a homeward at the end of the day.

If you’re going through the absolute shittiest day, if you’re going through the absolute worst days, just remember, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you feel like you can’t drag yourself out of that tunnel, ask for help. Never hesitate to ask for help. People will gladly, lovingly help you.

But one thing that we all need to remember is that before we ask people for help, we have to be able to help ourselves first. So please acknowledge that there is someone inside you. You’re not alone because there’s also someone there inside you, whoever it is.

If you’re not an out queer person, there’s this banging, slaying, glamorous version of you inside you that’s waiting to come out of their shell. And in order for you to overcome that, to overcome it and be able to find help is to listen to this voice and to that voice inside you.

That’s how I was able to get out of my house by listening to this person right now. This person with short, beached hair saying, I think you’ve had enough. Why not get out? I think you’ve had enough of this. I think you’re gaslighting yourself. So always be sensitive to queer people, other queer people, and to yourself and to the queer person inside you. That’s from me. I love sensitivity. I love being sensitive.

Thank you so much. I think that’s a great note to end on. Being sensitive, being vulnerable, being caring. And I think that’s the root of who we are as a community and as humans. And I think at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. So yeah, thank you so much, Asmara, for the talk.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for inviting me. I hope I’m not running my mouth.

OUTRO

And that wraps up our discussion with Asmara S. Wigati. There isn’t much of a call to action in this episode, because at the end of the day, collective care is something deeply personal. So, on that note, I will only reiterate our last talking point: Be vulnerable. Be sensitive. Be honest to yourself and the people around you. And most importantly, listen to other people, and to yourself. When you feel like you’ve had enough, reach out for help. You’re not alone, and you will find your found family out there.

If you haven’t already, and would like to read Asmara’s comic trilogy, you can go to newnaratif dot com and search for “A Tale of Queer Migration”. It’s a fantastic read, if I do say so myself.

My name is Bonnibel Rambatan, and this has been Southeast Asia Dispatches. Brought to you by New Naratif, and produced by Dania Joedo. I’ll see you around.

RELATED COMICS

Read more COMICS BY ASMARA S. WIGATI

A Tale of Queer Migration – Separation & Liminality

In this very personal comic, visual artist and ethnographer Asmara S. Wigati takes us on their journey migrating across islands in Indonesia in search of a better life. This first episode tells of their musings on the liminality that we all go through at some point in our lives, but also one that queer people…

Bookmark (0)
ClosePlease login

A Tale of Queer Migration – Transition

In this very personal comic trilogy, visual artist and ethnographer Asmara S. Wigati takes us on their journey migrating across islands in Indonesia in search of a better life. This second episode contemplates the bureaucratic troubles trans people are forced to go through in their job search and other necessary businesses in life.

Writer…

Bookmark (0)
ClosePlease login

A Tale of Queer Migration – Homeward

In this very personal comic trilogy, visual artist and ethnographer Asmara S. Wigati takes us on their journey migrating across islands in Indonesia in search of a better life. This final episode ends the trilogy in a hopeful note of how queer people have always been at the heart of collective care.

Bookmark (0)
ClosePlease login
Back to top arrow
Bookmark (0)
ClosePlease login

Related Articles

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 100 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here