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Andrea Fenn/China Daily
Indonesian house helpers often sport heavy makeup and boyish clothes on Sunday.
What should a girl do?
By Andrea Fenn
Published: Nov 9 2010 8:44
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"I was the firstborn child and I had to look after my little siblings, so my family always expected me to act like a boy."

Argy wears basketball trainers, a black waistcoat and a tie bundled like a scarf round her neck. Her black permed hair is tied in a bun to make it look shorter. She does not wear makeup or jewelry, only a plain necklace with a metal ring.

Argy is one of the many Indonesian lesbian domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

"When I arrived in Hong Kong, I saw many women dressing like males and being with other women. I was far away from home, no one was controlling me, so I finally felt free to become a boy."

To Argy, like many of her mates, homosexual relations are a way to find comfort from the solitude and the hardships of working as maids in the city.

Homosexuality among Indonesian domestic helpers is a widespread phenomenon. Muthi Hidayati, coordinator at the Indonesian Migrant Workers' Union, maintains that up to 20 percent of Indonesian females working in Hong Kong are homosexual.

"House helpers live in a female-only society, where it is necessary to establish close bonds with female friends and workmates," says Ms Hidayati. "Far away from their families and their culture, they very often turn to lesbianism."

Indonesian authorities are aware of the phenomenon, though they disagree about its magnitude and its causes. Indonesian consul of consular affairs in Hong Kong Hari Budiarto says homosexuality among Indonesians is a marginal issue, and it is often a result of ignorance rather than genuine sexual orientation.

"Some domestic helpers come from the countryside, and have very little knowledge about the world," explains Mr Budiarto. "When in Hong Kong, they get influenced by their friends, and become lesbian without knowing they are wrong."

However, according to cultural anthropologist at the University of Hong Kong Amy Sim, these women start developing lesbian identities back home in Indonesia, at the recruitment centers where they train before leaving to work as maids.

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