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"To the extent that gender is an assignment, it is an assignment that is never quite carried out according to expectation" -- Judith Butler

Transgender Identities and Female Masculinities


Falling into the Lesbi World: Desire and Difference in Indonesia 

(University of Hawaii Press, 2010).

This book offers a compelling view of sexualities and genders on the margins of queer space by exploring the everyday lives of tombois and their girlfriends in the city of Padang, on the coast of West Sumatra, Indonesia. Tombois (masculine-identified females) situate themselves outside normative categories of gender and sexuality by identifying as men; their girlfriends see themselves as normal women who desire men. Their desires reflect the multiplicity of queer desires in Indonesia and disrupt expectations about the forms of global LGBT sexualities. Through rich, in-depth analysis and provocative stories, this book speaks to the struggles and experiences of all sexual and gender minorities in a globalized world.

Other work on female masculinities and sexualities focuses on the historical and contemporary transformation of gender and sexual identities and practices in Indonesia and North America.

Trans identities and contingent masculinities: Being tombois in everyday practice. Feminist Studies 35(3): 454-480. 2009.

Transnational sexualities in one place: Indonesian readings. Gender & Society19(2): 221-242. 2005.


Gender transgression in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia. Journal of Asian Studies 64(4) (November 2005).


Tombois in West Sumatra: Constructing masculinity and erotic desire. Cultural Anthropology: 13(4): 491-521. 1998. 

Native American genders and sexualities: Beyond anthropological models and misrepresentations. In Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality and Spirituality. Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas and Sabine Lang, eds., pp. 284-294. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 1997.


Sexuality and gender in certain Native American tribes: The case of cross-gender females. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10(1):27-42. 1984.

Transnational sexualities

Women’s Sexualities and Masculinities in a Globalizing Asia, edited by Saskia E. Wieringa, Evelyn Blackwood and Abha Bhaiya (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Available in paperback.


This anthology is a unique collection of writings by both academic and activist scholars on women’s same-sex sexualities and female masculinities in Asia. Awarded the 2007 Ruth Benedict Prize. While the number of works on globalization and sexualities has expanded in the past 10 years, only this collection makes a sustained effort to examine the processes particular to women’s sexualities and female masculinities in the context of globalization. The chapters in this book demonstrate not only the impact of processes of nation-building, citizenship, and transnational flows of knowledge in the production of sexualities and genders, but also the significance of historical and cultural specificities in the construction and transformation of sexual subjectivities. 

Women’s same-sex sexualities

This work explores the relation between women’s sexualities and their social and historical contexts, as well as the problem of the invisibility of women’s same-sex relations in anthropology and theory more broadly, the difficulties of labelling “other” sexualities, and the differences in sexual understandings and practices produced by culturally specific categories of “gender.” Together with Dr. Saskia E. Wieringa, we produced the first collection of essays devoted to women’s same-sex sexualities and transgender practices outside the “West,” Female Desires. 


Female Desires: Same-Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures.

WINNER OF THE RUTH BENEDICT PRIZE for an outstanding work on a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender topic in anthropology.

See also:

Reading sexuality across cultures: Anthropology and theories of sexuality. In Out in Theory: The Emergence of Lesbian and Gay Anthropology. Ellen Lewin and William Leap, eds., pp. 69-92. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 2002.


Culture and women’s sexualities. Journal of Social Issues 56(2): 223-238. 2000.


Cross-cultural lesbian studies: Problems and possibilities. In The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century. Bonnie Zimmerman and Toni McNaron, eds., pp. 194-200. New York: The Feminist Press. 1996.


Breaking the mirror: The construction of lesbianism and the anthropological discourse on homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality 11(3/4): 1-17. 1986.

 Marriage and the “missing” man
 Wedding bell blues: Marriage, missing men, and matrifocal folliesAmerican                                            Ethnologist 32(1): 3-19. 2005.

  "Wedding bell blues" offers a major critique of matrilineal theory, matrifocality and                             marriage, using data on Afro-Caribbean and Minangkabau forms of kinship as well as                                     women’s same-sex relationships to demonstrate the heteronormative underpinnings of                                     kinship theory and the continued presence of the Patriarchal Man in anthropological                                         theory.

Gender, power and matrilineal kinship: 
Minangkabau of West Sumatra 

My research on the matrilineal Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, examines how rural people are coping with the dramatic political and economic changes occuring in Indonesia today. I examine households, matrilineal kinship, and agricultural relations to demonstrate how women and men negotiate gender and power within the context of local culture, state political processes, and Islamic ideologies about gender. 

Webs of Power: Women, Kin and Community in a Sumatran VillageLanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Webs of Power provides a fresh perspective on women in Southeast Asia. Focusing on one rural Minangkabau village, the book provides vital insights into the gendered processes of post-coloniality. The Minangkabau living in West Sumatra are the largest matrilineal group in the world. They have intrigued generations of scholars because they are matrilineal and Islamic. By exploring the contestations and accommodations women and men make with state and Islamic ideologies, Webs of Power discloses the processes at the heart of globalization as well as the complexities of kinship and power in a rural agricultural community. The book challenges conventional thinking about matriliny, showing the prominence of senior women in all aspects of village life.

Representing women: The politics of Minangkabau adat writing. Journal of Asian Studies 60(1): 125-149. 2001.

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