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Extending an Indonesian Umbrella: A Case Study of Queer (Trans)national Solidarity by @kamusqueer

in: Imaginations, Narratives and Mediated Performances of Solidarity and Community. Ed. by Nadja-Christina Schneider and Maitrayee Chaudhuri (2021)

Published onOct 04, 2021
Extending an Indonesian Umbrella: A Case Study of Queer (Trans)national Solidarity by @kamusqueer


Andro (definition): a lesbian person with an androgynous gender expression (KBQI, 2021).

Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia (@kamusqueer), an Instagram account set up by a translocal network of self-identified queer Indonesians in the summer of 2020, combines definitions of queer terminology with colorful original artwork designed by queer artists. Although some of the terms that make up the post headers, such as queer, gay, or aseksual, are reminiscent of their English cognates, all accompanying texts and discussions are in Bahasa Indonesia, the national language shared by most Indonesians alongside a myriad of local languages. Some of the terms, such as andro, have come to signify a – subtly or substantially – different meaning than their international siblings, while others refer to subjectivities that are considered specific to Indonesia, such as bissu (one of the five genders recognized by the Bugis people in South Sulawesi) or gemblak (a younger boy associated with a warok or male performer in the East Javanese Reog performances).

This article is based on a visual and content analysis of Kamusqueer’s posts from its beginning in June 2020 until June 2021, as well as on conversations and interviews with its founding members. Additionally, it is informed by fieldwork I carried out among queer individuals and groups in Bali and Java intermittently between 2017 and 2020. I propose a reading of Kamusqueer as a simultaneously national and transnational/post-national project, which through its use of language and design and performs a queerness that is both Indonesian and global. I suggest that it does so through a strong but implicit reliance on the notion of “unity in diversity,” a concept that is a direct translation of Indonesia’s national motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.” This inclusive imagining of the national queer community is simultaneously extrapolated by inserting queer Indonesia as a “unique but same” member in the global queer community. Below I will expand on these arguments in three parts. Section one explores Kamusqueer’s strategies of classification, definition, and correction in their bigger effort to contribute to a national queer community. In section two, the notion of “unity in diversity” is fleshed out and serves to frame the platform’s inclusive endeavor on a national level. Finally, section three explores how Kamusqueer aims to insert themselves into as well as enrich an imagined global queer community as an equal yet different member.

Queer Classifications

The first Kamusqueer post, published in June 2020, offers a definition of “queer” as “an umbrella term for those who do not identify as cisgender heterosexual, or choose not to be “boxed” [terkotakkan] in specific labels”(KBQI, 2020). Although the usage of queer in this context challenges heteronormative categories of gender and sexuality, it does not serve as a political effort of “interrogating the social processes [underlying] normalized and sustained identity”(Eng, Halberstam, & Munoz, 2005:1).

Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia, “Queer", Instagram, June 9th, 2020.

In general, Kamusqueer largely refrains from advocating for oppositional activism. At the time of writing, none of the posts include references to specific incidents concerning the Indonesian queer community, such as the much publicized canings of men convicted of homosexual sex in Aceh since 2014 (Tahjuddin, 2021), the mass arrest of men at an alleged gay sauna party in 2017 (John, 2017), or the aftermath of the country-wide protests against the discriminatory revision of the criminal code bill in 2019 (Heriyanto, 2019). Where the status of queer Indonesians is mentioned, formulations remain general and do not mention the state or its legislation. For example, the post explaining the term “intersex [interseks]” states: “many intersex activists strongly oppose genital reconstructive surgery for babies which are born intersex”(KBQI, 2020). However, the post does not address the state’s role in this continuing practice in Indonesia or call to action to oppose it.1

Instead, the focus is on the inclusive potential of “queer,” as Venon, a non-binary Javanese activist and the founder of Kamusqueer, explained to me in an interview. Whereas the catchall “LGBT” has been used by both the Indonesian community itself and the general public to refer to non-heteronormative subjectivities since the beginning of the twenty-first century (Khanis, 2013), the new term “queer” is less well known. As most of the Indonesians I encountered during my fieldwork, Kamusqueer uses “queer” as an explicitly inclusive umbrella term that replaces the more conventional “LGBT,”2 as Venon explains:

I wanted to reclaim the term as well… I would like people to know that queer is also LGBT. Some of my friends also get confused, why do you have to say LGBT, LGBTQ, and also queer and stuff, and I would like them to know that we can use queer, you know, without having confusion. I think queer is a short term for LGBT.

Battling confusion and prejudice both within and towards the community is a central focus for the platform. Arguably, the relatively unknown “queer” lends itself better to this purpose than the older “LGBT,” which has received increasingly negative attention in Indonesian media and public discourse and is thus already associated with deviance and immorality (Anna, 2019). The platform’s written funding application, which was not yet published at the time of writing of this article, stresses that Kamusqueer was

established to raise awareness and educate society with regards to the queer community in Indonesia. We aim to make KBQI a platform as a safe haven for queer Indonesians to feel noticed and accepted, moreover, to make it a site where the general public can acquire how to treat and appreciate members of the LGBT… this community. Our team strives to create clear, open, and engaging content in hopes of clearing up any terminology-related questions or misconceptions about LGBT.

Venon describes education as a top priority for Indonesian activism. The lack of understanding within and about the queer community and its diverse members, according to Venon, is one of the main obstacles staggering positive change in society.

It always starts from educating. Our people first. That's why I came up with the idea to make this platform […] I think, you can use our design in a presentation, or at a school, maybe… in some private school and stuff. So yeah, I think it starts from the education. Otherwise, we are not gonna go anywhere. We can just focus on the law... but if people don't understand about us... it will go nowhere.

Although the platform aspires to reach a wider audience within Indonesia, for the moment the platform is visited mostly by queer people and their allies. In this sense, the mentioned processes of “clearing up” or “educating” first and foremost serve to inform and connect queer Indonesians.

With its colorful illustrations and carefully crafted captions, Kamusqueer’s efforts consolidate translocal community ties through the articulation of collective identity categories. The role of inclusive but exact delimitation of these categories within this process seems crucial. For example, in the post on the term “androgini,” which is defined as “a term that signifies a combination of masculine and feminine simultaneously”(KBQI, 2020), this meaning is decidedly demarcated from similar terms, such as “androgyne” and “bigender.” The text also includes a warning not to make assumptions about other people’s gender identity or expression in order to avoid mislabeling. For instance, a non-binary or transgender person who wishes to appear [tampil] as masculine or feminine could take offence if they are mistakenly labelled as androgini.

Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia, “Androgini,” Instagram, October 29th, 2020.

This emphasis on clearly demarcated categories and terms relating to gender and sexuality within the Indonesian queer community predates the founding of Kamusqueer. Whether and to what extent waria and transwoman or transpuan referred to the same subjectivity, for example, was a fiercely debated question during my fieldwork in 2017. In contrast to the latter two subjectivities, waria - or non-normatively or feminine gendered individuals who have been labelled male at birth - and waria communities have been around in Indonesia for decades. Although waria have historically been met with relative tolerance and acknowledgement, their access to proper healthcare, education and career development has been severely limited. Several among those who identified as transwoman explicitly distanced themselves from the older term waria and its specific (often negative) associations, such as with sex work and violence (Oetomo, 2000). Others problematized what they perceived as the globalization of Anglophone terminology through the adoption of transwoman and preferred identity terms that were part of a longer tradition in Indonesia, such as waria. As Agung, queer artist, lawyer, and co-founder of Kamusqueer explains, such tensions at times form a challenge in formulating captions.

If we try to translate waria to transpuan, it’s not exactly the same, it doesn’t make complete sense, so we would like to shed light on the [Indonesian] terms as well. Although maybe it’s controversial, because some of the bigger groups in Indonesia might take offense to us bringing up the word waria because it is derogatory, but… in the local communities that I’ve been to myself, some people actually do not fit the term transpuan or transwoman… in the waria communities.

Kamusqueer situates itself firmly in this and similar debates on queer meanings in Indonesia through publicly reporting on and contributing to queer terminology. However, the makers of Kamusqueer are well aware of the exclusionary and controversial potential of fixing identity categories. The “bio” or short description of the account sympathetically states that its definitions are “open to correction” [terbuka untuk koreksi]. Correspondingly, the longer texts below each picture offer various interpretations of the provided terms, as well as regular reminders that not everyone chooses to label themselves. However, discussions around the platform’s definition of terms regularly arise, both in the public comment section on the Instagram account as well as through private Instagram messages (dm, “direct messaging”) with Kamusqueer staff. These interactions, initiated by a variety of queer Indonesians, range from curious questions and gentle corrections to sharp criticism. Usually, the Kamusqueer staff decides to alter the caption accordingly or offer corrections and alternatives in the comment section. However, when someone demanded a particular post be taken down as it was “completely wrong,” they decided not to oblige.

The importance of “getting it right,” as evidenced by the great care with which definitions and explanations are crafted, as well as the extensive debates surrounding new and existing terminology, can be understood in several ways. In the first instance, Kamusqueer is an effort to map and align the interests of a diverse and unequal community that is dispersed across Indonesia as well as diasporic communities globally. At this point, it is important to ruminate on recent critique of the tendency of many internationally minded LGBTQ activist organizations to push the development of “modern”, universalized, and static sexual identities in Asia and beyond (Cruz-Malavé & Manalansan IV, 2002). Pushpesh Kumar, for example, warns that

the dominant and most obvious ‘civil rights’ strategy remains limited in scope as it emphasizes political rights within the existing system, and fails to recognize the multiple and intersecting systems of power that largely dictate our life chances […] reifying and reducing oppression to a ‘sexual minority politics’ or what might be seen as the neoliberal face of the sexuality movement (Kumar, 2017:471).

Although the plentiful use of labels and labels-within-labels by Kamusqueer may superficially resemble these identity-based approaches, the deliberate distance from rights claims as well as visibility politics suggests otherwise. Instead, I suggest a reading of Kamusqueer as an open, and ongoing debate about language and representation, that allows room to “constantly reflect on heterogeneity and layers of marginality within a group and prioritize the mobilization of the most marginalized within that group.”(Kumar, 2017:475) Specifically, the accessibility of Kamusqueer as an Instagram account in simple Indonesian, the diversity embodied in both the composition of the staff as well as the visuals accompanying the posts, and its emphatic invitation to correction, discussion, and addition create an environment that bar any particular privileged group from setting limits to meaning and inclusion.

This alternative reading reveals the emphasis on identity categories utilized by Kamusqueer and its (intended) audience as a strategy for queer solidarity in diversity. The widespread usage of mobile internet in Indonesia, the popularity of social media and the relative anonymity that it offers, makes Kamusqueer widely accessible across regional, cultural and class divides. Kamusqueer, to refer back to the funding statement, is there to make all queer people in Indonesia “feel noticed.” This noticing through identifying, and explaining, and discussing offers an online alternative to actually being together in the flesh, and serves to join together the variety of individuals and groups gathered under the umbrella term “queer.” Solidarity is actively constructed through a sense of shared identity, mediated by the low-entry, accessible platform that Instagram offers.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made the potency of this solidarity especially evident. The lockdown measures in Indonesia, like everywhere globally, affected those with the least financial and social security the most. Many waria and transpuan, who due to institutionalized and social discrimination have poor access to stable and well-paid jobs, frequently find employment as daily wage workers in service sectors, including beauty parlors, entertainment venues, as well as sex work (Oetomo, 2000). As the lockdown continued, many within this vulnerable group lost business and struggled to afford their daily living expenses. The queer community in Indonesia responded massively and rapidly. Within a matter of weeks, multiple fundraisers were set up and “blasted,” as the lingo has it, across every imaginable social media. One of those fundraisers, which I was asked to help set up and could therefore witness first-hand, was aimed at a particularly isolated and vulnerable waria community in Flores, an island in the East Nusa Tenggara province in the eastern part of Indonesia. Despite the remoteness of the recipients from the fundraising organizers and donors, sufficient money was raised in a matter of weeks. Shortly after, packets of rice, spices and other necessities were distributed among the community. Videos and pictures of the distribution process were quickly and efficiently sent to all the donors through social media. According to Agung,

Solidarity I think is one of our great strengths so far […] because of the pandemic we had to help some of our least fortunate community members. […] When you ask about Indonesian advocacy and activism, what I think is the most important, I think first of all is taking care of our community, to ask about special rights for the queer community is a bit too far away, we have fundamental rights for the queer community that haven't been met yet, and I think that should be the focus right now.

Venon adds:

Social media is very helpful in this moment. I can tell the big impact of queer community here in Indonesia on Twitter is so huge, and I can feel the solidarity is on flame, you know. Before, I really didn't know this community before I joined [this organization], I just had some queer friends, but when you get deeper into this community, you can feel the solidarity is there, it's always there. We help each other. We have each other's back. And that's amazing.

Solidarity in this case is called upon through queer social media networks, which are sculpted, named, and consolidated by initiatives such as Kamusqueer. The relative anonimity that Instagram offers plays an important role in this process. None of the Kamusqueer admin staff is completely “public” about their queerness, but the structure of social media offers a way to be personally connected to a circle of trusted people while staying anonymous to others.

This connectedness in itself constitutes a lifeline for many in the community, especially those who are more isolated from the urban centers where queer spaces are usually located. The online (private) chat functions provided by Instagram and other social media outlets, for example, offer a platform to talk about issues as they come up - from discussions of the latest LGBTQ+ themed movie to dating advice and virtual empathy and outrage in the case of discrimination. These everyday displays of queer solidarity depend on the mutual trust and the practice of confidentiality of the members of Kamusqueer and other, often overlapping, networks. As Venon mentioned: “there is always the fear of being banned by the cyber police. The government got the cyber police fully activated, [so] we’re all a bit afraid of it.” The functioning of social media as a vehicle and expression of queer solidarity is contingent on these processes, which are entirely dependent on the underlying queer networks and their vastly diverse members. This diversity, far from being considered a threat to the communal interest, is harnessed here as a feature and positive quality of Indonesian queerness.

Queer Unity in (Indonesian) Diversity

Indonesia’s national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [old Javanese, literally: out of many, one], is usually translated as “unity in diversity.” The statement, which is emblazoned on the national symbol and is adopted in the country’s constitution, reflected the challenge of cohering a highly diverse and dispersed geographical area into the newly found nation of Indonesia in the 1950s (Kersten, 2017:2). It is through acknowledging and categorizing religions, ethnicities, and languages that Indonesia’s extraordinary diversity of today can safely be brought under the single banner of the nation (Sidi, 2019). In this light, the efforts by Kamusqueer to categorize, define, and make visible different forms of sexuality and gender can be understood as a demand for inclusion of previously overlooked or rejected individuals and groups into this recognized framework of diversity that makes up Indonesia.

In general, Kamusqueer positions itself as specifically Indonesian. First of all, in its focus on language as a vehicle for solidarity, the project echoes what Boellstorff has described as “bahasa gay,” a slang variety of Bahasa Indonesia that has circulated among non-heterosexual Indonesian men and waria as a “self-consciously nationwide way of speaking”(Boellstorff, 2005:178). As its name suggests, however, Kamusqueer seeks to open up non-heterosexual uses of language and signifiers beyond male and waria categories. Despite the familiarity of many of the terms featuring on the Instagram account to an Anglophone audience, their associations and definitions only gain meaning in their specific regional, and historical context. For example, the term “lesbian,” which by itself is often used to loosely referred to non-heterosexual women,3 encompasses a number of widely used labels based on gender expression, such as buchi, fem, and andro, as well as “tanpa label [without label],” which, interestingly enough, can be used as a label for those who do not fit into other existing categories (KBQI, 2020).

Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia, “Andro,” Instagram, January 6th, 2020.

This specificity of language takes on a performative quality through which the queer community is solidified and put into words, while mapping out and qualifying different subjectivities as valid diversity. Tellingly, one of the posts reminds the audience of the Indonesian saying “tak kenal maka tak sayang,” which translates loosely to “do not know, then do not love.”

This inclusive reach is not restricted to gender or sexuality. The various representations, in terms of skin color, body types, and hair styles, captured in the masterful illustrations that accompany the posts bring to light the regional and cultural diversity that the project seeks to capture. The funding statement makes this goal explicit:

In an effort to appeal to all Indonesians, queer or non-queer, all of our captions are in Indonesian, and our illustrations are designed to represent the diverse people and culture of Indonesia. It is important to us that our content is available to Indonesian viewers without language or cultural barrier.

The connection between nationally accepted and acknowledged diversity and the position of queer Indonesians is solidified in a number of newer posts devoted to Indonesia’s own “queer heritage.”4 Aside from a number of posts on the cultural-artistic subjectivities warok and gemblak, a series of four posts is reserved for an excursion into the five-gender system in Bugis, South Sulawesi. The first entry in the series introduces the topic: “The diversity in Indonesia does not only pertain to ethnic, racial and linguistic differences [perbedaan suku, ras maupun bahasa], but also includes gender diversity in the context of adat5(KBQI, 2020). The post continues to explain that whereas most Indonesians only recognize two genders, the Bugis people conceive of gender as a continuum and recognize three other categories: calalai, calabai, and bissu.⁣⁣ As the following posts dive deeper into these gender categories and their historical and cultural meanings – all the while retaining the use of SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; see also the next section) terms - the reader is encouraged to understand this unique cultural phenomenon as one of the many expressions of Indonesia’s inherent and laudable diversity. In this way, non-heteronormative gender and sexuality, through the juxtaposition of “local” and nation-wide categories, are naturalized as an unthreatening form of diversity, on a par with other - accepted – forms of diversity such as religion, ethnicity, and language. At the same time, the Javanese gemblak and warok, as well as the Bugis bissu, calabai and calabai, are recast as members of the Indonesian queer community.

“Bissu (definition): A priest of the ancient Bugis religion. They are not bound to one [particular] gender (without gender).” Source: Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia, “Bissu,” Instagram, November 21st, 2020.

More generally, the signifiers through which Kamusqueer calls on solidarity and unity solidarity are specifically Indonesian as well. For example, the post introducing the SOGIESC framework explains the different “layers” of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression through an illustration of a rainbow-colored kue lapis, a layered sweet cake hugely popular in Indonesia. Additionally, the whole Kamusqueer endeavor is constructed from the ground up by queer Indonesians. Aside from the admin staff, who decide on the themes of the posts and the texts, the artists involved in making the illustrations are themselves queer Indonesian artists. Some of them, such as designer and artist Hilda (@coccariae), are personally and publicly connected to their artworks and have links to their own Instagram accounts, while others are acknowledged through their pseudonyms and are only known within a smaller community. A number of the artists are also involved in Kamusqueer’s sister project, Kwiir, which supports trans and queer creators by advertising and selling their products.

The public posts containing definitions are interspersed with so-called “shoutouts:” photographs, voice messages and written quotes from Indonesian figures important to the queer community. In one of them, Kai Mata, a queer singer and outspoken activist, poses holding the Indonesian flag behind her with outstretched arms, clenching a smaller, rainbow-colored flag between her teeth. Her message to Kamusqueer’s audience reads: “Indonesia is a nation that is united through the various kinds of diversity that exist. Including diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. We are included within it; we are part of Indonesia”(KBQI, 2020). Echoing the message of “unity in diversity,” Kai Mata explicitly inserts the SOGIESC framework, which undergirds most of Kamusqueer’s categorizing system, into the nationally accepted framework of diversity.

Other local queer celebrities that feature in their own posts include Xadit, a genderqueer fashion stylist from Bandung, and Cara Marianne, a transpuan activist based in Jakarta. Both posts, which address all queer Indonesians and emphasize strength and self-confidence in the face of hardship, have received an overwhelming number of likes and positive comments. Their way of addressing their audience as one national community is also reflected in the texts authored by the Kamusqueer admin itself. Many of the captions open with phrases like “Halo sahabat queer Indonesia,”Semangat Hari Senin teman Queer Indonesia,” or simply: “Hi Queer Indonesia!”. The frequent usage of terms like komunitas and kelompok in referring to the self and others in the posts further serves to emphasize unity and harmony among the audience of Kamusqueer, and by extension to consolidate a shared sense of identity that serves as the condition for solidarity. However, despite the emphatic Indonesianness of Kamusqueer, its project is not nationalist in nature. The call for solidarity through “unity in diversity” is extended beyond national borders and addresses an imagined, internally deeply diverse global community of queers.

Imagining a Global Community

Although the imagined networks of queer solidarity that are showcased by Kamusqueer are emphatically Indonesian, they also aim to transcend a national identity framework. In its reliance on SOGIESC, a conceptual framework that is widely used in the context of international queer advocacy circles,6 Kamusqueer situates itself firmly within this global discourse. Aside from explaining the SOGIESC framework in detail across a series of dedicated posts, the terms that make up the acronym frequently appear in the explanations of different categories. The term “transpuan,” for example, a portmanteau of the English “transgender” and the Indonesian “perempuan” [woman] is defined in its dedicated post as: “a person who at birth was assigned male, but later realized their actual gender identity is woman”(KBQI, 2020). While many Indonesians who identify as transpuan, as well as many gay, lesbian and transman Indonesians, indeed often used terms such as gender identity or sexual orientation to describe themselves,7 the usage of the SOGIESC framework to apply to the “older” subjectivities such as calalai, calabai, and bissu must be read as a specific choice on the part of Kamusqueer. In Davies’ comprehensive, ethnographic study among the Bugis people, terms such as gender identity and sexual orientation are not part of the vocabulary her interlocutors use (Davies, 2010). The application of these Anglophone concepts in this context signals an attempt to insert Indonesia’s queer heritage into the globally existing diversity in sexuality and gender - thereby suggesting an alternative to solidarities based solely on national belonging.

Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia, “Kue Lapis,” Instagram, August 24th, 2020.

Secondly, the rainbow element in its logo, as well as the appearance of rainbow shapes and elements in several of its posts, are reminiscent of the similarly colored flags that have come to characterize Pride celebrations across the globe. The designs accompanying the posts frequently incorporate the color combinations corresponding to the theme’s specific “pride flag.” For example, one of the persons depicted in the post titled “aseksual” is wearing a t-shirt with black, grey, and white stripes: the colors of the asexual pride flag, which was created collectively by a number of online asexuality platforms in 2010.8 Similarly, the person depicted along the explanation of the term “transgender” is wearing a garment with the characteristic “transpride” colors – blue, white, and pink. Like most Indonesian queer organizations and collectives, Kamusqueer adheres to international celebrations and commemoration dates such as Pride Month and Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Similarly, the texts accompanying the pictures make references to international, mostly US-centered discourses on sexuality and gender. In their explanation of the term “queer” itself, the first post by Kamusqueer relates the history of the concept through referencing the 1969 Stonewall events. Likewise, the caption related to the term “homoseksualitas” references the history of the label itself as well as the date that homosexuality was expelled from the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a psychological disorder. The history of terms such as LGBT, queer, and homosexuality within Indonesia itself, which developed under quite different circumstances and over a different period, is not mentioned here. In a similar vein, the posts include many references to queer theory originating from the US. For example, the post entitled “Gender vs Jenis Kelamin [sex characteristics]” provides a translated quote from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: “If gender attributes and acts, the various ways in which a body shows or produces its cultural signification, are performative, then there would be no true or false, real or distorted acts of gender”(KBQI, 2021). That the author of the post does not feel compelled to explain the link between the quote of Judith Butler and the Indonesian context here, signals the sense of an imagined trans- or post-national community in which queer Indonesians as a group are – equal – members, and which they refer to in both their similarities and their differences.

A reading of Kamusqueer as the product of globalizing forces that converge on a universalized framework of gender and sexuality, then, would be mistakenly reductive. As demonstrated above, the signifiers, symbols and discourse through which Kamusqueer conjures up and consolidates a sense of community and solidarity, are emphatically and unapologetically Indonesian, but at the same time constantly refer to the global. In this sense, it aligns with the project that the authors of the fundamental volume Asiapacifiqueer in that it challenges “the simplistic opposition of local essentialist and global homogenization views of global queering”(Martin, Jackson, McLelland, & Yue, 2008: 6). Instead, it affirms the way in which all “cultures of gender and sexuality have been, and continue to be, mutually transformed through their encounters with transnationally mobile forms of sexual knowledge.”(Martin et al., 2008:6) An illustrative example in this regard came up at the early stages of the development of Kamusqueer. Within the WhatsApp admin chat group, which I was allowed to participate in, one of the founders shared a link to the Instagram account @Unite_UK1. Similar to Kamusqueer, the account posts colorful images with captions that clarify queer terminology and battle prejudices about the queer community in the British context. Although Venon indicated that they were inspired by the account when setting up Kamusqueer, the differences in focus between the two reveal the localized specificity of sexual and gender diversity. Aside from linguistic and cultural markers, the definitions as well as the specific prejudices and stereotypes that the platforms address diverge at several points. As much as Unite_UK1 is attuned to and reflex a British historical and cultural trajectory, Kamusqueer is the result of queer Indonesian genealogies.

On the other hand, Kamusqueer is also an argument against the idea of the nation as a valid foundation for identity. In arguing for queerness as the basis of solidarity as well as claims to acknowledgement and acceptance, Kamusqueer counters the idea that minority rights can only be extended to groups on the basis of their unique role and history within the national population (Kymlicka, 1989). Instead, it calls upon a non-territorial, elusive but widespread (global) queerness to inform a way of living and of making sense of life. In doing so it stands in contrast with a culturalist perspective on nationalism and collectivity, “which gives primacy to contiguous territorial [or theological or racial] collectivities as if these were necessarily the primary repository of cultural heritage”(Walker, 1996).


Accept that we are unique and different. However, be aware that that uniqueness is valid and does not need to be hidden. Let’s believe in ourselves; there is nothing wrong with difference. That way, we will understand that to be unique and different is something to be proud of. Let’s get to know ourselves during Pride Month (KBQI, 2021).

The 2021 Pride month post by Kamusqueer displays these affirming words alongside a beautifully designed image. A person with long, dark hair holds up a hand to an invisible mirror, and gazes at a rainbow-striped, sparkling reflection of themselves. The image reflects the tender balance between uniqueness and difference, and between belonging and distinction, that Kamusqueer as a project constantly seeks out. Getting to know oneself serves not only to develop a sense of identity, but also to connect with others based on that identity.

Kamus Bahasa Queer Indonesia, “Mari Mengenal diri di Bulan Kebanggaan,” Instagram, June 26th, 2020.

Through clarifications, categorizations, and definitions, Kamusqueer makes a case for the existence of a queer Indonesian community, and by extension, for the importance of solidarity. In doing so, it implicitly appropriates the national motto “unity in diversity” to include gender and sexual diversity alongside recognized and protected national identity categories of ethnicity, language, and religion. At the same time, the platform ventures beyond the national, and contests its importance in the formation of solidarity, by situating itself within a global, post-national queer community, which itself is imagined as diverse but united. In doing so, Kamusqueer extends a queer Indonesian umbrella across both insular and national borders.


About the Author

Wikke Jansen is a third-year PhD student at the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, and is affiliated with the Institute for Asian and African Studies at Humboldt University. Her research focuses on the experiences of queer Indonesians at the intersections of activism, religion, and everyday life. She is broadly interested in queer(ing) religion in Southeast Asia and Europe, mobility theory, media studies, research ethics, and collaborative anthropology. She is also a committee member at the academic and activist collective queer/disrupt.

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