Jovi Adhiguna on Being True to Yourself, No Matter What

"Not everyone has a strong support system like accepting family or friends. I believe for them it’s really important to have a role model that they can identify with so they don’t feel alone."

by Yvette Tanamal
10 August 2018, 4:06am

Image courtesy Jovi Adhiguna (Instagram)

It can be hard to be "different," in Indonesia. But for Jovi Adhiguna, it's part of his brand. Jovi is a rising lifestyle influencer known for his androgynous style. His Instagram already has more than 325,000 followers, he is one of YouTube's Creators for Change, and he runs his own fashion brand, Pour. He's a person who seems totally comfortable in his own skin, and secure in the sartorial choices he makes, despite what others may say.

VICE's Yvette Tanamal, in partnership with JD.ID, spoke with Jovi to figure out what it takes to be unapologetically original in a country where, so often, everyone else is telling you to be the exact opposite.

VICE: So, you're a fashion influencer, right?
Jovi: Well, I’d say "lifestyle influencer," not just fashion. Lifestyle, in general.

I was thinking, a lot of people look down on influencers as basically human advertisements. But it's more than that, right?
Yeah, a lot of people under-estimate influencers. Personally, I think that’s because now there are so many selebgrams who are famous just because of their looks. Many people don’t understand that influencers have power and a voice.

I once received a Direct Message from a young child. He said he felt like he could be transgendered. “ Kak, ever since I could remember, I always felt different." I was so surprised! I mean, he’s so young, but he was talking about issues like that. Look, I’m not that "normal" either , but even that shocked me. So young! What did I know at that age? He told me that seeing my posts made him feel better, and that he’s OK with being himself. "Thanks kak Jovi, I now feel like I’m not alone, like I’m not weird." I was so touched. Things like that are what keeps me going. I don’t care about the hate.

Do you ever get any blowback for being so openly yourself on social media? It’s not exactly the easiest time for the LGBTQ community right now in Indonesia.
When it comes to blowback, it happens a lot. I mean, I don’t think I have ever said anything about myself specifically. I never declared anything on my social media. I simply post pictures of myself— but strangers online use them to speculate about what I could be. ‘Oh, he’s this, he’s that”. Even though I never actually said anything. Criticism? I get it a lot. But I don’t want to listen to it. I really don’t care.

In a climate like this, how important is it for others to see people they can identify with in the public sphere?
People in the LGBTQ community are always mocked and persecuted. I feel like being able to see people who you can identify with in the media or public sphere is important, so people who are considered "different" won’t feel like they are alone.

How is it different today from when you were a child?
I mean, I didn't have any role models to look up to. I’m just never the kind to watch TV or anything like that, so I never had any role models that I identified with. But I did have a very supportive family, and they are my biggest support system. They always helped me, along with my friends. They are the people who give me strength, so even without role models I was able to do OK. But not everybody is as lucky, you know? Not everyone has a strong support system like accepting family or friends. I believe for them it’s really important to have a role model that they can identify with so they don’t feel alone.

Can we talk a bit about your style? How would you describe it?
My style? I think it’s Hot Mess. [ laughs] Well, I wear whatever clothes I like. I’m not tied to any one specific gender. So, I wear female and male clothes. A lot of people like to point out, “Oh, he’s a dude wearing female clothes!” but that’s not right either. I mix and match, there are both female and male elements.

You've described your style as "androgynous." A lot of people might not be unfamiliar with this term. How do you explain it to them?
This is my definition, not the literal definition of it. But I think androgynous people are anyone who is not tied to one specific gender when it comes to what they wear. So, you could wear female and/or male garments. A lot of people have asked me “How come you’re so pretty but so handsome at the same time?” There you go! I think that’s androgynous. It's not being tied to a specific gender, I mix it up.

In the West, we seem to be reaching a moment when androgynous and trans men and women are breaking into mainstream acceptance. Trans actresses, like Nicole Maines, are securing roles in series like Supergirl. Do you think we'll ever reach this point here in Indonesia?
Wow, really? I haven’t heard of the Supergirl thing! Well, we live in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation. And when seen from a religious perspective, it’s wrong. But I believe that slowly, with tolerance, we can get to something. I mean, even if you don’t agree with my ways, you can at least be quiet about it. You don’t have to say anything. I think tolerance is going to help a lot, but if some people disagree then they should just keep to themselves. I’m not touching them, am I?

Do you think tolerance is easy? Is it just a matter of getting to know people better?
I get that a lot! A lot of people have commented on my page, “I used to be skeptical of you. A guy wearing female clothes! But now after seeing your videos, I actually like you a lot!” But sometimes there are negative connotations to their comments. For example, many have said, “You’re not like the others." Doesn’t that mean that they're still not accepting of others? But I guess that’s just the way it is, especially lately, when there’s that really viral transgender drama that’s going on. Cases like these shine a negative light on the LGBTQ community. But that’s just the way it is. I believe that people need to know each other first, because when you make the effort to know someone you understand them better. If you don’t make the effort, then it’s not easy to being tolerant.

We’ve done stories in the past about how brands want to use queer influencers for their reach, but only if they hide who they really are and, basically, butch up. Have you experienced anything similar?
Praise the Lord, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Thank God, all the brands that I’ve worked with never requested such thing. But if there were any, I would never do it! No matter how much they offered me, I would never do it.

I think it’s really good if they want to hire LGBTQ talent, because that shows that they don’t really care about the differences and they treat us as equals. But if they ask the talent to hide, or "butch up" or "lady up," then no! I think that defeats the purpose of having LGBTQ individuals in the mainstream media. Why would I want to butch up? I’d rather not, there is no point to that?

Has being so open cost you anything?
I lost a lot of people. I was bullied too in high school, people talked negatively about me. Yeah, the normal hate-sy stuff. Interestingly now, a lot of those bullies would go around claiming they knew me really well. When I was younger, my mom once said to me, “Jovi, when you’re older, you have to be successful. Otherwise they’d keep ridiculing you." I’m not saying I’m successful now, that’s not what I mean, but still, there are a lot of people from my past who used to mock me but now pretend to be my good friends. Even those who refused to say hi to me in high school!

If you can say anything to younger kids who feel "different" and are still struggling, what would you say to them?
If I could, I would advise them to look for a strong support system. Friends, or whoever. Look for it, they’re always there. And that eventually it’s going to be OK. Yeah, that. Eventually, it’s going to be OK.

This interview has been translated into English and edited for content and clarity.