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Mar 5, 2012
Children who are exposed to those who are different at a young age tend to be a lot more tolerant, and gender differences are no exception. Just today, an AP bulletin on a part of Obama’s early life could explain how he has come to do more for the trans community than any other president.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports via AP:
Once, long ago, Evie looked after "Barry" Obama, the kid who would grow up to become the world’s most powerful man. Now, his transgender former nanny has given up her tight, flowery dresses, her brocade vest and her bras, and is living in fear on Indonesia’s streets.
Evie, who was born a man but believes she is really a woman, has endured a lifetime of taunts and beatings because of her identity. She describes how soldiers once shaved her long, black hair to the scalp and smashed out glowing cigarettes onto her hands and arms.
The turning point came when she found a transgender friend’s bloated body floating in a backed-up sewage canal two decades ago. She grabbed all her girlie clothes in her arms and stuffed them into two big boxes. Half-used lipstick, powder, eye makeup — she gave them all away.
What follows is a story of how Evie (Indonesians often do not have surnames) was forced to detransition and the situation for trans rights in Indonesia. According to Wikitravel, while large cities such as Jakarta and Bali have a large LGBT scene, cultural disdain for those of trans experience still seems to be the norm, amplified by TV comedies which make the recently cancelled Work It seem tame as well as a large Muslim population, which has made enforcing "traditional" gender roles a priority. The AP further reports:
Many transgenders turn to prostitution because jobs are hard to find and because they want to live according to what they believe is their true gender. In doing so, they put themselves at risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Some, like Evie, have decided it’s better to hide their feelings. Others are pushing back. Last month, a 50-year-old Indonesian transvestite applied to be the next leader of the national human rights commission, showing up in a borrowed luxury vehicle with paparazzi cameras flashing as she stepped out.
"I’m too ugly to be a prostitute," Yuli Retoblaut said, chuckling. "But I can be their bodyguard."
The story of how Evie came into contact with the future president was that she had met his mother at a cocktail party, and was invited for work for the family, helping raise Obama and his younger sister Maya. While neighbors knew that she was trans, they doubted that Obama ever knew, though Evie did try on some of his mother’s lipstick, much to his enjoyment.
After the Obamas moved out of Indonesia, life became hard for Evie. She had often been tortured under the Suharto regime, and now works odd jobs in a poorer neighborhood in Jakarta to survive, splitting her time between that and the mosque; proud, though, of what her former charge became.
In the last three years, the Obama administration has done a lot for the trans* community: from directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to tend to trans detainees’ needs, to appointing Amanda Simpson to the Department of Commerce, to making strides in the Veterans Affairs healthcare system, to ending Social Security’s Gender No Match Letters. However, there is still much work to be done, including allowing people to change their gender in social security’s system without need for surgery, removing categorical exclusions from Medicare, and passing a single payer health plan that would equalize access to much needed healthcare. These are only a few ideas in which numerous issues within the trans* community can be resolved.
-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis