A transgendered person goes on ‘umrah’


During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadhan last year, Maryani, a transgendered woman living inYogyakarta, had a revelation. She would go on umrah, the minor haj pilgrimage, to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The 53-year-old went to a travel agent in Yogyakarta, her hometown, who specializes in arranging trips for Muslim pilgrims. The agent rejected her application. As a prominent transgendered woman, Maryani does not hide her gender identity from her friends and neighbors. Nor did she with the agent.

“They say that some of the other congregants who were going to take the trip as well were scared and uncomfortable that a waria would be in the group,” Maryani, who is popularly as bu Mar or mbak Marshe, said on the telephone.

Maryani described herself as a waria, a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman (wanita) and man (pria) that is often used to describe transgendered women.

However, finally, Maryani’s dream to make the pilgrimage came true. She flew to Mecca on April 26 and returned May 5, and performed all the pillars of the umrah, covered from head to toe as a woman.

Status: Maryani, as a waria, was granted an identification card listing her gender as a woman, enabling her to make the minor pilgrimage as a woman.

Status: Maryani, as a waria, was granted an identification card listing her gender as a woman, enabling her to make the minor pilgrimage as a woman.

“In the holy land, they don’t differentiate between a waria, a real man or a real woman. There was no problem. I wore a mukena and went to Haram mosque and to Mecca and Medina,” she said, referring to women’s Islamic garb.

Maryani has received local and international media attention since 2008, when she transformed her home in a small alley in Notoyudan hamlet in Yogyakarta into a place for transgendered women to study Islam.

Rully, the program manager for the Yogyakarta Transgendered Women’s Organization (Kebaya), said that Maryani’s trip to Saudi Arabia had important meaning for members of Kebaya.

“There has been a stigma that transgendered people are identical with people who have no morals,” Rully said. “Maryani’s pilgrimage shows that there are waria who are religious and who have good spirituality.”

Maryani’s pilgrimage to Mecca as a transgendered woman was made possible when Anis Kurniyawati, the owner of the Yogyakarta office of the Arminareka Perdana travel agency, offered her a spot on a pilgrimage tour that she was arranging..

Anis said that Arminareka Perdana was a travel agency that aimed to help relatively low-income people perform the haj or umrah rituals by encouraging the customers to become part-time sales person for the agency.

Those who book a pilgrimage with Arminareka make a down payment of Rp 3.5 million (US$353.5) for the Rp 20 million cost of the tour. Anis said that potential pilgrim could pay for their tours in installments, or receive a commission for each person that they brought to the agency that could be applied to the total cost of their trip.

After finding a willing travel agent to sponsor her pilgrimage, Maryani dodged another problem. Her identification card now lists her gender as female, as does her passport.

“I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m a waria. I didn’t ask for female status on my ID card,” she said.

The solution to this potential problem was simple: The village head in Yogyakarta where Maryani lives offered to issue a card identifying her as a woman, which the head felt was more appropriate. That opened the door for Maryani to get a passport listing her gender as female as well.
All in the family: Maryani poses with her granddaughter.

All in the family: Maryani poses with her daughter.

The flexibility of Maryani’s village chief allowed her to perform religious rites as a woman. However, other transgendered woman have not been as lucky as Maryani, and have had to identify themselves as men to perform the pilgrimage —as men.

“I was given a female ID card and I’m grateful for that. But I don’t claim that I’m a woman. If there’s a status of female, male or transgendered person, I would chose transgendered,” she said. “Can Indonesia accept that?”

Raised Catholic by adopted parents, Maryani converted to Islam as an adult, and said that religion could be helpful in leading a person to a better life.

“It can help waria think for the long term and help them make better decisions.”

She explained that being in touch with their spirituality helped transgendered women to make good life decisions, saying that many transgendered women live from one day to the next as sex workers.

Countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia recognize three gender options with “X” as a choice for intersex people.

While Indonesia has yet to recognize other gender identities than female and male, the acceptance of transgendered people has increased.

Last year, a transgendered woman, Yuli Rettoblaut, became a candidate for the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Maryani said that she hoped her experience in carrying out the umrah can open the door for other transgendered women who would like to practice the rites.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Fri, July 05 2013
— Photos courtesy of Maryani and Hartoyo/OurVoice

The love life of transsexuals

Caring souls: (From left to right): Adel, Shanti and Nency sit in a waiting room at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, in Salemba, Jakarta, after fellow transsexual and AIDS activist Shakira was shot by unidentified assailants at Taman Lawang in Central Jakarta at dawn last month. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama
Caring souls: (From left to right): Adel, Shanti and Nency sit in a waiting room at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, in Salemba, Jakarta, after fellow transsexual and AIDS activist Shakira was shot by unidentified assailants at Taman Lawang in Central Jakarta at dawn last month. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

For many transgendered women, loving a man means letting him go. Only few dare to wish for an everlasting romantic partnership.

Yuli Rettoblaut, Mariyani and Rully all share the same story: They were in long-term relationships where they eventually told their partners to leave them and marry a “real” woman.

“I feel I’m destined to not have a partner,” Rully said in Yogyakarta.

Rully said she had been in a 7-year relationship with a man. Being a devout Muslim, Rully encouraged him to find a wife. “Whenever we talked about children and other stuff, we came to a dead end. I suggested he end this [relationship] and marry [another woman],” she said.

In the beginning, her partner refused to leave her but eventually agreed to end the relationship.

“I’ve concluded that it’s enough to feel love in our hearts; we don’t need to have it written down because there is controversy [in the issue of same sex or transgendered marriages], and we might not have the courage to always be known as something that defies long-held rules in society’s norms,” she said.

Those who do marry often come to loggerheads with Indonesian law. Recently, Fransiska Anastasya Oktaviany, also known as Icha and Rahmat Sulistyo, 19, was arrested for alleged identity fraud. Icha had been married for six months to Muhammad Umar, 32. Umar said he did not know Icha was a transgendered woman.

Hartoyo, director of LGBT rights organization Ourvoice, said in a press statement that Icha’s gender identity and sexual orientation was Icha’s and Umar’s private concern. “However, Icha has a different gender role and sexual conduct so she had to forge her identity card. The problem of why Icha forged her identity should be highlighted by the State… Many transgendered people do the same thing, and some of them are permitted by local authorities to change their sex on their ID card,” Hartoyo said.

Despite the fact that the State, through the Ministry of Health in 1993, has stated that homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality are not diseases or mental illness, the 2006 Demographic Administration Law has not accommodated transgendered people as a separate identity and still designates gender identity according to physical anatomy, Hartoyo said.

Mariyani, who runs an Islamic School for transgendered women, once encouraged her partner to leave her and marry another woman. But, after that relationship, she found someone new and was married under religious law.

“A female religious leader married me off,” she said. Her husband apparently already had a wife and children, so Mariyani and her husband separated. Mariyani adopted a child and decided to live on her own with her daughter.

Lulukaszyura Surahman (Luluk), 28, said until a couple of years ago, she wouldn’t admit she was a transgendered woman. “I felt I was a woman and I was very against telling people that I’m a waria [transgendered],” she said.

Men would court her, and she would be responsive. Eventually, she would ask her friend to tell the man courting her that she was a transgendered woman. “They usually disappeared after that,” she said.

Now she tells people from the start that she is a transgendered woman.

“So, he would know from the start,” she said. Luluk added that she would not want to stay single the rest of her life.

“It doesn’t feel good to be alone all the time,” she said. “Every person wants to love and be loved,” she said.

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Feature | Mon, April 11 2011

Life as a (special) woman

Action time: Dozens of waria who are members of a solidarity network gather for a protest at Hotel Indonesia’s traffic circle. JP/Arief Suhardiman
Action time: Dozens of waria who are members of a solidarity network gather for a protest at Hotel Indonesia’s traffic circle. JP/Arief Suhardiman

What makes a woman a woman? What makes a man a man?

For Lulukazyura Surahman (Luluk), 28, being a woman is a question of identity. It is all in the mind and in the way one behaves. It has little to do with one’s sexual organs.

“I’m a woman even though I have a penis,” she said. “I’m a woman, but I’m special.”

And a beautiful one she is. With long black hair, curly lashes and a big easy smile, she said people often did not realize she was transgendered.

Luluk struggled with questions of identity while growing up, from forcing herself to act manly to questioning God. But, despite her struggles to accept herself, Luluk is one of the lucky ones. Her family, with a moderate Muslim Nahdlatul Ulama background, never rejected her for being transgendered and made sure she completed her education until university level. She got her undergraduate degree in sociology and worked as an activist at Srikandi Sejati, an organization that works with LGBT issues.

Other transgendered women have not been so lucky while undergoing the soul-searching process of accepting their gender identity. Often they embrace their identity at the expense of rejection from family and society.

Once they have established their gender identity and found peace with who they are, issues of societal acceptance like teasing and barriers in the workplace continue to haunt their lives.

Many transgendered women end up on the streets and disconnected from their families, while at the same time isolated from mainstream society. Living in exclusive transgendered communities, they busk on the street or solicit sex for money or to find sexual partners.

Vinolia Wakijo, 51, the founder and director of the Yogyakarta Transgendered Women’s Organization (Kebaya) said a lot of transgendered women lived a life steeped in violence.

“They lack social experience since they leave their families at a young age. Life on the street is harsh, especially in the [transgendered] community. Where do they learn ethics? They race to get the best in whatever way. In the end, they live a harsh life,” she told The Jakarta Post at Kebaya’s headquarters in Yogyakarta.

In Jakarta, the transgendered women’s community hangs out at Taman Lawang park. That is where Faizal “Shakira” Harahap was shot earlier this month. Shakira, a transgendered woman, was killed and two other transgendered women, Agus “Venus” Yuliaman and Tantang “Astrid” Stianugraha, were injured. The police are still investigating the case.

In Aceh, Cut Yanti Asmara, a transgendered woman who worked at a moving beauty salon, was killed last week. The suspect, Fuadi, is now in police custody. He allegedly called Cut Yanti “bencong” which loosely translates as “tranny”. Yanti became enraged and came at him with a knife and was reaching for a shovel when the latter allegedly hit her with a crowbar.

In 2008, the Central Jakarta Public Order Agency was accused of violence that led to the death of a transgendered woman in Taman Lawang. The transgendered woman died after leaping into the Ciliwung River while fleeing a hail of stones thrown by public order officers.

Transgendered women in Indonesia are prone to becoming victims of violence, starting from the rejection of their families to cheating customers and bigoted strangers.

For Lenny Sugiharto from Srikandi Sejati, transgendered women have to be emotionally stronger in dealing with mocking and teasing from people.

“When one has chosen to live their life as a waria they have to be ready for the consequences,” she said. She added, “don’t let the teasing get to you.”

Discrimination against transgendered women in the workplace is also a huge problem. Up to now, Indonesian society accepts transgendered women only in specific areas, such as beauty salons and the entertainment industry.

Rully, 50, had to give up being a teacher in a school in a remote area in West Sumba. Raised in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Rully, who has dressed as a woman since she was a child, defied the education system in the early 1980s and presented herself in class as a transgendered woman.

Rully explained to her students from the beginning that she was a transgendered woman. “So they don’t develop the wrong understanding about waria,” she said,

She taught third to sixth graders. “Almost all the students respected me. [There were] only one or two cases, for example a student once said ‘trannies like to suck d*cks’. They didn’t know that I am a devout Muslim. In the early struggle this really hit me hard,” she said.

In the end, Rully felt pressured by the education agency. The head of the provincial education agency called her in. “I was summoned because I’m a waria,” she said.

In the one year that Rully taught, she concluded that mentally she was not ready to “go public” as a transgendered woman. “Almost every day I waste my energy with conflicting thoughts,” she said.

She resigned from being a civil servant. Rully now works with Vinolia in Kebaya as coordinator for support for transgendered women.

While, Luluk and Rully are transgendered women who received family support early in their childhood and completed their higher education without having to run away from home, Vinolia experienced the “dark side” of being a transgendered woman — working as a sex worker.

Mariyani, the founder of an Islamic school for transgendered women in Yogyakarta, led a similar path, living the life of a sex worker before settling down and setting up a beauty salon and in 2006 an Islamic school.

From her work at night, Vinolia was exposed to the outreach activities of Yogyakarta PKBI (Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association) and became a volunteer herself.

Vinolia said many transgendered women are not confident interacting in the community. Constant rejection and mocking from society causes them to have low self-esteem. Vinolia said transgendered women should push themselves and talk to their neighbors and be social. Both Vinolia and Mariyani joined an arisan (savings gathering) with women in their respective neighborhoods in order to be social and accepted in the areas they live in.

But, even among transgendered women their gender identity can be different from one another. Luluk believes she is a woman, and is open to the possibility of a sex change. Meanwhile, Rully, Mariyani and Vinolia believe they are waria (transgendered women).

“We’re women at heart, male physically. These two things together build what is man and women,” she said.

“We are transgendered physically and mentally,” she said.

“I will not have an operation,” Mariyani said. “I don’t want to defy God’s laws.”

She said that as long as she still feels it is a sin, she will never undergo a sex-change operation.

“I’m satisfied like this, I feel pleasure like this, I’m comfortable like this,” she said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta/Jakarta | Life | Mon, April 11 2011

Mariyani: Religious differences not a problem for ‘waria’

P28-A2_0.main story

Amid the recent news of religious fundamentalism spurring violence against minority groups like Ahmadis and Christians, one Muslim transgendered woman is demonstrating the openness of Indonesian society by offering up her Islamic school to fellow transgendered Christians for masses and prayers.

Mariyani, 51, is built like a large matriarch. The transgendered woman has received local and international media attention since 2008 when she transformed her home in a small alley in Notoyudan hamlet, Yogyakarta, into a place for transgendered women to study Islam.

She began Pesantren Waria with Koran readings and prayers every Monday in order to provide a space for transgendered women who were also Muslims to feel comfortable in practicing their faith.

The term waria comes from wanita (woman) and pria (man), and is used to describe people who are born with male reproductive organs but with a female gender identity, i.e. transgendered. Waria decide on their own whether to wear sarong during Islamic prayers — as men do — or to cover their bodies with the mukena — as women do.

Mariyani’s home-turned-school has become a place for waria to seek spirituality and refuge. Recently, a 19-year-old transgendered woman who learned about the school from newspaper articles and the Internet left her hometown in Lombok, where her family was having problems accepting her gender identity, to stay at Mariyani’s place before finding a job at a department store.

Wearing a black hijab, Mariyani said she aspired to provide Christian (Catholic and Protestant) waria a place to congregate.

“Here, the waria who are Christians — they don’t have a place to gather to hold mass. I would like to provide a place here, as long as it does not coincide with the pesantren’s activities,” she said.

She plans to invite her Christian friends from Yogyakarta, Malang, Surakarta, Banyuwangi and Surabaya to come on March 15.

“I invite waria from any religion to worship here. If they don’t have a place, my place is open to them,” she said.

“We want to embrace every religion together in peace. Every religion is good. There are no religions that are bad. Humans are the ones who are bad.”

Mariyani, popularly called Bu Mar or Mbak Mar by friends and neighbors, recently registered the school through a notary – a move to give her school legal power if members of the public ever protest.

She plans to request permits from the local administration and the police in order to open up her home to Christian waria for worship.

“We don’t want what happened in Bekasi or Temanggung to happen here,” she said, referring to conflicts between radical Islamic groups protesting the presence of a Christian congregation in Bekasi and the recent attacks on churches in Temanggung. “If I don’t get the permits, I won’t be able to do this.

“My intentions are good. If people want to raid me, go ahead. But, thank God, in the three years the school has been open there have been no objections whatsoever,” she said, adding that the Yogyakarta Ulema Council even invites her to their events.  Mariyani said people in Yogyakarta were tolerant for accepting her school. Raised Catholic by adopted parents, she converted to Islam as an adult, and said that religion could be helpful in leading a person to a better life.

“It can help waria think in the long-term and help them make better decisions.”

She explained that being in touch with their spirituality helped transgendered women to make good life decisions. A lot of transgendered women live from one day to the next as sex workers, she explained.

Mariyani also once lived that lifestyle, working as a prostitute in Jakarta before returning to Yogyakarta and starting work at a beauty salon.

Mariyani said her Islamic school didn’t attempt to turn transgendered women into men.
“My intention is to worship God. I don’t care what people say.”

To people who say that being a transgendered woman is wrong, she says: “That’s a human trying to act like God. Whether God accepts acts of worship, that’s His concern. One’s sex does not determine whether one goes to heaven or not. Their faith in God does,” she said.

But, Mariyani does not just want to give Christian waria a place to worship.

Speaking in Yogyakarta’s alun-alun, she candidly said she also wanted to give transgendered women a chance to have a dignified burial when they pass away.

“I want to invite Christians to be able to practice their faith. When they pass away someday, the Catholic or Protestant churches can provide a coffin and burial.”

But, she wants to be able to provide more than just the simplest of burials for waria.

She is planning to speak to the Yogyakarta Interfaith Forum about her plan.

Many transgendered women, because of difficulties with their families, leave their homes when they are young and live on their own with fellow waria. Some end up living penniless on the streets, Mariyani said.

Transgendered individuals and transvestites are also among the high-risk groups for HIV and AIDS, together with injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

The idea to provide Christian transgendered women a place to congregate arose after she attended the funeral of a transgendered woman given by the city’s Social Affairs Agency.

“It was like burying a cat. The burial space was so narrow. They put the body in and covered the ground,” she said. “It was already very gracious of the Social Affairs Agency to provide the burial for a waria.”

However, Mariyani hopes transgendered women will be able to receive better burials.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta | People | Wed, February 16 2011