POST D: Transvestites ‘Warias’ in Indonesia

Within Indonesian culture, some aspects are not deemed as ‘diterima’ or acceptable in certain societies. Transvestites ‘Warias’ are considered outcasts and are often looked down upon by the Indonesian Islamic society. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, with about 86% of Javanese people being practicing Muslims. Although Javanese culture is seen as quite open and laid back, Islamic law still disapproves of people, like Warias, who choose to divert themselves from the accepted norm (Brooks, 2012). Due to their decision to divert themselves from the accepted norm, Warias are not welcome to joined Islamic schools, where Islamic prayer and rituals are practiced (Brooks, 2012). It is due to this diversity that Warias are often outcast by their families, schools and other Islamic organisations or communities which they may be a part of. In attempt to address these issues and give Warias a safe place to worship and practice their culture and beliefs, an Islamic Boarding School for Javanese transvestites called Senin-Kamis School was abolished (Brooks, 2012). Run by Maryani, a 50-year-old transvestite, this school is not only a place of worship and learning, but a place where Warias are accepted and comfortable to be themselves without fear of being judged or belittled (Brooks, 2012).

Maryani and other Warias praying in Senin-Kamis (Photo courtesy of Terje Toomistu, 2011)

Most Warias in Indonesia are prone to violence and poverty, meaning, in most instances, they are unable to get a respectable, high paying job, instead their “job opportunities are generally limited to prostitution, working as street entertainers, working in beauty salons, acting on television or playing caricatures of themselves” (Brooks, n.d.). According to Advocacy Group Lembaga Swadaya Masyarakat Keluarga Besar Waria Yogyakarta (LSM Kebaya) “16% of Warias work as street performers,  47% as sex workers with a minimal 1% of Warias being teachers or college students” (Putri, 2014). With their vibrant voices and their love for Javanese romance songs, Waria street performers perform on streets and at traffic intersections for money. Through both the kind and disrespectful people whom they meet on a daily basis, they tend make 80,000 rupiah ($9) on a good day (Brooks, n.d.).

Two Warias who work as street entertainers to earn money (Photo courtesy of Oliver Purser, 2012)

Maryani mentions that Warias will be able “to blend in and be accepted into society” (Maryani, 2012) but this serves as an obstacle for them as they are constantly glared at and mocked by people of society. Even with such negativity around them, Warias still believe that God is the only one who is able to be judge them and through their belief, “influence their peers to worship God” (Brooks, 2012). Many Warias, like Maryani, hope to be able to live their life accepted in their society and culture, “like a normal woman would” (Maryani, 2012). Reference: Brooks, H, 2012, Vice Guide to Travel: The Warias, VICE, Documentary (YouTube), viewed 27 April 2015, <; Brooks, H, 2012, Warias, Come out and Plaaayayay: Muslim Indonesian Transvestites are Persecuted but Beautiful, VICE, viewed 28 April 2015, <; Dominguez, D, 2011, Waria:The Lives, Struggle & Issues raised by Yogyakarta’s Transgender Community,, viewed 28 April 2015, <; Putri, D, 2014, Talk to Her: Waria in Indonesia, SPARKsummit, viewed 29 April 2015, <;

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