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To gather in spite of, because of and in defense of diversity

Updated: Apr 28


Didik Nini Thowok and friends in Yogyakarta during a demonstration against the project of a "Pornography Law"

“Yuk! Tolak RUU Pornografi” (which literally would mean something like ‘No to the project of the Law Against Pornography’) That was the slogan of protest that could be heard at one of the busiest streets of Yogyakarta during a demonstration against a project of law from a political party here in Indonesia. Apart from limiting freedom of expression, from what I’ve heard, allowing its approval would put an end to ethnic traditions and other manifestations of today’s Indonesian society considered to be pornographic according to the bill. That would ban, for example, cross gender traditions, the Balinese topless tradition, “sexy” hip movements and “revealing” costumes from traditional dances. That was one of the first things Mr. Didik informed me about on my arrival. He expressed a special upsetting feeling towards a recent TV interview program that had invited a specialist on cross-gender Indonesian traditions who wasn’t very much aware of the recent cross-gender cultural manifestations and the importance of their tradition for today’s Indonesia. So he made sure he’d express his opinion against the project by making a contribution to the demonstration that was schedule for this Monday. And he did it in a pacific and humorous yet powerfully ironical fashion that is inherent to his artistic work. Mr. Didik and some of his friends and employees showed up fully dressed in a somewhat over the top Javanese traditional feminine style. That included slightly oversized wigs representing the traditional Yogyakarta hairdressing, scarves, “skirts” and corsets that revealed their naked shoulders. They engaged in a dance that the project of law identifies as pornographic for its swaying hip movements. At some point a policemen appears on stage, asks for a microphone and prohibits them from continuing while explaining how indecent their dance is. Then, Mr. Didik and the other dancers put on sunglasses and wrap themselves in white clothes. Later I was told that white clothes have the connotation of death for the people of this region. When the music starts to play again, they resume the dance. Only this time they’re so stiff they resemble jumping sticks. Besides Mr. Didik’s act, other artists used their own means to articulate their discontentment towards the project of law. There was poetry, singing, painting, masks, other performance acts, etc. The supportive public, from what I could tell, was mainly formed of young students but also very diverse in its many genders. The place was filled with an enthusiastic atmosphere of engagement. Even the current Queen of Yogyakarta was there to give her support. Mr. Didik made sure I got introduced to her and politely asked if we could take a picture with her. Apparently, meeting her is not the easiest thing here. Mr. Didik later explained it to me that I had been very lucky. And their luck with immigration officers was what other foreigners didn’t want to try. That explains why I couldn’t spot much of the international community of artists from Yogyakarta at the demonstration. Before we were about to leave, one of the photographers that were documenting the event asked me if he could take a picture of the print on my T-shirt. Without knowing it, I had joined the manifestation from the beginning of the day. It read: NUDE BEACH/ SWIMSUITS OPTIONAL/VOYEURISM PROHIBTED! / ABSOLUTELY NO PEEKING, STARING, LEERING, OR OUTRIGHT GAWKING! VIOLATORS WILL BE REMOVED FORTHWITH. Needless to say, if the bill ever passes the legislative body, the nude beaches of Bali would have their days counted. And so would the share of money that tourism injects into the country’s economy every year.


This is my third day out of the airplane and this event is a confirmation that I’m on the right track and have come to the right place in order to reflect upon the issues this ‘gender’ research has evoked in me. It makes me think about how Kate Bornstein, in her work ‘My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely’, so wisely points out to the fact of how oppressively limiting the idea of gender really is. Besides, ze extends hir reflections on gender beyond the idea of sexuality and genitalia to incorporate issues such as race and class and considers them within the spectrum of, for example, art and performance. It is so important to witness such a variety of people gathering in spite of, because of and in defense of their diversity. These are people that constantly question and refuse to conform to the boxes those on the top of the ‘pyramid of gender, identity and power’ insist on imposing upon us. I believe occasions like this echo the presence of spirit required for an art performance to matter.

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