Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 2, May 1999

Introduction and Acknowledgements

    Welcome to the second issue of Intersections. The nine papers in this issue revolve around the interconnected themes of sex, gender and sexuality in the Asian context, with each paper exploring a different theoretical, spatial or temporal aspect of the topic. While all papers are connected around issues of discourse and definitions of sexuality these manifest into two main thematic groups. The first set of four papers investigates the complex relationship between gender, sexuality and spiritual potency while the five papers in the second group are loosely aligned around discourses of gender identification and sexuality. The two groups are not, however, mutually exclusive.

    From the first group of papers, three take as their case studies the performance tradition of Reog dance drama in Ponegoro East Java: a tradition seeped in a history of political rebellion and spiritual potency. These three papers were initially conceived of as a collaborative endeavour drawing on Josko Petkovic's extensive photograph and video archive on East Java. Ian Wilson's paper, 'Reog Ponorogo: Spirituality, Sexuality, and Power in a Javanese Performance Tradition,' explores the complex relationship between the leader of the Reog troupe, the warok and the young male dancers known as gemblak who act as the warok's companion and 'substitute' for women. As Wilson explained in his abstract, 'detractors and sympathisers alike have both been content to label the relationship as an example of "traditional homosexuality." Warok themselves, however, deny that their relationship with the gemblak has a sexual component.' Wilson situates the relationship within the context of the now marginalised tantric and 'power-orientated' religious practices, before outlining a speculative theory for understanding the dynamics of the warok/gemblak relationship. He also discusses the link between this relationship and the performance tradition of reog.

    While the technology can sometimes be frustratingly slow in transmitting and buffering video clips from the web, the video clips included by Wilson serve an important function. The first video gives some sense of the excitement and anticipation involved in the dance drama performance of reog, while the remaining three short clips allow the voices of present day warok to be heard. However, particularly in the second and third video clips, the gaze of the camera lens highlights the silencing of the gemblak and provides viewers with a different narrative from that being expressed by the speaking warok. Further, the emphasis on 'beautiful' boys [gemblak], it could be argued, objectifies them in a way that has been traditionally reserved for women. To enable your computer to display a moving version of the video clips in Wilson's paper, you need the RealVideo version 5 plug-in, or an alternative, for your browser.

    Josko Petkovic pursues the discussion on reyog[1] in his paper 'Waiting for Karila: Bending Time, Theory and Gender in Java and Bali (With Reflections for a Documentary Treatment).' Petkovic weaves together personal reflection with theoretical content as he reconstructs in word and image his anticipation while waiting for an appointment with a transvestite film contact. At the same time, and using the transvestite as a bridge to both the warok/gemblak relationship and to issues of sexuality, Petkovic develops his own case study based on Deleuze and Guattari's theory of disjunctive conjunctive synthesis. This paper which aims to disrupt congruent sex/gender identification, ranges broadly and loosely over sex/gender/sexuality issues and is again enhanced by Petkovic's use of image: vibrant images of the reyog performance, artistic images of transvestites, and picturesque and detailed images from ancient Buddhist temples.

    From the position of an insider/outsider (insider as far as the homosexual community in Java is concerned, and outsider to the warok/gemblak of Ponogoro), Dédé Oetomo, in a transcription of a filmed interview by Petkovic, discusses the historical roots of the links between the warok/gemblak relationship. He challenges the claims of the warok to spiritual potency gained by transferring sexual desire, built up by spousal celibacy, to the young boys whom they foster. Oetomo explains that the perception he expresses is his alone and is not affirmed by the warok themselves.

    With the fourth paper in this group, 'Baylans, Asogs, Transvestism, and Sodomy: Gender, Sexuality and the Sacred in Early Colonial Philippines' there is a temporal and spatial shift from contemporary Ponogoro to sixteenth and seventeenth century Philippines. In this paper I begin by reviewing some of the literature on sex/gender/sexuality interconnections before visiting historical sources that mention the asog [men who dressed as women so they could perform with women baylan in ceremonies of spirit propitiation]. I discuss the perceptions of these men/women as recorded by Spanish missionaries, explorers and administrators of the burgeoning new colony. I also challenge, within the Filipino situation, the perception held by some theorists today that association with a 'third' sex/gender space lead to enhanced spiritual potency.

    The second group of papers is more discourse oriented and opens with Chris Berry's personal reflection on the practical problems involved in staging the 1998 Seoul Queer Film and Video Festival, while at the same time problematising his own involvement (as a western trained 'queer' academic) in the conference programme. Written in diary form, Berry's paper, 'My Queer Korea: Identity, Space and the 1998 Seoul Film and Video Festival,' is illustrated with the buttons of gay pride designed to foster identity and community within Korean queer space. It is Berry's subjective identification with, and refusal to objectify as 'other,' those who attend the festival that makes his paper such a powerful contribution to Intersections. In addition, his inclusion of links to many associated websites is a valuable adjunct to his paper, as is his interview with Sopawan Boonimitra, entitled 'Bangkok's Alternative Love Film Festival Raided.' Sopawan Boonimitra is a lecturer in the Motion Pictures and Still Photography Department of Chulalongkorn University and one of the organisers of an Alternative Love Film Festival held in Bangkok a month after the Seoul festival. This interview is available from a link in Berry's paper as well as from the Current Issue Page.

    Continuing with the Thai focus, Graeme Storer's 'Performing Sexual Identity: Naming and Resisting Gayness in Modern Thailand,' 'focuses attention on the social constructions of gender and sexuality in Thailand, and the discourses and institutional contexts within which these are located.'[2] In discussing media debate surrounding the exclusion of homosexual students from teacher training institutions, Storer provides a succinct analysis of the way two competing discourses coalesce to provide the logic to ban homosexual teachers from having contact with young students in the classroom setting. His discussion of the media portrayal of the 'expert' voice of the psychologist provides a clear and concise analysis of the discursive condescension that typified psychological discourse surrounding homosexuality as recorded in Thai and English language print media. In another case study Storer investigates the way a transvestite kick-boxer (who flouts conventional sex/gender conformity) is constructed in Thai newspapers.

    Peter Jackson's paper completes the trilogy focussing on homoeroticism in Thailand. In 'Spurning Alphonso Lingis' Thai "Lust": The Perils of a Philosopher at Large,' Jackson begins by expressing a need to push, as he says, 'the bounds of the academic genre in order to insert himself into the narrative of analytical reflection.'[3] In researching this writing style, the work of Alphonso Lingis is held up to him as an exemplar extraordinaire and this paper is about Jackson's engagement with two of Lingis' texts. From the perspective of Southeast Asian Studies' scholarship, and especially from his own writing on Thailand, Jackson challenges both Lingis' writing style and his theoretical analysis of transgendered performance.

    Jackson's intertextual approach is continued by Maria Degabriele's paper 'Prince of Darkness Meets Priestess of Porn,' in which she explores the politics of sexual and cultural ambivalence in Hanif Kurieshi's novel, The Black Album. Kureishi's text is set in a diasporic context of the Pakistani community in England and in this sense the Asian context has changed setting. Degabriele highlights the way Kureishi 'parodies Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and fictionalises the events that surrounded the furore over the publication of The Satanic Verses.'[4] Against a background of pop culture, pornography and postmodernity, she explains Kureishi's construction of the characters in his novel especially in relation to the main character and his search for an identity that can embody both Islam and popular Western culture.

    The Review Section we began last issue has been widened to include Reading Notes and Books Received, as well as Film Reviews. The book section opens with Leonie Stickland's review of Jennifer Robertson's text, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. This is followed by Maria Degabriele's review of Chilla Bulbeck's text, Re-Orienting Western Feminisms: Women's Diversity in a Postcolonial World, before we revisit the Nüshu theme, begun in the last issue with Anne McLaren's paper 'Crossing Gender Boundaries in China: Nüshu Narratives.' In response to McLaren's paper, Orie Endo, a Japanese scholar sent for review, her book,Chûgoku no onnamoji [Chinese Women's Script], on this intriguing and important form of women's writing. Anne McLaren and Iwane Shibuya's careful reading of her text provides the non-Japanese speaker with an insight into Endo's research and concern for the Nüshu script and the women who continue this literary form in Hunan, China. A link to Endo's webpage on the Nüshu has been included from both the review in this issue and from Anne McLaren's paper in the previous one.

    Endo also sent us three other books, which focus on the way unequal gender relationships (for women) are codified through the Japanese language. Leonie Stickland has provided brief reading notes on each of these texts, which again give the non-Japanese speaker a brief glimpse of the important work that Endo Orie is doing. Anne-Marie Medcalf has also written reading notes for Krishna Sen and Maila Stivens' edited collection, Gender and Power in Affluent Asia. Details of four other books we received have been included, some of which will be reviewed in the next issue.

    Two films are included in the inaugural Film Review section. They include Christina Lee's reading of Disney's Mulan as 'embodied ambiguity' and Stephanie Donald's review of Chinese Box.

    This edition of Intersections would not have been possible without the help of others. A Research Grant from Murdoch University's Department of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education, and a computer from the School of Asian Studies have helped with finance and infrastructure. In addition, we would like to thank those people who refereed papers, sometimes at quite short notice, and those who helped with the technology, including Leo Van Dalsen, who converted the video clips into usable files, Omar Dobbs from whom technical advice on HTML problems was sought and Jenny Edmonds whose help and advice with the server was invaluable. We would also like to thank David Hill, plus those from Murdoch who are on the Intersections Board: Krishna Sen, Carol Warren, Sandra Wilson, Tamara Jacka, Stephanie Donald and Jenny de Reuck. Special votes of thanks go to Sally Sargeson, Ian Medcalf and Ian Henderson for their support and encouragement.

                          Carolyn Brewer
                          May, 1999


    [1] The transliteration into English of the Javanese term reog/reyog is not consistently the same - a point reflected by the two different groupings of letters employed by Wilson and Petkovic. Rather than changing them to reflect a consistency - the two different spellings have been retained. The same can be said for singobarong and Singa Barong.

    [2] Graeme Storer, 'Performing Sexual Identity: Naming and Resisting 'Gayness' in Modern Thailand,' in Intersections: Gender History and Culture in the Asian Context,', issue 2, May, 1999, para. 2.

    [3] Peter Jackson, 'Spurning Alphonso Lingis' Thai "Lust": The Perils of a Philosopher at Large,' in Intersections: Gender History and Culture in the Asian Context,', issue 2, May, 1999, para. 3.

    [4] Maria Degabriele, 'Prince of Darkness Meets Priestess of Porn: Sexual and Political Identities in Hanif Kureishi's The Black Album,' in Intersections: Gender History and Culture in the Asian Context,', issue 2, May, 1999, para. 2.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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