New Naratif’s Editorial Manager, Bonnibel Rambatan, talks to five other trans artists who have made works of art to commemorate this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Trigger warning: Discussions of transphobia, violence, and suicide.
I should probably have chosen a more profound quote on trans lives or queer liberation in Southeast Asia to open this article. Still, instead, I went with something from a Netflix series that has absolutely nothing to do with transness or Southeast Asia. I couldn’t help myself. It’s a series about ghosts. And when you’re a trans person living in a country that doesn’t take too kindly to transness, you kind of feel like a ghost. There’s this whole dimension of being alive that simply remains invisible to most people. And while (hopefully) you’re technically not dying, death is there, lurking around every corner: a friend trying to take their own life, DIY trans procedures have gone wrong, a friend of a friend being hate-crimed, yet another friend getting kicked out of their own house by their parents… I can go on.
And then, of course, there’s the funeral itself, which is its whole host of problems as trans people tend to be buried under their deadnames under faiths they no longer believe in. To commemorate these unjust funerals, artist Frank Lazuardi H. has dedicated a painting called “Kembang Abadi” (“Eternal Flowers”):
The Kamboja tree’s branches conceal the deadname on the gravestone, as well as the cross on top. Kamboja flowers fall from the tree before they even wilt, a melancholic reminder of how many trans siblings die young of violence and suicide. However, they keep their pleasant scent even after they wilt and dry—just like how trans people will always be remembered by friends, partners, lovers, allies, and other trusted people after they depart. The kamboja flower symbolises eternity, just like how gender-diverse people have always existed and always will.Frank Lazuardi H.
The sentiment of gender-diverse people having always existed is pertinent, and Remi Fatamorgana underlines that with his piece, “Loved by the Divine”:
Pictured is Ardhanarishvara, a Hindu deity who symbolises masculine-feminine unity, standing beside a trans person. I want us to remember that transgender and gender-nonconforming people and heritage have always been here, and we are all divine and loved (by the divine).Remi Fatamorgana
As spiritual and inherent to indigeneity that queerness and transness may be, our day-to-day practices are still a long way from such divine love. Speaking still in terms of death and funerals, our present-day customs are such contested terrains of transness that even the most visible and respected trans people in our society remain robbed of their rights to have that modicum of respect for their gender at their death. Bunda Dorce, for example, was buried under her deadname as a man. Coccariae dedicates this piece, titled “Pathway to Heaven”, to her:
Several trans people have come up and shown themselves as public figures, comedians, and now (thankfully) legislative officers in Indonesia. Dorce Gamalama (known as Bunda Dorce) was one of the most memorable ones. She had inspired many queer and trans people to pursue a better future. She is remembered as one of the most memorable celebrities that can joke around without making fun of her own identity as a trans woman.coccariae
Bunda Dorce really was a light of inspiration. In their piece, Asmara S. Wigati also features the late public figure as a source of inspiration for the character they portray, titled “Masculin/Feminin”:
This piece is about the joy of transmasculine femininity, something that’s very personal to me as a feminine-presenting transmasculine person.Asmara S. Wigati
Asmara’s piece manages to convey the complexity and weight of the gender experience as something profoundly intimate, yet at the same time, hint at the existence of a collective experience where each of us can draw energy from the struggles and visibility of other trans people. Meanwhile, Jes and Cin Wibowo lean heavily into this collective experience in their piece titled “Remembrance”, juxtaposing various moments of queer joy with a sombre reflection, a lit candle:
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That intersection of the most personal that connects to the most universal, that combination of joy and wistfulness, an experience both historically situated but also eternal, having always existed despite oppression and denial. That, I believe, is what we can all reflect on during this Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Remembering trans lives is a way to remind me that in my journey of transness, I’m never alone, and to pay respect and give acknowledgement to all the trans elders that have paved the way for me to be able to navigate my journey with ease and camaraderie.Asmara S. Wigati
Remembering trans lives means remembering the true gender, expression, and lives they lived, not the narrative created by others to cover up their vibrant complexities. Remembering trans lives means not blaming them for their deaths—even suicides are caused by something, by the bigotry of society and abuse from ones they trusted. Remembering trans lives means honouring their wishes, be it keeping their birth name or changing it to something new and burying them with the ritual they want or none at all. Remembering trans lives means respecting them and cherishing them for simply existing because no one, much less trans people, needs to “earn” their existence.Frank Lazuardi H.
Remembering those in our community that came before is both a reminder of how far we’ve come and also of how far we still have to go in order to build a safer future for trans people. It’s important to acknowledge trans history, what our elders sacrificed for us, what their culture was like, and to respect the strides they made.Jes & Cin Wibowo
As a final piece, allow me to share this short comic I made a while back, titled “Liberation”:
The trans movement, at its core, is about liberation. About hope. So, as our final words, I asked everyone:
What are your hopes for the future of trans lives in Southeast Asia?
Liberation from socioeconomic marginalization and cisheteronormative binaries.Asmara S. Wigati
A compassionate inclusivity, where no one has to hide and cry in fear for being who they are, where no one has to lose their livelihood or life just because they’re trans, a (medical) world that is not gatekept, a future where diversity is celebrated, and the spirit and mind is decolonised.Remi Fatamorgana
I hope we can one day get free healthcare—not just medical transition, but also general medical help, without having our illnesses blamed on our transness (or other queer aspects of ourselves). Moreover, I hope that we can receive said healthcare of our own volition, with the full agency—no institutionalization, no need for a “gender disorder” diagnosis, and no invalidation of our genders (or lack thereof) on the grounds of lack of sanity.Frank Lazuardi H.
We hope for a kinder future for trans-Southeast Asians, one where you don’t have to be jaded and hardened from cruelty. We hope for a world where trans people can live without the fear that they’ll be abandoned by the rest of the queer community. We hope for a wider trans family that won’t cast their own aside by falling for respectability. We hope for a generation of trans-Southeast Asians to be able to transition safely without feeling forced to assimilate into a limited view of what their gender should be. We hope to one day be able to fully reclaim and expand upon already existing Southeast Asian trans culture.Jes & Cin Wibowo
“To those before, to those after. To us now and to those beyond. Seen or unseen. Here but not here.” I really like that quote from The Midnight Club. Allow me to reappropriate it.