The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia

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Overview

The Gay Archipelago is the first book-length exploration of the lives of gay men in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation and home to more Muslims than any other country. Based on a range of field methods, it explores how Indonesian gay and lesbian identities are shaped by nationalism and globalization. Yet the case of gay and lesbian Indonesians also compels us to ask more fundamental questions about how we decide when two things are "the same" or "different." The book thus examines the possibilities of an "archipelagic" perspective on sameness and difference.

Tom Boellstorff examines the history of homosexuality in Indonesia, and then turns to how gay and lesbian identities are lived in everyday Indonesian life, from questions of love, desire, and romance to the places where gay men and lesbian women meet. He also explores the roles of mass media, the state, and marriage in gay and lesbian identities.

The Gay Archipelago is unusual in taking the whole nation-state of Indonesia as its subject, rather than the ethnic groups usually studied by anthropologists. It is by looking at the nation in cultural terms, not just political terms, that identities like those of gay and lesbian Indonesians become visible and understandable. In doing so, this book addresses questions of sexuality, mass media, nationalism, and modernity with implications throughout Southeast Asia and beyond.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Contemporary Asia - Geoffrey C. Gunn
A pioneering ethnography of the national landscape (read Archipelago), Tom Boellstorff offers a new spin on the local and the global, supplies a refreshing new reading of gay subjectivities, and through metaphor, delivers a richly embroidered, linguistically textualized contribution to the literature on sexuality in one Islamic nation
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide - Matthew Kennedy
A cogent and well-argued examination . . . one that may remain applicable to Indonesian social life for many years.
Inside Indonesia - Baden Offord
The Gay Archipelago is an important and timely discussion and analysis of how nation, belonging, desire, subjectivity and geography all intersect in Indonesia. The book provides a truly intimate engagement in the lifeworlds of gay and lesbi folk, and tells us much about how contemporary Indonesian culture is both changed, challenged and transformed through its archipelagic logic.
American Anthropologist - Abraham D. Lavender
This book is timely, emphasizing changing forms of social life in an era of globalization. . . . [T]his is a stimulating and challenging book to read.
Indonesia - Keith Foulcher
Boellstorff's discussion is permeated by a moving sense of validation of the communities he is studying. . . . Anyone with a serious interest in Indonesian culture would do well to seek it out and read it for him or herself.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute - Elisabeth Lund Engerbretsen
[A] fascinating and ambitious study. . . . The Gay Archipelago is a refreshing and brave work that should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the relationship between human sexuality and cultural interchange beyond the well-trodden path of conventional paradigms.
Journal of Contemporary Asia
A pioneering ethnography of the national landscape (read Archipelago), Tom Boellstorff offers a new spin on the local and the global, supplies a refreshing new reading of gay subjectivities, and through metaphor, delivers a richly embroidered, linguistically textualized contribution to the literature on sexuality in one Islamic nation
— Geoffrey C. Gunn
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
A cogent and well-argued examination . . . one that may remain applicable to Indonesian social life for many years.
— Matthew Kennedy
Inside Indonesia
The Gay Archipelago is an important and timely discussion and analysis of how nation, belonging, desire, subjectivity and geography all intersect in Indonesia. The book provides a truly intimate engagement in the lifeworlds of gay and lesbi folk, and tells us much about how contemporary Indonesian culture is both changed, challenged and transformed through its archipelagic logic.
— Baden Offord
American Anthropologist
This book is timely, emphasizing changing forms of social life in an era of globalization. . . . [T]his is a stimulating and challenging book to read.
— Abraham D. Lavender
Indonesia
Boellstorff's discussion is permeated by a moving sense of validation of the communities he is studying. . . . Anyone with a serious interest in Indonesian culture would do well to seek it out and read it for him or herself.
— Keith Foulcher
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
[A] fascinating and ambitious study. . . . The Gay Archipelago is a refreshing and brave work that should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the relationship between human sexuality and cultural interchange beyond the well-trodden path of conventional paradigms.
— Elisabeth Lund Engerbretsen
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2005 Ruth Benedict Prize, Society for Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association

"A pioneering ethnography of the national landscape (read Archipelago), Tom Boellstorff offers a new spin on the local and the global, supplies a refreshing new reading of gay subjectivities, and through metaphor, delivers a richly embroidered, linguistically textualized contribution to the literature on sexuality in one Islamic nation"—Geoffrey C. Gunn, Journal of Contemporary Asia

"A cogent and well-argued examination . . . one that may remain applicable to Indonesian social life for many years."—Matthew Kennedy, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide

"The Gay Archipelago is an important and timely discussion and analysis of how nation, belonging, desire, subjectivity and geography all intersect in Indonesia. The book provides a truly intimate engagement in the lifeworlds of gay and lesbi folk, and tells us much about how contemporary Indonesian culture is both changed, challenged and transformed through its archipelagic logic."—Baden Offord, Inside Indonesia

"This book is timely, emphasizing changing forms of social life in an era of globalization. . . . [T]his is a stimulating and challenging book to read."—Abraham D. Lavender, American Anthropologist

"Boellstorff's discussion is permeated by a moving sense of validation of the communities he is studying. . . . Anyone with a serious interest in Indonesian culture would do well to seek it out and read it for him or herself."—Keith Foulcher, Indonesia

"[A] fascinating and ambitious study. . . . The Gay Archipelago is a refreshing and brave work that should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the relationship between human sexuality and cultural interchange beyond the well-trodden path of conventional paradigms."—Elisabeth Lund Engerbretsen, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691123349
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/17/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,275,472
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Boellstorff is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is author of "A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia,"coeditor of "Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalization and Gay Language", and editor in chief of "American Anthropologist".

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Read an Excerpt

The Gay Archipelago

Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia
By Tom Boellstorff

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12334-9


Chapter One

Introduction

TO YOU WHO HAVE OPENED THIS BOOK

If you have opened this book hoping for a traveler's tale in gay Indonesia, you may be disappointed. Yet I hope you will do more than skip ahead to the stories I tell. While I love a good story as much as anyone else, I also realize that we live in a time where the numbing reduction of debate to sound bites reflects a deep-seated hostility to asking the hard questions. Some readers may find this book refreshingly free of jargon; others may find it full of jargon. While it's difficult to please everyone, I have tried to write the most accessible book I can while remaining true to the following conviction: we are most human when we reflect upon the ways of thinking that constitute the very stuff of which our lives are made.

This book is written primarily to be read by cultural anthropologists-not the folks who dig up bones or reassemble ancient pottery, but those who hang out with contemporary peoples to learn about their ways of thinking and living. However, even if you are not typically interested in the theories of contemporary cultural anthropology (I just call this "anthropology" in this book), I hope you might find that wrestling with theintellectual issues I bring up can be as rewarding as good stories and can provide a better understanding of gay and lesbian life. For instance, while discussing the kinds of sex gay men have with each other in Indonesia might seem important (and I do discuss this), it turns out to be just as important to discuss how we in the West decide when two things are "different" or "the same."

Although this is not a short book, it represents only about half of the material I have published thus far on the gay archipelago. Additional articles analyze dimensions of gay and lesbian life touched upon only briefly in this book, reinforcing many points I make (the key articles are Boell-storff 1999, 2002, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 2004d, 2004e). I indicate where these additional articles might be useful.

Every word of this book is written knowing that it may someday be translated into Indonesian. For such a future Indonesian audience, my hopes are the same as for my English-speaking audience: an appreciation for the lives of gay and lesbian Indonesians, and an appreciation for the value of stepping back from tantalizing impressions of the everyday to ask how human social relations come to be, are sustained, and change over time. The title "The Gay Archipelago" is obviously not meant to imply that all Indonesians are gay, but that there is a gay archipelago that lies amidst the national archipelago. My use of "archipelago" in this book has no relation to the notion of "the gulag archipelago" used by Alek-sandr Solzhenitsyn with reference to the former Soviet Union (Solzheni-tsyn 1973)-a use of "archipelago" indexing a different form of state power, and a history of which my Indonesian interlocutors were unaware.

I do not recommend policies or provide solutions in this book. Solutions are important, but the rush to solutions can be part of the problem. Solutions are helpful, but in an important way they are boring: they close doors and silence debates. While I care about finding answers and often work as an activist, for this book I am more interested in asking new questions, questions that could point toward new visions of social justice.

TERMS OF DISCUSSION

In a classic essay, Clifford Geertz identified the goal of anthropology as "a continuous dialectical tacking between the most local of local detail and the most global of global structure in such a way as to bring them into simultaneous view" (1983:68). Nowadays, however, details can be global-and structure local-as much as the other way around. In the same essay Geertz wrote about the situation in his field site-near Sura-baya, one of the primary field sites of this book-by saying it was characterized in the 1950s by a "curious mixture of borrowed fragments of modernity and exhausted relics of tradition" (60). In the contemporary moment, however, neither cultural transformation nor ethnographic interpretation can be understood as "continuous dialectical tacking" or "curious mixtures." New understandings of imbrication and transfer are needed. Geertz, like myself, was writing of Indonesia, a nation that has long served as an important laboratory for social theory in anthropology. Indonesia can now highlight changing forms of social life in an era of globalization.

For some time now Westerners have tended to think they live in a world that is already globalized. From the perspective of The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Friedman 2000) or Empire (Hardt and Negri 2001) to the global war on terror, there seems to be no corner of the Earth that remains untouched, as if the most "isolated native" drinks Coca-Cola or knows of those who do. The idea that those whom anthropologists studied were ever truly isolated was a fantasy (after all, anthropologists were there to study them). However, the trope of distance and otherness persists not just in anthropology but in the social sciences and beyond. It encodes a set of assumptions about the production of knowledge (knowledge is knowledge of difference) and the nature of human being (culture is, in the end, local).

In this book I offer dubbing culture as a metaphor for conceptualizing contemporary globalizing processes, ethnographic practice in an already globalized world, and the homologies between these projects of interpretation and reconfiguration. Where "writing culture" called attention to the possibility of a reflexive anthropology that decentered ethnographic authority (Clifford and Marcus 1986), "dubbing culture" suggests a post-reflexive anthropology that decenters the ethnographic project itself. "Dubbing" undermines the empiric of ethnography, predicated as it is on the authentic. The term "dubbing culture" is my own invention, but it draws upon a late 1990s controversy in Indonesia where the dubbing of Western television shows was banned on the grounds that if Westerners appeared to speak Indonesian in the mass media, Indonesians would no longer be able to tell where their culture ends and authentic Indonesian culture begins.

Surfing the boundary between emic and etic, I use this term to investigate the surprising resonances between the dubbing controversy and how some Indonesians come to think of themselves in terms of the Indonesian words gay and lesbi. More generally, "dubbing culture" provides a rubric for rethinking globalization without relying on biogenetic (and, arguably, het-eronormative) metaphors like hybridity, creolization, and diaspora, which imply prior unities and originary points of dispersion. In dubbing culture, two elements are held together in productive tension without the expectation that they will resolve into one-just as it is known from the outset that the speaker's lips will never be in synch with the spoken word in a dubbed film. "Dubbing culture" is queer: with dubbing, there can never be a "faithful" translation. It is like the relationship between voice and image in a dubbed film or television show: each element articulates a different language, yet they are entangled into a meaningful unit. It is a relationship more intimate than dialogue, but more distinct than monologue. While I intend the concept of dubbing culture to be broadly relevant, it is particularly salient with regard to gay and lesbian Indonesians because their sexualities are so self-evidently novel-in comparison to, say, "heterosexuality" in Indonesia or the West, which is no less a product of the times but is often misrecognized as natural, eternal, and unchanging.

This book is about gay and lesbian lives in Indonesia-the fourth most populous nation after India, China, and the United States-and what these lives imply for overlapping fields of inquiry including queer theory, Southeast Asia studies, mass media studies, globalization studies, postco-lonial theory, and anthropology. Yet this book is an ethnography of sexual "subject positions," not persons per se, and is only occasionally about the Indonesian gay and lesbian political "movement," which is important but not indicative of how gay and lesbian lives are typically lived. I am interested in the social categories gay and lesbi not just because they are remarkable but because to Western eyes they can appear so mundane. I explore how these social categories have come into being, how they transform ostensibly Western concepts of homosexuality, and how they are taken up and lived in the Indonesian context. My data come largely from individual lives, and throughout I discuss the agency, freedom, and choice in how Indonesians negotiate their subjectivities within systems of power. Yet these systems of power create the preconditions for "agency" in the first place-a term that (alongside "freedom," "choice," and "negotiate") reveals more about Western ideologies of the autonomous self than the lived dynamics of selfhood. Too often discussions of agency assume structures of power against individual "negotiation," losing sight of how agency is also a transindividual social fact. A postreflexive anthropology must destabilize the figure of the preculturally agentive person that robs the ethnographic enterprise of its ability to investigate the relationship between the social and the subjective.

As someone originally trained as a linguist, I find anxieties over agency quite odd. I can, at will and as often as I please, create a well-formed sentence never before produced in the history of the English language-"I saw a black cat look strangely at an excited mouse near Redondo Avenue." Yet I cannot invent new grammars at will; my speech takes place within a horizon of language. Similarly, my agency is produced through (not "constrained by") culture. The linguistic metaphor has proven useful in addressing issues of postcoloniality: "a key question in the world of postcolonial scholarship will be the following. The problem of capitalist modernity cannot any longer be seen simply as a sociological problem of historical transition ... but as a problem of translation, as well" (Chakra-barty 2000:17; see also Liu 1999). Dubbing, a translation that revels in its inevitable failure (moving lips that will never match the sounds of speech), opens up new ways to conceptualize relationships of similitude and difference when new incommensurabilities make "the stakes of translation seem high" (Povinelli 2002:321).

This book's starting point is the apparent puzzle of Indonesians who use the terms gay and lesbi in at least some contexts of their lives, yet consider these to be "authentically Indonesian" (asli Indonesia) ways of being. Under conditions ranging from grudging tolerance to open bigotry-but characterized above all by a society that does not know they exist-Indo-nesians reach halfway across the world to appropriate these terms, transforming them through practices of daily life to interpret apparently "local" experiences. It is always clear to Indonesians of any ethnic or religious background that the terms gay and lesbi do not originate in locality or tradition.

However, in contrast to stereotypes of the elite, cosmopolitan homosexual, most gay and lesbian Indonesians are not rich or even middle class. Few of them speak English or have traveled outside Indonesia. Rarely have they had sex with, or even encountered, a gay or lesbian Westerner. Most have never seen Western lesbian or gay publications, nor have they read published materials produced by other gay and lesbian Indonesians. While concepts have moved to and from what is now called Indonesia for millennia, this has typically been enabled by linkages to institutional structures, as in the cases of world religions (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Bud-dhism), colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism. But no religious authority, state bureaucracy, or transnational corporation intentionally globalizes gay and lesbi: in this case concepts appear to move in the absence of an institutional framework. Importantly, what they move to is the nation-state of Indonesia, rather than specific islands or ethnic groups. Gay and lesbi are national in character; this is why national belonging appears alongside globalization as a focus of my analysis. For gay and lesbian Indo-nesians understand their social worlds in national rather than simply global terms-in surprising but often implicit accordance with the government's "archipelago concept," which represents Indonesia as an archipelago of diversity in unity. They dub this nationalist discourse in unexpected ways. This is why I use the term "cultural logics" (of being a gay or lesbian Indonesian) more often than "discourses," since discourses are typically understood to be intentionally produced by powerful institutions.

Thus, alongside the concept of dubbing culture, a key theoretical intervention of this book is to think through the implications of archipelagic subjectivities and socialities, which do not hew to continental imaginaries of clear borders embracing contiguous territories. The archipelago metaphor permits understanding selfhood and sociality as not possessing sharp external boundaries, yet characterized by islands of difference. I examine how gay and lesbi are founded on rhetorics of national belonging based upon the figure of the heterosexual nuclear family-paradoxical as that may seem from the vantage point of Western homosexualities (and scholarship on the nexus of ethnicity, race, class, gender, and sexuality). How is one to understand senses of selfhood that connect and confound traditional social scientific levels of analysis (and, arguably, lived experience in the West) such as local, regional, national, and global?

This book examines a wide range of sexualities and genders, many of which have different names in different parts of Indonesia or even within one area. As a result I employ several terminological conventions. These conventions are a campy sendup of social scientific obsessions with finding the "right words" to label "things" assumed to exist in the social world independent of the observer. For instance, from this point onward I consistently italicize the Indonesian terms gay and lesbi to indicate they are distinct from English "gay" and "lesbian." I also italicize normal, an Indonesian term that refers to dominant understandings of modern sexuality. I wish to underscore that while gay and lesbi Indonesians reterritorialize the concepts "gay" and "lesbian," the terms have their own history and dynamics: they are not just "gay" and "lesbian" with a foreign accent. In italicizing these terms I use a graphic device to hold them at arm's length, defamiliarizing them while highlighting that they are lived concepts, not just analytical conveniences.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Gay Archipelago by Tom Boellstorff Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 The Indonesian subject 1
Ch. 1 Introduction 3
Ch. 2 Historical temptations 35
Ch. 3 Dubbing culture 58
Pt. 2 Opening to gay and lesbi worlds 89
Ch. 4 Islands of desire 91
Ch. 5 Geographies of belonging 126
Ch. 6 Practices of self, tests of faith 157
Pt. 3 Sexuality and nation 185
Ch. 7 The postcolonial state and Gay and lesbi subjectivities 187
Ch. 8 The gay archipelago 216
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