A few nights ago, a few of us trekked out to a restaurant called the House of Raminten. They are especially well known for Jogja’s local dish known as Gudeg (pronounced goo-dek) which has cooked jackfruit, rice, cow skin and sometimes a hard boiled egg and chicken. I really liked it, though a lot of foreigners find the cow skin too chewy and the jackfruit off-puttingly sweet. Raminten is a popular chain in Jogja that everyone seems to have heard of.
Few people seem to know of (or mention) the backstory of Raminten. Though the strand of Islam practiced in Indonesia is overwhelmingly accepting and liberal, most Indonesians still view homosexuality and cross-dressing as taboo. I was thus more than slightly surprised to find one of the city’s most popular restaurants staffed by gays and former sex workers and owned by a prominent, wealthy local businessman and drag queen, Raminten Hamzah (left in sis garb, right in drag on the cover of Raminten’s menu).
One of the Jogja natives that works with Via (and happens to be gay) mentioned that his high school aged sister likes to come to Raminten because the waiters are “really cute.” She didn’t seem to recognize what she was saying. I’m not really sure how people miss the many images Hamzah in drag plastered throughout the restaurant or the twinks serving dinner, but maybe people see what they want. I have as-of-yet not asked any other Indonesians what they think of Raminten’s ownership or staff, but homosexuality laws seem lax here and people seem more concerned with impure speech regardless of the orientation to which it pertains.
Which makes Hamzah an ever more interesting character. One of his shops in the center of town sells highly bawdy (i.e. full frontal nudity) postcards, in spite of Indonesia’s anti-porn laws. In a country where hard line Muslims attack the only gay film festival in the “sexually liberal” Jakarta (though I’ll talk more about the mixed motives of these groups in another post), Raminten Hamzah advertises his drag show cabarets in one of the most popular, mainstream restaurants in town (left). Jogja really doesn’t have underground gay bars in the way New York or San Francisco did fifty years ago. Hamzah, instead gave the marginalized group a place to meet in confidence and provides jobs for marginalized gay men and former sex workers.
It’s sort of difficult to wrap my head around Raminten. Surely in America, some sort of “culture warrior” would have made a place of such rampant sexual liberalism the heart of a scandal or called for a boycott of the chain. At the very least, people would mention the novelty of it all. But here, the course of action seems to be that if ignored, the problem can be confounded. I do not pretend to know enough about Indonesian culture to pontificate on the future of gay rights or Raminten, but for now I’ll keep patronizing, if for nothing else the Gugdeg is pretty good.