A Coincidence of Desires

Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia

A Coincidence of Desires

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 19 illustrations, 7 tables Published: April 2007

Author: Tom Boellstorff

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

In A Coincidence of Desires, Tom Boellstorff considers how interdisciplinary collaboration between anthropology and queer studies might enrich both fields. For more than a decade he has visited Indonesia, both as an anthropologist exploring gender and sexuality and as an activist involved in HIV prevention work. Drawing on these experiences, he provides several in-depth case studies, primarily concerning the lives of Indonesian men who term themselves gay (an Indonesian-language word that overlaps with, but does not correspond exactly to, the English word “gay”). These case studies put interdisciplinary research approaches into practice. They are preceded and followed by theoretical meditations on the most productive forms that collaborations between queer studies and anthropology might take. Boellstorff uses theories of time to ask how a model of “coincidence” might open up new possibilities for cooperation between the two disciplines. He also juxtaposes his own work with other scholars’ studies of Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore to compare queer sexualities across Southeast Asia. In doing so, he asks how comparison might be understood as a queer project and how queerness might be understood as comparative.

The case studies contained in A Coincidence of Desires speak to questions about the relation of sexualities to nationalism, religion, and globalization. They include an examination of zines published by gay Indonesians; an analysis of bahasa gay—a slang spoken by gay Indonesians that is increasingly appropriated in Indonesian popular culture; and an exploration of the place of warias (roughly, “male-to-female transvestites”) within Indonesian society. Boellstorff also considers the tension between Islam and sexuality in gay Indonesians’ lives and a series of incidents in which groups of men, identified with Islamic fundamentalism, violently attacked gatherings of gay men. Collectively, these studies insist on the primacy of empirical investigation to any queer studies project that wishes to speak to the specificities of lived experience.


“Boellstorff’s A coincidence of desires makes a timely contribution to the anthropology of Indonesia, gender, sexuality, and religion, as well as to queer studies, by ethnographically analysing how Muslim Indonesian gays, lesbis, and warias creatively respond to and challenge different local, national, and global cultural politics and circumstances.” — Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Boellstorff’s new book, like his earlier one, constitutes a remarkably thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution to the anthropological literature on non-normative sexuality.” — Ward Keeler, Journal of Asian Studies

“This book offers a valuable contribution to the study of queer sexualities.” — Tracy Wright Webster, Anthropological Forum

“This collection affirms Tom Boellstorff as a crucial theorist of the relationship between anthropology and queer studies. — Scott Morgensen, GLQ

“This major study reflects a mature consideration of Boellstorff’s decade and a half of ethnographic research. . . . Boellstorff is indeed to be praised for a study that draws solidly on Indonesia-based research to speak to analytical issues that are relevant well beyond that country’s borders.” — Peter Jackson, Intersections

A Coincidence of Desires responds to the imperative in queer studies to resituate the field’s epistemology by asking new questions about the relations between language, religion, sexuality, knowledge, and time. Drawing on a host of ‘coincidences’ between queer studies and anthropology, and using his extensive ethnographic experience in Indonesia, Tom Boellstorff casts his case studies as theoretical meditations in compelling and unexpected ways.” — Robyn Wiegman, Duke University

“By exploring different formulations of time in canonical anthropological texts, in queer theory, and in his own ethnography on Indonesia, Tom Boellstorff challenges and reconfigures conventional anthropological and queer understandings of temporality. By focusing on‘coincidence’—the temporal simultaneity of two events—Boellstorff destabilizes more traditional notions of linear, hierarchical time that structure a range of hegemonic dualities, including male/female and modern/traditional. Boellstorff’s nuanced treatment of ‘coincidence’ ultimately demonstrates the productive potential for a new interdisciplinarity that brings anthropology and queer theory into dialog around questions of gender, sexuality, modernity, and temporality.” — Megan Sinnott, author of Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tom Boellstorff is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia and a coeditor of Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalization and Gay Language, as well as the editor of American Anthropologist. To learn more about Tom Boellstorff’s work, visit his website.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

A Note on Indonesian Terms and Italicization xiii

INTRODUCTION: Queering Disciplines in Time 1

1. Zines and Zones of Desire 35

2. Warias, National Transvestites 78

3. Gay Language, Registering Belonging 114

4. Between Religion and Desire 139

5. The Emergence of Political Homophobia 161

6. Comparatively Queer in Southeast Asia 181

Notes 219

References 235

Index 269
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3991-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3974-8
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