Not a Virgin by Nuril Basri

Translated by John H. McGlynn

Nuril Basri pic
Indonesian writer, Nuril Basri

Nuril Basri has worked in many itinerant jobs including as a waiter on cruise ships. However, writing is his passion. He has several published works in Indonesia and Malaysia. This translation from the Lontar Foundation is his first in English.

 

This  book is surprising. It deals with masculinity, and sexuality – not subjects I expected to read in a book written by a Muslim –  set in the sub-culture of modern male youth on the fringe, literally and figuratively, of Jakarta, the sprawling capital of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. Machete-wielding vigilantes, Islamic religious teachers, transgender hairdressers, rapists, drug dealers, indifferent parents, gay clubs, and drag queens populate this story of religion, youth culture, gender identity, and sexuality.

The tone is light-hearted, sometimes comic, sometimes dramatic and written in the first person as Ricky, a displaced teenager tries to find an identity and family to call his own. He stumbles into the dark playful culture of the cross-dressing beauty salon community who speak their own language: gayspeak, Queen’s Speech, or Salonese as a way to isolate themselves from the mainstream which only harbours for them ridicule, ostracisation, and violence.

It feels as if Basri, a young man himself, is aiming his tale squarely at young cisgender people just like Ricky, while at the same time normalising the transgender characters who, like everybody else, are searching for love, a room over their heads, acceptance, work, and freedom.

I’d never thought our relationship would reach this stage, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Paris was keeping me, after all, wasn’t he? He bought me clothes, treated me to meals, and gave me pocket money regularly. And he had just bought me a very expensive pair of shoes. He had the right to touch me. Though I silently objected, I did realise, deep in my heart at least, that this day would come. I just didn’t know that today would be that day.

The climax of this scene is comic but the intent is clear: the normalisation of sexual difference. In fact, it’s the comic nature of this scene that normalises such behaviour.

To give you a taste of Basri’s style you can read this scene (Chapter 21 of Not A Virgin) as published online in Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016 here.

The Lontar Foundation promotes Indonesian literature and culture through the translation of Indonesian literary works. It was established in 1987 and is still the only organisation that promotes Indonesian culture through literary translations.

You can buy the book directly from Lontar here.

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