LGBTQ Experiences in Southeast Asia

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Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema
Arnika Fuhrmann

Through an examination of post-1997 Thai cinema and video art Arnika Fuhrmann shows how vernacular Buddhist tenets, stories, and images combine with sexual politics in figuring current struggles over notions of personhood, sexuality, and collective life. The drama, horror, heritage, and experimental art films she analyzes draw on Buddhist-informed conceptions of impermanence and prominently feature the motif of the female ghost. In these films the characters’ eroticization in the spheres of loss and death represents an improvisation on the Buddhist disavowal of attachment and highlights under-recognized female and queer desire and persistence. Her feminist and queer readings reveal the entangled relationships between film, sexuality, Buddhist ideas, and the Thai state’s regulation of heteronormative sexuality. Fuhrmann thereby provides insights into the configuration of contemporary Thailand while opening up new possibilities for thinking about queer personhood and femininity.

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Falling into the Lesbi World: Desire and Difference in Indonesia
Evelyn Blackwood

Falling into the Lesbi World offers a compelling view of sexual and gender difference through the everyday lives of tombois and their girlfriends (“femmes”) in the city of Padang, West Sumatra. While likening themselves to heterosexual couples, tombois and femmes contest and blur dominant constructions of gender and heterosexuality. Tombois are masculine females who identify as men and desire women; their girlfriends view themselves as normal women who desire men. Through rich, in-depth, and provocative stories, author Evelyn Blackwood shows how these same-sex Indonesian couples negotiate transgressive identities and desires and how their experiences speak to the struggles and desires of sexual and gender minorities everywhere.

Falling into the Lesbi World demonstrates how nationally and globally circulating queer discourses are received and reinterpreted by tombois and femmes in a city in Indonesia. Though less educated than many internet-savvy activists in major urban centers, their identities are clearly both part of yet different than global gay models of sexuality. In contrast to the international LGBT model of “modern” sexualities, this work reveals a multiplicity of sexual and gender subjectivities in Indonesia, arguing for the importance of recognizing and validating this diversity in the global gay ecumene.

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Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand
Megan J. Sinnott

Winner of the 2004 Ruth Benedict Prize for Best Monograph

A vibrant, growing, and highly visible set of female identities has emerged in Thailand known as tom and dee. A “tom” (from “tomboy”) refers to a masculine woman who is sexually involved with a feminine partner, or “dee” (from “lady”). The patterning of female same-sex relationships into masculine and feminine pairs, coupled with the use of English derived terms to refer to them, is found throughout East and Southeast Asia.

Have the forces of capitalism facilitated the dissemination of Western-style gay and lesbian identities throughout the developing world as some theories of transnationalism suggest? Is the emergence of toms and dees over the past twenty-five years a sign that this has occurred in Thailand? Megan Sinnott engages these issues by examining the local culture and historical context of female same-sex eroticism and female masculinity in Thailand. Drawing on a broad spectrum of anthropological literature, Sinnott situates Thai tom and dee subculture within the global trend of increasingly hybridized sexual and gender identities.

Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok, and Cyber-Singapore
Gary L. Atkins
The book depicts gay paradises in Southeast Asia and the men who created them. It studies the obstacles gay men have faced in securing a voice as citizens, and how they used images of paradise in Bali, Bangkok, and Singapore to create a sense of refuge, construct homes for themselves, and dissent from typical notions of manhood and masculinity. For gender studies and Southeast Asian studies, it provides a “queer reading” of Walter Spies, a gay German painter who in the 1930s helped turn Bali into an island imagined as an ideal male aesthetic state. Secondly, the book provides a historical account of the absorption of Western notions of romantic heterosexual monogamy in Thailand during the reign of King Rama VI and the resistance to those notions expressed through an architectural paradise called Babylon founded by a Thai known as Khun Toc. Finally, it describes the “cyber-paradise” of Fridae.com created by a young Singaporean named Stuart Koe. Collectively, the study examines the pursuit of sexual justice, the ideologies of manhood they challenged, and the geographic and online spaces they created.

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