According to the Bugis gender system, calabai are generally assigned male at birth but take on the role of heterosexual females. Their fashions and gender expression are distinctly feminine but do not match that of "typical" cisgender women.
Calabai embrace their femininity and live as women, but do not think of themselves as female, nor wish to be female or feel trapped in a male’s body, and they are respected by society. They are supported by family, and men accept them as males, living in feminine embodiment.
In modern SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) terminology, calabai would presumably be categorised as male-to-female cross-dressers who identify as male. Their gender identity, however, is a separate consideration altogether and cannot be generalised. It varies from individual to individual. Unlike another gender class, the calalai, who are anatomical females but who take on and conform to many of the norms, roles and functions expected of men, calabai have created a specific role for themselves in Bugis society.
If there is to be a wedding in Bugis society, more often than not, calabai will be involved in its organisation. When a wedding date has been agreed upon, the family will approach a calabai and negotiate a wedding plan. The calabai will be responsible for many things: setting up and decorating the tent, arranging the bridal chairs, the bridal gown, costumes for the groom and the entire wedding party (numbering up to twenty-five), makeup for the relevant participants, and all the food. Rarely does a village wedding have less than a thousand guests. On the big day, some calabai remain in the kitchen preparing food while others form part of the reception, showing guests to their seats.