Being Waria is Not a Choice

Many people assume that waria (or transgender individuals) need to reform their ‘sickness’ for the good of society. However, there are some are of the opinion that waria are partof the diversity that God created. In this view, God created men and women as two distinct biological categories. But in terms of gender, the existence of waria, or men with a feminine nature, cannot be denied in contemporary Indonesian society. The Monday-Thursday Islamic Boarding School for the Waria (Pesantren Waria Senin-Kamis) is one of the unique expression of this community’s existence in the Special Region of Yogyakarta. This pesantren provides a means of representing the transgender community’s religiosity in a positive light. CRCS brought the participants of School of Diversity Management (Sekolah Pengelolaan Keragaman – SPK) to visit to the waria boarding school in Yogyakarta to look at the facts on the ground after a few days studying theories of diversity together at UGM.

Maryani, one of the pesantren’s administrators, told us, “[W]e, the waria, at this Islamic boarding school, come from various regions in Indonesia, such as Batam, Medan, Yogyakarta, and other places. Even so, we remain one; we have to practice unity as a whole. Weare also human, and as like others, we want to study religion. However, the problem is there is no place that will accommodate us. All the Islamic boarding houses are only for men and women, so wedo not have a place to learn. Therefore, we set up the Pesantren Waria Senin-Kamis, and Thank God, there is Kyai Hamroeli who is willing to support us. While there areother kyais (the clerics) who think we are distorted, and wrong according to religion, it does not matter, and we will continue to carry out activities at the school, including worship, because only God knows the admissibility of one’s deeds.”

Established in 2008, pesantren provides a schedule of religious activities for the waria community in Yogya. Religious lectures are held every Monday and Thursday evening. Activities began with a nariyah reading and prayers at five o’clock, followed by the maghrib prayer in congregation. After that, there is a reading of al-Fatiha one hundred times, followed by evening prayers in with the congregation. The waria who attend also have the opportunity to learn the practice of prayer guided by the cleric for those who cannot read the Koran. In addition to the compulsory worship practices, they also perform other sunnah (voluntary) kinds of worship such as sholat hajat (a voluntary prayerperformed when a Muslim has the intentionor particular needs) which is undertaken at 11:00 pm, and tahajud prayers at 2:00 am. They also conduct a istighosah (mass prayer) until dawn, returning to their respective homes after Fajr prayer.

Yeti, one of the pesantren students of revealed that she had felt distinct since childhood. “[I] myself have felt since childhood, and this is not as shaped by the environment, because the fact is I also have a lot of older brothers. After sensing different things for a few years, then in 1994, when I was in high school, I could accept this situation,” she admitted.

Further, Ruli, an activist for waria in Yogyakarta, described the dilemma of waria in Indonesian context, focusing on the effect of Islamicization. He reiterated his understanding that Indonesia is a country that is predominantly Muslim, but that does not mean Indonesia is a religious country. Islamic boarding schools teach students about Islam in accordance with the teachings in the Koran and Hadith. He also added that if the Prophet was alive in the present day, then it of course would be easy to ask for his clarification on this issue. However, according to Ruli, waria should not be defined by the individual in accordance with their own perspectives, because such things tend to lead to bias and discrimination against people who identify as waria.

In addition, according to Ruli, the rules and Islamic law in the Koran and Hadith also accommodate waria lives. But what must be done is to change people’s perspectives so they do not define waria only in negative terms. In fact, the negative definition of this community is already embedded in society, making it more resistant to change.

Most people identify waria with the activity of prostitution. In fact, many waria contribute positively to the community. Some of the members of this Islamic boarding school are also activists in several organizations such as Kebaya or The Big Family of Waria in Yogyakarta (KeluargaBesarWaria Yogyakarta) which focuses on health issues along with several other institutions.

Maryani added that many people ostracize the waria so they do not have the ability to support themselves. In such conditions, they can only making money through singing or night-life entertainers. Lucky waria who have the skills can find work in salons. In general, it is difficult for a wariato be accepted by society, especially to get jobs according to their abilities. The existence of this Islamic boarding school, for Maryani, is a forum for waria to study religion and good behavior, and a way to contribute to the community. It will be a means to change the negative view of society has of the waria. ThePesantrenWariaSenin-Kamisin displays that although most Muslim societies still generally do not accept the existance ofwaria, there is a possibility for interaction and learning in a religious space.

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