(POST D) Unveiling the Waria: Transgender Indonesia

The Waria of Indonesia are one of the country’s most marginalized fringe groups. As journalist, Hannah Brooks explains, the word ‘Waria’ is a combination of the words for ‘woman’ and ‘man’ in Bahasa (Vice 2016). Due to the country’s Muslim majority and strictness of Sharia law in certain regions, hatred towards those who cross dress is common. However in spite of the face of intolerance and societal rejection, a school for Warias has been set up by Maryani, a 50 year old transsexual, in Jogyakarta in order to teach Islam, due to mainstream Islam institutions’ rejection of transsexual identities.

“even though Javanese culture is known for its openness, Islamic law does not approve of deviation” (Vice 2016) 

Warias have always been an accepted part of Indonesian culture. Before the arrival of Islam in Indonesia, there were always two main genders. Each gender would have certain gods and qualities assigned to them by religion however there was definitely more fluidity and tolerance towards anything that was not purely heterosexual behaviour. Gender roles were more flexible and Waria were even honoured as having deity status as it was believed they had the ability to spiritually transcend the norm and undertake other gender roles. This was significant due to pre-Islamic religions striving for balance in the world and they were the embodied form of this idea (Zwaan 2012).


Image sourced from Vice article

The arrival of the Islamic faith in the 1300’s was relatively easy to integrate with Indigenous mythology and tribes adapted to their presence. However intolerance towards Waria had been growing over time and anti-Waria sentiment is at its peak. One of Indonesia’s biggest issues is the intolerance towards minority groups, that which is mostly fuelled by Islam fundamentalists. Ever since, Waria have been pushed further into the margins of society ever since forcing many to earn money through prostitution or other means (Vice 2016).


Image sourced from SBS News article

What is unique about the Waria is that unlike many transsexuals worldwide, many are not interested in sex-reassignment surgeries due to religious reasons. Even more intriguing is that in spite of their mainstream rejection; a lot of them still strive to be devout Muslims. It appears that Waria have still retained the notions of spirituality surrounding the transgression of gender roles. As a result a lot of them tend to stand out, with bold personal expressions of false eyelashes, dramatic makeup and skimpy clothing. Islam notions of modesty and Sharia law fuel hatred towards this particular minority group and Maryani often holds funerals for peers who were victims of violence.

‘”In one month, usually four people need to be buried,” she says. “Even when we die we need money.”’ (Vice 2016) 

In a country where topics such as LGBT issues and drugs are either dealt with by ignoring them outright or are punishable by harsh laws, goes to show the government’s preference to ignore rather than address (Post 2016). The Waria make huge efforts through engaging with their local community to demystify any negativity surrounding their lifestyles. It is this strength and positivity that is compelling to others in their community and to those who read about them, that dwarfs the implied adversity of any laws or threat from any larger bodies.



Post, T. (2016). Difficult for Indonesia to legalize gay marriage: Minister. The Jakarta Post. <http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/07/02/difficult-indonesia-legalize-gay-marriage-minister.html > [Accessed 10 Apr. 2016].

SBS News. (2016). High Heels and Hijabs: Transgender rights in Indonesia. <http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/story/high-heels-and-hijabs-transgender-rights-indonesia&gt; [Accessed 10 Apr. 2016].

VICE (2016). The Warias | VICE | United States. <http://www.vice.com/video/the-warias-full-length&gt; [Accessed 10 Apr. 2016].

Zwaan, L (2012) Waria of Yogyakarta: Islam, Gender, and National Identity


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