To start I would like to define some terms as a prerequisite to this and my following posts. Firstly, gender, which I will be using to reference the societal normative construction of masculine and feminine. Secondly, sex will from now on be defined as the biological traits that code female and male. Lastly sexuality, defined as sexual attractions practices and identity, which for my purposes is used with the acknowledgment that it may or may not align with sex and gender. That said this misalignment can be considered by some cultures as a third gender. This leads me to my main topic of this post; the third gender of Indonesia-waria.
In Indonesia there is a relatively large demographic of people that identify with the gender of women but have the sex of a male and because of their Muslim faith do not wish to change their bodies, but instead exaggerate other forms of womanly normative behavior such as make-up-deemed provocative by some.
This demographic of people, though perhaps not accepted by the ‘extremist’ Muslim community, or in many cases the police force, the waria however are accepted by the general public who have coded them into a very specific niche in society. This niche establishes the waria almost exclusively as street singers, entertainers, dancers, and unfortunately, prostitutes. These ‘self-employment’ options stem from the fact that the paperwork necessary to become employed by others, states the gender observed from birth, and not the gender identity of the individual. Due to current stigma, this creates a problem for many waria looking for work.
To understand the societal organization behind this created niche three separate spheres of discourse must be looked at; the historical and current religious beliefs, the past influence of Dutch colonialism, and finally the self-proclaimed identity of the waria. The religious culture of Indonesia pre-colonization looked at gender as a source of power. Hence, gods were said to have both genders or to be gender transgressive and humankind were believed to be created from those gods as split genders. Intuitively this gave the warias a sacred notion, thus the construction of gender was seen as fluid and open-minded. Discourse on gender changed however during Dutch colonization which is when gender came to know bureaucracy and the two genders were established as rigid. Most interestingly, the degree of acceptance of waria in Indonesian society is most strongly attributed to the fact that waria identify as women who are attracted to men-straight men specifically. This means that they are considered heterosexual or ‘normal’ by society. This is important to Point out because it shows that it is not the transgressive gender that holds the strongest stigma, it is the sexuality that accounts for the most in this specific organization of society.
The Warias question the relationship between sex and gender and prove that an ‘alignment’ is not necessary to form a full definition of identity. From the perspective of historical western science these women are nothing more than perverse men parading around in a costume they were not born to wear, however, I find it to be absurdly contradictory that these then ‘men’ in their perspective lose all rights by simply dressing like that of the believed inferior sex, stripped of the same opportunity as everyone else- often times forced into prostitution.
My question now is- why are these women hypersexualized? It could simply be the flamboyant outer appearance, however, for me this more of a functional answer then the truth behind this phenomena. There is a consistency across cultures to demoralize the feminine gender and in a world where women (of whom their sex and gender align) are slowly rising to the equal state of men (also of whom their sex and gender align), it is the waria, or third gender, that are filling the vacant niche of third class citizens in Indonesia; stripping them of any chance to elevate themselves in society.
Stemming from Donna Haraway’s ‘Primate Visions’ it might also be possible that this hyper-sexualization arises from the heavy influence of the believed importance of the nuclear family where women are deemed the most valuable as mothers. Hence, a woman that cannot have children, due to her male sex, poses a problem for this form of societal organization. I has been observed in history that when the woman cannot or has not yet succumb to the role of ‘natural mother’ a hyper-sexuality associated with stigma and a perceived inferiority becomes entrenched as a cultural construction.
In a world where women are feminine and men are masculine, the warias serve a role much to the same extent as what 18th century anatomists would refer to as a ‘bridge species’ for question of nature versus culture; paving the way for an alternative discourse on gender and sex that revolves less around social construction and instead more heavily on that of the individual and her identity.
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