Although Barack Obama himself had a Waria nanny during his childhood, few are familiar with the term. It’s the Indonesian word for biological men who were born with a female identity. As a group they are diverse and an important aspect of Java culture, encompassing what would generally be considered cross-dressers, transsexuals, drag queens, and effeminate gay men. They pre-date Islam as a tradition, but nowadays are often opposed by upcoming Indonesian islamism, that rejects them. Channel 4 recently made a documentary on them, portraying the world’s first transgender mosque that was founded in 2008.
The conservative Imam of the main Mosque of Yogyakarta comments on the waria in the documentary:
“Muslims believe that Allah creates according to his will, but if people aren’t living according the teachings of Islam, they need to be educated instead of being shunned. What the Waria are doing is against Islam: men who are dressed as women, women who are dressed as men, this is prohibited in Islam.”
Feeling rejected in the mosque and society in general, waria women started their own Madrassa and Mosque, to live, study and pray together. Nur Ayu, de leader of the madrassa explains:
“We have three programmes: we teach to the inner community, the Waria, in Islam. We also teach society about how, who and what this Waria is, so they accept and have an open mind. In the third place, we protect the human rights of the Waria. Because we are human beings too”
In the documentary, the waria prepare their questions for a meeting with Islamic scholars: is it really sinful to sell your body for sex? Can Waria pray in woman’s robes?
“Sometimes we pray and then we go out on the streets at night, looking for men”, one of the Waria women comments.“I don’t think I’m a deviant, I feel like I’m on the right path I feel that those who say I’m deviant are the ones who don’t understand.
Waria don’t identify themselves as men. “In their hearts and heads, they are women and in their souls, they are Muslims”, it is stated in the documentary. If only they were forgiven for a lifestyle that wasn’t their choice to start with, they could have a much better life.