Jakarta's Waria Sex Workers By bonnie radcliffe

Jakarta is a hotbed for prostitution, with over 13 000 workers in the capital alone.

Traditionally, it is thought that people enter the sex trade industry in an attempt to avoid poverty. Sex workers can be paid anywhere from 300 000 – 500 000 rupiah for a sex service, and prostitutes may see up to five clients per day.

However, poverty is not the only factor driving people to sex work.

The transgender community gather to socialise and create a system of support.

Jakarta’s transgender community is evolving and expanding, though Head of Srikandi Sejati Foundation, Lenny Sugiarto says that transgender people are still considered “social misfits”.

The Srikandi Sejati Foundation based in East Jakarta advocates for the Indonesian transgender community. The Foundation offers health checkups, education programs, a support network, and campaigns for transgender rights.

Transgender women, known as waria, are excluded from the community, isolated, and made to feel worthless and unloved. As a result, transgender women seek a sense of validation through sex work.

Ms. Sugiarto blames Indoensia’s conservative Islamic values for the exclusion of transgender women, and the LGTB community at large.

“In developed countries, there are places for transgenders and gays to mingle and have fun. This is not the case in Indonesia. The Indonesian community wants to isolate transgenders as much as possible. They want to remove their rights to freedom and expression,” she says.

Lenny identifies as a transgender woman, and came out at 15.

Although sex-work is considered illegal within Indonesia, its illegal status does not stop prostitution from occurring. Sex work provides a forum for transgender women to express themselves.

Ms. Sugiarto explains that transgender women often reduce their service cost for clients. She says that sometimes they will even work for free just so that they can feel loved.

“We want to show that we can dress up and be pretty. Sex work for us is a form of self-expression. It’s a chance for us to be free to be ourselves.”

Nancy leads group discussions and provides counselling services to those struggling with their identity.

Transgender Activist and Counsellor, Nancy Iskandar says that the discrimination felt by the transgender community from the rest of society is what pushes them into the sex-trade industry. She says that often transgender women are rejected from their families and villages. This leaves them lonely.

"Most families feel embarrassed to have raised a transgender child and won’t acknowledge them anymore," says Ms. Iskandar.

Transgender women are often excluded by the wider community.

Working as prostitutes offers waria an income, and also provides an opportunity to receive love and affection from clients. Nancy says that for many transgender women, sex work reminds them that they too are human, and they too are worthy.

“We are also human beings, and we desire love and affection as much as anyone else.”

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