AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 526

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Session 526: Queer Asia

Trangendering, Border-Crossing, and Everyday Negotiations of Identity among Malay Muslims in the Southern Border Region of Thailand
Michiko Tsuneda, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan

This paper will discuss intersections of border-crossing, gender, ethnicity, religion, and national identities among transgendered individuals in a Malay Muslim community on the southern border of Thailand. Through the stories of transgendered male residents interviewed during my fieldwork in Narathiwat, Thailand, I examine the ways in which transgendered individuals cross national and ethnic boundaries in order to manage the contested position of their gender in the minority Muslim community on the national border. The examples that I provide show that the experiences of each resident are quite distinct, as individual circumstances strongly influence the choices people make, even when they share their gender, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Changes in local notions of transgendering, the politics of ethno-religious boundaries, regional economic structures, forms of state control of sexualities and cross-border migration, as well as national and transnational links among individuals are all factors that influence the residents’ choices and opportunities. The different experiences of transgendered residents from the same border community thus challenge the monolithic portrayals of the Malay Muslim minority in Thailand seen in media reports and academic analyses amid recent years of unrest in the southern region. The varied ways in which Malay Muslim residents negotiate their identities demonstrate that their position in the border region is much more nuanced and complex than a simple dichotomized state-versus-minority model can accommodate.

Erasure of homoeroticism in the nationalization of Beijing opera
Shunyuan Zhang, Emory University, USA

This paper attempts to explore how homoerotic sentiments, part of the male-to-female cross-dressed theatrical performance in Beijing opera, especially during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) and early Republican era (1920s to 1930s), have been gradually “forgotten” and pushed outside of Beijing opera, constituting one of the hallmark differences between the cross-dressed performances in Beijing opera as “high art” and those by popular performers as “low art” and vulgar entertainment. I will look at how the nationalization of Beijing opera has been achieved (and is still being worked on) with the help of constructing hierarchical categorization through evoking differences in terms of both temporality and spatiality. From the perspective of temporality, I explore how cross-dressed performance in Beijing opera has been detached from homoerotic sentiments through relegating the latter to practices of “old society” that should be extinct in “new society”. From the perspective of spatiality, I look at how on-stage cross-gender performance has been made possible by the construction and imagination of off-stage stable hetero-gender identity. To present the process of difference making through expulsion and forgetting, I am attempting at a different "archive" than the official historiography of Beijing opera. By collecting diverse materials in the domain of public culture in different time periods, ranging from novel, newspaper articles, to interviews and online comments, I hope to be able to look at moments when (or/and manners by which) hierarchies—along the lines of gender and sexuality—are created to legitimize or delegitimize certain bodies, practices, or experiences of transgenderism in mainland China.

Queer Asia: Gay Voices in English
Christopher N. Payne, Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea

Across Southeast and East Asia, there is a growing demand for greater recognition and social acceptance on the part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) communities. From challenging legal restrictions on gay unions, to annual, and increasingly popular, gay pride parades; from the growing number of gay characters in fiction and film, to the emergence of web-portals such as “Fridae” that help connect Asia’s vast GLBTQ populations, queerness in Asia is of rising socio-cultural importance. In a sense, we are witnessing a “queering” of the Asian continent. Accordingly, more scholarly attention is being paid toward the emerging subfield of Asian Queer Studies in an effort to examine and further appreciate these previously marginalised groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the English-language has proved to be a valuable link across Asia’s diverse linguistic communities. It has helped to create a sense of pan-continental solidarity for GLBTQ communities as they struggle for respect in their individual countries. But whilst English can be an important tool for communication and creative expression, using the formerly dominant colonial language to give voice to the region’s own internal and peripheralised others is not without its problems. That is to say, how can the baggage of colonial linguistic discrimination be reconciled with the productiveness of English as a mode of expression for Asian queer discourse? By examining select works by various Asian activists, poets and writers, this paper attempts to explore the residual traces of linguistic colonialism in the region’s English-language representations of being queer.

Confession: Transnational Drag Representations of Filipino Women and Performing the (Im)Migrant Self
Paul Michael L. Atienza, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

Martin Manalansan explains that cross-dressing is a “vehicle of contestation and rearticulation of identities and a strategic refiguring of difference and hierarchy” within the specific community of transnational gay Filipino males he studied. Cross-dressing is one strategy for these immigrant subjects in dealing with their daily struggles in navigating U.S. gay cultural ideologies and controlling their longing for their homeland. "Confession: a drag offering" is a performance exploring a personal flexible strategy of a queer male Filipino transnational subject in negotiating identity formation through drag/cross-dressing. In this piece, I deploy drag/cross-dressing a form that aims to resist and accommodate to hegemonic ideologies that construct the (in)visibility of Filipina transnational women. Images of Filipina transnationals as nurses, caregivers, entertainers and sex workers circulate throughout the world as the labor of their bodies make lasting impressions on recurring (re)presentations in media and both U.S. and Philippine national imaginaries. I present a disidentificationof these images and (re)presentations through a theatrically structured drag performance—drag of gender and drag of nation—that highlights how Filipina women in addition to the Philippines itself are seen, known, and perceived through iconic figures like Imelda Marcos, Lea Salonga and Filipina overseas contract workers promulgating the perception of care. The idea of Filipinas as nurturing by nature possessing exceptional skills in caring for others become ingrained as the standard (re)presentation of self for other Filipinas trying to compete for employment contracts across the world. This presentation is an explication and performance of the development of “Confession.”

Masculine Ethics with Feminine Bodies?: Aesthetics, Politics, "Kinatay," and the Maguindanao Massacre
Melisa Casumbal, Whitman College, USA

Masculine Ethics with Feminine Bodies?: Aesthetics, Politics, "Kinatay," and the Maguindanao Massacre This paper posits the inseparability of aesthetics from politics by examining two modes of gendered violence in the Philippines – gendered violence in recent cinema, and gendered violence as constitutive of recent electoral violence. In Brilliante Mendoza’s "Kinatay" (Butchered), the male protagonist, Pepoy, is spectator to police brutalization of a woman prostitute. In staging Pepoy’s spectatorship of this spectacular misogynist violence, Mendoza’s filmmaking renders the trauma – and its implications for a practice of ethics – as primarily masculine. By contrast, media coverage of the worst political violence in Philippine history – the Maguindanao Massacre – generally treats the misogynist dimensions of the massacre as unrepresentable and unspeakable. My analysis examines both modalities of misogynist violence, that is, the spectacular and unrepresentable, as aesthetic and political practices. Drawing upon political and aesthetic theory, and the work of Filipina and other feminist scholars, I ask, how would a feminist aesthetic politics engage gendered violence?