Gender and sexual pluralism in Southeast Asia


Single Panel


Session 4
Thu 09:00-10:30 Room 3.08


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Across Southeast Asia, gender and sexual diversity is more restricted today than it was a hundred years ago. The sida-sida, for example, were a particular class of ritual-specialists among the Malays who were considered to combine female and male properties, and through this combination they were invested with spiritual power. The bissu, a particular class of ritual-specialists among the Bugis of South Sulawesi, occupied a special social position because they combined female and male qualities. The Ngaju Dayak, a group living on the island of Borneo, knew the ritual transgender specialists as basir, while in Burma they were famous as the nat kadaw. Gender and sexual pluralism has been severely transformed by colonial and postcolonial state policies in the context of economic and religious developments. However, transgender identities and practices still exist in contemporary times, albeit marginalized. The mak andam in Malaysia are ritual practitioners whose role is to plan weddings and prepare brides. Many male transvestites in the Philippines, in Thailand or in Indonesia work in the beauty sector. In Singapore, homosexuality is still punishable by law; at the same time, the city-state has become one of Asia’s gay capitals.

This panel invites presentations that deal with past and present gender and sexual pluralism in Southeast Asia and its complex negotiation processes between political, religious and economic spheres. On an empirical level it can be analyzed, among other things, how gender and sexuality are related to one another; what role transgender people play in contemporary Southeast Asia and how they perceive their identities. On a theoretical level, papers can address, for instance, interlinkages between categorization processes of what counts as “transgender”, “third gender”, “female”, “male”, “homosexual” or “heterosexual” in the context of nation state building, class formation, religion and ethnicity; transformations in understandings of “femininity” and “masculinity” or the role of morality and spirituality as part of these processes.