Academic journal article Ethnology

Fijian Males at the Crossroads of Gender and Ethnicity in a Fiji Secondary School

Academic journal article Ethnology

Fijian Males at the Crossroads of Gender and Ethnicity in a Fiji Secondary School

Article excerpt

This article explores how two transgendered Fijian males navigate the intersections of sex, gender, and ethnicity or "race" in a Fiji secondary school. Their experiences illustrate, on the one hand, the negotiability of a transgendered category in Fiji. On the other hand, there is the potential for transgendered identity to open spaces for engagement with nonFijian ethnic markers in the face of essentialist discursive practices on ethnicity. The case study shows the individualized ways that two transgendered males negotiate and challenge notions of Fijian male authenticity. (Transgender, Fijians, ethnicity, Fijian schools)


In a seminal text, Butler (1990) problematizes contemporary Western notions of sex and gender, with sex constituting a particular biological construct rooted in a dimorphism of male and female bodies versus gender as a culturally constructed concept subject to malleability and negotiation by oppositionally sexed bodies. She notes that to reckon gender as a "free-floating artifice" in relation to sex leaves much unexplained about sex since it retains its status as a finite, a priori category:

And what is sex anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such "facts" for us? Does sex have a history? Does each sex have a different history, or histories? Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary options as a variable construction? (Butler 1990:6)

Drawing from Foucault (1978), Butler answers her own questions, arguing that the Western notion of sex is far from an objective fact of nature, tracing its "genealogy" to the eighteenth century medicalization of reproduction in the West, which rendered the physiologically distinctive roles of male and female in reproduction focal, and heterosexuality morally and functionally normative. Butler (1990) identifies the resultant "heterosexual matrix" that provides the grid through which both sex and gender are interpreted, and which consigns nonheterosexuals, third genders, and transgendered persons to the status of exotic, deviant others. She proposes that ultimately the givens of sex in the West should be recognized as the actual outcome of patriarchal "regulatory mechanisms" that claim the repetitive enactment of behavioral differences between males and females as natural and as sexual conventions. In short, sex is a cultural construction; sex is work.

Errington (1990) more explicitly defines and empirically confronts the situatedness of Western notions of sex as a "particular construct of human bodies" (Errington 1990:26) that holds that differences in genitals are normatively contiguous with such "elements of hidden anatomy" as chromosomal and hormonal differences, as well as differences in bodily fluids, sexual preferences, practices, and specialized roles that potentially lead to reproduction. Yet, she seizes upon the opportunities that comparative analyses present for decentering Western constructs by engaging notions of sex in Southeast Asian societies, illustrating that while sex is everywhere recognized as including some distinction in male and female biology, the way these differences are reckoned, the emphasis they are given, and allowances for additional sex categories vary across societies. Societies of island Southeast Asia are among those where not only are bodies not gendered in such fixed, oppositional ways, but where practice potentially overrides sexed bodies in social classification. In terms of relative access to prestige and power, which are defined in spiritual rather than secular terms, Errington (1990) observes that

Island Southeast Asians tend not to be biological reductionists: they usually do not claim that women, because they are anatomically women, are weak or ineffective. Rather, they are probabilists: they point out that women and men are basically the same, but because of the activities women engage in or fail to do, they tend not to become prominent and powerful (Errington 1990:40). …

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