The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia

The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia
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Publication Princeton, Princeton University Press, Extent 1 online resource pages. Isbn Library Locations Map Details. Allalra Library Borrow it. Library Links. About FAQ. Embed Experimental. Layout options: Carousel Grid List Card. However, in contrast to stereotypes of the elite, cosmopolitan homosexual, most gay and lesbian Indonesians are not rich or even middle class.

Few of them speak English or have traveled outside Indonesia. Rarely have they had sex with, or even encountered, a gay or lesbian Westerner. Most have never seen Western lesbian or gay publications, nor have they read published materials produced by other gay and lesbian Indonesians. While concepts have moved to and from what is now called Indonesia for millennia, this has typically been enabled by linkages to institutional structures, as in the cases of world religions Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism , colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism.

But no religious authority, state bureaucracy, or transnational corporation intentionally globalizes gay and lesbi : in this case concepts appear to move in the absence of an institutional framework. Importantly, what they move to is the nation-state of Indonesia, rather than specific islands or ethnic groups. Gay and lesbi are national in character; this is why national belonging appears alongside globalization as a focus of my analysis.

They dub this nationalist discourse in unexpected ways. This is why I use the term cultural logics of being a gay or lesbian Indonesian more often than discourses, since discourses are typically understood to be intentionally produced by powerful institutions. Thus, alongside the concept of dubbing culture, a key theoretical intervention of this book is to think through the implications of archipelagic subjectivities and socialities , which do not hew to continental imaginaries of clear borders embracing contiguous territories.

The archipelago metaphor permits understanding selfhood and sociality as not possessing sharp external boundaries, yet characterized by islands of difference. I examine how gay and lesbi are founded on rhetorics of national belonging based upon the figure of the heterosexual nuclear family—paradoxical as that may seem from the vantage point of Western homosexualities and scholarship on the nexus of ethnicity, race, class, gender, and sexuality.

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How is one to understand senses of selfhood that connect and confound traditional social scientific levels of analysis and, arguably, lived experience in the West such as local, regional, national, and global? This book examines a wide range of sexualities and genders, many of which have different names in different parts of Indonesia or even within one area.

As a result I employ several terminological conventions. These conventions are a campy sendup of social scientific obsessions with finding the right words to label things assumed to exist in the social world independent of the observer.

Thomas Boellstorff

For instance, from this point onward I consistently italicize the Indonesian terms gay and lesbi to indicate they are distinct from English gay and lesbian. I also italicize normal , an Indonesian term that refers to dominant understandings of modern sexuality.

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I wish to underscore that while gay and lesbi Indonesians reterritorialize the concepts gay and lesbian, the terms have their own history and dynamics: they are not just gay and lesbian with a foreign accent. This is important because many a work in sexuality and gender studies congratulates itself for, and frets about, discovering that terms like homosexual, lesbian, gay, or even sexuality and gender, cannot explain non-Western contexts.

This concern which dubbing culture will destabilize has a long history, which Geertz can again summarize for us:. The history of anthropology has in large part consisted in taking concepts put together in the West religion, family, class, state , trying to apply them in non-Western contexts, finding that they fit there rather badly at best, laboring to rework them so that they fit rather better, and then discovering in the end that, however reworked, many of the problems they pose—the nature of belief, the foundations of obligation, the inequality of life chances, the legitimacy of domination—remain clearly recognizable, quite alive.

Geertz Claiming that concepts like homosexual, sexuality, and gender fail to explain non-Western realities misleadingly implies that the concepts are adequate in the West. It confuses modes of argumentation, mistaking interpretive frameworks for authoritative typologies.

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It also makes it difficult to examine how what Geertz terms concepts put together in the West are increasingly put together in non-Western contexts prior to the ethnographic encounter. For this reason I am interested in intersectional theories of sexuality; that is, theories of sexuality that understand sexuality to be formed at the conjuncture of multiple cultural logics.

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The Gay Archipelagois the first book-length exploration of the lives of gay men in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation and home to more Musli. The Gay Archipelago is the first book-length exploration of the lives of gay men in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation and home to more Muslims.

This interest in intersectionality arises from my understanding of gay and lesbi Indonesians, but it also arises from a sensitivity to my position as a gay white man: my own cultural background predisposes me to see sexuality as a singular domain and coming out as movement along a single dimension. I would argue that the very idea of sexuality requires a disavowal of other domains, particularly gender and race—indeed, that the drawing of a line around a subset of human experience and calling it sexuality is a foundational moment permitting the exclusion of gender and race.

I therefore see a danger in the very idea of sexual culture, which encodes an assumption that sexuality has an independent cultural logic, rather than existing at the intersection of multiple discourses.

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The theoretical architecture I develop in this book is concerned with disrupting these tendencies of the category sexuality. Both feminine and masculine lesbi women sometimes call themselves lesbi , but there are other terms. In this book I use cewek as a catch-all term for feminine lesbi women anywhere in Indonesia.

The Gay Archipelago : Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia

Across Indonesia these persons are also known as tomboi occasionally spelled tomboy or thomboy ; in this book I use tomboi as a catch-all term for masculine lesbi women regardless of whether the person in question uses tomboi , hunter , or lesbi or does not have a name for their sexual and gendered subjectivity. I use lesbi as an overarching term. While such novel pronouns can be useful, I have come to believe that they are too exoticizing and reflect a theory of language in which words and things ideally have a one-to-one correspondence. As a result, in this book I refer to warias as she and tombois as he, knowing, as they do, that social gender is productively imprecise.

I use the term the West ironically, with the understanding that I refer to the effects of hegemonic representations of the Western self rather than its subjugated traditions Gupta West should be read as if always within scare quotes. For instance, the idea of gay and lesbian Westerners refers to dominant Western discourses of homosexuality, precisely the ones that would seem to be most capable of globalizing, and intentionally does not account for the great diversity in sexual and gendered regimes in the West.

Focusing on subject positions and subjectivities turns attention to the total social fact of gay and lesbi selfhood. This is a basically Foucauldian framework that draws from the epistemological break between volumes 1 and 2 of The History of Sexuality , , wherein Foucault shifted from an emphasis on the systems of power inciting sexuality to the practices by which individuals were led to focus their attention on themselves, to decipher, recognize, and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire, bringing into play between themselves a certain relationship that allows them to discover, in desire, the truth of their being —5.

I do not think that the notion of identity is useless, just that with regard to the topics of this book it is a poor fit. I think of subject position as a rough translation of jiwa , which means soul but often has a collective meaning: lesbi women will sometimes say " lesbi have the same jiwa ; warias will sometimes say they have the same jiwa"; or lesbi women and gay men will sometimes say they share a jiwa.

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I think of subjectivity as a rough translation of pribadi or jati diri , both of which mean approximately self-conception ; a gay man once distinguished pribadi from jiwa by saying that every person possesses their own pribadi. Identitas has a much more experience-distant, bureaucratic ring for most Indonesians: one gay man defined identitas as biodata: name, address, and so on.

This framework of subject positions and subjectivities is how I flesh out a social constructionist theory of sexuality. My understanding of the human condition is that it is not possible to have subjectivities without subject positions. Phrases like "biological basis or biological foundation for sexuality are misleading. Language again provides a convenient example.

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There is undoubtedly a biological human capacity to acquire language, and language universals for instance, plurality. However, no one speaks Language : people speak Chinese, English, or Indonesian, cultural and historical entities for which no gene will ever be found. The biological capacity for language is not ontologically prior to these historically and culturally contextual practices of speaking.

We have been biologically designed not to be biologically designed, to be incomplete or unfinished animals who complete or finish ourselves through culture—and not through culture in general but through highly particular forms of it C. The million dollar question, then, is this: Is being male or female, gay or straight, more like Chinese or Language?

The scientific evidence supports the contention that social facts like sexuality and gender are more like Chinese than Language, and thus that claims of a biological basis" for sexuality or gender engage in a category mistake, confusing an analytical category for an experiential one. Sexualities gay , lesbi , gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, a man who has sex with men , indeed all subject positions, are like English or Chinese, not Language —products of history and culture.

Subject positions can be occupied in myriad ways teenager, for instance, can be occupied antagonistically as a rebel, or normatively as a good student.

Construing subject positions as multiply inhabitable provides a way to conceptualize agency without interpreting the metaphor of social construction volitionally—deploying verbs of concerted, self-aware action like negotiation to posit a sexual self that stands outside culture. This is primarily a study of sexuality, however problematized.

I often use phrases like gender and sexuality to highlight how for gay and lesbi Indonesians, gender and sexuality are mutually defining. Yet on some level this is redundant, since sexuality is always defined in terms of gender, nation, race, class, and a host of other social categories. I thus respectfully disagree with my colleagues who claim that the analytical distinction between gender and sexuality most famously set out in Rubin is flawed because it is not possible to conceptually separate gender and sexuality. First, it is obviously possible to separate them in certain contexts, and this is not simply a product of academic debates or globalization as the distinction between gay and waria in Indonesia indicates.

Second, a division between gender and race, or sexuality and race, or race and class, and so on ad infinitum, is also not conceptually possible on some level, yet on another level it is not only possible but enormously useful on theoretical and political grounds. In the end, everything is connected to everything, but this insight is of limited use.

The danger lies not in conceptually separating cultural domains, but in ontologizing such separations so that the foundationally intersectional character of social life, and social inequality, becomes obscured. Throughout this book I employ a relational analysis with regard to gender and sexuality. I focus on gay men but also address lesbi women, male-to-female transvestites warias , female-to-male transgenders tombois , and so-called traditional homosexualities and transgenderisms. The results of his study are not only insightful about the Indonesian experience of homosexuality and same-gender desire, but are likely to set new standards in how human sexuality is understood across different cultures.

The structure of the book is well designed. The introduction fascinates the reader as it engages with ethical concerns of research on contemporary gay and lesbi experience, culture and everyday life. The book helps us under stand what it means to be gay or lesbi.

PART TWO. Opening to Gay and Lesbi Worlds

After an historical overview of homosexuality in Indonesia, the book explores the emergence of gay and lesbi identities. A theoretical model — dubbing culture — provides a useful way of understanding the complex interaction between the local, national and global experience of same-gender desire. Throughout the book this notion of dubbing culture is present, for example, in the very italicisation of the terms gay and lesbi, to distinguish from the Western forms of gay and lesbian. That is, the personal understanding of being gay and lesbi is not through their local belonging but their national belonging.

This quirk of success of the Suharto regime is linked to the legacy of the national ideology of the family prin ciple azas kekeluargaan , in which hetero sexual marriage and family are folded into the national consciousness as the binding agent for the archi pelago, more powerful than notions of citizenship.