In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the transgender subculture goes back centuries, even pre-dating the arrival of Islam. Transgender women in Indonesia are known as waria, a non-derogatory compound word that combines the Indonesian words for “man” and “woman,” “pria” and “wanita” respectively. Waria are at risk of violence by Islamist hardliners in most of Indonesia — Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, with over 210 million Muslims in the country. But in Yogyakarta, a central Javanese city, waria are tolerated by the community and local mosques, even if many waria find themselves disowned from their families and regarded as deviants and sinners. Destitute, many waria are reduced to an illegal and dangerous life of prostitution — more than 60 waria from Yogyakarta have died from AIDS in just over a decade.
Local mosques don’t allow waria to take part in prayer, but Yogyakarta is unique in that it has the world’s one and only transgender madrasa, set up by waria for waria. The madrasa, founded in 2008 after an earthquake in which many waria died, provides waria with Koranic instruction in defiance of conservative imported strands of Islam. Waria come to the madrasa from towns near and far — for many, being able to pray openly in women’s clothes is a liberating experience in and of itself.
Read the full story at Channel 4.