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Gender on the Edge

Gender on the Edge: Transgender, Gay, and Other Pacific Islanders

Niko Besnier
Kalissa Alexeyeff
Copyright Date: 2014
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    Gender on the Edge
    Book Description:

    Transgender identities and other forms of gender and sexuality that transcend the normative pose important questions about society, culture, politics, and history. They force us to question, for example, the forces that divide humanity into two gender categories and render them necessary, inevitable, and natural. The transgender also exposes a host of dynamics that, at first glance, have little to do with gender or sex, such as processes of power and domination; the complex relationship among agency, subjectivity, and structure; and the mutual constitution of the global and the local.

    Particularly intriguing is the fact that gender and sexual diversity appear to be more prevalent in some regions of the world than in others. This edited volume is an exploration of the ways in which non-normative gendering and sexuality in one such region, the Pacific Islands, are implicated in a wide range of socio-cultural dynamics that are at once local and global, historical, and contemporary. The authors recognize that different social configurations, cultural contexts, and historical trajectories generate diverse ways of being transgender across the societies of the region, but they also acknowledge that these differences are overlaid with commonalities and predictabilities. Rather than focus on the definition of identities, they engage with the fact that identities do things, that they are performed in everyday life, that they are transformed through events and movements, and that they are constantly negotiated. By addressing the complexities of these questions over time and space, this work provides a model for future endeavors that seek to embed dynamics of gender and sexuality in a broad field of theoretical import.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-4019-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. CHAPTER 1 Gender on the Edge: Identities, Politics, Transformations
    (pp. 1-30)
    Kalissa Alexeyeff and Niko Besnier

    Gender is on the edge. Being on the edge is both a position of power and one of marginality, and it is this paradox that we address in this book. We first situate gender on the cutting edge in terms of the position it has come to occupy, in the course of the last half-century, in intellectual debates. These debates have catapulted gender to the center of the important social, political, and cultural questions that anthropologists and other social scientists address—such as kinship, the division of labor, political institutions, religion, law, and the economy. Yet gender is also on...

  4. PART I Historical Transformations

    • CHAPTER 2 Queer History and Its Discontents at Tahiti: The Contested Politics of Modernity and Sexual Subjectivity
      (pp. 33-55)
      Deborah Elliston

      This chapter is motivated by questions about the uses of history in queer narratives of the present: how narratives of the past are (re)made through contemporary experiences of sexual desire and gendered belonging; how such narratives are employed in the service of projects of queer self-making—that is, the crafting of queer subjectivity, personhood, and identification; and, more reflexively, how we as anthropologists grapple with our own uses and sitings of history in ethnographies of sexuality.

      I engage these questions by examining a contemporary contest to legitimize queer identities among people of the Society Islands of French Polynesia (referred to...

    • CHAPTER 3 "Hollywood" and the Emergence of a Fa'afafine Social Movement in Samoa, 1960–1980
      (pp. 56-72)
      Reevan Dolgoy

      This chapter traces the development of afa‘afafinesocial movement in Western Samoa from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. The forces and events that led to the transformation offa‘afāfine(pl. offa‘afafine) remain part of an ongoing and still fluid process. The earlyfa‘afafinenetworks produced a number of organizational structures in which forms of collective activity continued to be reproduced. These includefa‘afafineinvolvement in sports, notably netball (a team sport akin to basketball, associated with women, and played in former British colonies) and in the organization of drag-queen pageants from 1983 on. But no institution was...

    • CHAPTER 4 Representing Fa'afafine: Sex, Socialization, and Gender Identity in Samoa
      (pp. 73-90)
      Penelope Schoeffel

      From eighteenth-century accounts of Tahiti by explorers and voyagers to twentieth-century anthropological controversies about Samoa, the sexual customs of Polynesian societies have attracted more than usual interest among Westerners. Representations of Polynesians as peoples enjoying freedom from sexual restrictions have been a source of considerable scholarly debate (for example, Besnier 1994; Freeman 1983; Mead 1928; Sahlins 1981; Tcherkézoff 2004, 2008; Wallace 2003), while more recently there has been considerable popular and scholarly interest in the alleged institutionalization of social roles for transgender males in Polynesian societies.

      For example, in policy papers on culture, sexuality, and HIV in the Pacific Islands,...

  5. PART II Performing Gender

    • CHAPTER 5 Living as and Living with Māhū and Raerae: Geopolitics, Sex, and Gender in the Society Islands
      (pp. 93-114)
      Makiko Kuwahara

      This chapter concerns two transgender categories,māhāandraerae, as they are deployed in different ways in the two major centers of the Society Islands, Tahiti and Bora Bora. The differences between the categories on the two islands are both surprising and significant, in that they highlight the specific and divergent effects of the interactions of local engagements with global and neocolonial forms, in this particular case tourism and the French military, on sexuality and gender. My analysis of sexual difference on the two islands within the same polity animates a comparative perspective that underlines the importance of historical and...

    • CHAPTER 6 Transgender in Samoa: The Cultural Production of Gender Inequality
      (pp. 115-134)
      Serge Tcherkézoff

      This chapter deals with the difficulties involved in describing or even evoking the sociocultural paths followed by Samoanfa‘afāfineandtomboys. Both labels were invented and both social categories are constructed from a heteronormative discourse—mainstream Samoan discourse and some academic literature. From these perspectives,fa‘afāfineare persons whose families and neighbors characterize them as boys at birth but who, later in life (usually in late childhood or early adolescence), are said to act “in the way of women” (fa‘a-fafine, the plural of the term beingfa‘afāfine). However, they never introduce themselves as“fa‘afāfine,”but by their own given names....

    • CHAPTER 7 Re-Visioning Family: Māhūwahine and Male-to-Female Transgender in Contemporary Hawai'i
      (pp. 135-161)
      Linda L. Ikeda

      This chapter explores a particular network of transgender individuals in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, and the ways in which they construct family and other communities of belonging. Though only a minority of these individuals identify as gay, Foucault’s comments tap into the potentiality of “a way of life” over circumscribed modes of being and sexuality, as well as the inventive “self-fashioning” that appears to be central to transgender family making, at least in particular times and places. Both these features of creative development and self-definition are evident in this Honolulu community.

      For all its creativity, however, the self-fashioning of transgender life has...

    • CHAPTER 8 Men Trapped in Women's Clothing: Homosexuality, Cross-Dressing, and Masculinity in Fiji
      (pp. 162-183)
      Geir Henning Presterudstuen

      This chapter explores the processes of gendered self-identification among non-heteronormative ethnic Fijian men in contemporary Fiji. Although these men perform masculinity in diverse ways, they all display an ambiguous relationship to Fijian traditional notions of gender and masculinity as normative concepts. This highlights the often complex relationship between individuals’ experiences of gendered identities and culturally specific, dominant notions of gender.

      A striking aspect of the relatively new Fijian urban scene, which has emerged in tandem with the growth of tourism and of a local entertainment industry, is the increasing visibility of men who self-identify with and openly play out non-heteronormative...

    • CHAPTER 9 Two Sea Turtles: Intimacy between Men in the Marshall Islands
      (pp. 184-210)
      Greg Dvorak

      It is a rainy afternoon in Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the lagoon’s surface is textured with a fine turquoise upholstery of raindrops, the horizon obscured by gray mist. Under the aluminum awning of a small house next to a giant breadfruit tree, I sit with a small gathering of Marshall Islander men, drinking extra-sweetened instant coffee and enjoyingbwe-bwenato, the Marshallese pastime of “talking story.” A middle-aged man named “Billy” clears his throat, sips from his Styrofoam cup, leans back (in one of those ubiquitous white plastic lawn chairs that one finds even on the tiniest of...

  6. PART III Politics of the Global

    • CHAPTER 10 The Fokisi and the Fakaleitī: Provocative Performances in Tonga
      (pp. 213-240)
      Mary K. Good

      In the brightly lit hall of the Wesleyan church, just off the main government road that runs across the island of ‘Eua, the hired DJ blared one last upbeat Pacific Islands dance song filled with synthesizer trills, hoping to reel in a few stragglers to the night’s program. Finally, the deafening volume of the music was lowered and, amid the insect noises from the warm summer night, the leader of the ‘Eua Youth Congress took the microphone. The young man gave a brief speech of thanks and introduction to the night’s program, then asked the minister of a nearby church...

    • CHAPTER 11 Televisual Transgender: Hybridizing the Mainstream in Pasifika New Zealand
      (pp. 241-265)
      Sarina Pearson

      Pacific transgender has long captured the erotic and intellectual imaginations of Western writers and academics. In addition to being liberally exploited as exotic spectacle, gender liminality in the Pacific provides opportunities to interrogate how masculinity and femininity are constructed and performed. It challenges notions of gender’s relationship to kinship, status, and sexuality as well as conceiving of transgender as a dynamic phenomenon deeply embedded in tradition but increasingly implicated in modernity. Frequently defined by its incommensurability with Western regimes of sexuality and identity, Pacific transgender is nevertheless increasingly implicated in the West. This is not just because Western idioms, practices,...

    • CHAPTER 12 Same Sex, Different Armies: Sexual Minority Invisibility among Fijians in the Fiji Military Forces and British Army
      (pp. 266-292)
      Teresia K. Teaiwa

      In the summer of 2008 and the autumn of 2009, I traveled around England trying to learn what I could about the experiences of Fiji women serving in the British Army (BA) for a research project I was conducting on Fiji women soldiers.¹ Through a network of personal contacts, I was invited to stay with service personnel and their families at a range of army bases in different parts of the country. At one of these bases, I had an uncanny experience while sitting down with my host at her dinner table. As we chatted, we heard the door open...

    • CHAPTER 13 In Sickness and in Health: Evolving Trends in Gay Rights Advocacy in Fiji
      (pp. 293-322)
      Nicole George

      The terrain of gender politics in Fiji is complex and variegated. Since the 1960s, women’s organizations in this Pacific Island country have been a powerful political force. Although their efforts to promote gender equality have been far from uniform and buffeted by frequent episodes of serious political upheaval, they have had a significant impact on the formalized realm of policy making both in Fiji and, more broadly, across the region. It is against this backdrop, and perhaps thanks to the vibrancy of this terrain, that gay rights advocacy has also emerged as a distinct site of political activity in the...

    • CHAPTER 14 On the Edge of Understanding: Non-Heteronormative Sexuality in Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 323-346)
      Christine Stewart

      Timothy and I are perched on the edge of ahauswin, a roofed, open-sided platform in the gardens of the Poro Sapot Project, an initiative of the international NGO Save the Children. The project is the only one of its kind in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to focus explicitly and specifically on what in the world of international organizations are termed “sex workers” and “MSM,” or “men who have sex with men.” It works through a system of outreach volunteers to provide HIV awareness, clinic facilities, and paralegal assistance for these sexual minorities. Thehauswinserves as a drop-in center...

    • CHAPTER 15 Outwith the Law in Samoa and Tonga
      (pp. 347-370)
      Sue Farran

      In Scotland, the term “outwith” is used to locate something or someone beyond the scope of a specific context or category. It is therefore an exclusionary term, but its boundaries may change depending on the context. I use the word in this chapter to engage with the focus of this book from a legal perspective. Globally transgender people have been “outwith” the law, but gradually, as the law’s boundaries have changed, some have been brought within the law and their transgender status given legal recognition. In Samoa and Tonga, transgender Pacific Islanders remain beyond or “outwith” the law in a...

  7. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 371-374)
  8. Index
    (pp. 375-378)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 379-379)