Cassandra – A Bencong (Girly Boy) speaks her heart out to Mark Ulyseas
(In Gethsamne: Transcripts of a Journey www.amazon.co.in)
Contemporary society is unrelenting. It is like a juggernaut that often crushes individuality and smothers the voices of the meek, usually sidelining Nature’s genetic goof-ups, like the Bencongs (girly boys) in Bali: Boys who at a young age suddenly find themselves confronted with the reality that they are in effect ‘female trapped in male anatomy’. The memories of the growing up years imprison the hideous humiliation of being beaten by the boys in the school yard and shunned by the girls who viewed them as freaks of nature. They stumble through the labyrinth of social stigmas, ostracized by a society hell bent on maintaining a semblance of ‘normality’ (whatever this means).
Cassandra, the Bencong who I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing, is a female in all respects except for the appendage of masculinity, preferred to be called a she and took umbrage every time I mistakenly addressed her as him.
Is Cassandra your real name?
No. But is it important what my name is? You ask me my name because you probably want to place me and know where I come from? Yes?
Ok. I was born into a family of 3 girls and two boys in a village in Makassar. At the age of six I knew I was a girl. My parents reluctantly accepted my condition and often referred to me as their fourth daughter. They love me very much.
Where did you do your schooling?
In Makassar. In school I was taunted, beaten and my food stolen from me. Sometimes even the teachers treated me with disdain. I didn’t want to study. I wanted to be an actress; to be beautiful and famous and loved by all men.
Did you complete your schooling?
Yes I did.
After that I worked in a beauty salon not far from home. I learned how to do pedicure, manicure and body massage. Many men and women customers would ask specially for me when they came to the shop. The customers were never rude and began tipping me generously. Once a customer gave me a tip of one dollar! I would give the extra money to my mother who would buy pretty things for me. It was at this time that a boy friend told me about the hormone tablets that were available to help me transit from male to female. I took them and still do take them. After sometime my body began changing and I grew breasts like a woman. Looking at myself in the mirror one day I realized I had become a woman. A few months later I got a job in Jakarta in a well known chain of beauty salons. It was the break I was looking for. My parents were sad to see me go but they were also happy, happy I was making my life as a woman.
How was life in Jakarta?
At first it was very difficult. My salary was not enough for board and lodging. I had to find a boyfriend to support me. Many men came and went in my life. Some helped me others abused me mentally and physically. At one time I went through a phase where I hated all men. But after a year, I think, things got better. I was being paid a higher salary and I had made many friends with people like me (Bencongs). We would dress up and go out in groups to the malls and restaurants and enjoy life spending money and making love. This was the first time I felt truly liberated, truly free, a free woman.
Have you thought about a sex change operation?
Yes I thought about this but I don’t feel it’s necessary. An operation for my breasts would be okay. I believe in God and believe he made me like this for a reason. So why make the change?
What do you miss about Makassar?
Food! My favourite is Coto Makassar. It is a soup made of beef broth, ketupat (sticky rice) and vegetables.
What about clothes? Where do you buy them?
What are you asking? I go to shops that sell women’s clothes, where else? You still don’t understand, ya?
Tell us about your job in Bali? Have you found love?
I came to Bali a year or so ago to work in a beauty salon. Often customers would fall in love with me, spend private time with me and then return home to their country leaving me with gifts and sad feelings. Sometimes regular men mistake me for a woman and when we finally reach the point of intimacy and they realize I am not a complete woman, run away or just chase me out of their room. I don’t mind. That’s life. I am still waiting for a good decent man to settle down with.
Do you want to get married? And do you know India has become the 127th country to legalize same sex marriage?
Yes I want to get married and adopt children. But the laws in my country do not allow it. Maybe if you help me travel to India I can get married there!
Have you had any illness related to your sex life?
I always use protection so I have never had any problem. I am thankful to the Yayasan in Makassar that helps HIV/AIDS patients and also teaches everyone on how to live healthy lives. From my earnings I send money to my family and also to this Yayasan that is doing good work for my area.
Why do you like men?
Because I am a woman!
What is your favorite color?
Black and white – the color of my life.
If God gave you one wish, what would you ask for?
To be born a woman and to have children.
© Mark Ulyseas. This interview was published in 2009, Bali, Indonesia