Atelier Genre(s) et Sexualité(s) « Not Following the Script: Expanding Queer and Transgender Autonomy in Thailand’s Alternative Modernity »


by Peter A. Jackson, Australian National University, MSH Guest Professor

With the MSH, EAST, the CIERL and the LAMC

In the 20th century, ethnographic and historical studies of Thai LGBTQ cultures emphasised the distinctive, non-Western genealogies of the country’s modern gay, lesbian, and trans (kathoey, transman) identities and communities. Thailand, formerly Siam, has been integrated into the Western-dominated political and economic world order since the middle of the 19th century. However, its semicolonial or cryptocolonial position — of unbroken political independence yet economic and cultural subordination to European and American colonial powers — means that Thai discourses and cultures of gender and sexuality have followed distinctive historical trajectories that do not conform fully to dominant narratives of postcolonial queer studies. While the modernising Thai state enforced an intense regime of biopower over gender in order to accentuate the masculine/feminine binary, the heterosexual/homosexual binary remained comparatively unproblematic and largely avoided state surveillance.
Drawing on Thai queer/trans studies literatures as a starting point, I consider ways in which 21st century Thai LGBTQ communities have continued their distinctive trajectories even as they have become more extensively and intensely integrated within global networks. Thai LGBTQ communities have expanded spaces of queer/trans autonomy by exercising agency in unexpected political and cultural domains and in ways that fail to follow many of the scripts of critical queer and trans studies. As examples I consider: the flourishing of Thai queer and trans activisms under the country’s anti-democratic military dictatorship; increasing numbers of publicly reported gay marriage ceremonies in the absence of legal recognition of same-sex unions; and efflorescing spirit cults outside of Thai Buddhism as spaces of trans and queer prestige where gay men and transgender kathoeys achieve cultural recognition as ritual specialists. I argue that Thai, and other Asian, queer and trans cultures continue to challenge us to expand the parameters of critical analysis.

Peter A. Jackson PhD is Emeritus Professor of Thai history and cultural studies in the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. Over the past 30 years, he has written extensively on modern Thai cultural history, with special interests in religion, sexuality and critical approaches to Asian histories and cultures. Peter Jackson is a founding member of the editorial collective of Hong Kong University Press’s Queer Asia monograph series. His recent books include: The Ambiguous Allure of the West: Traces of the Colonial in Thailand (with Rachel Harrison HKUP 2010), Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media and Rights (HKUP 2011), The Language of Sex and Sexuality in Thailand (with Pimpawun Boonmongkon, Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai 2012,) and Cultural Pluralism and Gender/Sex Diversity in Thailand (with Narupon Duangwises, Princess Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok, 2013). His latest book, First Queer Voices from Thailand: Uncle Go’s Advice Columns for Gays, Lesbians and Kathoeys, was published by HKUP in April 2016. In 2016 he was Senior Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, and from October 2017 to March 2018 he was a Visiting Fellow in Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies. Among current projects he is collaborating with Prof. Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière (Centre Asie du Sud-Est, CNRS-EHESS Paris) to establish an international network of scholars studying the efflorescence of spirit possession rituals across mainland Southeast Asia, and he is writing a book on the political dimensions of new cults of wealth and forms of non-orthodox ritual in Thailand.

Wednesday 2 May at 5pm to 7pm

Salle Henri Janne (15e étage)
Institut de Sociologie
Avenue Jeanne 44
1050 Bruxelles

Free entry