Human rights abuses against the waria of Indonesia

From the Guardian:

Stripped naked and beaten: transgender women flee Indonesian city in fear

Transgender people have been fleeing the sharia-ruled Indonesian province of Aceh amid fears of further violence, an exodus that comes in the same week the national parliament proposed criminalising gay and all extramarital sex.

In the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, scores of transgender people have fled following the arrest and public shaming of 12 trans women in neighbouring North Aceh.

The 12 women, known as waria, were arrested on Saturday night when police, accompanied by locals, raided beauty salons and forced them to strip off their shirts and have their hair cut in public.

In detention the waria were compelled to undergo an ad hoc form of “gender re-education”, which included wearing men’s clothing, physical exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, and instruction on lowering their voices, until they were deemed suitably “macho”.

Sources close to those detained say they were also stripped naked and beaten by police, and upon release are suffering psychological trauma.

I found this BBC article explaining who the waria are. They are cross-dressing males: “the word waria comes from the Indonesian word “wanita” meaning woman, and “pria” meaning man.” This word reminds me of the word “he-she” that was used in the U.S.A in the mid-20th century.

According to the BBC’s information, the waria work as street vendors and some are in the sex trade. According to the Guardian article, some of them work in beauty salons.

It is common that men who are naturally feminine are homosexual, and it’s also common that such men are assumed to be homosexual whether it’s true or not.

From the Guardian article linked above, “A recent survey found that nearly 90% of Indonesians who understood the term LGBT felt “threatened” by the minority and said same-sex relations were not permitted in their religion.”

Interesting how people are so “threatened” by working-class men wearing makeup that they need to create laws against them and get police officers to torture them. How much power and influence do a small group of poor men have, that this level of state intervention is required to stop them?

In fact, the same thing has happened in North America. Cross-dressers, both male and female, were harassed by both police and private citizens and severely punished for being cross-dressers and for being gay, in the not-so-distant past.

The Guardian is calling these waria “transgender women,” which is certainly the way the Western world would prefer to label them. I am concerned that calling male cross-dressers “women” erases the likely fact that they are gay men, and I don’t like the erasure of gay people.

Indonesia is cracking down on homosexuality and feminine men because they are threats to patriarchy. The traditional family unit where a masculine man is in charge of a feminine woman and their children is essential to maintaining patriarchy. Feminine homosexual men, as well as masculine homosexual women, are a double threat to patriarchy because they break the rules of sexuality as well as traditional gender roles. They are also the most visible members of the gay community, since their difference is obvious and cannot be hidden. Targeting the most visible members of a community keeps everyone else in line.

It’s possible that some of the waria could be bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual, but that wouldn’t change my analysis of the reasons why they are hated.

The treatment of these waria is an abhorrent violation of their human rights. They should have the right to wear clothing normally designated for women, as well as the makeup and accessories that go with it, and wear their hair long, without being punished.

I do not believe the solution here is to pretend they are literally female. The solution is to stop sexism and homophobia.

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7 thoughts on “Human rights abuses against the waria of Indonesia

  1. So with you on this. A tragic injustice that makes me feel very angry, especially as they are such close neighbours here in Australia. But we only just got marriage equality, so obviously this side of the globe is a bit fucken slow on equal rights! The tentacles of the patriarchy are many, and hard to cut. But we will keep slashing #TIMESUP

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  2. Sorry but I read this with a ‘huh wtf?’ At my end (also Australia bone&silver, checkout the SBS on demand docos) the outrage is over the fact that as it is under Sharia rule it is totally legal for the Sharia police to drag women off mopeds and beat them in the street for dressing wrongly, being unaccompanied by a male relative, talking back, and just being females that weren’t quick enough to get out of the firing line quick enough. Pedestrians don’t fare much better but the Sharia police there are going after motorists first because we all know how it ends when women can actually be independent mobility wise.

    Sadly part of the reason this still makes the news here is because of the amount of money and aid Australia gave after the Tsunami (I’m not saying that pouring financial and ground support into a region that was devastated – Bandah Aceh – is a bad thing, it’s just sad that if this had happened anywhere else it would have flown under the radar) It’s just that a couple of years down the track when the Tsunami was forgotten by average Australians who put their hands in their pockets when the Tsunami first hit, the Wahhabis stepped in to pick up the pieces – and yes there were a lot of pieces still to be picked up – and the only reason it is still news now is because the amount of aid that was given in the first place.

    I don’t want to see anyone victimised by religious police, men, women, identify however the fuck you want, but the harsh truth here is that yet again, it’s the women in the region (including eg everyone from ‘peasants’ to University lecturers) who are bearing the brunt of this, and it’s women who don’t get to identify out of the clusterfuck this region had become.

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    • Also sorry to clarify, despite the media coverage, this is not about gays, and in this case, the waria are closer to the Thai ladyboys than gay males. And even if I was totally wrong, it still doesn’t change the fact that it has taken 3 years for the religious police to finally go after gay males. After they’ve driven all the felaes out of the public space

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