In modern society with its recent liberalization processes, the transgender issue occupies a very important place. Transgendered people are those who "believe that their gender identity differs from the traditional notions of maleness and femaleness and/or that this identity does not correspond with their biological sex" (Keith, 2011, p. 235). The transgender issue in a country can be represented by two sides of its realization in the society: what kind of life transgendered persons may have there, firstly, on institutional and, secondly, on the individual level (Keith, 2011, p. 237). Since the main goal of the paper is to compare transgender issue in Indonesia and in a developed country (the USA), the research must be based on the distinction between those countries and determining of major distinctions of approaches to transgender individuals on both levels. Indonesia is a Muslim country, while the USA is a secular one. The leading religion in a state is a very important factor, which has huge influence either on the entire state or on every particular member of its society, even on those who are not religious people because such group of people always represents the minority in a society with a leading religion. This group is influenced by religion passively or, in other words, it consists of those who suffer from the wrath of the religious majority. Being based on faith and indisputable character, religion is the most important code of rules in a society of "true believers". This can not be said about a secular state where rites and dogmas do not determine necessarily institutional and individual levels of public relations.


Transgender people are minority in every society

Transgender people who are always represented by the minority (Keith, 2011, p. 237) have many problems with self-identification, self-esteem, social self-realization even in secular societies because they are already "others" in relation to heterosexuals. Their way to free life without discrimination is much more complicated in a society where the leading religion marks them as sinners, blasphemers and uses the power of state oppression and public persecution against transgender people. When culture is based on some rules, which can not be changed due to the status of divine revelation, people cannot think critically as they understand everything through the prism, which has been given to them by their religion. It has determined their socialization, everyday life, and even afterlife. Such society is closed because it is established on traditions, which form a completed system where there is no place for something different because one of the main principles of religion is that nothing can contradict its principles. That is why, those who live in a closed society are suspicious of everything, which can contradict their traditional system of values.

Transgender Issue in Indonesia

As it has been mentioned, Indonesia is a Muslim country, so there are some details concerning relations between religion and the legal system in Muslim states, which must be underlined. Muslim legislation is performed in accordance with Qur'an and Sunnah (Islamic religious law known as Sharia is the base of all legislative processes in Muslim states). That is why, in such states, human's deed can be recognized as the crime not only if it has caused some damage of other people's interests, but also when such a deed is counted as sin in the system of values of the Muslim culture. Islam is well-known as one of the most rigid religious systems in the world due to its severe restrictions. One of the best examples of its rigidness is the tradition of "lesser jihad", which is a Muslim version of evangelization and proselytizing activity connected with its violent character. When the culture is based on intolerant relation to representatives of other religious systems, it seems that the Muslims must be much more intolerant to transgender personalities who are "others" twice for heterosexual Muslims: both on biological (since they are not in the majority, transgender people are discriminated by heterosexuals of all religions) and on spiritual (because they are blasphemers through the prism of Islam) levels. In other words, transgender people in a Muslim state may be considered as in a double trap: their need of self-identification makes them change their bodies, which contradicts their self-perception. From the religious point of view, it is blasphemy because Allah has created every part of the world in the best way, so when someone wants to change his/her sex, it can be understood by Muslims as a result of human will's controversy with Allah's perfect plan. There is a well-known reference to Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, which shows an example of the God's approval of hostility against "the people of Lot" used either in Christianity or in Islam (because Islam and Christianity are both Abrahamic religions). These two examples are quite enough to explain what degree of hostility transgender personalities have always met in the Muslim society: firstly, they break the world order established by Allah; secondly, there is proof that Allah once destroyed their cities by the rain of fire and sulfur in order to punish them all for their sins. None true believer wants to contradict the will of the God and, since Islam teaches to be obedient to Allah and ruthless to His enemies, every true Islamic fundamentalist has to persecute and oppress his/her transgender neighbors and fellow citizens.

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Such relationships between heterosexuals and transgender people in a Muslim country is the base for different approaches to this issue, which appear because of many factors adding many new features to the traditional Islam. For example, the tendencies of liberalization of the Muslim teaching in most Islamic states change the traditional face of Islam. Modern Muslim thinkers try to justify transgender people within the framework of Qur'an. For example, the article concerning transgender in Islam placed on the Muslim site divides all people into three groups: men, women, and Makhannathun (transgender) - those who were created by Allah to combine the qualities both of men and women. These thoughts are followed by a quote from Qur'an: "To Allah belongs the dominion of heavens and earth; He creates what he wills. He gives to whom He wills female, and He gives to whom He wills males. Or He makes them [both] males and females, and He renders whom He wills barren. Indeed, He knows and Competent (Khaleelsarwar, 2013)." The author claims that Islam protects the rights of all people created by Allah and transgender among them. Such liberal spirit of the Muslim article can be supported by different news about legislative initiatives concerning a new right for transgender individuals. However, in fact, transgender people have very little rights and such claims as the article represents the express position of only a small group of Muslim intellectuals who are in the minority, while the majority is represented by rigid fundamentalists who do not want any changes in their societies.

Government does not protect transgender people in Indonesia

In Indonesia, transgender people always face different dangers such as persecutions not only from particular groups of fundamentalists: police and courts do not protect transgender people from these threats and the state only pretends that all of its citizens are equal under the law. The danger to be killed only for using the right to change the gender is so high that those transgendered couples who have found the courage to change themselves must escape to Thailand, especially if they want to adopt children. The situation is complicated by the fact that transgender people are much more recognizable than gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, i.e. other sexual minorities because only transgender individuals must wear clothes of another sex in order to satisfy their need of social self-realization as representatives of another sexual group. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have no reason to reveal their belonging to the sexual minority. So, they can be less damaged by Muslim fundamentalists who can always recognize a transgender person. In such case, the victim will suffer from the Muslims' reaction to the activity of all participants of LGBT-movement. Also, transgender people can not hide their belonging to the sexual minority not only when they are threatened by some kind of violence, but even when they participate in everyday situations where they must have some relations with other people because the society does not recognize them as its normal members. "Transgender individuals can seldom live in common public communities. It's easier for gays and lesbians to stay in public communities, though of course, it's tiring for them to put on a charade in front of the public", said Ferraldo Saragih, head of the program division at Our Voice - an organization for gays and male bisexuals with about 1,000 members nationally, according to Jakarta Post. He called the state "the main violator of human rights" and underlined that there were many laws in Indonesia, which oppressed transgender citizens in all spheres of social life. There is a very big problem for a transgender person to find a job because most employers prefer representatives of the sexual majority or at least those who do not express that they do not belong to it. as According to Ienes Angela, a member of Forum Komunikasi Waria (in Indonesia, transgender women are known as waria , a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for man and woman), an organization for transgender individuals, it is a reason why only thirty percent of all transgender people work as professionals, while others predominantly are sexual workers or street musicians. The conclusion is that transgender representatives of sexual minorities are the most risk-prone group because they suffer for all other members of the LGBT-movement. Speaking about discrimination on institutional and individual levels, there must be mentioned that the second one includes not only relations between a transgender person and the sexual majority (interpersonal forms of sexual stigma), but also self-perception (intrapersonal forms: perceptions of sexual stigma and social self-stigma). Such phenomenon as internalized homophobia represents how socialization and social oppression may deter person's self-rejection. Certainly, such conditions of life when the state, society, and even some inner part of a transgender person, internalized through socialization and education in the traditional spirit, influence the mental health of transgender people who can never find peace because social sexual prejudices persecute them everywhere.

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Transgender people problems are mostly connected with the fundamentalist character of a Muslim state

One of the main features of the religious worldview is a tendency to stability because followers of traditional religions think that their God's teaching is as eternal and stable as He is. So, a state, which has a leading traditional religion, is more conservative, tends to protect its system of values and such need of stability is embodied in all spheres of social life. Certainly, the society, which is built on traditional values, resists the invasion of liberalism and any other factors, which can postulate the changeable character of life. One of the brightest manifestations of the principle of the unstable world is acceptance of the human's right to chose gender in accordance not with destiny and necessity, but with the human will and self-perception. The American society as an example can demonstrate that religious fundamentalism plays a very important role in the life of transgender people. The USA is a secular state now: there are many religions in it and none can dominate over others because even though Christianity can be named the most powerful American religion, firstly, it is divided as well and, secondly, there are too many atheists in the American society. Though it was established by Christians, now in the unstable epoch of postindustrial culture, Christianity loses its dominance and the society becomes more liberal.

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Also, it is very important to note that Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Cooper, Thomas Pain, and other persons who created the main tenets of American individual culture represented the movement of Enlightenment, so the direction of further development of the American culture has been in accordance with reasonable and logical thinking free of superstitions and prejudices because the main goal of Enlightenment was to make people free of these traps of mind, which seeks stability not because stability is a value itself, but because of the fear to change anything. In the USA, transgender people have more rights; in the most liberal states, they have the right to marry and to adopt children. However, they also have many problems with those who do not accept the variable character of life: first of all, among them there are conservatives, right radicals, and religious fundamentalists (most of all, Catholics) who do not have such great power as Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia. The situation when the Vatican cannot officially accept transgender people as true Catholics, but local American Catholic priests do it is expressed in the speech of James and Evelyn Whitehead, famous writers who study such questions as transgender issue and the Catholic church: Many Catholics regret that official statements of the Catholic church continue to support rigid notions of human nature, especially in regard to male and female gender. Here church leaders, consciously or not, continue a strategy that distances them from the genuine experience of many active church members. Official statements often mention the extravagant conduct of sexual exhibitionists or drug-addicted sex workers as typical of transgender persons. Hiding in plain sight are the many mature transgender Catholics in our own parishes. To remain willfully ignorant of, or contemptuous toward, this part of the human community exhibits a startling lack of compassion. (DeBernado, 2013) Such contradictory character of transgendered Catholics is similar to the mentioned attempts of some Muslim thinkers to justify transgendered Muslims: but the difference is that state power does not oppress these initiatives in the USA. So, transgendered persons may feel more safely on the institutional level in the USA than in Indonesia. Certainly, it can be said about the individual level too, but the difference existing between the USA and Indonesia does not eliminate the problem of transgendered people discrimination: it only decreases its manifestation in practice.


  1. DeBernado, F. (n.d.). A Catholic introduction to transgender issues.
  2. Kenneth, K. D. (2011). Cross-cultural psychology: Contemporary themes and perspectives. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
  3. The Guardian. 'Allah doesn't care if you are transgender': the Indonesian school fighting a backlash
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