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Falling into the Lesbi World

Desire and Difference in Indonesia

Evelyn Blackwood

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xii

Ever since I began to study anthropology it has been my fervent desire to do a project such as this one. During my dissertation research in West Sumatra, I realized I had a site for the project, and then with the support of a Fulbright grant, I was able to return to Indonesia to conduct the fieldwork...

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Chapter One: Gender, Sexuality, and Queer Desires

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pp. 1-32

My research associate and I dropped by the small apartment of a lesbi couple in Padang one afternoon. We had been chatting with them for a few minutes when suddenly Robi, the tomboi partner, said to h/er girlfriend Noni, “Sis, go make some tea for them!”...

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Chapter Two: Shifting Discourses of Gender and Desire

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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 offer no state-sanctioned place for tombois or their girlfriends, set the norms for two distinct, socially defined categories of gender, woman and man...

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Chapter Three: Learning to Be Boys and Girls

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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, I never felt like a girl,” disallowing...

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Chapter Four: Doing Gender

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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)...

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Chapter Five: Desire and Difference

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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...

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Chapter Six: Ambiguities in Family, Community, and Public Spaces

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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...

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Chapter Seven: Translocal Queer Connections

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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...


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pp. 211-220


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pp. 221-240


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pp. 241-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860844
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834425

Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 761460980
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Falling into the Lesbi World

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sex role -- Indonesia -- Padang.
  • Lesbians -- Indonesia -- Padang.
  • Queer theory.
  • Gender identity -- Indonesia -- Padang.
  • Transgender people -- Indonesia -- Padang.
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