Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 6, August 2001

Negotiating Gender: Calalai' in Bugis Society

Sharyn Graham

  1. 'Well, I wouldn't want to be a man. Not that I could with this body', Rani declares, 'but a woman? Nah ... marrying a man, wearing uncomfortable clothes, being refined [halus]. No thanks!' Rani identifies hirself,[1] and is identified as, a calalai'[2] - a masculine female. S/he refuses to conform to the norms of being a woman, and yet does not aspire to become a man. In developing a gender identity, Rani is faced with powerful discourses concerning what being female-born[3] should entail. Local (Bugis, Sulawesi)[4] and state (Indonesian) ideologies present images of women as the embodiment of family honour, as wives and as mothers. Alternative images of women are rarely portrayed. In searching for an appropriate gender model, Rani replicates many idealised forms of masculinity. It would be incorrect, though, to assume that Rani wants to become a man. Not only would this be impossible because s/he is female, but also it would mean a curtailment of certain advantages Rani enjoys in hir status as calalai' : 'We are much freer, you know, if I have a girlfriend, we can go everywhere together and it's o.k. But if I were a man, well, we would have to get married first!' This comment is instructive in that it signals how calalai' take advantage of being female-bodied while emulating a form of masculinity. In order to understand the processes involved in establishing a gender identity it is essential to analyse the cultural setting in which these negotiations take place.
  2. The interplay between gender as a cultural discourse and an individual's subjective experience of gender is an important site for examination. Indeed it is the conflation of these two distinct but interacting processes that Evelyn Blackwood argues ensures that gender remains a problematic concept.[5] To understand further the processes impacting on an individual's gender formation and the ways in which calalai' interpret, appropriate, and reconfigure these influences, I examine gender subjectivity as a two-fold process.[6] It is important to note, however, that one cannot be set against the other.
  3. In this paper, I examine the subjectivities of female-bodied individuals who for a complex range of reasons do not identify as women [makkunrai (B)], and nor do they aspire to be men [oroané(B)]. In negotiating their gender identity, calalai' engage with a variety of discourses that shape their lives. In describing the cultural environment in which calalai' identity is formed, I examine three key elements in an attempt to provide the setting in which gender negotiations take place: the concept of siri' [shame], state ideology, and Islam. What comes through in each of these sections is that there are very clear notions of what women should be like and also the consequences for a woman who refuses to conform to these ideals. For instance, a woman who does not marry heterosexually and bear children potentially causes her family shame. It also becomes clear that there are no models available for women who do not adhere to these dominant discourses. In attempting to develop a gender identity, dominant ideology circumscribes masculine females to model their identity on men.
  4. Having analysed the setting, I then move into the second part of the paper where I examine gender as subjective experience. In doing this, I make extensive use of ethnographic field notes to create a sense of what it means to identify as calalai'. I demonstrate how, on the one hand, calalai' emulate aspects of idealised masculinity and continue to uphold hegemonic ideology by replicating the masculine-feminine dichotomy. Then on the other hand, I show how calalai' deviate from this standard and communicate a form of female masculinity.
  5. The Bugis term calalai' etymologically means 'false man',[7] but I argue that it is more accurate to take this to refer to the femaleness of calalai' and their form of masculinity, rather than their being failed men. Some calalai', specifically those living in the capital city of Makassar, prefer the terms tomboi and hunter. As Dilah asserts, 'I prefer the term hunter because we hunt down love and then pounce on it.' The term lesbi is known but rarely used as this term is seen as emphasising sexuality above other attributes of calalai' subjectivity.[8] I have decided to use the term calalai' in this paper, though, because most of the calalai' I met used this term. The term linas is used in Makassar to refer to the partner of a calalai' , although in more rural settings, partners are unsignified, being referred to as makkunrai [woman].[9]
  6. This cultural discourse indicates a gender system which is formed at the intersection of several rhetorics of gender. While we may talk of a Bugis gender system, it is important to realise that this system is not formed solely from local notions of gender. Rather conceptualisations of gender emerge from various sources. By analysing local ideas of siri', state ideologies, and Islamic discourses, we can being to understand the framework in which calalai' identity is negotiated.

    Local ideology: the power of siri'
  7. One of the most powerful regulators of gender in South Sulawesi is siri' (shame). In order to examine the cultural setting in which calalai' identity is negotiated, we need to understand siri' and how it constitutes normative gender practice.
  8. There is a seeming paradox within the gender system at work in South Sulawesi. On the one hand, it is flexible and accommodating enough to acknowledge the existence of various gender identities.[10] Yet on the other hand, it is the strict definitions of femininity and masculinity that necessitates such a complex system. To be a woman you need to obey certain prescriptions. Most fundamentally, you need to be female. While being female is a necessary prerequisite to being a woman, it is not a sufficient attribute. You must also dress like a woman, behave like a woman, follow the norms of being a woman (e.g. not walking alone at night), and you must marry a man and bear children.[11] The prescriptions for being a woman are quite rigorous and failure to conform risks feelings of siri'.
  9. Matthes defined siri as meaning 'ashamed, diffident, shy, shame, sense of honour, disgrace.'[12] Its meaning extends far deeper than a crude translation allows, however. To be made to feel siri' requires immediate action:

      I owe some money to a ToLaing and I have to repay it, and the date for repaying it is approaching but I don't have it, then I go to my rich uncle and I tell him about it. My uncle will give me the money. That is because we are one siri', and he would be embarrassed just like me if I didn't repay it.[13]

    Because an insult to a person's siri' affects an entire family, extreme measures are in place to ensure no transgression occurs. Moreover, as a woman is conceived of as being the primary symbol of her family's siri',[14] women are under a great deal of pressure to ensure they do not cause siri'. Chabot writes that

      a woman may not lose any standing. Her position is a fixed point for the men who are constantly outdoing each other. An impairment of her standing immediately calls for the most violent reaction, namely, the death of the challenger. Whoever does not react is mate-siri', that is to say, 'socially dead'. This is expressed by saying that such a person is no longer 'of use', or that he is generally despised. Killing is used because what has happened is felt to be so bad that no other reaction is considered possible.[15]

  10. A woman's behaviour, therefore, is closely curtailed so as to avoid causing siri'. As one informant reveals, 'There are so few calalai' because women are more protected' (Puang Sulai).[16] Women are expected to be modest in both dress and behaviour [malebbi (B)]. A primary cause of siri' is the refusal of a female to become an adult woman through marriage and motherhood. It is particularly important that Bugis women not only marry, but also marry a suitably ranked man (i.e. a man of higher status), because it is through her that social status is passed.[17] Thus from a young age, girls are socialised in the importance of marriage, and who they can and cannot marry.
  11. One of the most important reasons for marrying is that it presents the opportunity to have children. It is through having children that a woman's status as Indo' (B) [Mother] is achieved. Offspring are also needed to care for aging parents and to ensure that a family's blood-line continues. By remaining unmarried and without children an entire family's siri' is threatened. As such, a great deal of pressure is levied on females to marry and bear children and very few are willing to sacrifice their family's siri' by refusing. Given the apparent weight of normative female prescriptions it is surprising that any alternative category exists - indeed some people cannot perceive that there are such people.[18]
  12. Notions of siri' play heavily on gender formation and what being a woman means is clearly defined. The consequences of not becoming a wife and mother are potentially disruptive for a female's entire family. Individuals who do not conform to these prescriptions are left without an alternative model of womanhood. In a sense, then, masculine females are labeled calalai' because of there are no models of being a different kind of woman, of being a masculine woman for instance. In searching for a framework, calalai' often become convinced of their masculinity and model their identity on men,[19] as we shall see in the second part of this paper.

    State ideology
  13. State ideology is an important site for examination as it actively promotes the idea that a woman's greatest achievement, and indeed her natural role, is as wife and mother. It is through pursuing these functions that a girl becomes a woman, and hence, a legitimate and worthy member of the Indonesian nation-state. In New Order[20] rhetoric, women were considered to be the affective centre of the family. The policy of promoting nuclear families and motherhood - termed Ibuism by some scholars[21] - defined the five major duties of women:

    1. Woman's duty as wife
    2. Woman's duty as mother
    3. Woman's duty as procreator
    4. Woman's duty as financial manager
    5. Woman's duty as a member of society.[22]

    The hierarchical order of a woman's duties shows that only after a woman has married and produced children is it her duty to be a member of society. Indeed women may not be considered adults until they have married heterosexually.[23] The Indonesian Minister of Women's Affairs has publicly claimed that female homosexuality is not in accord with Indonesian culture and is a denial of women's natural destiny to become mothers.[24] Indeed the state plays a strong role in defining sexuality, especially in the case of its civil servants. The rationale behind this is that civil servants represent the state, and as such should uphold the principles of the state and set an example for the rest of society. As Suryakasuma notes, the sexual conduct of public servants is an indicator of the moral integrity of the citizens and, to some extent, the legitimacy of the state.[25]
  14. In Indonesia, women only properly become mothers within the institution of the family. State family policies are oriented toward a nuclear family defined as a male husband, female wife, and children.[26] The all-encompassing nature of the state's teachings can be see in school curricula, health care clinics, development agencies, and the mass media.[27] This focus on women as wives and mothers clearly defines borders, and highlights transgression and marginality. The message is clear - as an Indonesian citizen women are feminine wives and mothers. There are no models for women who do not wish to choose wedded maternity.
  15. State discourse also makes clear what being a man should entail. In order to complement a woman's roles as wife and mother, a man is expected to be the primary breadwinner, providing his wife and children with financial support. Men must act as the head of the household making decisions deemed in the best interest of his family's welfare. Moreover, in order to reinforce their masculinity, men must protect the purity and morality of their family.[28]
  16. As a member of the Indonesian nation-state, Dilah recognises the pressures placed on hir to marry. Hir parents have even attempted to arranged hir marriage on a number of occasions. While Dilah notes that she would not mind becoming a mother, it is marriage that s/he wishes to avoid:

      Yeah, I'd like to have children, I just don't want to get married to a man. Ugh! I could adopt a baby so I wouldn't have to sleep with a man. But if I did have to marry, you know if my parents force me, which they've tried to do before but I always tell them their selection isn't cocok (suitable), then I'd just stay with him until I was pregnant and then I would find a linas because you know, a hunter cannot change hir feelings, hir makeup. You can't change your fate hey. Once a hunter, always a hunter, you know! (Dilah).[29]

  17. In the environment in which Dilah lives it is only through heterosexual marriage that can s/he become a legitimate mother. In acknowledging this Dilah is prepared to marry for the sake of children. In this respect, we can see how state ideology impacts on calalai' identity. While Dilah may conform to some of the requirements of being a woman, s/he does not obey all of the prescriptions. For instance, Dilah declares that after s/he is pregnant s/he will return to hir life as a hunter. While state ideology is a powerful regulator of behaviour, its tenets are not always observed.

  18. State religious offices and Islamic groups have actively sought to shape the image of Muslim women. Adherence to Islam is strong in South Sulawesi[30] and Islamic models of womanhood determine to a large extent appropriate behaviour for women. Marriage is morally required of all Muslims[31] and bearing children is a woman's way of acquiring status.[32] Islam provides no leeway for a woman wishing to remain single. Muslim women are expected to be modest and this is gauged through factors as style of dress and ideally women should wear a veil. While Islam is used to reinforce state ideologies, it is also used to restrict women's movements and define their social conduct.[33] The state, through Islamic offices, may discipline the social conduct of individuals, subjecting women to greater religious surveillance and sanctions.[34] Muslim women may be defined in opposition to what is considered capitalistic and derivative of Western individualistic and consumer culture.[35] Moreover, Islam provides the basis for the belief that homosexual relations are sinful.[36]
  19. Islamic tenets have a strong impact on calalai' identity. While calalai' embody many forms of masculinity, there are certain instances when they must acknowledge the fact that they were born female. I asked Eri one day whether s/he prayed as a woman or a man when s/he went to the mosque: 'What do you think! As a woman of course, I am [biologically] female after all!' Rani, however, was not so blithe: 'I have to pray as a woman. If I don't God will not recognise me and wont hear my prayers'. While I did not meet any calalai' who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, I was told that they would have to do it as women. In these instances we can see how Islam impacts on calalai' identity. In Islam, the definition of woman, and what a woman should be like, is limited. Females searching for alternative forms of self expression therefore have trouble finding a place in Islamic models of womanhood.
  20. This analysis of siri', state ideology, and Islam reveals that there is a very specific and limited model of womanhood available in South Sulawesi. A woman is a wife and mother and she embodies idealised femininity. While adherence to this model is often desired - women may get a sense of pride and honour from becoming mothers, and they do not want to cause their family to feel siri' by rejecting this model - some female-bodied individuals seek a different way of being. The dominant gender system in which females negotiate their gender identity convinces a few of their masculinity. In the second part of this paper I want to explore experiences of being calalai' and show how to an extent calalai' model their identity on idealised notions of masculinity. It is important to note, however, that calalai' do not want to be/come men and in the final section of the paper I examine ways in which calalai' develop an identity not based on being like a man, but on being calalai' .

    Gender as subjective experience
  21. In this section, I introduce five individuals who identify as calalai' : Rani, Maman, Mapu', Eri, and Dilah. Each have a different story as to how they came to identify as calalai'. Examination of their narratives makes it clear that there is no single nor homogenous reason why individuals identify as calalai' . Rani has been a tomboy since s/he was little: 'It was not something I was taught, or that I had to discover. It was always just who I was. Since I was little, I have always been like a boy.' For Maman, it was more environmental: 'I have eight sisters. I was treated like a son since I was born. For me, becoming calalai' was because of parental influence and the X-factor [faktor-X].' When talking of why Mapu' identifies as calalai' s/he cites fate [kodrat] as being the primary reason: 'It is my fate, what can you do, fate is fate'. Indeed, fate was cited by all calalai' and its significance cannot be downplayed. For Ance' a more aesthetic reason was revealed: 'You know the real decider for me? It was clothes. I hate women's clothing, they are so hot and tight and uncomfortable. I never wear baju bodo [traditional dress], kebaya, or even a duster [a loose house-dress made from cotton]. Yuck!' Another factor in determining gender formation is companionship and sexual desire. For Eri, a feeling of being cocok [suitable] with someone is central to hir gender identification:

      You know, the most important factor was influence from a linas. You see, I was chosen and seduced by a linas over a long time, and this is what made me become ill [sakit]. Before, I wasn't ill, I used to just act like a man [dulu saya tidak sakit, cuma gaya seperti lelaki]. Then there was a linas who always approached me and wanted to be pacaran [partners]. At first, when we became friends, I didn't think about sex. The linas kept paying me lots of attention but I was still scared because I still had feelings like a woman. I was still 16 then. But I was from a broken home and I really enjoyed all the attention I was getting. So finally I too became ill [saya ikut sakit] and became a hunter.

  22. Eri's eventual attraction to and relationship with a linas may be seen as a continuation of hir masculine behaviour which was just like a man. However, s/he still had feelings like a woman and so it was not necessarily a natural progression. Without the attention from a linas Eri may not have developed a calalai' identity. Eri's use of the term sakit [ill] reflects public discourse which states that same-sex sexual desire is sinful. Even though Eri became involved in a relationship, the notion that such attraction is abnormal is still evident. For Dilah it was attraction to a woman which initiated hir formation of a masculine calalai' identity:

      I met a girl who was married to a violent man who beat her all the time, treated her very meanly, and never satisfied her ... well, we became friends and I guess we started testing. At first she was scared and didn't know if we were suitable [cocok] but finally we let go and ... we were satisfied [ puas] and we became partners [pacaran] because we were cocok.

  23. From these narratives, it becomes clear that the path to identifying as calalai' is varied. It is also evident that sexuality and gender cannot easily be analysed separately and that is more important to see how they interrelate rather than where one finishes and the other starts.[37] As Jackson argues, we must reconceive gender and sexuality in their inseparable relatedness rather than in their specific distinctiveness.[38]
  24. For various reasons, Rani, Maman, Mapu', Eri, and Dilah identify as calalai'. It is not possible, therefore, to conclude that females transgress gender norms and become 'men' in order to fulfil their sexual desire for other women (i.e. that it is only by appearing as a man that women are given freedom to love other women).[39] For calalai' a masculine identity is often constructed before feelings of sexual desire develop. Nor can we conclude that for all calalai' same-sex desire naturally extends from a masculine gender.[40] For some calalai', same-sex sexual desire initiates masculine behaviour. Neither do females become calalai' primarily for economic reasons.[41] In identifying as masculine females calalai' do not reflect the values expected of women, namely to be feminine, to marry heterosexually, and to bear children. In rejecting this paradigm, calalai' search for alternative models on which to develop their identity. In asserting their preference for masculine tasks, and an erotic desire for women, calalai' in many ways emulate ideal forms of masculinity.[42] In the next section I want to examine how calalai' reflect masculinity and uphold hegemonic ideology.

    Emulating masculinity and upholding hegemonic ideology
  25. On many levels calalai' present a vision of ideal masculinity. Maman is a blacksmith and declares that 'calalai' carry loads on their shoulder [memikul] like men, not like women who carry loads on their head [menjungjung].' Dilah, who lives in an urban area, tells me calalai' like to work in many different areas, 'particularly karaoke bars where they operate the machines'. Rani works in the rice fields alongside other men, and s/he also works as a trader and farmer. Rani lives with hir wife, the latter being primarily responsible for the care of their adopted child. Rani smokes cigarettes, walks alone at night, and gambles. Rani wears trousers and shirts, or if wearing a sarong, folds it like a man. Hir gait, posture, and way of speaking all assert masculinity.
  26. While calalai' perform tasks and roles carried out by men, knowledge of women's tasks is often denied. Dilah states that s/he cannot cook, has never learnt, and has never been interested: 'It is not a man's job, it is neither one that is appropriate ['cocok'] nor one which men are interested in.' Cooking is something a woman does, not something that a man, and therefore a calalai', would do. In performing masculinity, and rejecting stereotypical women's roles, calalai' confirm and naturalise their identities as masculine females.
  27. Enacting masculinity flows over into intimate relationships. Rani and hir wife structure their relationship around the norms of husband and wife. Rani's wife is primarily responsible for child-care and Rani is the main income earner, although hir wife also earns money. In most relationships, the women calalai' are attracted to epitomise idealised femininity. Dilah's girlfriend is an extremely feminine woman, she always wears skirts and dresses, high heel shoes, paints her nails, and applies make-up. Her posture and gait are also highly feminine.[43] A calalai' called Ance' was married for a time to a 'calabai''[44] named Wawal who works in a small clothing shop. The couple have a 5-year-old daughter. Ance' talks of expectations in hir marriage:

      We got married because two males, or two females,[45] can't have children.[46] At the start, Wawal did all the cooking and cleaning because s/he is a 'calabai'' and s/he knew all about that kind of stuff. I am a calalai' and I hate doing all that housework stuff, that's why I am calalai' because I want to live like a man. But Wawal was lazy. In the end s/he expected me to be the husband and the wife! But I have my daughter ... Wawal loved women's clothes, and the elaborate materials and buttons and lace. That was one of the things that really annoyed me, actually. Wawal spent so much money on clothes and makeup. I would work all day ... then I was a farmer ... and Wawal would just spend all the money. At this time, I guess our relationship started getting awkward. Wawal wanted me to be a mother and do all the housework, bathe the children, clean and dust. So I told hir that 'if you forbid me to be a man, then you will have to work and get the money so I can stay home with our daughter. How am I supposed to do two roles when you neither keep the house nor work for money?'

  28. There was a pragmatic reason for Ance' and Wawal to get married and Ance' had clear ideas of what roles a wife and husband should perform. Wawal was the wife and so was expected to do the cooking and cleaning, which s/he did for a time. Ance', as a calalai' , was the husband and fulfilled the roles of such. As Strathern argues, 'The extent to which agents act for themselves or themselves cause others to act depends on what these selves are ... Another person may be the cause of action, not as one mind overriding another's, but in terms of the requirement of a relationship in which the presence of one party is necessary to and created by the other, and the necessity is construed as a matter of difference between them.'[47] It was, then, when Wawal became lazy and expected Ance' to be both wife and husband that problems arose. Their relationship worked while both parties performed the socially recognised roles of husband and wife. In this sense, while transgressing gender norms, Wawal and Ance' continued to reflect dominant ideology. Because the only available role model for Ance' and Wawal was that of husband and wife, their refusal to conform to gender norms based on their biological sex, encouraged them to replicate the normative model. It would be misleading to suggest however, that calalai' model their identity entirely on male masculinity. In the next section I want to examine how calalai' challenge normative masculinity.

    Challenging normative masculinity
  29. While calalai' subjectivity is largely developed by reflecting hegemonic gender ideology which favours a masculine-feminine dichotomy, there are ways in which calalai' distort this binary. While hir mother tells me 'Rani is exactly like a man' [ persis laki-laki], no one, especially Rani, would call hirself a man [seorang laki-laki], and as such, s/he does not have the same restrictions or expectations applied to hir. Being masculine females, calalai' are able to explore spaces and perform tasks that women and men are prohibited from. Spending time in Maman's village I became involved in a conversation with hir ex-girlfriend, Mina:

      It was great having a calalai' partner because s/he could go out at night alone. So if my mother was sick, s/he could go and buy medicine and s/he could bring it into the house, even when my dad wasn't home.[48]

  30. Mina is glad that Maman is able to go out alone at night to buy medicine, and she also enjoys the fact that Maman can personally deliver the medicine. In the longer conversation, Mina emphasised how Maman is in essence just like a man [pokoknya lelaki]. It is clear, however, that Maman is not a man. While a boyfriend could easily purchase the medicine, he could not go inside the house and deliver it if only Mina and her mother were at home. Maman can enter the house without causing Mina's family to feel siri' (shame) because s/he is not a man. As Chabot notes, 'if [a girl] is alone at home or in the yard and a man enters the yard accidentally, a dangerous situation is created because this encounter, regardless of the intention of both parties, is considered a breach of established forms of social intercourse.'[49] After being together for a number of years Mina's marriage to a man is arranged:

      You know what Maman did then? S/he stood under my house and screamed and screamed. But what could I do? I was arranged to be married [dijodohkan].

  31. A man standing under a woman's house screaming for her return would cause his family to feel siri'. When Mina related this she added that a man would never have done this because it would not be appropriate behaviour for a man. By examining access to social spaces we also see how calalai' take advantage of being masculine females:

      Today Mariani, Rani, and I went to a wedding. The three of us are so free to move. Mariani (bissu)[50] and Rani (calalai' ) can move in women's spaces and into men's places because they are neither and yet both. Similarly, I have the position of foreign researcher that allows access to the men's arena, and I am a woman which allows access to the women's arena. Rani sat with the women in the kitchen for a while and cooked talibo (B) [a type of seafood]. Afterwards s/he moved to the front of the house and socialised with the men. Women and men are not able to do this travelling between spaces so easily.[51]

  32. While men and women are not strictly segregated, there are certain observed rules about where it is appropriate to go. Rarely do men enter the kitchen during wedding festivities, much less do they participate in the cooking of food. Moreover, women are seldom found conversing with groups of men at the front of the house. Rani's movements reveal that the proscriptions placed on women and men are not attached so stringently to hir. This sense of freedom of movement spills over into intimate relations which are not as guarded between calalai' and women as they are between men and women. In the 1940s, contact - even a glance - between a young unmarried Bugis woman and a man, if discovered would result in such a feeling of siri' (shame) that the woman's father and brothers were expected to kill the woman and the man or else lose their own honour.[52] While repercussions have eased, contact between unmarried women and men is still guarded. In the opening paragraph I reproduced Dilah's words expressing that 'We are much freer [lebih bebas] you know. If I have a girlfriend, we can go everywhere together and it's o.k. But if I were a man, well, we would have to get married first!'
  33. There are expectations placed on calalai', though, and it is not simply a matter for them to pick and choose which rules they wish to observe. For instance, calalai' are expected to enact masculinity and discard feminine behaviours (even though Rani did help with the cooking at the wedding). Moreover, calalai' remain in an interstitial position, never accorded the rights and privileges of being a man (i.e. they only receive one third of inheritance as per Islamic law whereas sons receive two thirds) and nor do they command the honour and respect awarded upon motherhood.
  34. In negotiating gender, calalai' in urban areas are developing ways of asserting a unique identity. One way of doing this is through bodily adornments. For Dilah, there are specific ways a calalai' must present hirself:

      You can tell a hunter by hir style [gaya]. Hir hair has to be short, s/he can't wear makeup, and definitely no lipstick! And s/he must wear men's clothes.

    Ance' also signals a masculine identity through clothing:

      I love men's clothes. Men's clothes allow you to move; I always tie my sarong like a man because it's stronger and doesn't come undone when I am moving around. As for me, I am far too lazy to put on make-up or women's clothes. My hair used to be really short, like a man's, but now I can't be bothered cutting it. Even when I was still at school I never wore skirts. And that was hard because I was at an Islamic school where all the girls have to wear really long skirts. But I hated skirts and so I wore trousers. And this was o.k. except for when I tried to go and sit for an exam and the officials wouldn't let me enter. They told me I had to go home and change into a skirt. I didn't want to do this so I went and saw the Principle. So the Principle told the officials that it was all right because I always wore trousers!

  35. But calalai' do not dress to be exactly like men, they often dress to assert a separate identity:

      Having watched the sunset over Pantai Losari, Idham and I were walking home when we ran into Eri. S/he invited us to hang out at her house [ayo, main-main di rumah] because Dilah, and another calalai', Chappa, were there. We sat out the front of the house and chatted. Dilah commented on my earrings and asked if I always wore two. Dilah said that s/he only wears one in hir right ear because if s/he wore two then that would mean s/he was a 'real girl'. I asked why s/he didn't wear it in hir left ear and s/he said because s/he wasn't a man.[53]

    An earring strategically placed is one way Dilah signals hir identity as a masculine female. While Dilah states that calalai' have to have short hair and wear men's clothing, s/he is not attempting to be exactly like a man. While dominant ideology may convince hir of hir masculinity, Dilah is female and therefore not considered, nor considers hirself, a man. An earring is a way to indicate a masculine female identity. In thinking of calalai' subjectivity, then, we need to examine not only ways in which idealised masculinity is emulated, but also where this model is departed from.

  36. I started this article with Rani's declaration of distaste at the thought of marrying a man, wearing uncomfortable clothes and being refined. While Rani refuses to adhere to expectations placed on women, s/he acknowledges that being female-bodied prevents hir from being considered a man. Rani seeks, therefore, alternative ways to express hir identity as a masculine female. In examining this process it is essential to have an understanding of the framework in which such negotiations take place. In the first section of the paper, I examined three factors which impact on gender development and create the dominant discourses which establish gender norms for female-bodied individuals.
  37. Firstly, I examined local notions of siri' (shame). Because women are conceived of as being the primary symbol of their family's honour, there is a great deal of pressure on women to conform to normative notions of femininity to ensure they do not cause siri'. In addition to this, state ideology makes clear the roles and functions women should adhere to. In this discourse, there are no models for women other than as wives and mothers. Islam reinforces these narratives. The persuasiveness of these models results in some females becoming convinced of their masculinity. In a sense, it is the strictness of these models that results in masculine females being seen as other than women. Women embody femininity, marry heterosexually and bear children. Masculine females who do not follow these prescriptions are thought of as other than women, as calalai'.
  38. In searching for ways in which to express their dissatisfaction with normative women's roles, calalai' model their behaviour to an extent on men. By embodying masculinity, calalai' find an avenue through which they can perform/enact masculine behaviour and pursue same-sex desires. To this extent, it can be argued that while calalai' transgress normative gender models, they reinforce a dichotomous gender system by reflecting roles and behaviours of men. And yet, calalai' identity is not constructed entirely on masculine models. An examination of calalai' identity, then, provides insight into how individuals negotiate normative gender ideals and, in some instances, present alternative models of being female.


    [1] I use hir and s/he to challenge readers to image a subjectivity beyond the dichotomous her/his, she/he. The use of hir further signifies the possibility of a third gender not contingent on crossing from one normative gender to the other. Moreover, neither the Indonesian nor Bugis languages discriminate between gender, using instead the gender non-specific pronouns dia and i/na respectively. See also Evelyn Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra: Constructing Masculinity and Erotic Desire,' in Female Desires: Same-sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. E. Blackwood and R.A. Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 181-205; R.A. Wilchins, Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender, Ithaca: Firebrand Books, 1997.

    [2] Conversations were conducted primarily in Bahasa Indonesia. Throughout this paper Indonesian words are rendered in Italics. The first time they are mentioned Basa Bugis words are signified by a (B) with the exception of calalai', calabai', and siri'.

    [3] I follow Halberstam in using this term to indicate individuals who are born biological females and yet do not necessarily identify as women. See, J. Halberstam, Female Masculinity, Durham: Duke University Press, 1998, p. 13

    [4] The Bugis are the largest ethnic group in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Much of the material contained in this paper is the result of 15 months fieldwork carried out in South Sulawesi between August 1998 and November 2000. I would like to thank Lyn Parker, the Writers' Workshop at UWA, Evelyn Blackwood and especially the two anonymous reviewers who all provided valuable comments on this paper.

    [5] Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra', p. 182.

    [6] On subjectivity, agency, and notions of personhood see M. Strathern, Dealing with Inequality: Analysing Gender Relations in Melanesia and Beyond, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987; Strathern, Reproducing the Future: Anthropology, Kinship, and the New Reproductive Technologies, Glasgow: Manchester University Press, 1992.

    [7] C. Pelras, The Bugis, Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, p. 165.

    [8] Cf P.A. Jackson, 'Gay Adaptation, Tom-dee Resistance and Kathoey Indifference: Thailand's Gender/Sex Minorities and the Episodic Allure of Queer English,' unpublished, p. 31.

    [9] Dilah reveals that 'A linas is a woman who feels like a woman, but she does not like men; she likes females who have the style of men.' Linas' subjectivity is also an important site for examination. Indeed, in many ways, linas are challenging gender roles more subversively than calalai'. For instance, many linas are married to men and have children, but continue to find emotional satisfaction with calalai'. Moreover, linas flaunt femininity and yet rebel against proscriptions usually applied to women. Linas demand freedom to travel around on their own, to wear short skirts, and are sexually assertive, as Dilah notes: 'Linas are by far the most aggressive partners, they are always the first to ask for sex.'

    [10] The Bugis acknowledge five possible gender categories. These categories include makundrai [feminine female women], oroane [masculine male men], calabai' [males who are more like women in many respects yet who do not wish to be/come women], calalai', and bissu [gender transcendent, pre-Islamic priests]. This is the focus of my forthcoming PhD thesis, 'Conceptualising Gender among the Bugis of South Sulawesi, Indonesia'.

    [11] For further information and analysis on the unmarried self being an incomplete subject see T. Boellstorff, 'The Perfect Path: Gay Men, Marriage, Indonesia', in Gay Lesbian Queer 5, 4 (1999): 475-510, p. 492.

    [12] B.F. Matthes, (1885) Makassaarsch-Hollandsch woordenboek; met Hollandsch-Makassaarsche woordenlijst, en verklaring can een tot opheldering bijgevoegden ethnographischen atlas, 's-Gravenhage: Nijhoff, first edition, 1885, p. 583. This is very similar to the concept of malu found throughout Indonesia. For comparisions see E. Collins and E. Bahar, 'To Know Shame: Malu and its Uses in Malay Societies,' in Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 14, 1 (2000):35-69.

    [13] Shelly Errington, Meaning and Power in a Southeast Asian Realm, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989, p. 144.

    [14] S.B. Millar, 'On Interpreting Gender in Bugis Society,' American Ethnologist, (10 Aug 1983):477-93, p. 484. See also Millar, Bugis Weddings: Rrituals of Social Location in Modern Indonesia, Berkeley: University of California at Berkeley, 1989.

    [15] H.T. Chabot, Kinship, Status, and Gender in South Sulawesi, Leiden: KITLV, 1996 (1950) p. 236. See also Collins and Bahar, 'To Know Shame,' pp. 35-69.

    [16] During my fieldwork, I became acquainted with six calalai', a figure which contrasts greatly with the number of calabai' I met, which was around one hundred. Calabai' are biological males who perform many of the roles usually associated with women and may identify more as women than men, although they do not wish to be exactly like women.

    [17] There are exceptional cases where women are not expected to marry, for instance high-status women who are unable to find suitably ranked men. See N.K. Florida, 'Sex Wars: Writing Gender Relations in Nineteenth-Century Java' in Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. L. Sears, Durham: Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 207-24.

    [18] For instance, the following conversation:

      Sharyn: There are lots of calabai' in Sengkang, but not many calalai'. Why is this?

      Pak Gaob: Do you mean people with female genitalia, but who are inclined to be men? [Maksudnya, jenis kelaminan wanita, cenderung lelaki?] [Yes]. I don't know either. I have never met any calalai'. Perhaps there aren't any calalai' in Sengkang?

      Sakir: Yes, there are. I know a calalai'.

    One reviewer commented that perhaps Pak Gaob politely does not notice or acknowledge calalai' in order to avoid the siri' it might cause that person's family. While this is possible, people who knew of calalai' were generally forthcoming with information and while theoretically having a calalai' relative may cause siri', in practice this did not seem to be the case. This is discussed further in the second part of this paper.

    [19] As Murray writes, 'If the butch-femme stereotype as presented in the Indonesian popular media is the only image of lesbians available outside the metropolis, then this may affect how women express their feelings.' See A.J. Murray, 'Let Them Take Ecstasy,' Female Desires: Same-sex relations and transgender practices across cultures, ed. Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p. 143. Also see Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra'. Nestle emphasises that, 'femme flamboyance' and 'butch fortitude' should not be seen as poses or stereotypes, but as 'a dance between two different kinds of women.' See Joan Nestle (ed.), The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, Boston: Alyson Publications: 1992, p. 14.

    [20] 'New Order' refers to the period under Soeharto (1966-1998).

    [21] N. Sullivan, Masters and Managers: A Study of Gender Relations in Urban Java, Victoria, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 1994, pp. 129-30; J.I. Suryakusuma, 'The State and Sexuality in New Order Indonesia,' Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. L.J. Sears, Durham: Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 92-119; Suryakusuma, 'State Ibuism: the Social Construction of Womanhood in the Indonesia New Order,' New Asian Visions 6, 2 (June 1991).

    [22] Sullivan, Masters and Managers, pp. 129-30.

    [23] See B.H. Tan, 'Women's Sexuality and Asian Values: Cross-Dressing in Malaysia,' Female Desires: Same-Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. Blackwood and Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 281-307. Blackwood notes that 'Individuals, whether male or female, are not considered adult until they have married heterosexually,' in Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra,' p. 191. For notions of the heterosexuality of the labour force and the principle of azas kekeluargaan, see Boellstorff, 'The Perfect Path,' pp. 491-92.

    [24] B.J.D. Gayatri, 'Indonesian Lesbians Writing Their Own Script: Issues of Feminism and Sexuality,' in From Amazon to Zami: Towards a Global Lesbian Feminism, ed. Monika Reinfelders, London: Cassell, 1995, pp. 86-98; See also Murray who writes that 'the minister for women's affairs has stated that lesbianism is not part of Indonesian culture or state ideology (Surya Karya, June 6, 1994) cited in Murray, 'Let Them Take Ecstasy,' p. 142.

    [25] Suryakusuma, 'The State and Sexuality,' p. 92.

    [26] Suryakusuma, 'The State and Sexuality'. For examples of gay and lesbian couples and a critique of the lack of family role models other than the nuclear composition, see Boellstorff, 'The Perfect Path,' p. 492.

    [27] Lynette Parker, 'The Creation of Indonesian Citizens in Balinese Primary Schools,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 26, (1992):42-70; Parker, 'The Subjectification of Citizenship: Student Interpretations of School Teachings in Bali', in Asian Studies Review (forthcoming); Murray, 'Let them take Ecstasy,' 1999, p. 143 notes the importance of the media in influencing public opinion to accept the ideological construct of heterosexism.

    [28] See Sullivan, 'Master and Managers.'

    [29] For an interesting analogy in Australia see H.E. Burstin,. 'Looking Out, Looking In: Anti-Semitism and Racism in Lesbian Communities,' in Multicultural Queer: Australian Narratives ed. Peter Jackson and Gerard Sullivan, New York: Haworth Press, 1999, pp. 143-58, p. 144. In Indonesia, 'The constant pressure to get married and the threat of forcible marriage reveal the way one's body in this culture determines one's gender. Within the hegemonic sex/gender system denying the female body is impermissible.' See Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra,' p. 193.

    [30] See Pelras, 'The Bugis.'

    [31] See David Banks, Malay Kinship, Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1985.

    [32] See Lenore Manderson, Women, Politics, and Change: The Kaum Ibu UMNO Malaysia, 1945-1972, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1980.

    [33] Ong reports that Malay factory women found walking around at night are sometimes threatened with arrest for khalwat [close proximity] by men who are not members of Islamic offices. See, Aihwa Ong, 'Japanese Factories, Malay Workers: Class and Sexual Metaphors in West Malaysia,' in Power and Difference: Gender in Island Southeast Asia, ed. Jane Monnig Atkinson and Shelly Errington, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 385-424 and pp. 410-11.

    [34] See Ong, 'Japanese Factories, Malay Workers,' p. 411.

    [35] See Ong, 'Japanese Factories, Malay Workers,' p. 411.

    [36] E. Blackwood, The Many Faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, New York: Harrington Park Press, 1986, p. 12; Blackwood, 'Senior Women, Model Mothers, and Dutiful Wives: Managing Gender Contradictions in a Minangkabau Village,' in Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia, ed. Aihwa Ong and Michael Peletz, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, pp. 124-58.

    [37] As Murray writes, 'although gender and sexuality may be distinguished analytically, they are far from being independent from each other. Indeed, outside the elite realm of academic gender discoursing, sexuality and gender generally are expected to coincide.' See, Murray, 'Male Actresses in Islamic Parts of Indonesia and the Southern Philippines,' Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature, ed. Murray and Will Roscoe, New York: New York University Press, 1997c, pp. 256-61, p. 256.

    [38] P. Jackson, 'An Explosion of Thai Identities: Global Queering and Reimagining Queer Theory,' in Culture, Health, and Sexuality 2, 4 (2000):405-24, pp. 418, 420. See also Murray, 'Let Them Take Ecstasy,' pp. 139-56. Wieringa found in Jakarta that her desire for women was not interpreted merely as erotic preference but underscored, in the eyes of people around her, her entire gender identity. Similarly, while in West Sumatra, Blackwood found herself slotted into a gender identity rather than the sexual identity she thought she occupied. See Wieringa, 'Desiring Bodies,' p. 186.

    [39] E. Newton, 'The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyff Hall and the New Woman,' in Signs 9, 4 (1984):557-75. See also R. Trumbach, 'London Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture,' in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. G. Herdt, New York: Zone Books, 1994, pp. 111-36. On becoming masculine because of an erotic desire for women see Newton, 'The Mythic Mannish Lesbian,' pp. 557-75.

    [40] Blackwood notes for West Sumatra that 'having already established a masculine gender, [Dayan] also laid claim to a sexual desire for women, a move that accords with the hegemonic cultural ideology, in which sexuality is thought to follow naturally from one's sex/gender.' See, Blackwood, ' in West Sumatra,' p. 190.

    [41] For the Bugis, the bride receives bride wealth and newly-weds initially tend to live with the bride's family. There would not seem an incentive here to become calalai' in order to stay with one's family or relieve one's family of the incredible burden of the dowry. See Millar, Bugis Weddings. This compares starkly with Dickemann's findings for the Balkan sworn virgin. M. Dickemann, 'The Balkan Sworn Virgin: A Traditional European Transperson,' in Gender Blending, ed. B. Bullough, V. Bullough, J. Elias, New York: Prometheus Books, 1997, pp. 248-55. See also R. Gremaux, 'Woman Becomes Man in the Balkans', in Third Sex, Third Gender, ed. G. Herdt, 1994, pp. 241-81.

    [42] As Blackwood argues, 'For those who do not fit the normative model of gender, or find it limiting and oppressive, such a model persuades them of their masculinity, producing gender transgression.' Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra'. For a critique of female masculinities, see J. Halberstam, Female Masculinity, Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. For a discussion of masculine-feminine complementarily, see S. Errington, 'Recasting Sex, Gender, and Power: A Theoretical and Regional Overview,' in Power and Difference: Gender in Island Southeast Asia, ed. Atkinson and Errington, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 1-58.

    [43] There is pressure on calalai' and linas to conform to normative models, as Saskia Wieringa found out in Jakarta: 'If I wanted to go out with them, I had to behave in ways that they felt conformed to my role, that is I had to learn to be butch. The butches tried to teach me to be one of them and the femmes made clear what they expected from me in the way of chivalry and lovemaking.' See Wieringa, 'Desiring Bodies or Defiant Cultures: Butch-femme Lesbians in Jakarta and Lima,' in Female Desires: Same-Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures, ed. Blackwood and Wieringa, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, pp. 206-31, p. 208.

    [44] Calabai' are biological males who perform many of the roles usually associated with women and may identify more as women than men, although they do not wish to be exactly like women.

    [45] For a discussion of relationships between females (lesbongan), see D. Oetomo, 'Gender and Sexual Orientation in Indonesia,' in Fanatasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. L. Sears, Durham: Duke University Press, 1996, p. 56.

    [46] For further information on weddings see Millar Bugis Weddings; A Schrauwers, 'Three Weddings and a Performance: Marriage, Households, and Development in the Highlands of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia,' in American Ethnologists 27, 4 (2000): 855-76.

    [47] Strathern, 'Dealing with Inequality,' 1987:294-5.

    [48] Mina related this story in front of her family with no sense of discomfort or embarrassment that she was involved in a relationship with a calalai'. While calalai' may seem to cause shame, often when the individual is part of a community, there is acceptance.

    [49] Chabot, Kinship, Status, and Gender in South Sulawesi, Leiden, KITLV, 1996 [1950], p. 182.

    [50] Bissu are gender transcendent, pre-Islamic priests. See Leonard Andaya, 'The Bissu: Study of a Third Gender in Indonesia', in Other Pasts: Women, Gender, and History in Early Modern Southeast Asia, ed. Barbara Andaya, Hawai'i: Hawai'i University Press, 2000:27-46.

    [51] Field notes, 1999.

    [52] S.B. Millar, 'On Interpretating Gender in Bugis Society,' in American Ethnologist, 10 Aug (1983):477-93, p. 484.

    [53] Field notes, 2000.


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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