In this essay I shall be dealing, first of all, with western categories of sex and gender and examining how these are dichotomised into a dualistic opposition of male and female. This dualism may even entail the surgical "correction" of bodies so as to·ensure a congruence of gender assignment, identity and role. Western dualism is opposed to 'anomalous' categories. It becomes evident that such classification rests on culturally specific views of both natural and social reality. Material will be presented here to show exactly how culturally relative these concepts are; in Bali for example, the religious and social order pivots on the unity of males and females which correlates with the unity and oneness of the Hindu gods. This oneness is also manifested by the important role that both male and female transvestites play as transactors between 'this world and the other world' in temple ritual and dances. With the decline of the Hindu pantheism and the rise of monotheistic Islam in Java, the former unity developed into a dichotomy of male and female. Here the only legitimate role for the transvetite is as a low status actor protraying old heroines and redundant gods. In Malaysia, the transvestite may be an actor or even a shaman dealing in 'unorthodox' religious categories which, somehow, equate with ambiguous roles in modern day society. Here again, with the rise of a theocentric Islam male and female roles became dichotomised in society, although both folk drama and shamanistic ritual performances are evocative and reminiscent of the former Hindu 'unity'. It is apparent that transvestites perform on the 'periphery' of society. A special 'liminal' niche is set aside and bounded, yet it is clear that the very context of "betwixt and betweeness" may also he functional for the wider society - be it of a religious, magical, dramatic or even a sexual nature. In South East Asia the recognised roles of the transvestite lends a legitimacy to potential ambiguity which contrasts, somewhat starkly, with the rigid insistence in western societies on the duality of gender, emphasis on conforminity, and a negation or intolerance of anomalous categories of gender.
"Transvestites as Actors and Transactors,"
1, Article 5.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/nexus/vol2/iss1/5