The Way of the Waria

Waria or bencong are the local terms for transvestites or transexuals.  ‘Waria’ seems to be the term they prefer.

If you see an attractively shaped, tall girl wearing revealing clothes out on the street, she is almost certainly a waria.  It’s quite common to see them working at traffic lights or anywhere the traffic moves slowly enough.  I assume they’re busking, but no doubt they offer other services too.  I don’t know about this because I try to sink out of sight when my car happens to pull up near them.  This is because the sight of a ‘bule’ usually causes them far too much excitement.

The fact that they exist in a conservative country like Indonesia tells me that it’s not a life choice, but something which exists within the individual.  Why would someone willingly choose to live such a hard life?

In the clip, a pair of waria works the shops along the street.  They will sing, chasing away paying customers, until the shopkeeper pays them a tip and then they move along to the next shop.  In fact, it’s not only waria but a lot of buskers who use this tactic.  If you’re in a warung (small streetside restaurant), its not unusual for a busker to serenade you until you give them a few coins. 

The waria in the clip are in Surabaya, but you can also find waria like these in Jakarta and Bandung (that I know of).

Don’t mistake the girly antics of these waria for weakness.  These are among the toughest people in Indonesia, they have to be.

Of course, not all waria live on the streets.  You are also likely to come across them in beauty salons.  Some have even become TV and pop music celebrities.


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2 Responses to “The Way of the Waria”

  1. jakartanna Says:

    WARIA = WAnita pRIA

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