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Waria: An Introduction to Indonesian Ladyboys

Amanda Valentine Dela Cruz
This post was last updated on .

Ladyboy is a common term used to pertain to transgender women in the east. Terminologies like kathoey, newhalf, transpinay, bakla, etc. usually take the spotlight. However, it’s important to know about these words’ Indonesian counterparts.

The reason being is because, in Indonesia, the largest muslim country, it’s very difficult to be a ladyboy. It’s a country whereby Islam is practiced by the majority of the population. Tolerance and acceptance are harder to achieve in a nation like this. Open your heart, eyes, and mind to the waria of Indonesia.

History of the word Waria in Indonesia

The word Waria is a mix of the Indonesian words wanita (woman) and pria (man). It’s also used to describe biological men who act or feel like a women (not drag queen). However, it’s a common word that’s been used for many years to pertain to an Indonesian transgender woman.

old dolls

It’s more synonymous with the word widely used in Thailand which is kathoey. Other countries have terminologies popular for defining the third gender but waria is more definitive and appropriate to be used for a trans woman.

There are no known resources of when and how the word originated. However, an ethnologist from Spain have records about discovering a transgender community in Bali under the name of Miguel Covarrubias. He said that the term was coined way before 1937, when he learned about warias.

In Sulawesi, the Bugis believed that five genders exist. These are the:

Each gender is respected and said to be part of what makes a harmonious community.

Who uses the term?

In Indonesian society, the term Waria is widely used. Some transgender women don’t like it and prefer the term wanita or transgender instead. However, it’s not viewed with a negative connotation like how the term ladyboy is perceived negatively when used in the western hemisphere.

It’s also not exclusive to trans women who had a gender reassignment surgery.

How the word is Perceived

To further expound on the word, it’s not something that’s discouraged to say. In Indonesia, even the local news uses the term widely. Using the word waria won’t be a cause of offense towards transgender people most especially if it’s used in a respectable manner.

Even foreigners can use the word without any problems. A lot of establishments in the city such as cabarets and clubs cite the word waria on their doors.

What the Indonesian people call Trans Women

Indonesians who have a wider knowledge of transgenderism pertain to trans women as women or transgender. However, colloquially and more popularly, the term waria is what’s commonly used.

Acceptance of Warias in Indonesia

Although they in Indonesia have a long way to go to be accepted, tolerance is present in the country. However, the situation is nowhere near close to Thailand’s. Not even the Philippines.

From the Government

Just recently, the government of Indonesia has received backlash from placing transgender woman and social media influencer Millen Cyrus in a male cell. She was caught possessing drugs with a male friend in Jakarta. 21-year old Millen looks very feminine and appears to have already transitioned both medically and surgically.

LGBTQIA+ groups have condemned the government for its harsh actions. They further explained how placing Millen in a male cell further encourages the Indonesia people to act upon transgender individuals discriminatorily. Because of this, Millen was transferred to solitary confinement instead.

From the People

Many people in Indonesia are pretty tolerant in the streets when it comes to warias. However, on social media, the majority of them are still unaccepting and intolerant against warias. This is reflective of how they responded on posts regarding Millen’s case. A lot of them often react by laughing and liking.

Furthermore, most of the commenters expressed how Millen should detransition and go back to the ways of God.

Rights of Warias in Indonesia

Warias continue not to have enough rights in Indonesia to live a life of dignity, harmony, and peace.

Indonesia flag


In Indonesia, the LGBTQIA+ community still doesn’t have military and discrimination protection. Same-sex couples aren’t allowed to get married and adopt children.

Although they are generally more tolerated than lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, they’re still not immune to violence and harassment. Lately, they’ve been experiencing a lot of discrimination mostly from sharia-supporting Muslim groups. Sadly, these groups are gaining popularity year after year for how they’re dealing with transgender women.

Even their health is barely protected from the barriers that warias positive with HIV AIDS face when trying to seek help.

In January 2018, transgender women were arrested in the province of Aceh. They were stripped naked and had their heads shaved in public. Subsequently, the Jakarta Social Agency has declared warias to cause social dysfunction and has regularly conducted raids to arrest them.

Education and Employment

A waria cannot study if she chooses to dress up as a woman in school. Added to that, most warias are not employed by the majority of workplaces in Indonesia. This results in a lot of them working in the adult industry and becoming sex workers.

The common industries that warias partake in are prostitution, sex work (online and offline), and entertainment. What further pushes them to lose direction in life is how families disown them after coming out as a waria.

Popular Warias

Amidst the general misfortune that they experience, there are still warias who are given the opportunity to be in the spotlight.

Yuli Retoblaut

Yuli became popular after being known as a nanny who took care of Barrack Obama when he was young. In 2012, she has expressed her dismay about how Indonesian people treat the waria community.

Yuli Retoblaut

She also shared her firsthand experience of discrimination from the government when a policeman shaved her long black hair and stubbed out cigarettes on her hands and arms.

Millen Cyrus

Before being known as the transgender woman from Indonesia who has been placed in a male cell, Millen Cyrus was known as a lifestyle vlogger.

Millen Cyrus

She has over a million followers on Instagram and has more than one hundred twenty thousand subscribers on Youtube.

Lucinta Luna

Lucinta is quite popular in the world of Youtube. She rose to fame because of her Barbie doll looks and entertaining videos. She has over two million followers on Instagram and growing. She has also been arrested for drug charges but has been released shortly after.

Apart from being a social media influencer, she’s also a comedian and dancer.

How to Help Warias

If you want to be instrumental in the alleviation of discrimination against transgender women in Indonesia, you can do so by supporting certain organizations.

Did you learn anything about the warias lives in this article? Please share it on your timeline to spread awareness.

Other terms for Warias that you could look up are:

Posted in Ladyboy news, Ladyboys

About the author

Amanda Valentine Dela Cruz
Just a random trans woman playing with makeup and skincare. Loves bacon and the operating table. I'm also the author of the dating guide book Dating Transgender Women for Gentlemen. Know more ->

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