Sunday, May 23, 2010

Five Genders

Last year on The National Geographic channel I saw a video on the 5 gender system based on the Bugis culture in Indonesia. When I created this blog 4 days ago, I thought of this story immediately and decided I must write about it!

In the US we have a simple way of viewing gender =Male or Female= Some will say this is the correct and only way to view gender and others will disagree. However it is undeniable that there lies a third group, transgender. Transgender is misunderstood and an underrepresented minority group in the US. However, that is not the case for all over the world.

In Indonesia, the Bugis culture has a gender system where they recognize and accept 5 genders, because they realize the acceptance of the differences among people brings balance and harmony in the world. The genders are oroane, calabai, bissu, calalai, and makkunrai. Oroane is a masculine male and makkunrai is a feminine female. These two are the only acceptable genders based on the norms of the US. Then we have calabai which is a feminine male (see picture), meaning they are biologically male but they hold social roles, occupations, and habits of a female. Calalai is the exact opposite of calabai. Calalai is biologically a female, but they hold social roles, occupations, and habits of a male. However, calabai and calalai do not want to become or be considered a female nor a male, so they are given a separate identity. The one that is the most interesting is the bissu, because they incorporate elements of all genders. I find this to be most noticeable in their appearance, because they could be wearing a dress, have a flower in their hair, and have makeup on, but have long beards and be carrying around a knife at the same time.
In their culture there is no reason why they can not be accepted by everyone as long as they are a good person and work hard.

Many things in this world are viewed as not black or white or right or wrong... meaning there is a grey scale, a place for when something is not quite right or wrong. So how come gender can not be viewed and accepted all over the world as being on a continuum?

Does this gender system really bring balance and harmony into the world? I am not quite sure of the answer, but I assume that it contributes to having less violence, more happiness and peace in the world.


  1. In America and Africa things were very different before the colonization.
    Native Americans called gay people 'Two Spirit People'.
    There are a few good documentaries on youtube about the topic, and there is a lot to read.
    I would say spread the word, it's beautiful information.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. *transgendered people

      They believed a person could consist of both a feminine spirit and a msculine spirit.
      Those that were biologically male would hold social position of that of females, they were dressed feminine and took care of children etc.

      there is a difference between sexuality (for example being gay) and who you identify with