Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Is it nature or nurture?

Adrian Smith, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Psychiatrist and noted Muslim scholar Prof. Dadang Hawari believes environmental rather than genetic factors lead to gender disorientation.

"Basically, nearly all babies are born the same. It all depends on an individual's psychosexual development during early childhood. The process of sexual imitation and identification is determined by how a child is raised."

Many waria and psychologists think otherwise. "I believe this is nature," performer Avi said. Her mother agreed. "Avi was the only child in the family who always wanted to be a woman. She used to play with girl's toys at home right from the word go."

Scholar and gay activist Dede Oetomo thinks that both aspects play their part; that certain individuals are born with certain genetic dispositions yet these are often only released or exaggerated through particular environmental circumstances or conditions.

He also believes that people's sexuality varies according to the combination of three factors: gender role, sexual orientation and biological sex.

Among waria there is a great deal of variation in sexual orientation and gender role. Some are homosexual, some bisexual. However, there are also some transvestites who are heterosexual, married and have children, but they like to dress up and behave like women in their free time, sometimes in secret. Some waver between being a transvestite and transsexual all their lives.

Ultimately, Dede considers any generalization on gender disorientation problematic.

"Gender is about how you feel rather than your physical appearance. People become confused when what they feel is contrary to what gender role society expects of them, based purely on their biological sex".

Dede estimates there to be some 10,000 waria living in Jakarta and a further 10,000 in Surabaya.

Attitudes were not always the way they are today. Dede believes the role of waria in Indonesian society was downgraded in the wake of the world religions and western industrial culture. He cites their important traditional role as shamans, clairvoyant and healers among peoples such as the Dayay.

On stage, they were more than the "figures of fun" that they are often now typecast as, or are pressured to play up to. Their combination of gender gave them dual wisdom, understanding and communicative prowess.

And, as for the future, Dede remains optimistic.

"I choose to be positive. The waria community will at times encounter the moral police but they are likely to become more accepted in mainstream society with the enlargement of the middle class in Indonesia and their accompanying bourgeois values."