Many people believe that everybody has the right to express their gender identity as they wish, but not many of those people live in Indonesia. One expression of the country’s increasing religious conservatism and moral panic towards LGBT rights can be seen in attitudes towards Indonesian celebrity Millendaru, who identifies as an androgynous man and has long been a target of transphobia. Even his own family — most notably his aunt, renowned singer Ashanty — has tried to shame him publicly for his fashion choices.
Over the past weekend, Millendaru and Ashanty attended the wedding of one of their relatives. Millen, seemingly accepting his family’s request to dress more like a man, wore a white blouse and pants with his hair tied in a ponytail and natural makeup.
Upon seeing her nephew, Ashanty recorded a video showing Millen’s new look while expressing her gratefulness that he was making an effort to “return to the right path”. As if that wasn’t humiliating enough, Ashanty posted the video on her Instagram Story, which went viral and was shared by popular gossip account Lambe Turah.
“You’re obeying our request to wear men’s clothing, but the fake eyelashes are so annoying. Here, let me pull them off,” Ashanty said in the video, although she failed to do so after a couple of tries.
Even Lambe Turah’s post had an element of transphobia. Ashanty’s video was reposted with the caption, “Bunda [Ashanty] is giving an advice to her beloved nephew. Listen to your elders,” and ending it with laugh-cry emojis.
Millen has been wearing feminine clothes since he graduated from high school. Because of his appearance and identity, Ashanty had repeatedly publicly condemned him and given him the silent treatment for quite some time.
Transphobia is quite prevalent in the Indonesian entertainment scene. Perhaps the most famous case in recent years is that of dangdut singer Lucinta Luna, whose constant denials that she was once a man led to hostile online bullying (with some netizens going as far as trying to unearth photos of her pre-transition) as well as round-the-clock reporting by gossip programs focusing on her gender.
The mass media certainly plays a part in the normalization of transphobia in Indonesia. Trans celebrities have often been the butt of insensitive jokes, from the days of legendary transwoman celebrity Dorce to popular present-day variety shows.
This normalization of transphobia in the public sphere has created a climate of fear and terror among transgender Indonesians, with authorities taking extra-legal action to harass and humiliate them. For example, three transwomen in the Indonesian province of Lampung were hosed down using a fire truck by local authorities in order to cleanse their “impurities” earlier this month.