Indonesia's Transsexual Muslims (Documentary)


Uploaded by vice on Aug 7, 2012

Transcript:

FEMALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: A waria is an Indonesian transsexual,
derived from the words wanita, meaning woman, and pria, man.
Waria are known as Indonesia's third sex.
This centuries-old tradition is largely accepted as part of
Indonesian culture.
However, it's one that doesn't sit easily with Islam, which
has risen to become the country's dominant religion
since it's arrival in the 13th century.
Since Islamic law acknowledges only two sexes, male and
female, and forbids men to dress and adopt the mannerisms
of women, waria have been pushed further and further
into the margins of society.
This makes it difficult to practice their faith.
While it seems strange that the waria are passionate about
a religion that shuns them, they believe that even if the
majority of Islamic authorities don't
accept them, God does.
I headed out to meet Maryani, a 50-year-old transsexual who
runs the Senin-Kamis School from the back
of her beauty salon.
And is mother to her adopted daughter Rizky, who she raises
on her own.
Maryani greeted my translator, Mendez, and
myself at the door.
And asked us to come in quietly, as we had arrived in
the middle of a Quran class.
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: As I talked with her more, Maryani told me
about her life.
Despite living through some tough times, she also had a
lot of fun when she was younger.
She used to be the singer in a dangdut band, which is
Indonesia's sexy style of pop music.
And from her description, it sounded like her
career was a big deal.
That all changed when she converted to Islam in her 30s.
She left behind her hedonistic lifestyle to focus on her
spirituality.
Because, as she puts it, her conversion
came from the heart.
MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

MALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Following the 2006 earthquake that rocked
Yogyakarta, Maryani gathered lots of her friends to
participate in some of the mass prayers.
An older priest friend was so impressed by her efforts and
ability to draw a large group that he invited her to start a
place for the transvestites to gather.
And thus, the school was born.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: I was enjoying hanging out with Maryani and
wanted to spend some more time talking to her one on one.
But unexpectedly, she asked me if I'd like to attend the
funeral of a waria who recently died from HIV
complications.
She told me that it would help me understand some of the
difficulties they face.
I agreed, and we hopped in the car.
Maryani's friend Yuni Shara, who was a member of the
school, caught a ride with us to the funeral.
She pulled out her phone and started showing me photos of
her main squeeze.
YUNI SHARA: My husband.
HANNAH BROOKS: Your husband.
YUNI SHARA: [LAUGHING], [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: He's married to a woman.

HANNAH BROOKS: Oh, really?
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Do you do your own makeup?
YUNI SHARA: Oh yeah.
HANNAH BROOKS: You do eyeliner better than I do.
Much, much better.

Thank you.
The funeral was held in the street of a
waria-friendly community.

Most of the local townspeople were sitting around and
milling about, waiting for the ceremony to get underway.

Wow.
There was also a huge amount of warias sitting around,
smoking cigarettes and chatting.
I'd seen photos of the warias, and knew they
had distinctive faces.
But seeing them in the flesh and dressed rather
provocatively was overwhelming.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]


HANNAH BROOKS: Maryani made a speech about the importance of
warias acting with dignity and self-respect in order to be
seen as equal members of society.
She encouraged them to contribute to the funeral
costs of warias that pass away.
However, most of the warias didn't seem to be paying much
attention to what she was saying.
They gave off the impression that a funeral is just
business as usual.
And in fact, it wasn't that far off.
Usually four warias die each month, mostly from the things
that Maryani was trying to warn against in her speech.
[SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
[MULTIPLE SPEAKERS SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

YUNI SHARA: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Could you, while we're here, take us to
see some of the street performers?
YUNI SHARA: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: We headed back to our hotel to rest up for
the night, and prepared to set out in the morning to meet up
with some of Maryani's street singer friends.

MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: I went to meet two friends of Maryani's,
Jamila and Wulan, who work as street singers in central
Yogyakarta.
When I got there, I realized I had met them the day before at
the school.
But then they had been dressed as men.
[SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
WULAN: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: So you used to work as a prostitute, and now
you work as a street performer.
WULAN: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

JAMILA: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

[SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
HANNAH BROOKS: You got that stuck in my head now.
[SINGING]
JAMILA: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Some people got angry when the warias
approached and shooed them away, while others happily
gave them money.
Virtually everyone stared.
One small boy burst into tears and started screaming.
That was really intense.
We were just up there, and the girls were singing.
And this little kid totally fucking flipped out and
started screaming when he saw them.
And the mother like, grabbed the kid and was really angry.
Their reaction was really, really-- like, the mother was
furious that the kid was so upset.
And the kid looked like he had seen the devil or something.
MENDEZ: Yeah, yeah.
HANNAH BROOKS: After spending time with the warias, I began
to forget that their appearance could
be alarming as first.
As I watched people's reactions and the mockery they
endured, I felt a huge amount of empathy for them.
WULAN: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: While street performing seems like a dream
job compared to prostitution, the downside is that the hours
are long, and enduring the noise and grit of
Yogyakarta is tough.
The negatives of working as a prostitute are obvious, and a
lot more dangerous.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: That night I planned to meet up with Novi
and Nur, who work as prostitutes.
Nur, who's only 19, read about Maryani and the school on the
Internet, and traveled all the way from Lombok, which is a
small island near Bali, to meet her.
NUR: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
HANNAH BROOKS: Do you miss your family?
Or are you happy to be away from them?
NUR: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: What would you like to do with your life?
NUR: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: That's great.
I hope you can.

We gave the girls a ride to their regular hooking spot,
which was in a sketchy area next to a railway station.
I'd heard stories of waria being hit by trains while
working in this location.
Is it safe working here?
NOVI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: So that's where most of the customers hang
out, down there?
NOVI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: The girls stood for a while by the train
tracks but didn't get any customers.
They decided to head over to a busier street they also
regularly work.
We hung out across the road, away from potential customers,
so that the girls could do their thing.
A few guys approached here and there, but for the most part,
nothing really happened.
The girls drank booze with a shopkeeper, practiced their
poses, and played with their phones.
After a few hours, it didn't look like they were going to
have much luck tonight.
It's about midnight now.
We've just been standing across the other side of the
road to let the girls kind of do their thing and try and get
some customers.
I don't know.
I just don't know how they do it.
Like Nur was saying, she just wants to go out tonight and
work so that she can have some money to get through tomorrow.
They definitely have dreams and things they want to do in
the future and stuff.
But they can only think this far.
They can't really plan.
It's very much in the day for them.
Anyway, it's time to go home.
I'm going to go across the road now and say goodbye to
the girls, and wish them good luck for tonight.
I hope they make some cash.
And I hope they stay safe.
As we were wrapping up, we noticed one particular guy
pestering Nur and creeping her out quite a bit.
He looked like the kind of guy who couldn't afford the girls'
low prices.
As he kept hassling Nur, Novi ran over to us and asked if
we'd take Nur home.

HANNAH BROOKS: Nur wants to go home?
Yeah, sure.
Yep.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: The next morning we woke up and headed
to a small village somewhere outside Yogyakarta.
Jamila was getting a black market breast job and agreed
to let us come, as long as we didn't film where we were or
who was doing the procedure.
I knew that it was common for warias who believe it makes
them look more feminine to inject silicone into their
faces and breasts.
Jamila was really excited.
Because although she's had injections in her cheeks and
chin, she would be getting boobs for the first time.

MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: The room was incredibly hot,
and definitely unsterile.
And the sight of Jamila's chest growing into two oddly
shaped mounds was enough to make both Mendez and I start
to feel ill.
JAMILA: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
MENDEZ: Was it painful?
Could you feel it?
JAMILA: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: We needed a little air after witnessing
the operation.
So we decided to head back to Maryani's and check in with
the rest of the warias.
When we arrived, Maryani was getting ready to head out on a
scooter with Rizky and told me to hop on.

We were heading to the market to buy makeup and accessories
for the big party we were throwing
the warias that night.
Maryani seemed genuinely excited to get the chance to
go out with me for a bit.

She said that tonight was all about celebrating being a
waria, and about being comfortable with yourself.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: The warias were busy getting dolled up for the
party while Maryani instructed her assistant to make me look
like the sexiest waria possible.

So it appears that she is now attaching
the other large growth--
some kind of tail, head tail.
It feels like I've got a giant clump of weed on my head.
You like?

Yeah.
FEMALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: While the girls sat in the schoolroom taking
glamour shots on their cell phones and gossiping about
cute boys, I noticed that Maryani was sitting quietly in
the salon as she applied her makeup.

MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

[SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Going to have to practice that more.
FEMALE SPEAKER: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: What do you think about God?
Like, to you, what is God?
I'm interested because I don't know how I feel about it.
And I'm always interested to hear other people's opinions.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Holy fucking shit.

The party was at a restaurant with a stage, sound system,
and a resident keyboard player, who wanted to know who
the new lady-boy was when I walked in.
Obviously, Maryani had done a good job on my makeup.
The waria were trying to be on their best behavior.
But some of the younger girls were sneaking swigs of booze
under the table.
It might have helped them with their performance anxiety.
The warias took turns singing and dancing, which involved a
lot of dangdut and a lot of Celine Dion.
I was super impressed by Maryani's numbers.
The warias sang and danced well into the night.
I was dragged to the dance floor over and over, and did
my best to shake it like a Javanese bride.
Eventually, I was yanked onstage to perform the love
song the warias had been teaching me.
MARYANI: [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

HANNAH BROOKS: Even though their situation is far from
perfect, I was impressed by the warias' determination to
better themselves, and particularly by Maryani's
refusal to play by the rules.
It takes a courageous waria to do what she has--
raise a child on her own, reach the pinnacle of wariadom
by opening her own beauty salon, and to start the school
so that others might do the same.
As for the fact that the waria are dedicated to the very
religion that refuses to accept them, I agree with what
Maryani told me.
Since God is the one that judges whether they go to
heaven or hell, it's their relationship with Him that
matters, not the opinions of people.
With lipstick in their pockets and God on their side, it
seems the warias have a fighting chance.