Aini is used to all the stares. As a woman who wears a niqab—the full Islamic veil—she has had to accept the fact that, to some people, she's a bit strange. But since the string of suicide attacks in Surabaya a few weeks back, things have gotten so much worse.
Security guards in malls, the ones who usually only pretend to look inside her bag just like they do with everybody else, now ask to see her ID. To make it worse, they even insist on keeping her ID until she leaves the mall. If they only took the time to get to know Aini, they would see that she is more interested in learning about pluralism than religious radicalism.
It’s 2018, and it’s time to admit that we have a lot of baked-in prejudices about other people. No matter how good we think we are as human beings, the truth is that we still judge a book by its cover far too often. And it's much harder to tackle your own prejudices than you think. Experts say it requires a lot of time and sympathy to get over these ideas in your head.
Now, in the interest of making all of us better people, I've compiled stories of people who face prejudice on a daily basis. When you read their stories, I hope you think to yourself, "What if this was me?"
Ade Putri Paramadita
VICE: How do strangers usually react to your body modifications?
Ade: First of all, they usually try to intimidate me by the look in their eyes. But nobody has actually ever confronted me. One time somebody started by asking if it hurts, getting tattooed and pierced, before they pivoted to asking, “Aren’t your parents ashamed of you?”
How do you even respond to something like that?
I just laugh it off, even though comments like that are not actually funny. They just don’t really affect me anymore.
How do you see your tattoos and piercings?
They’re just accessories. Nothing more, nothing fancy.
VICE: What is it like to wear a niqab in public?
Aini: Yesterday, I went to a mall near my house. I go there all the time. Before the Surabaya incidents, there was never an issue. But that day this security guard searched my bag and looked me head-to-toe. The guard was a man and that made me uncomfortable. He then asked for my ID card, and kept it as I shopped.
How did other people in the mall react to you?
A lot of people were staring at me. I just smiled at them and looked down. I hope they knew from my eyes that I was smiling.
On top of that, the head of my neighborhood came to my house to ask for my personal data. He’s not a Muslim, so I told him that I’ve been a member of the same mosque since I was really young. I told him the the names of the ustad I recite the Quran with and all of that. And people know the recitation gatherings that I go to is against radicalism.
How has all of this affected you?
I stayed in my home for two days. I've been too afraid to go out. This hurts my feelings, but I don’t want to react because I don’t want to be like the bad guys. I’m not the terrorist they think I am.
Has anybody ever told you to change your appearance?
My mother and my husband told me not to wear a niqab for now because my safety is more important. But this is not just some piece of cloth. It’s so much more than that.
Ayu R. Yolandasari
VICE: Have you ever been stereotyped because of your looks?
Ayu: Of course. People assume I’m a lesbian because of my short hair. Once I went to the club and someone I barely knew approached me and said, “Where’s your girlfriend?” I knew this would happen before I got the haircut, so I usually don't even respond. I just laugh it off.
When I was going to school in South Korea nobody made a big deal about my haircut. Maybe it's more common there. But here in Indonesia, my family often says, “Why do you look like a boy?” or “You remind me of that lesbian woman!" I usually just say, jokingly, “Nah, I look better.”
People need to learn that their physical appearances or self-expression has nothing to do with their sexual orientation and gender identities. And they need to stop trying so hard to find a connection between the two. But people can say what they want about my appearance, it doesn’t bother me.
How often do you get those kinds of comments?
This has always been a problem since I was a kid, because my family has a gender-specific perspective on things. So, since I was a kid, I’ve been forced to look more feminine than masculine.
When I first wore a hijab after junior high school, my family thought that I had become some kind of extremist. So they told me to take it off, and they would deliberately buy for short-sleeve shirts for me. When I took it off and showed them my short hair, they said, “You look better with a hijab,” or “You look better with long hair.”
My family have been telling me to wear earrings for months now. So I'll look more feminine.
How did you react to all of this?
I told them no. I don’t want to get my ears pierced, it hurts. Sometimes, I respond with, “I have breasts and a vagina, aren’t those enough to be considered a woman?” I know, it’s a very heteronormative comment. But that’s the only thing that could get them to shut up.
VICE: People say you look like a “punk”. What does this mean for you, on a daily basis?
Bhaga: Once, when I was on a Metro Mini, the guy didn’t ask me for money. I called out to him and said "I do look like a punk, but I’m not poor." I have all these tattoos and I had a mohawk back then. This other time, the security guard at Pacific Place Mall didn’t let me in because I was wearing flip-flops. So I took them off and entered the mall barefoot.
How does that make you feel?
I never get offended. It’s just the risk of looking the way I do. Some people will be uncomfortable, there’s nothing I can do about that.
Have people ever told you to just change your appearance?
Yes. But I don’t feel the need to change myself to blend in with others.
Do you think people have gotten more accepting of different ways of self-expression?
It’s different now. Back then, having tattoos was considered a rebellious act. Now people who have tattoos are mostly seen as wealthy or artsy.
What do your tattoos mean to you?
My body is mine and I like tattoos. Many people think others get tattoos as a way to rebel, but for me it’s one way to exercise my autonomy over my body.