President Barack Obama once had a transgender Indonesian nanny called Evie. Evie was under the employment of Ann Dunham, Obama's mother, for two years, during which she took care of "Barry" then eight years old and his little sister Maya.
According to a report by AP, Evie says she was born a man but in her soul she feels she is a woman. Evie as a child was often beaten by her father who was infuriated at having a "sissy" for a son. Evie says: "He wanted me to act like a boy, even though I didn't feel it in my soul."
The social attitude and reaction to LGBT in Indonesia is very complex. Although traditional mores strongly disapprove of homosexuality and transgender lifestyles, the country's official criminal code does not prohibit private, non-commercial homosexual relations between consenting adults. The country's national constitution does not address the issue of sexual orientation of individuals and on paper guarantees all citizens their legal rights, including equality opportunity, humane treatment, religious freedom and freedom of association.
Evie dropped out of school early and learned to cook. She was good at it and by the time she was a teenager she was a professional cook and worked for several high ranking Indonesian officials. According to Evie, she met Barack Obama's mother Ann Dunham in 1969, at a cocktail party. Dunham had moved to Indonesia after she married her second husband, Indonesian Lolo Soetoro.
Dunham loved Evie's cooking, especially her fried rice and beef steak. She offered Evie a job in their home. Soon Evie became "Barry" Obama's caretaker. She spent time with him and took him to school and back home.
AP reports several older residents of Obama's old Menteng neighborhood confirmed that Evie had been under employment of Ann Dunham for two years, caring for Barack and his baby sister Maya. One of them Rudy Yara, who after many years still lives across the street from Obama's childhood home, says: "Many neighbors would remember...she was popular here at that time. She was a nice person and was always patient and caring in keeping young Barry."
Neighbors, according to the AP story, also recall that Evie often left the house in the evening made up and in drag. But she says she does not think Obama ever knew about it. According to Evie: "He was so young. And I never let him see me wearing women's clothes. But he did see me trying on his mother's lipstick, sometimes. That used to really crack him up."
Evie said she did not know that her former charge had won the presidential election until she saw a picture of the family in the newspapers and on TV. She cried out when she saw the picture. "I couldn't believe my eyes," she said.
Many laughed and did not believe her when she said she had been nanny to the president of the United States until older people who still live in the old neighborhood confirmed her story.
According to AP, when Obama and his mother left Indonesia in the early 1970s, Evie moved in with her boyfriend, but the relationship lasted only three years. After that she became a sex worker. Evie explained: "I tried to get a job as a maid, but no one would hire me. I needed money to buy food, get a place to stay."
Global Post reports that Daniel Ziv, author of "Jakarta Inside Out," said: "The reality for most 'waria' [shemales] is a long way from a Priscilla-like acceptance by mainstream society...nearly all 'waria' eventually drift into 'mejeng,' or sex work, where they find a large client base of men on the prowl for something different."
Evie, living as a transgender prostitute, had a lot of trouble from security officials who often raided the red light districts rounding up LGBT sex workers. Although Indonesia, since 1993, has officially allowed private and consensual sexual relationships between adults of the same sex, in 2002, the Aceh province introduced Islamic sharia law, jail terms and fines for homosexuals and transgender persons. Under the new legal system, homosexuality was defined as an act of "prostitution that violates the norms of common decency, religion, and legal norms as they apply to societal rule." The definition of homosexuality covered lesbianism, sodomy, and transgender lifestyles.
Fifty two other regions in Indonesia have since enacted sharia law which criminalizes homosexuality and transgenderism. Even though sharia law applies only to Muslims, homosexuals and transgender individuals are often victimized under the laws irrespective of their religious persuasion. In Jakarta, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and transsexual individuals are called "cacat" or mentally handicapped persons and are not protected under law. The Islamic authorites are adamant that LGBT people must learn to conform. AP reports Ichwan Syam, a prominent Muslim cleric and member of the Indonesian Ulema Council, said LGBT people must learn to conform to social norms and if If they are not willing to cure themselves "medically and religiously" they have "to accept their fate to be ridiculed and harassed."
Evie says a turning point for her came in 1985, when a transgender girl Susi, jumped into a canal to escape soldiers during one of their regular raids under the regime of General Suharto. After the raid, Evie said: "We searched all night. Finally...we found her [body]. It was horrible. Her body swollen, face bashed in."
The transgender woman who says she had endured taunts and beatings and described how soldiers once shaved her long, black hair and burned her with lighted cigarettes, said she gave up living as a transgender woman. According to Evie: "I knew in my heart I was a woman, but I didn't want to die like that. So I decided to just accept it...I've been living like this, a man, ever since."
Evie, now 66, lives as a man. According to her national identity card, she is a man and her official name is Turdi. Now she lives in a slum in eastern Jakarta doing laundry work for pay.
Global Post writer speculates on Evie's prospects now that the world knows she was once President obama's nanny: "I suspect the AP story will attract a lot of gawking fascination in Evie and, in hyper-polarized America, some hyperbolic AM talk radio speculation regarding her influence on a young Obama. She started working in his childhood home in 1969. His memories of her are probably faint. But perhaps Evie can spin the attention into a book deal, earn some cash, move out of the slums and, ideally, reinforce her desire to live."