Waria (transgender women) are a visible group of people across Indonesia – a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim community. They frequently describe themselves through distinction between their male body and the inner sense of self that is often referred to as the soul or the heart of a woman.
Despite being a visible social category, waria stand far from being equally accepted in all spheres of the society or recognized as respectable members of their families. As a result of the structures of social exclusion, subsequent economic needs and frequent migration, the lives of waria are substantially shaped by spatial dynamics, giving ways to patterns of lifestyle around daily work in beauty salons and street nightlife. While beauty salons and waria sex work locations may spark moral prejudice and targeted violence, they are simultaneously the sites of agency, in which waria experience self-affirmation and a sense of belonging while embodying the envisioned mobility on both national and transnational scale. Salons and street nightlife are also productive, transformative and conjoining spatialities that foster waria subjectivity in affective relations to their intimate partners, community, the phantasmatic promise of transnational mediascape as well as Indonesian nation.
In this talk, I draw on my ethnographic research in Java and West Papua between 2010-2018, spending altogether 17 months in the country – fieldwork that informs my PhD dissertation in the Department of Ethnology, University of Tartu. Illustrating the talk with photographic and audiovisual material, I discuss the effects of spatial dynamics on the waria embodied world-making, touching upon the notions of gendered subjectivity, agency, belonging, and space.
Terje Toomistu is a PhD researcher at the University of Tartu, Department of Ethnology. She holds MA degrees (cum laude) in Ethnology and in Communication Studies from University of Tartu. In 2013-2014, she was a Fulbright fellow at the University of California Berkeley, US., and in 2017-2018 a visiting researcher at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Anthropology. Her current main areas of research are gender and sexuality in Indonesia and the Soviet non-conformist youth. She is also a documentary filmmaker with a filmography including Wariazone (2011), Archeology of Ayahuasca (2016) and her most recent award-winning Soviet Hippies (2017).
All "Inimkond" lectures are open for everyone, in English and are a great way of getting to know the local anthropology community.