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.
Awards and Recognition
- 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
"The Gay Archipelago is a landmark book, both for studies of Indonesia and for studies of comparative sexualities. Tom Boellstorff manages to integrate grounded narratives of personal experience in larger theoretical notions of identity and nation, and in so doing to develop perhaps the most sophisticated case study yet written of the ways in which sexual subjectivities reflect, and help shape, national identity."—Dennis Altman, author of Global Sex and Gore Vidal's America
"The Gay Archipelago is a landmark work. Boellstorff applies an acute ethnographic intelligence to the lives of Indonesians with same-gender desires, raising unsettling questions about the ways in which anthropology remains invested in "difference." Boellstorff's compelling analysis greatly enriches our sense of how images circulate, and communities are re-imagined, at the point where the global meets the postcolonial."—Jean Comaroff, University of Chicago
"The Gay Archipelago is an important work that inaugurates a new stage in critical comparative queer studies and Southeast Asian anthropology. Far from offering a typical ethnography of gay and lesbian people in a nonwestern 'elsewhere,' Tom Boellstorff provides a richly woven and vigorously argued theoretical and empirical treatise on emerging subjectivities in the nonwest, including Indonesia. His book is admirably ambitious in scale and scope by trying to understand not only Indonesian lesbi and gay peoples but also other sexual/gender systems and formations. While most anthropologists focus either on 'men' or 'women,' he valiantly and successfully pulls together the multiple strands of analysis and data on queer 'men' and 'women' as part of the national imaginary. Through trenchant yet nuanced arguments, he argues for a framework that does not fetishize difference or depend on Western self-awareness and modes of agency."—Martin F. Manalansan IV, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora
"This exciting book represents an original and path-breaking contribution to the contemporary cross-cultural literature on sexuality and gender: first, in the subtle and searching way it conceives the relation between Western and Indonesian sexualities and genders; and, second, in its outstanding approach to perennial problems in theorizing gender and sexuality and their contested relation."—Margaret Jolly, Australian National University, coeditor of Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific