I Was Never Alone

Page 1.
A comic page of 6 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. A genderqueer-looking comedian is shown performing on TV. They wear a big frilly pink wig with a pink suit, and are sitting on a chair. They say: Hai! I’m Pinky Boy, I want to be a famous singer! Narrator: When I was younger, I did not have the words to describe queer people without stigma.
Panel 2. Close-up on Pinky Boy's determined face. They say: People say I’m talented! My grandmother, siblings, cousins, even strangers in my dreams...
Panel 3. Pinky Boy blows a kiss to the audience. I’m sure I’ll succeed. Please pray for me, everyone!
Panel 4. We see a man wearing a sarong, angrily pointing at the TV while shouting: "This comedian is a ******! Such an artist!" The main character, who is a little girl, is on the floor drawing while looking at the TV.
Panel 5. We see what she's drawing—it's Pinky Boy. Narrator: All I knew was that my family referred to them as “artists”.
Panel 6. Close-up on the drawing. Narrator: I wondered if there were safe spaces for them elsewhere—in the art world. If I left my hometown, if I went to art school, would I find others like me?
Page 2.
A comic page of 6 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. The main character is now an art student who presents himself as a transmasculine person. He has a drawing tube in his room and a few drawing tools scattered on the floor. He sits on the floor, holding some pirated DVDs. Narrator: When I moved to the big city, I began to ask: “What am I?”
Panel 2. Close-up on the pirated DVDs. The covers show artwork for “Boys Don’t Cry”, “The Danish Girl”, and “The Crying Game”. He inserts “Boys Don’t Cry” into the DVD drive on this laptop. Narrator: My first answer came from a movie about Brandon Teena, a young man from rural Nebraska.
Panel 3. He cries as he watches the movie. Narrator: Witnessing Brandon’s story, I realised I am probably a transgender man.
Panel 4. A newspaper frontpage with the headline: “Brandon Teena was a woman who lived and loved as a man. She was killed for carrying it off". Narrator: Not everyone welcomed his truth. One awful article referred to him as a woman in disguise.
Panel 5. Close-up on the DVD covers, showing the cast names. Narrator: In the movies I watched, the transgender characters were played by cis actors.
Panel 6. Portraits of Brandon Teena and Lili Elbe, set in front of an aquamarine background. Narrator: Where were these trans people in real life? Were they hiding? Kept away in secret?
Page 3.
A comic page of 7 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. The main character leans forward on his desk in a classroom.
Panel 2. A lecturer who wears a green hijab and pink blouse is standing in front of a whiteboard with a drawing of a bissu person. They say: In Bugis culture, the fifth gender is neither male nor female, embodying both at once. The bissu are considered spiritual leaders in their community. On the whiteboard are the notes: Genders in Bugis society: oroane, makkunrai, calalai, calabai, bissu. Persecution and erasure of the bissu:
- 16th century colonialism: entry of foreign culture & religion
- 1959: power shift from the Bugis kingdom to centralised government
- 1950-1965: Operasi Toba by Kahar Muzakkar’s group & the New Order
Panel 3. Two students are sitting in front of the main character. One of them whispers to the other: Not a man, not a woman...that’s you.
Panel 4. The one who spoke is masculine-presenting, wearing a blue hoodie. His friend, a feminine guy with buzz-cut hair, red nail polish and lots of earrings, is flustered and replies: No no no—I am a guy. A hundred percent! It’s just the way I dress! The student in the hoodie responds: Promise, if you turn gay, you can’t sit with us.
Panel 5. A girl beside the main character pokes his shoulder, saying: Hey, Sarah...
Panel 6. She points at him and giggles teasingly: you are not a man, not a woman!
Panel 7. The main character throws up his hands in panic, hurriedly replying: No! I’m just a tomboy. That’s...pretty normal, right? Narrator: Suddenly, I understood why we were hiding.
Page 4.
A comic page of 7 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. The main character leans against a wall with another trans man. They are drinking soda from cans. He says: I think I am a trans man too. Like you.
Panel 2. The other man nods, replying: Good for you! When will you start taking testosterone?
Panel 3. Startled, the main character looks at the floor. He ventures nervously: The thing is…I don’t want hormones. Am I still trans?
Panel 4. The other man pats his shoulder and says flippantly: Oh, then it’s probably just a phase!
Panel 5. As the other man walks, away, the main character remains, motionless.
Panel 6. The scene changes to a bar. The main character is holding a glass now.
Panel 7. As loud music plays, he notices a group of people and the expression on his face changes to one of awe.
Page 5.
A comic page of 9 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Three people are dancing happily to the music. The first person is a masculine-presenting person with a masculine body, short hair and a moustache with lipstick. The second person is androgynous-looking with a mullet with purple highlights, wearing a white sleeveless turtleneck. The third person is feminine-presenting with a masculine body, wearing a long wig and a blazer with leopard prints. Narrator: They looked so cool and different! Were they trans too?
Panel 2. The main character approaches the group, a little drunk. He greets them: Hi! You all look very cool. W-what is your gender? Are you transgender? I am trans too.
Panel 3. The androgynous person responds: We are non-binary!
Panel 4. The main character is confused. Huh? Non-binary? He asks.
Panel 5. The androgynous person answers: It means we are beyond man or woman!
Panel 6. The masculine-presenting person explains: I might be assigned male at birth, and I look masculine. But I am a non-binary person!
Panel 7. Their friend adds: Right, I look androgynous, but non-binary people don’t have to be androgynous.
Panel 8. And the third person notes: I am transfeminine, but also non-binary!
Panel 9. The main character looks stunned. He stammers: Y-you can be both? The answer comes: Of course you can!
Page 6.
A comic page of 7 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. The three persons declare: Gender is a playground, not a battlefield!
Panel 2. A close-up of the main character's eyes, wide in realisation. Narrator: I was never alone.
Panel 3. The four of them are shown floating in outer space, each in their own bubbles. Narrator: We were together but separated by fear. The fear that people might out us and hurt us…whenever our queerness goes beyond aesthetics, beyond the surface.
Panel 4. A hand reaching out. Narrator: “This sense of loneliness, of being unique in our closeted misery…”
Panel 5. Another hand meets it. Narrator: “…is nothing but a strategic lie.”
Panel 6. A wide horizontal panel, focusing on the main character's shut eyes.
Panel 7. He opens his eyes and light floods the space.
Page 7.
A comic page of 5 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. The four of them are in a comfy room with pillows, playing cards. They wear t-shirts and pyjamas. They look happy. The main character is laughing. Narrator: We became friends. These people are real, not mythical. Not just people that I only used to hear about in lectures or see in movies.
Panel 2. The masculine-presenting person holds up a card.
Panel 3. The androgynous person looks stunned.
Panel 4. The feminine-presenting person chuckles. Narrator: Now that I found my community, I had my answer.
Panel 5. A framed photograph of the main character, holding the trans pride flag, standing in front of the non-binary pride flag. The photograph sits atop a TV cabinet, surrounded by the DVDs he used to watch. Narrator: What am I? I am both trans and non-binary, and I know that I am real.


[1] Ais Nurbiyah Al-Jum’ah (2018). Resistensi Bissu Terhadap Pembantaian DI/TII Di Sulawesi Selatan Periode 1950‒1965 Dalam Dua Cerpen Faisal Oddang. In Prosiding Seminar Sejarah Sastra: Memutakhirkan Kajian dan Penulisan Sejarah Sastra. Universitas Indonesia, Depok. Available at https://susastra.fib.ui.ac.id/wp-content/uploads/81/2019/02/03.pdf
[2] Bornstein, K., & Drucker, Z. (2017). Gender Is a Playground. Aperture, (229), 24-31. Available at https://aperture.org/editorial/gender-playground/
[3] Eli, A. (2020). The New Queer Conscience. Penguin Workshop.


This comic is part of the project “Being Nonbinary in Indonesia – An Advocacy Project Through Comics” led by Erik Nadir as part of the APTN Amplifying Trans Advocacy Fellowship 2020.

Further Information

The author of this comic would like to acknowledge the following trans and non-binary individuals who work tirelessly to create a more inclusive space for trans and/or non-binary people in Indonesia:

  • Bonni Rambatan and Reymigius are a non-binary artist and writer who created “We Have Always Been Here”, an explainer comic for New Naratif.
  • Mario Pratama is a trans activist who creates gender-affirming prosthetics for transmasculine and non-binary people through his small shop, Pride Store Indonesia
  • Kanzha Vinaa works on alternative education and capacity building for young trans women through Sanggar Swara.
  • Athallah Rafardhanu, Ardhana Rishvara, Alexander Danardanu and Raham Abyasa founded Transmen Talk Indonesia, a safe space for young trans men to talk about pressing issues in the trans men community and for allies to learn more about trans men. 
  • Marian Kevin and Ardhana Rishvara run Pride Care Indonesia, an organisation that provides information and aspires to provide medical transition aid to transmasculine people in Indonesia.
  • Amar Alfikar is a queer theologian who studies inclusive theology for the LGBTQIA+ community. Listen to his podcast “Ngaji Diri” here.
  • Rully Mallay is the coordinator of Waria Crisis Center. WCC is currently fundraising to help transgender women and other minorities in Indonesia who are subject to self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact Rully here to donate.
  • If you are Indonesian and identify as non-binary, you can email Erik Nadir at [email protected] to join the Non-binary Peer Support Indonesia group.

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