Queer Studies in Asia

How does research about diverse sexualities and genders circulate through
Asia? How do linguistic barriers affect the flow of local and regionally
produced knowledges? Who calls the shots, defines the agenda, decides who
gets published? How can we create more venues for South-South dialogues?
These were some of the questions
raised at the Asia Regional Meeting of the
International Resource Network (IRN) in
Bangkok, Thailand, July 10-11. The IRN is
a project based at CLAGS and supported
by the Ford Foundation that aims to link
up people doing research in areas related
to diverse sexualities and genders.
Through hosting regional meetings and
the creation of a dynamic multi-language
website (irnweb.org), the IRN promotes
international communication and
exchange through scholarship and fosters
comparative and collaborative projects
among researchers, among other things.
CLAGS brought together over 100 researchers and activists from 14 Asian
political jurisdictions, as well as the U.S, Brazil, and South Africa, to brainstorm
ideas for the development of the IRN’s Asian Regional Network. The meeting
followed the groundbreaking “First International Conference of Asian Queer
Studies: Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia.”
During an intense two days of plenary sessions, country reports, and small
group breakout sessions, participants discussed the vigorous growth of
sexuality studies in the region, noted the serious challenges the field still faces,
and identified possible solutions.
Eufracio Abaya, from the University of the Philippines and an IRN Advisory
Board member, described his “celebratory” view of the development of LGBT
studies in the Philippines. “Early on, it was dominated by Western scholars.
But not now. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of positive changes, and that’s
indicated by the number of young Filipino scholars at the [Sexualities, Genders,
and Rights in Asia] conference.”
Perhaps the most common theme throughout the meeting was the
importance of overcoming the linguistic barriers to inter- and intra-regional
dialogues on queer studies.

“If you want to know about another country in the region, you have to read
about it in English,” said Dédé Oetmono, from the University of Surabaya, Indonesia.
“We need to look at each others’ work more, but people are limited by their linguistic
spheres.”
Antonia Chao, a professor of sociology at Tunghai University in Taiwan, remarked
that scholars in Taiwan have been doing volunteer archiving work for the last two
decades. “But the majority of these scholars don’t speak English, so their work is
marginalized. We need to get this work translated.”
Hui Jiang, the webmaster of GayChinese.net, has, with his colleagues, been hard
at work at disseminating information. Since 1999, when the website was founded,
they have published over 10,000 articles. (GayChinese.net has recently created a
separate organization, the Information Clearinghouse for Chinese Gays and Lesbians,
for its translation and archive projects.) Some of these pieces are translations of
articles from English, French, and Russian. “But we’re also collecting, editing, and
archiving articles on China, producing an indigenous corpus of writing,” he said.
Popho E.S. Bark-Yi, who is currently working to establish the Asia LBTQ Women’s
Research Consortium out of Korea, talked about the need for the kind of research that
advocacy organizations can use in their work. “We need action-oriented research.
We’re trying to link up researchers working on particular issues related to our lives,”
she said.
Denilson Lopes Silva, a professor of Communication from the University of Brasilia
and a member of the IRN Advisory Board, noted that national queer networks already
exist in many countries. “But we need to stimulate more transnational research,
especially more South-South dialogues.”
During the final day of the meeting, participants generated concrete plans for
overcoming these obstacles and identified priorities for moving forward with the
development of the IRN, including: creating venues for more collaboration through
mini-conferences and internet-based research groups, developing ethical guidelines
for researchers, identifying resources for much-needed translation projects, linking up
with already-existing archives and networks, providing
a space for visual and textual archival material, and
creating an Asian Regional Editorial Board.
When the IRN website is unveiled in the late fall of
2005, its architecture will support directories,
bibliographies, chatrooms, listservs, links, customcreated
content, and, what will be the largest aspect
of the site, a dynamic archive of research materials.
The site will invite individuals to add their own
materials—including descriptions of research interests,
syllabi, articles, archival documents, opinion pieces—
to the site. Regional editors will create specific
content.
The Bangkok IRN meeting was the third such
regional gathering CLAGS has hosted. The first was in
New York City in November 2002 and the second in Mexico City in August of 2003.
The next regional meeting will take place in Africa in the fall of 2006. For more
information about the IRN, or for a complete copy of the IRN Asian Regional Meeting
Report, email clagsglobal@gc.cuny.edu. For more information on the “Sexualities,
Genders, and Rights in Asia” conference, visit their web page at
http://bangkok2005.anu.edu.au/.