QUEER JAKARTA IN THE 90S: AN INCOMPLETE HISTORY as depicted by existing materials in Queer Indonesia Archive

Jakarta in the 90s - a dynamic megacity experiencing unprecedented economic growth but struggling with unchecked corruption and rising wealth disparity. People from all over Indonesia were moving to this metropolis in search of a better future, a chance of finding their fortune and for some, their first taste of queer life.

The growing queer scenes of Jakarta didn’t go unnoticed. Throughout the 90s, Indonesian waria*, lesbian and gay communities - their cultures, fashion and slang - were brought into the mainstream. This decade would also see the establishment of Jakarta’s LGBTQ+ organisations, who would join the many new organisations being founded across the nation. These activists would be important voices, pushing back at the sensationalist and scandal focused exposes, and arguing for their rights and place within Indonesian society.

*Waria is an Indonesian term that may be (perhaps inadequately) translated as transgender woman. Contemporarily the term transpuan is increasingly preferred. This exhibition utilises waria to reflect the preferred term of the community during this time period

The film poster and flier for Lenong Rumpi (1991), a popular film featuring waria icon Ade Juwita

This exhibition offers some small peepholes into the lives of some of the queer community active during this dynamic decade. These are shown with the understanding that these glimpses bring into stark relief just how many important events, places, peoples and stories are missing from this brief exploration.

A majority of the materials shown here have been generously digitised from personal collections of community members over the last year. This was done in the midst of the pandemic and with the help of our team of volunteers. Other materials have been sourced from mass media to show the representation of queer communities at the time. We hope this exhibition will inspire others to offer their histories, stories and materials to help us to fill out the holes in these incomplete histories.

By the 1990s, LGBTQ+ organisations already had a long history in Indonesia. In the 60s and 70s, many waria organisations formed across the country. The 80s saw the formation of Indonesia’s first gay and lesbian organisations.

By the early 90s, gays men’s organisations were being founded in many cities across the archipelago, often working alongside and sharing members with waria organisations. These organisations played an important role, especially in responding with the rising burden of HIV on the community, and the stigma it brought with it.

With the sensationalisation of the first publicised AIDS related death in Indonesia in 1987, LGBTQ+ communities, particularly gay men and waria, were thrust into the media spotlight as a topic of sensationalist scandal and puritanical concern.

Gay men and the growing urban gay communities came were a common topic of tabloid journalism throughout the 1990s. In this 1993 edition of Jakarta Jakarta magazine, Dede Oetomo, one of the founders of gay & lesbian movement in Indonesia, attempted to work alongside the popular magazine to try and offer a more balanced and accurate take on gay life.

Articles from magazine Jakarta, Jakarta no. 359, 22-28 May, 1993

Journalists ventured to cruise spots and party spaces to get 'inside scoop', often reporting rumour, conjecture and scaremongering as fact.

Articles from magazine Jakarta, Jakarta no. 359, 22-28 May, 1993
Articles from magazine Jakarta, Jakarta no. 359, 22-28 May, 1993

The above two articles speculated the causes of homosexuality in men, with inputs from activists, and psychologists. Also covered is the exploits of kucing (cats), a slang word for male sex workers.

The language creation of the gay and waria communities were also seen as curiosities by journalists. Many of these terms would go on to be made famous through Debby Sahertian book 'Kamus Gaul'.

The lesbian community was also a subject of curiosity for the general public. In 1990, a few years before their in-depth features on the gay community, Jakarta-Jakarta Magazine ran a similar reportage on lesbians.

This article, titled Ancient Lesbians!, informed the readers about the history of lesbians in western civilisation.

Article from Jakarta-Jakarta 21-27 April 1990 edition

The article above provided exposé on the activities of lines (lee-ness), a slang word for 'lesbian' in Jakarta during the time. 'Wearing earring on one of the ears' and 'a pair of identical rings on left and right hands' were said as a way for Jakartan lesbians to recognise each others. Cruising spots mentioned included massage parlours and Ladies Nights events at certain discotheques.

As opposed to the scandal laden articles on gays and lesbians, In September of 1993, Tempo (Indonesia's leading weekly magazine) published an 11 page in-depth feature on waria in Indonesia.

Tempo's feature painted the picture of waria using a different brush. The moderately positive feature places emphasis on community building and the successes of prestigious individuals alongside the challenges facing waria due to discrimination and stigma.

The feature ran by Tempo in it's 11 September 1993 edition.

The article begins with a profile of Adhe Juwita from Lenong Rumpi, a Jakartan theatre company that gained came to national fame after their films and sitcoms were hits on the newly formed public television channels.

It also offers features on the activities of waria organisations in a number Indonesian cities such as Yayasan Darma Karya Fantastic Dolls in Jakarta, Perwakos in Surabaya, and the Pekan Olahraga Waria (Waria Sports Week) held in Yogyakarta in 1992.

However, these successes are juxtaposed against the grittier realities such as HIV, the struggles of street based sexwork, discrimination, and abuse faced by waria throughout the nation.

In the 90s, the Jakarta club scene reached mythical proportions. Where previously there had been few bars or clubs for the community to party in, suddently there was an explosion of options. Pressclub, Viola, Tanamur, Topaz, Atlanta, Virgin, Moonlight, Klimaxxx, Stardust, Chitras Bar.... just to name a few of the clubs where the community spent sweaty evenings dancing the night away.

The dance floor of Tanamur, photo by Hendaru

One club that loomed large over the scene was Tanamur. As Indonesia's first and oldest nightclub, Tanamur challenged existing norms around class divided nightlife, allowing entry to a wider range of backgrounds and classes than the general scene.

As the 90s pushed forward, major venues begun to host regular queer events - costumes shows, dance parties, pageants and caberet shows all met under the mirrorballs of the new clubs and discoteques.

One of the longest-running organisers of these events was Ikatan Persaudaraan Orang-Orang Sehati or IPOOS.

Taufik, Paul, Sian, Ronny and Chun - early members of IPOOS

IPOOS was established on June 13th in 1992. The founder, Paul K, a successful salon owner, established his modest home as a community safe house. Throughout the 90s, hundreds of gay men, waria, sex workers, preman would pass through the doors into Paul’s house, sheltering there for refuge from the struggles of their life, be they economic or social. For Paul, what was important about IPOOS was the ability to offer a sense of family, love and support for those marginalised from society.

It was in Paul K's house that IPOOS would be founded. On the second Sunday of June 1992, around twenty people gathered at Paul’s living room and decided to call their new organisation Ikatan Persaudaraan Orang-Orang Sehati (IPOOS).

A short manifesto written by Paul K outlining his reasons for founding IPOOS, as translated by Richard Howard (1997)

Both Paul K's home and salon would be a space which allowed community members to come together, meet others like them, share their experiences, their heartaches and eventually build a new sort of family. Paul K also encouraged members of IPOOS to grow their skills and gain economic independence. A skilled salon owner, he allowed members to train at his salon for free. Many members of IPOOS would go on to become successful make-up artists, hairdressers, tailors, and artists in their own right.

IPOOS itself would go on the be a multifaceted powerhouse of entertainment, sexual health advocacy and community building.

June 13th became a day of celebration - the day the many members of IPOOS would celebrate the anniversary of their beloved group. Gay men and waria came from across the city, sometimes even from other cities across Java. These IPOOS events were a safe space for the marginalised in Jakarta, where they could express themselves openly, and revel in the creativity and talent of the community. It was the place where they found friends, lovers, and most importantly family.

A little over a decade after IPOOS was created, Paul K passed away in 2006. He left a generation of LGBTIQ+ community members forever changed by his generosity.

One of the head figures of IPOOS is their current deputy leader Kak Florens. After moving from Yogyakarta to Jakarta in 1994, she quickly became a regular figure at Paul's house and rose in the organisation to become the coordinator of IPOOS Entertainment - a sub-unit of IPOOS Gaya Betawi tasked with organising events. She eventually became the vice deputy of IPOOS Gaya Betawi, a position she holds until now.

During her time, IPOOS held regular parties, pageants and meetings at three clubs: Moonlight Discotik, Klimaxx Discotik, and Virgin. These events were open to all members of the community, although waria and gay men were the most enthusiastic groups participating in their pageants and shows.

A numbers of event posters from IPOOS events of the 90s
Participants on an Independence Day pageant in 1994 at Klimaxx Discotik

IPOOS events often featured plays, caberats and live music, with various themes ranging from an Arabian Nights to traditional Javanese dances. As with the Gaya Betawi bulletins they published, IPOOS events were vessels containing messages of hope, pride, and sexual health messages.

Assorted photos from multiple IPOOS events in the 90s, held at Klimaxx Discotik
A 3 page spread in Popular Magazine Feb 1996 covering the pageants and fashion shows run at Klimaxx Discotek

Other than regular parties and pageants, IPOOS also provided entertainment for hire. IPOOS members performed plays, caberet shows and dances to a diverse clientele, such as the below Independence Day party held by a bodybuilders association. Performing at these events helped IPOOS to raise funds for their other events.

IPOOS performance at Shangrila Restaurant, Pasar Baru, Jakarta.

For more information about IPOOS work, including their role in responding to HIV in Jakarta and their publication of the Buletin IPOOS magazine, please see our other two exhibitions in this festival.

Pageants hold a long history in Indonesia, and offer a rare opportunity for waria communities to show their creativity, beauty and talent in a public event of their own creation. Monica (first from the right) contributed her personal collection of photos to the archive. Her collection displays her long engagement in waria pageants held in Jakarta during the early 90s, offering a brief glimpse into the pageant scene of the era.

Monica moved to Jakarta in the 1980s with her parents. She started hanging out with other waria in various parks and cafes in Jakarta before meeting an older waria who would become her mentor. She showed her the in and outs of the Jakartan waria scene during that time.

Monica with her mentor

This older waria persuaded her to learn a trade so Monica can start her own business. With the idea to be able to support herself independently Monica chose to learn hairdressing, earning her hairdressing license in 1992.

Monica at her graduation from beauty school.

She opened a salon at her house in one of the inner suburbs of Jakarta. Outside of providing hairdressing and makeup service for its clientele, Monica's salon acted as a social hub for her peers. Guests would come in often for quick chat, a group lunch, or an arisan (also known as hui, paluwagan, or lenshare in SEA). The salon became a place where friends, regardless of their sexuality and gender identity, socialised.

Monica and her friends at the salon.

Monica is currently an active member of the Sanggar Seroja dance and theatre group, but throughout the 90s Monica was an avid participant of the pageant scene. Sometimes she entered by herself, other times her friends would make her costume for her. Her photos give us a personal glimpse of the extent and scale of the waria pageant scene in 90s Jakarta.

Photos from multiple pageants where Monica entered as a contestant.

Indonesian viewers might recognise big name brands and prestigious venues in these photos, offering a stark contrast with current attitudes towards waria. While trans pageants continue to be a regular feature in many other parts of Southeast Asia, Indonesia presents a grimmer story. The rise of radical vigilante groups began quickly after the end of the new order government in 1998, and their brazen attacks in LGBTQ+ events have only increased in recent decades.

Although there are currently no laws outlawing LGBTQ+ activities on a national level, several provinces and municipalities had enacted local laws making homosexuality illegal. Restrictions have also been placed on the depiction of gender non-conforming “men” in media - restrictions often used against trans women. Some provinces have also banned waria from working in salons, removing access to one of the few parts of the economy currently open to waria in Indonesia. Public perceptions of LGBTIQ+ communities have also shifted, with the community becoming politicised and demonised in recent years. Although waria pageants are still held in Jakarta today, the scale and visibility of the current shows are a far cry from the past.

The lesbian community of Jakarta was buzzing with activities in the 90s. Quickly, Jakarta saw the immergence of multiple lesbian organisations, networks, buletins and articles however many of these organisations struggled with sustainability and finding their audience.

Images featured are from the Jakarta Jakarta Edition 1999, 21-27 April, 1990.

The lack of visibility of the lesbian community in Indonesia, and the the lack of lesbian engagement in the gay mens activist movement became of increasing concern to members of the Kelopok Kerja Lesbian dan Gay Nusantara (The lesbian and gay working group of the archipelago). In 1989, Dede Oetomo, one Indonesia’s leading gay activists, wrote call out to Indonesian lesbians in the magazine Gaya Nusantara – the countries biggest gay publication. The article titled 'Indonesian Lesbians: where are you?’ was a call for engagement from the lesbian community.

'Where are the Indonesian lesbians?' article.

Three years later, he received a detailed response written by Rosawita, an Indonesian member of the newly formed regional network ALN (Asian Lesbian Network).

A response to Dede Oetomo's 'Lesbian Indonesia: di mana kalian?'. Written by Rosawita, a member of ALN (Asian Lesbian Network).

In her above article, Rosawita explains that, as women, Indonesian lesbians are subject to more social expectations than men. This leds to their inability to lead a social life and organise as freely as gay men. However, as local customs see physical intimacies between women as normal no one would bat an eye if two women are seen holding hands, hugging, or kissing on the cheeks. This allows Indonesian lesbians to hide in plain sight. Rosawita opined that Indonesian lesbians didn't need to come out to gain acceptance, what they need was the dignity and bravery to live as a lesbian. At the end of the article, Rosawita called forth members of at he lesbian community to contact her to discuss about creating a lesbian group.

An article announcing the foundation of Chandra Kirana posted in ILGA Bulletin International Lesbian and Gay Association, Issue. 4, 1993"

A year later in 1993, a lesbian contact and network was formed under the name of Chandra Kirana. The name was adopted from an Javanese historical legend about a woman who fell in love with another woman. The network was formed by three Indonesian lesbians based in Jakarta.

Announcement of the founding of Chandra Kirana on November 1993, from Chicago LGBT newspaper from Chicago LGBT newspaper Outlines vol. 7, no. 6, 1993, p. 8.

Chandra Kirana was not created as an organization. The founders meant it to be a working group and contact network with the aim of bringing as many lesbians across Indonesia together as possible. It had no membership requirements; it was open and unbinding to any lesbian living in Indonesia. The working group, Kelompok Kerja Chandra Kirana (KKCK) published two bulletins - Gaya Lestari (Indonesian) and Chandra Kirana Newsletter (English). During its active years, Chandra Kirana linked with regional and international organizations, namely Asian Lesbian Network (ALN), International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), as well as International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

An interview with Gayatri, on of the founders of Chandra Kirana and a member of Indonesian Lesbian and Gay Working Group. Taken from the September 1993 edition of Angles (Bi-line) Sept. 1993, p. 21, a Canadian periodical.

By the end of the decade Jakarta was in major upheaval. The financial crisis that ravaged Asia in 1997 fuelled dissent across the country as the economy collapsed and the currency was hit by hyperinflation. In the capital itself, civil unrest broke out in May 1998. Protestors, including those from the LGBTQ+ communities, called for the resignation of Suharto and the new order government which had ruled unopposed continuously since 1967. Riots and violence raged on for three weeks until Suharto stepped down from the presidency on 21 May 1998. His vice-president, J.B Habibie, stepped in as president. Indonesia entered a period known as Reformasi.

While many activists were hopeful that Reformasi would bring with it true democracy and freedom of expression in Indonesia, in the immediate aftermath the LGBTQ+ communities experienced the opposite. Conservative vigilante groups, previously repressed by the dictatorship, exercised their newly-gained freedom by shutting down public events held by LGBTQ+ groups and harassing community gatherings. These attacks included surrounding and intimidating activists September Ceria in 1999 and violent attacking an major HIV event in 2000.

QIA is very eager to hear from LGBTQ+ community members involved in the reformasi protest movement and would love to record stories and collect materials that reflect these times. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you which to share your experiences or materials from this period.

Queer Indonesia Archive would like to thank you for joining us in this journey through one part of our collection. If you want to look more closely at some of the items featured within the exhibition, please see our website.

This exhibition would not have been possible without the work and assistance of Dede Oetomo, Gayatri, Marcel L, Florens, Mak Chun, Monica and the many more who were involved in the creation and support of this exhibition.

The Queer Indonesia Archive is a digital archiving project committed to the collection, preservation and celebration of material reflecting the lives and experiences of queer Indonesia. The project is volunteer run, community focused and non-profit.

If you have any questions about any of the exhibition content, or if you have any suggestions of contributions for materials for the Queer Indonesia Archive Collection please email us at info@qiarchive.org

This exhibition is a proud participant in the Southeast Asia Queer Cultural Festival 2021 - Please see their website for their full program including two more exhibitions drawn from the Queer Indonesia Archive collections.

This exhibition also been supported by the ASEAN SOGIE CAUCUS and VOICE Global
This work is licensed under Creative Commons License BY-SA 4.0. Sourced materials shown remain the copyright of their original copyright holders and are presented on this site without profit for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes 'fair use'. If you wish for any of your materials to be removed from this exhibition please contact Queer Indonesia Archive. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this exhibition for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.