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Ward Keeler, ‘Comparative Queer Southeast Asian Studies’
November 8, 2019 at 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
Louis Dumont’s insight that mutual interdependence through difference informs hierarchical arrangements helps make sense both of Southeast Asia’s long-standing gender binarism and of the relative tolerance historically afforded people of non-normative gender and sexuality in the region. Even when gender binarism loses its primacy, as some recent reports suggest it has in queer circles, other sorts of differences sustain the notion that only individuals who are unlike are able to enter into long-term relationships.
LGBT activists mounting campaigns against legal discrimination insist that non-normative gender and sexuality should make no difference. Yet many queer Southeast Asians prefer activities, such as drag shows, in which people compete to distinguish themselves—to instate differences in standing—over efforts to win similar rights for everyone. A growing backlash against queer people appears to stem from their demands for recognition without discrimination; the reprisals are against claims that queerness should make no difference.
Ward Keeler is associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include Buddhism, mass meditation movement in Burma, hierarchy and gender in Southeast Asia.