Destined to Be Trans, Muslim, and Indonesian

I Leaned Into My Faith and My Queer Identity—And Gained My Family’s Acceptance in the Process

Activist Amar Alfikar turned to his faith and his family to find his way as he explored his own Indonesian, trans, and queer identity. Photo of Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Courtesy of Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, CC BY 4.0/ Wikimedia Commons.

“This is my son’s taqdir,” said my father—my destiny. “If I kicked him out for being who he is, then I reject what Allah has destined for him, for my family.”

My father’s supportive words came eight years ago, when I started gender-affirming hormone therapy after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria, confirming what I had known for a long time: that deeply I have always been a man.

It is a complicated and mixed reality to be queer in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. But despite some conservative interpretations of Islam here, I have leaned into my faith and my family in order to understand my trans identity, and to practice an inclusive theology.

Because I grew up expected to be a girl by my family and society, I wore a hijab beginning in junior high school. Being dishonest and untruthful to myself was suffocating throughout my childhood—everything felt disoriented. I became riddled with anxiety and depression. I did not know who I was, and I did not understand why my body, my identity, and my faith felt disjointed.

I grew up in a traditional Muslim neighborhood in Java in the 1990s. Since 1973, my family has owned and operated an Islamic school. As a kid I stayed in a girls’ dormitory, engaging in religious activities both in and out of class: memorizing the Quran, performing tahajjud (prayer), attending Islamic studies classes, practicing the rebana (a traditional percussion instrument similar to a tambourine).

Apart from my confusion surrounding my gender identity, I enjoyed my experience growing up with rich Islamic and Indonesian traditions and I felt part of the ummah, the community of believers I called my chosen family.

At that time, people in Indonesia could not easily access information on gender and sexuality. It wasn’t until I attended a local college that I learned to think critically about gender in Islam. This was a turning point, for I started to understand that Islamic theology is not a monolith and to question faith-based queerphobia. Ultimately and inevitably, I began to accept my true gender identity.

Still, with this newfound clarity came more questions. I decided to seek out professional help.

It took me a while to find a queer-friendly psychologist capable of understanding my experience. Several told me I needed to be “cured,” that there was a demonic, monstrous desire within me that I had to dispel.

The legal dictates of queer life in Indonesia are a mixed bag. While same-sex marriage is illegal, Indonesia does not have a law that criminalizes gender and sexual minorities, despite attempts by conservative groups, including after a moral panic in 2016. But in December 2022, under strongarm President Joko Widodo, the newly revised criminal code limited various human rights and outlawed extramarital sex, which critics have argued will disproportionately affect LGBTQ people.

If it was not for my family’s acceptance, I would have left my religion. Instead, I am pursuing an academic career in theology and religious studies and have become firm in my faith and thinking about gender diversity in Islam.

Indonesian families commonly force a therapy called “ruqyah” on queer people, wrongfully citing it as an Islamic practice of conversion therapy. A trans man friend of mine was abused through ruqyah, which used “corrective rape” as a method. The “therapy” was initiated by his own family.

I was scared to come out to my family. I thought my parents would disown me. Instead, things went unexpectedly. After I came out, my mom hugged me and said, “I love you more than before.” And I did not expect my father’s supportive words about my own taqdir.

Not everything went so smoothly, though. My brother and sister tried to discourage me from continuing my transition based on their religious and cultural understanding of how Islam interprets my identity. Eventually we agreed to disagree—except on the fact that we are family no matter what. They disagree with me but they support my right to live my life and to practice what I believe. “My duty as a brother is to support him,” my brother told BBC Indonesia in an interview. “And our duty as human beings is to be kind to one another.”

And my sister provided testimonial support during a court hearing to change my legal name. Indonesian people can submit an application to the local court to change their name and gender as long as their family provides witnesses to support the application—a doctor, a psychologist, and a theologian.  The first successful name and gender change in an Indonesian court took place in 1973 with an Islamic scholar’s support. But even today, many judges reject the gender and name change due to their personal religious views.

When people mocked and questioned my mom for accepting me, she always cited a Qur’an verse (36:82) that translates to: “All it takes, when Allah wills something to be, is simply to say to it: ‘Be!’ And it is!”

She died in 2018. This verse has a special place in my heart—because it shows how Allah created diversity and because it helps me to remember my mom’s love.

If it was not for my family’s acceptance, I would have left my religion. Instead, I am pursuing an academic career in theology and religious studies and have become firm in my faith and thinking about gender diversity in Islam. I always tell people that it is demeaning to believe that God could not create gender and sexual diversity. Faith communities of all kinds—particularly patriarchal ones—do not realize that these queerphobic narratives make their religion irrelevant, inhumane, and unjust.

Those of us who are part of such communities, or who have left them as a result, have let our faith give up when it can be a powerful source of solace and empowerment. It is thus a divine action to reclaim the narrative around queerness and make space for an inclusive theology where everyone, regardless of their gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation, is welcomed and embraced with full dignity and unconditional compassion.

Perhaps this is my taqdir.


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