The conflict rooted in these recent policies is nothing new; for years, people have been asking questions about whether the “sex” we are born with should dictate things like which public facilities we can use, what to tick on our passport application and who’s eligible to play on particular sports teams.
But what if gender were viewed the same way sex researcher Alfred Kinsey famously depicted sexuality – as something along a sliding scale?
In fact, there’s an ethnic group in South Sulawesi, Indonesia – the Bugis – that views gender this way. For my Ph.D. research, I lived in South Sulawesi in the late 1990s to learn more about the Bugis' various ways of understanding sex and gender. I eventually detailed these conceptualizations in my book “Gender Diversity in Indonesia.”
Does society dictate our gender?
For many thinkers, such as gender theorist Judith Butler, requiring everyone to choose between the “female” and “male” toilet is absurd because there is no such thing as sex to begin with.
According to this strain of thinking, sex doesn’t mean anything until we become engendered and start performing “sex” through our dress, our walk, our talk. In other words, having a penis means nothing before society starts telling you that if you have one you shouldn’t wear a skirt (well, unless it’s a kilt).
Nonetheless, most talk about sex as if everyone on the planet was born either female or male. Gender theorists like Butler would argue that humans are far too complex and diverse to enable all seven billion of us to be evenly split into one of two camps.
This comes across most clearly in how doctors treat children born with “indeterminate” sex (such as those born with androgen insensitivity syndrome, hypospadias or Klinefelter syndrome). In cases where a child’s sex is indeterminate, doctors used to simply measure the appendage to see if the clitoris was too long – and therefore, must be labeled a penis – or vice versa. Such moves arbitrarily forced a child under the umbrella of one sex or the other, rather than letting the child grow naturally with their body.
Perhaps a more useful way to think about sex is to see sex as a spectrum.
While all societies are highly and diversely gendered, with specific roles for women and men, there are also certain societies – or, at least, individuals within societies – who have nuanced understandings of the relationship between sex (our physical bodies), gender (what culture makes of those bodies) and sexuality (which kinds of bodies we desire).
Indonesia may be in the press for terror attacks and executions, but it’s actually a very tolerant country. In fact, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest democracy, and furthermore, unlike North Carolina, it currently has no anti-LGBT policy. Moreover, Indonesians can select “transgender” (waria) on their identity card (although given the recent, unprecedented wave of violence against LGBT people, this may change).
The Bugis are the largest ethnic group in South Sulawesi, numbering around three million people. Most Bugis are Muslim, but there are many pre-Islamic rituals that continue to be honored in Bugis culture, which include distinct views of gender and sexuality.
Their language offers five terms referencing various combinations of sex, gender and sexuality: makkunrai (“female women”), oroani (“male men”),calalai (“female men”), calabai (“male women”) and bissu (“transgender priests”). These definitions are not exact, but suffice.
During the early part of my Ph.D. research, I was talking with a man who, despite having no formal education, was a critical social thinker.
As I was puzzling about how Bugis might conceptualize sex, gender and sexuality, he pointed out to me that I was mistaken in thinking that there were just two discrete sexes, female and male. Rather, he told me that we are all on a spectrum:
Imagine someone is here at this end of a line and that they are, what would you call it, XX, and then you travel along this line until you get to the other end, and that’s XY. But along this line are all sorts of people with all sorts of different makeups and characters.
This spectrum of sex is a good way of thinking about the complexity and diversity of humans. When sex is viewed through this lens, North Carolina’s law prohibiting people from choosing which toilet they can use sounds arbitrary, forcing people to fit into spaces that might conflict with their identities.
More or less ten years ago, I believed that
only in Indonesia (plus perhaps some neighboring countries) we could find
people who adore marriage. The so-called (boring) “normal” life cycle for
Indonesian people is this : being born – going to school – going to college –
graduating – getting a job – getting married – having kids – getting old –
finish. :) To be (considered to be)
happy, someone MUST get married, then MUST have kids. Without getting married
and having kids, someone’s life is considered not complete, even perhaps dull.
While watching serials in Sex and the City
(season 5 dan 6) around a decade ago, I noticed that for New Yorkers, to be considered
happy, there are three things they must have (1) established job (2) house (3)
The main focus of Indonesians and New
Yorkers are a bit different. But there is one similarity : life partner,
although in Indonesia, someone must get married (legally) in order to avoid being
gossiped by neighbors, (cohabitation is still considered morally low here) while in New York,
someone does not need to get married, as long as they have life partner.
Recently I have started watching SATC
again, but this time starting from season 1 and 2. In these two seasons, the
four girls were still single, changing dates very often. I saw how unhappy they
were when they broke up, or when they had no dates. Despite the fact that they
wanted to be known as “being single and happy”. Isn’t it
contradictory? This made me question whether this serial really wanted to show
that girls can choose to be single and happy?
We know that by the end of
the serial (season 6), Miranda and Charlotte both were illustrated as happily
married. Samantha was happy with her young boyfriend, Smith. Meanwhile, Carrie
(eventually) married Mr. Big in the movie. :)
society still lingers everywhere, not just in the developing countries. J Feminists still have to
struggle to convince society – especially girls – that to live single and happy
is absolutely possible. Well, at least, minimize the number of people who
choose to get married only because of social pressure. Get married when they
are really ready for that.
In Indonesia, where it is claimed that the majority of its citizens are Muslim, you can imagine that people think polygamy is not the same as having an affair. Polygamy is socially accepted (although not preferred for sure) but having affair is not although it does not mean that you will not find any case like that. :D However, I believe the phenomena about this having affair is not as bad as having sex outside wedlock. :)
I have been idle from blogging for years, except blogging about my biking activities. (You can check about this biking blog of mine here. I write mostly in Bahasa Indonesia though.) I have been very active on facebook these past a few years but I seldom write anything to expose my feminist way of thinking. I took it for granted that my facebook friends know I am a feminist. #smile ... I forgot that the last time I posted about feminism years ago, and of course I have got more 'friends' there, those who do not know that I am a feminist.
This post of mine was triggered by one comment of one facebooker on one status of mine, innocently stating that polygamy is endorsed in Islam. He even said that God asked Muslim men to have more than just one wife. :) I was almost furious when reading his comment. LOL.
In short, in that post I wrote that in fact -- at least for me and (I believe) for many other feminists or those who avoid calling themselves as feminist, but humanist instead -- polygamy is the same as having affair. Both refer to disloyalty, the husband/the wife let himself/herself fall in love with another.
The difference is the practice of polygamy -- read it as polygyny meaning one man with more than one wife -- is 'protected by alquran (Surah An-Nisa verse 3). The verse gives Muslim men right to marry more than one woman, and what they do is ok. On the contrary, when people use the term "having affair", both men and women are socially condemned when doing it. When using the term polygamy, men are supported to do that, women are not allowed to do it, because 'it is against natural law'. :) However, when using the term "having affair" -- not related to any religion -- both men and women are wrong. There is equality here. As a feminist, I love equality. LOL.
So come on guys, be responsible! When you cannot be true to your partner, don't hide yourself behind your so-called holy book. Accept the fact that you are too condemned! LOL.
IB180 14.53 19/12/2015
When looking for pictures in google, I found out that in fact there have been many writings on this topic, polygamy versus having affair in Bahasa. I haven't opened those websites though. Nevertheless, I could conclude that those writings are to defend men who practice polygamy. How boring! LOL.
Several years ago, I got a comment from someone in this post of mine. Then I found out that in fact this "commentator" was someone that I personally knew, though at that time we have not met yet.
In my (real) life, that was the first time I knew someone that 'boldly' came out to me, a girl, who openly said that she was a lesbian. (Through one mailing list I joined, I 'knew' a guy who came out to be a gay and then became an activist in LGBT in Indonesia. We have never met in person yet. But I remember my 'surprised' feeling reading his 'coming out' article in the mailing list for the first time, years ago.) I was really elated knowing that. Moreover, she and her (then) partner opened themselves by writing in a blog, about their relationship, their happiness and sorrow, their obstacles in their relationship, etc.
From their blog, I knew they met for the first time in one social media, by joining a 'lesbian' group. The group is a kinda cyber gathering for anybody labeling themselves as a lesbian who are looking for friends/partners who are also lesbian (of course).
Many times I have read articles/true stories about homosexual people. Perhaps because in Indonesia people do not welcome (yet) homosexual relationship, many of them then eventually leave their gay/lesbian partner to marry someone from opposite sex; perhaps to make their parents happy (because their parents ask them to get married), or due to social pressure. Maybe their marriage lasts long; but I also read that some of them finally cannot deny their 'nature call' to be born as gay/lesbian so they choose to get separated from their spouse.
This friend of mine, let's call her A, wrote in the blog that she was born to be lesbian, never feel attracted to any boy romantically. On the contrary, her partner, B, has been in some relationships with guys before having relationship with A. Not clear though whether B 'finally' followed her nature call, or just got bored with unhappy ending relationships with guys.
I thought -- to my naivete -- their relationship would last long. Isn't it easier to live together -- without getting married -- with the same sex in Indonesia rather than with the opposite sex? As long as they do not expose romanticism to the surrounding, people will not think that they are lesbian couple.
To my surprise, though, they broke up after having the relationship for three years.
My next curiosity, then, was, will they have another relationship with another lesbian (especially A who seemed to be a 'straight lesbian' :p ) or with a guy?
Just a few days ago, I found their blog again. (They changed the we address now and then so I lost track.) The blog still existed with some new posts. They were written by A, expressing her uncomfortable feeling being separated. She seemed that she still could not accept the separation although she has tried to show she is tough. B doesn't post anything there.
And I was struck by melancholic feeling. :(
If one day A has a crush on with a guy, moreover marry him (perhaps to make her parents happy or with other reasons), I will totally be broken-hearted. In my (real) life, I have never known a 'real' lesbian who will always follow her nature then. :)
If B has a crush on with a guy then marry him, I still can accept it. She had several relationships with guys before, after all. :) Perhaps when she decided to break up with A, she realized that no matter what, she is straight, not a bi, or a les.
Several decades have passed. A few days ago I just realized that I am -- sometimes -- still naive. LOL.
Here is the story.
For the first time I got a schoolmate who was not Muslim when I was in the first grade of junior high school. (I attended an Islamic elementary school). Since I got brainwashed that in fact Christians have worshiped the wrong 'god' -- Islamic teaching says that Isa (Jesus) was not killed, to save him from the angry society who didn't believe he was the prophet sent by God, he in fact was lifted by God -- it means the one whom Christians 'think' their god is someone else. :) The one whom my schoolmate (sitting at the same desk with me) thought god was one disciple of Isa (Jesus).
One day, out of my feeling concerned that my schoolmate worshiped a wrong god (LOL), I told her about what I used to believe."Don't you know that in fact Isa was not crucified? he was not killed? in fact he was still alive because God lifted him to the sky? and he will go down to the earth again when the doomsday is near."
My schoolmate looked at me with disbelief look in her eyes. But then she said something that I didn't think would come from her mouth. "I've heard about that. But of course I don't believe in it." bla bla bla ... one thing that made me sad because she didn't let me "save" her from a wrong belief. LOL.
In another chance, she wanted to learn to read some Arabic writings. In one religion book, I showed her an oath Islam people call 'syahadat'. 'Syahadat' is the first requirement for people to say to convert to Islam. When she could follow me reading 'syahadat', I told her that after reading it, automatically she became Islam. Again, to my disappointment, she didn't wanna be saved (by me). LOL. She "withdrew" what she has mentioned. She insisted that she was (still) Christian. :)
I have been undergoing up and down spiritual journey since 12 years ago. From being a (so-called religious) Muslim, I converted to secular (still Muslim), then agnostic.
Several days ago, a workmate of mine said that she no longer can read any book which is not about Islam, including novels. I believe her husband was the one who prohibited her to do so. Honestly I was shocked to hear that. Spontaneously, I wanted to tell her, "Don't you realize that in fact all religions are made up by human beings? Those humans who thought that religions will make people live in harmony. bla bla bla ..."
This spontaneous want reminds me of what I wanted to tell my schoolmate decades ago.
Different from the characters in SEX AND THE CITY who found
it difficult to befriend with their ex (as depicted in the episode “Ex and the
City” of season 2), I, in fact, didn’t find it hard to befriend with my ex
(Angie’s dad). However, it was not that easy as I expected to still be friend
with him because my friendliness to him was considered wrong by him. He thought
that I still loved him (ahhh, I even don’t remember whether I really ‘ever’
fell for him long long time ago. LOL.) whenever I was still willing to spend
time to chit chat with him. So? In order not to make him have the illusion that
I was still his, I decided to avoid him whenever he visited my residence to
I left our old house in 2005. I ran away. LOL. I eventually
got a chance to divorce him in 2008. Once or twice I spent some time with him
when he came to my residence to meet Angie. But then I decided to avoid him
thoroughly after I read his body language whenever we met.
A few months ago, Angie told me that her dad would get
married again. I was really relieved. (I needed 7 years to get the real feeling
that we were no longer destined to be together. No idea why I should think this
way.) Guess what? Frankly, I wanted to attend his wedding day, I would show him
my wide happy smile to show my relief. LOL. However, he didn’t invite me. LOL.
And when the day came, I was attacked by the feeling of laziness to go so I
I didn’t date lotsa boys before I married my ex. But in
2008, several times I dated a guy whom I dated after graduating from high
school. He said that he never stopped loving me after 20 years. Ha ha … do you
believe what men say? He was married, but I just dated him, not more than just
had dinner together. If you believe. LOL. But not long, I stopped dating him
when he expected more than just friendship. Ha ha … In this episode, Samantha
said “women are for friendship, men are for fucking.” But eventually he said to
Mr. Cocky, “Could we be just friends?” because of his too big dick. LOL. In several
episodes before, she broke up with James because his dick was too small. LOL. Meanwhile,
in this same episode, Miranda had sex with Steve after breaking up for some
time. After having sex, Steve asked her, “Are we still friends now?” Miranda
answered, “Yes. We are friends who have sex.” LOL.
After leaving my ex in 2005, I dated quite a lot of guys,
all of them were younger than me. J But
nobody really made me fall for them. Am I, in fact, unable to love anybody?
Hah! This idea reminded me of Celia, one character in T. S. Eliot’s drama
entitled “The Cocktail Party”. Oh well …
changes. People change. Because, wise people say, “Changes are the natural
law.” Do you agree? But in the case of man-woman relationship, it doesn’t sound
In one episode Sex
and the City entitled “Old Dogs, New Dicks” Carrie complained to Samantha about
Big who (still) liked looking at other women, although at that time they were
spending time together. Instead of approving Carrie’s complaint, Samantha said,
“If Looking at other women is the biggest problem of your man, you’re lucky. It
is part of their genetic code, like farting. Once you start to change a man,
it’s doomed. They won’t budge an inch.”
Do you agree with
Carrie or Samantha? J
Well, I understand
Carrie’s annoyed feeling. It is annoying to be with a man you are in love with
– and you think he is also very fond of you – who constantly looks at other
women, although once upon a time I dated a guy – I was very positive that he
was really fond of me – who liked doing that and I didn’t mind at all.
Can I say that one
thing that made Carrie annoyed is that she was not sure if Big responded her
feeling the way she wanted him to?
In that episode,
Miranda complained the different ‘schedule’ she had with Steve, who was her new
boyfriend at that time. Steve who worked as a bartender loved having sex in the
morning while in fact at that time Miranda had to be in a rush to her office.
Miranda had much spare time in the night but Steve had to stay at the bar till
at least 2 a.m. when Miranda was asleep.
Miranda’s problem, Charlotte came up with a suggestion, “How about making sex
schedule?” Cynically Miranda said, “How romantic!” LOL.
“Once you try to change a man, it’s doomed. They won’t budge an inch. The only
things that you can change are their hair and their closet.”
But then Samantha
found out that she had changed a man to be a queer, a guy she dated years ago.
And ... perhaps the guy was really fond of Samantha, so when he got dressed as
a woman, he used name “Samantha”. LOL.
Have you ever
imagined a guy you once dated ‘changed’ to be a woman? LOL. Try to be in
Samantha’s shoes. LOL. No wonder she was very disgusted. Hmmm ... btw, a few
years ago I had a crush on a guy who was very intelligent and critical to
(almost) everything. One time we chatted via YM and he told me that in fact, he
was feminine (although his writings sounded far from being feminine). He felt
that he was trapped in the wrong body. But ‘luckily’ he claimed that he was
‘lesbian’. So, for those who don’t really know him will never know. We only
knew each other online. Cannot imagine if I saw him in real with his strong
feminine side. LOL.
Meanwhile the case
with Charlotte in this episode was Mike – a guy she dated here – was that Mike
was uncircumcised: one thing that shocked Charlotte when the first time they
were about to have sex. In fact Charlotte was very disgusted so that in their
next date, she refused when Mike was about to drop by at her apartment. And ...
to everybody’s surprise, Mike was willing to be circumcised. Not only for
Charlotte though. Mike himself couldn’t take it any longer, most women he dated
gave the same (shocked) reaction when seeing his penis.
After Mike was
circumcised, and both Mike and Charlotte enjoyed their first lovemaking,
Charlotte got another shocking news. Realizing that to be circumcised made him
a virgin, Mike was not ready to be in a serious relationship with Charlotte. He
wanted to share his penis with many other women. LOL.
Have you ever
thought of trying to change your life partner? His hobbies? His way of getting
dressed? His job? His (un)healthy lifesytle such as smoking and drinking? Or
are you the one who (have to) change for the sake of your relationship?