In Vanuatu, the use of the terms such as ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM) and ‘transgender’ has increased over the past decade. This paper draws on twenty months ethnographic research in Port Vila, the country’s capital, to analyse what happens on the ground when MSM and transgender categories are taken up to identify people or to narrate the self. The focus is on who uses these terms, in what ways they are experienced, and what is rendered visible (or not) by their use. This research departs from approaches framing ‘non-heteronormative’ categories as related solely to gender and sexuality. It argues that MSM and transgender categories are used in various ways to refer not only to sexual practices and/or gender identity, but also to health risk behaviours, transactional sex and LGBT rights advocacy. The analysis offered suggests we view MSM and transgender categories as technologies that, depending on the interactional context, contribute to bureaucratic tasks or to maintaining or, on the contrary, changing established socio-political relations.