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Waria Genres: Identity, Embodiment, and the Performance of Gendered Belonging in Contemporary Indonesia


Waria Genres: Identity, Embodiment, and the Performance of Gendered Belonging in Contemporary Indonesia describes the ways that the gendered body is experienced and produced for waria across performance genres within their geographic and historical contexts. It does so by describing, in dialogue with ethnographic and historical data, transformations in understandings and experiences of trans femininity within professional and amateur performance practices. The main focus of this thesis is the waria community, an Indonesian term which refers to diverse forms of gendered embodiment and social practices. Waria are persons who were assigned male at birth, yet practice a broad range of femininities. Given that embodiment and selfhood are understood by waria to be shaped by those with whom one interacts, a primary concern of this dissertation are understandings of waria generated between performers and audiences.

My chief finding is that waria artists across generations actively construct gendered embodiments as a product of the intertwining forms of intimacy and self-making enabled through performance. Furthermore, I argue that the boundaries of waria intelligibility expand or constrict in relationship to genre. How then do embodied performance practices

enable waria to narrate their own subjectivity and visibility—to help create the conditions for becoming waria? I answer this central question by analyzing how waria gendered embodiment is literally performed across genres with specific audiences and stages in mind and therefore consciously constructing the gendered performances in question. This suggests that while there is no stable embodiment to which all waria ascribe, their sense of gender and attendant performances are shaped by highly specific aesthetic and social scripts within their attendant historical and cultural contexts.

Chapter one contextualizes “waria” by laying out histories of gender and “male-bodied femininity” within Indonesia as it relates to early generations of waria. Chapter two argues that waria actively negotiate the boundaries of their gender expression through involvement in formally gendered dance practices. Chapter three looks to how waria negotiate their most public stage—the street. Focusing on the pengamen street performance genre, I argue that waria renegotiate public perception in the face of difficult social and legislative pressures through street performance. Finally, chapter four looks to the genre of Lipsinc and the beauty practices that shape it. Here I argue that waria are able to cultivate space for embodied forms of gender that expand beyond accepted Indonesian regimes.

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