At a time when transgender communities around the world are largely ignored or misrepresented in the media, the 60-minute documentary video Tales of the Waria intimately explores how one such community confronts issues of love, family, and faith. Traveling to Indonesia, the world’s most populated Muslim country, the film trains its lens on the warias, biological men who identify as women and are a surprisingly visible presence in a culture normally associated with strict gender divides. Interweaving the stories of several warias who make extraordinary sacrifices for love, Tales of the Waria creates a moving and unexpected portrait of a community that dares to live differently from the norm, despite what consequences may await them.
When I first read an article about the waria in 2005, I was amazed to learn that a transgender community could exist so visibly in the world’s largest Muslim country. Unable to shake my curiosity, I took several Indonesian language courses and traveled to Indonesia in the summer of 2008 to experience the lives of the waria firsthand. I discovered a world full of contradictions, tragedy, and heroism—one that I knew had to be shared with larger audiences.
I invited the waria to join me in creating a documentary on their most favorite topic of conversation: love. They were thoroughly enthusiastic. Waria elders gladly agreed to serve as advisors throughout the project. Gaya Celebes, a local health organization staffed by waria and gay members, generously lent translators and story consultants. Several of their members also became part of the film crew.
Together, we are venturing forth on a project that promises to be an unprecedented glimpse into a little known but truly remarkable community—a community that not only challenges our assumptions about gender, masculinity, and Islam, but also reveals our endless capacity as human beings to find, despite great hardship and disappointment, happiness and meaning in our lives.
Director, Tales of the Waria