Emely looks like a very pretty girl. If you saw her on the street you wouldn’t think that it was actually a man who had captured your gaze. And that’s where the duality of her existence begins; Emely feels like she should be a girl, but reality dealt her a different card, and genetically she is a boy.
It’s a pretense that most of us never entertain. Our bodies match up with our gender. But, for this 24 year old, that was never the case. Around the age of 13 Emely started to feel, “that inside, there was a woman’s life.” As a kid a separation between her truest self and what others expected emerged. It’s a division that has underhandedly predetermined her career options, choice of friends, even which city she calls home. Born in Surabaya she came to Jakarta as the big city offered job opportunities and a like-minded community that simply didn’t exist elsewhere. Nevertheless, even in Jakarta, in her professional life as a make-up artist, she operates as a man, working as female lip-syncing performer and party MC only on weekends. It’s on the weekends that Emely can be her authentic self. She admits that its hard to be someone else five days a week, but contends that her culture, “doesn’t fully accept Ladyboys, and, I have to think about my family.”
Emely’s big heart and considerate ways become obvious once you start talking to her. She’s charming and soft spoken with a gentle nature that is instantly apparent: “People tend to think inside the box when it comes to gender and find it hard to see a ladyboy as a human being.” When I ask her if she is happy, she takes a moment and then replies, “Yes, because I let go of worrying about what people may think about me.” She works with Arus Pelangi and wants to spread her message that “everyone, including waria can contribute to society.”
Emely adds, “my advice to someone struggling with the issues/feelings I had as a child would be, don’t rush into decisions. Consider who you are and if you can be ‘normal’ then choose to be normal. Try normalcy first. If you can’t be normal, then accept yourself. Time will tell you who you are.” Her poignant advice underlines the notion that most people would choose to be normal, if they could. Emely though is by no means normal. She’s an extraordinary person, whose commitment to simply being herself, is in itself a significant and relevant gesture.
Words & photos by Melany Zwartjes.