While diving, drink water: bisexual and transgender intersections in South Sulawesi, Indonesia

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This article analyzes the intersections, or to take this publication’s play on words, interSEXions, between bisexuality and transgender in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.1 While there are no equivalent indigenous terms, there are cognate identities and experiences that make such an examination valid and fruitful. The article is divided into four main sections. After a brief introduction, section one sets the scene by introducing readers to South Sulawesi. This section also examines prevailing ideas of gender and sexuality in the region. I argue that gender is a salient notion in South Sulawesi and that there are very clear models of what is expected of girls and boys when they grow up. I also posit that gender is a holistic concept, constituted by various factors, including biology, sexuality, roles, and behaviors. It is essential to develop this emic understanding of gender in order to appreciate the intersections of bisexuality and transgender. In the second section I introduce two gendered identities which fall outside normative models: calabai’ (transgendered males) and calalai’ (transgendered females). Through the narratives of key informants the identity and subjectivity of these individuals is revealed. In the third section I recount specific examples of bisexuality and transgender intersections. A critical analysis of these intersections reveals much about representations and understandings of desire, sexuality, and gender. The theoretical contributions which arise from this analysis are proposed in the fourth section. I argue that the conceptual categories imposed by rigid Western terminology are rendered problematic when considering the intersection between bisexuality and transgender. As such, in South Sulawesi experiences of bisexuality and transgender must be explored from a perspective which allows appreciation of their coalescence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-247
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Bisexuality
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2004


  • Bisexual
  • Bugis (Indonesia)
  • Identity
  • Sexuality
  • Transgender

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