Qienabh Tappii, a 28-year-old representing Jakarta who wore a figure-hugging, iridescent metallic gown, triumphed over more than 30 other contestants
in November to be crowned Miss Waria Indonesia 2016. She will represent
Indonesia at an international pageant to be held in Thailand next year. Waria is the Indonesian word for transgender, a term for people whose sense of their gender is different from their sex at birth.
“I’m very happy, I feel like I want to cry,” said Qienabh, standing next to a 2-meter-tall gold and red trophy while cradling a smaller one.
“Tonight is the beginning of my struggle for my rights as a waria,” she said. “I want waria to be accepted, appreciated and understood in our society, and to be equal with other Indonesians. I will work really hard to achieve it.”
About 200 people filled the small theater for the finale of the high-energy showcase of idealized feminine beauty. Thirty-four transgender women vied for the title, competing over three days, though four dropped out because they feared the event might be disrupted.
Aside from Miss Transgender, the slew of other titles up for grabs included most sexy, most intelligent and most beautiful skin.
The successful staging of the pageant was an important morale booster and self-affirmation for a community that is increasingly under siege.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is often held up as practicing a moderate form of Islam. But that reputation for tolerance has been undermined in the past year as the media and religious and political leaders stoked prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)
people, framing them as a threat to the nation.
It was in part a backlash against the worldwide advance of LGBT rights, and in
particular the success of the gay marriage movement in the US and the high-profile battles there over whether transgender people can use the public bathrooms of the gender they identify with.
Indonesia’s conservatives want to push LGBT people back to the margins of society and deny them legal rights. It is an agenda that has capitalized on low
levels of awareness in a society where open discussion of sexuality is often frowned upon. But it also clashes with the traditions of some cultures in ethnically diverse Indonesia that have for centuries allowed space for different genders and sexual identities.