The people of Ponorogo, an East Java town between two extinct volcanoes, were reputed to have magical powers and sexual potency, along with a history of radical politics and sometimes violent rebellion. Implicit in Reog's mythic battle between the King of Ponorogo and the Singa Baronga lion-like creature, was centuries-old distain, and resistance to central state power. The Dutch banned performances for 20 years during their rule, and after independence, with "New Order" policies, the government pushed to "clean up" Reog troups. Dances were adapted to fit official concepts of "modernization," and downplay politically or sexually subversive elements. Standardized, sanitized and refitted as tourist commodities, these parodies of original dances cast waroks not as rebels or charismatic spiritual leaders, but loyal state functionaries.
Original characters included the King of Ponorogo, proud and pompous in regal attire; Bujang Anom, acrobatic young men in black and red; Jatil, handsome teenage gemblaks, riding horses of woven bamboo; and the Singa Barong, with his large, very heavy mask of tiger or leopard skin, and peacock feathers. The creature was played by the warok, a local leader who was highly respected for his spiritual and physical strength, but also a social and political maverick.
Dancers traditionally performed in trance, and were expected to follow strict rules, rituals and exercises, including sexual abstinence from women. Gemblak boys of eight to fifteen lived in the households of waroks who compensated the boy's family, and arranged the young man's marriage when he matured. Though never spoken of as homosexuals in this context, waroks and gemblaks were assumed to be sexually intimate by a society in which same-sex relationships, if discreet, were considered normal and acceptable among unmarried men --in contrast to heterosexual relations outside marriage, viewed as immoral and spiritually debilitating. Endowed with male and female elements in a single entity, the gemblak represented a "complementarity of opposites" - cosmic unity. Seen to possess powers of fertility they might also be invited to share the wedding bed of a bride and groom. But with tradition gone, and new gay/western concepts of homosexual identity in vogue, the special status of the young men has been lost, and financial rewards rather than spritual apiration became the greater motivation.
Waroks of old were said to practice rasa sejati, a Sanskrit-derived Javanese term for awareness of the fundamental energy within all life; a tantric discipline by which a beautiful youth is transformed by the mystic's gaze, revealing perfection within created form. Such customs, once familiar to Sufis among other Islamic communities, are now abhorrent to mainstream Islam and Christianity, and relationships are discouraged by government and religious authorities. Waroks now cast themselves as civic-minded village elders helping disadvantaged youths, and young men's dance roles are usually played by girls.
See a Josko Petkovic interview with Dédé Oetomo, a founder of the modern gay rights movement; and Spirituality, Sexuality, and Power in a Javanese Performance Tradition by Ian Douglas Wilson at the link below.