Between Abjection and World-Making: Spatial Dynamics in the Lives of Indonesian Waria


  • Terje Toomistu University of Tartu


The lives of Indonesian waria (transgender women) are substantially shaped by spatial dynamics. As a result of social and spatial exclusion, subsequent migration and economic needs, a lifestyle pattern around daily work in beauty salons and street nightlife tied to transactional sex has evolved in many parts of urban Indonesia. Drawing on ethnographic research in the Indonesian regions of Java and West Papua, I demonstrate that despite tremendous spatial abjection, salons and street nightlife are also productive, transformative and conjoining spatialities that foster waria subjectivity in affective relations with their intimate partners, the community, the phantasmic promise of the transnational mediascape and Indonesia as a nation. The places that waria occupy may spark moral prejudice and targeted violence, but simultaneously they are sites of agency at which waria experience self-affirmation and a sense of belonging while embodying through gendered performance the envisioned mobility at both national and transnational scales. The paper thus foregrounds how spaces and subjectivities are mutually constitutive, forging one another, as well as how certain spatialities hold potential to disrupt the sense of marginality.


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