Becoming Incomplete: The Transgender Body and National Modernity in New Order Indonesia, 1967-1998


Benjamin Hegarty

PhD defended at: 

Australian National University


This PhD thesis describes the ways that the gendered body is experienced across the life course and within its historical context. It does so by describing, in dialogue with ethnographic and historical data, transformations in understandings and experiences of male-bodied femininity during New Order Indonesia (1967-1998). The main focus of this thesis are waria, and the closely related but separate term banci. Both waria and banci are Indonesian terms which refer to diverse forms of gendered embodiment and social practices. Waria practice a broad range of femininities depending on their audience, and challenge the universality of Western categories of gender and sexual diversity. Notably, both terms - but especially banci - have negative connotations of deviance through a relationship to transactional sex, public sexuality and flamboyant femininity. Given that embodiment and selfhood are understood by waria to be shaped by those with whom one interacts, a primary concern of this thesis is kin and social relations among waria. My chief finding is that waria of this generation see their gender presentation as a product of relationships of intimacy and dependency. Waria describe these understandings of intimacy and forms of self-making as a process they call "becoming (waria jadi)." Waria narrate their own subjectivity and that of other waria in terms of beginning as "banci kaléng (empty banci)" before becoming more visible over time. I highlight how waria's gender performances are performed with specific audiences in mind, paying attention to various audiences and their relationship to the gender performance in question. This suggests that, while there is no stable embodiment to which waria ascribe, their gender performances are shaped by highly specific aesthetic and social scripts within their historical and cultural context. The thesis is based on long-term fieldwork conducted in 2014 and 2015 in the Indonesian cities of Yogyakarta and Jakarta. As such, this thesis offers an ethnographic account of everyday life among mostly elderly, lower class waria in the context of their social worlds. I also provide historical contextualisation of the globalisation of Western discourse, both through expert knowledge and the mass media. I do so to describe how this discourse interacts with regional understandings of personhood to produce specific forms of intelligible gendered embodiment in Indonesia. The thesis builds on a growing literature in transgender studies alongside feminist anthropology to develop theoretical innovations in how the body is implicated in projects of capitalist modernity, emphasising the voices of waria themselves in that process. The major theoretical contribution of the thesis is a detailed description of waria's understanding of gender, which calls into question the naturalisation of masculinity or femininity as enduring and stable aspects of an individual body which emanate from an inner self.