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Falling into the Lesbi World

Falling into the Lesbi World: Desire and Difference in Indonesia

Evelyn Blackwood
Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    Falling into the Lesbi World
    Book Description:

    Falling into the Lesbi World offers a compelling view of sexual and gender difference through the everyday lives of tombois and their girlfriends ("femmes") in the city of Padang, West Sumatra. While likening themselves to heterosexual couples, tombois and femmes contest and blur dominant constructions of gender and heterosexuality. Tombois are masculine females who identify as men and desire women; their girlfriends view themselves as normal women who desire men. Through rich, in-depth, and provocative stories, author Evelyn Blackwood shows how these same-sex Indonesian couples negotiate transgressive identities and desires and how their experiences speak to the struggles and desires of sexual and gender minorities everywhere. Blackwood analyzes the complex and seemingly contradictory practices of tombois and their partners, demonstrating how they make sense of Islamic, transnational, and modern state discourses in ways that seem to align with normative gender and sexual categories while at the same time subverting them. The childhood and adolescent narratives of tombois and femmes offer bold new insights into a social process that is rarely addressed in anthropological, lesbian, gay, or transgender studies. We see how tombois and femmes come to view themselves as boys and girls, respectively, through their interactions with family and community, and how as teenagers tombois learn that masculinity needs its opposite: feminine women. By contrast femmes notice shifts in their desires as they develop long-term relationships with tombois. The book reveals the complexity of tomboi masculinity, showing how tombois enact both masculine and feminine behaviors as they move between the anonymity and vulnerability of public spaces and the familiarity of family spaces. Falling into the Lesbi World demonstrates how nationally and globally circulating queer discourses are received and reinterpreted by tombois and femmes in a city in Indonesia. Though less educated than many internet-savvy activists in major urban centers, their identities are clearly both part of yet different than global gay models of sexuality. In contrast to the international LGBT model of "modern" sexualities, this work reveals a multiplicity of sexual and gender subjectivities in Indonesia, arguing for the importance of recognizing and validating this diversity in the global gay ecumene.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6084-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Gender, Sexuality, and Queer Desires
    (pp. 1-32)

    My research associate and I dropped by the small apartment of alesbicouple in Padang one afternoon. We had been chatting with them for a few minutes when suddenly Robi, thetomboipartner, said to h/er girlfriend Noni, “Sis, go make some tea for them!”¹ Noni jumped up, mumbling apologies, and went into the kitchen to prepare tea for us. This exchange caught my attention because there was nothing keeping Robi from making the tea h/erself; we were all just sitting and talking.² H/er insistence that h/er girlfriend fulfill the duty of tea-making therefore pointed eloquently and simply to...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Shifting Discourses of Gender and Desire
    (pp. 33-66)

    Contemporary Indonesian discourses create an image of innate gender difference in which modern women are oriented to domestic and wifely tasks, while men are encouraged to be heads of households and active leaders in the public domain. These discourses, which off er no state-sanctioned place for tombois or their girlfriends, set the norms for two distinct, socially defined categories of gender, woman and man. In this chapter I set the context for the particular gender subjectivities that tombois and their girlfriends express by examining the shifts in gender discourses historically from precolonial times to the present, focusing on the period...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Learning to Be Boys and Girls
    (pp. 67-88)

    When I asked tombois at what point they first became aware of being tombois, or of liking boys’ things, their answers were generally consistent: “Since I was little,” “since first grade,” or “in elementary school.” One tomboi declared, “I was always a tomboi.” Another said, “Growing up, Ineverfelt like a girl,” disallowing any possibility that s/he could have girlish desires or feelings. Still another tomboi thought that s/he knew s/he was a tomboi “around four or five years old, because that’s when I started to like boys’ clothes, not girls’ clothes.” Tombois did not off a narrative of...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Doing Gender
    (pp. 89-118)

    About ten o’clock on a Sunday morning my research associate and I went to see Robi, a tomboi, and Noni, h/er girlfriend, at their new place. They rent three small rooms in a one-story, somewhat dilapidated boarding house (rumah kos). One room serves as the kitchen and bathing (mandi) area. In the kitchen area is a low shelf with a single burner for cooking, a small table for dishes and glassware, and a low rough table for preparing food. Themandi, identifiable by the bucket of water and drainpipe in the floor, is partitioned from the kitchen. The middle room,...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Desire and Difference
    (pp. 119-150)

    Noni, who is divorced and has one child, has been with her tomboi lover, Robi, for nearly two years. When I asked Noni about her earlier relationships, she told me the following story:

    My first relationship was with a guy, but he used to drink all the time. I told him to quit drinking, but he threatened to find another girlfriend who was nicer to him than me, one who would give him more freedom and understand him better. So he broke up with me, which really hurt my feelings. [Noni was sixteen years old then.] Then in my first...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Ambiguities in Family, Community, and Public Spaces
    (pp. 151-178)

    Tombois are female-bodied individuals who lay claim to the social category “man,” by which I mean the ideologically dominant conception of manhood that circulates through much of Indonesia. In this chapter I look at the particular practices they perform in relation to socially significant others across household, community, and public spaces. Despite articulating a sense of self that they consider to be nearly the same as other men’s, tombois take up different subject positions in different spaces, engaging with and reproducing a version of femininity when they move within family and community spaces. Thus I ask in what moments and...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Translocal Queer Connections
    (pp. 179-210)

    Located in a regional metropolis, tombois and their girlfriends participate in and reflect the hegemonic Indonesian ideology of sex/gender. This ideology is crosscut by a number of discourses, but the focus in this chapter is on national and transnational queer discourses with their progressive narrative of the development of modern sexual identities. Activist lesbian discourse in particular holds the expectation that modern lesbian subjects will express a self-consciousness or awareness of sexual identity as “lesbians” and “women.” The intersections of global, activist discourses with localized and translocal meanings, however, produce much more complex and layered subjectivities than a narrative of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-220)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-240)
  13. Index
    (pp. 241-251)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)