The Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology held "Queer Space: Centres and Peripheries" on Feb 20 and 21. Back to back, so to speak, was "Queer Asian Sites" from Feb 21 - 23, same location, organised by AsiaPacifiQueer, the clutch of Australian academics working on queer Asia.
Closing the first conference and opening the second was David Halperin, currently teaching at the University of Michigan, but preferring Paris and Sydney. Halperin is a leading thinker, author of One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Saint Foucault.
His recent course at Michigan, How to be a Homosexual when first offered in 2000 (and for years thereafter) provoked protests from the Christian Right, with accusations that he was recruiting innocent young students for a perverse gay lifestyle. Halperin was trying to figure out the origins of cultural patterns we associate with gay men - like adoring Judy and Kylie. TV news interviewed some students about the controversy. One hadn't heard about the course and immediately enrolled.
Halperin, intense as always, was fixated on accusations that gay men had a "death wish" or "internalised homophobia," leading to the current increases in their HIV infection rates.
First he showed that the statistics on the increases were pretty inaccurate. Then he launched into a detailed analysis of what he saw as gay mens' responses to societal oppression. In defiance to social attitudes, gay men played gender games, loved divas and enjoyed lively, often transgressive sex.
It was gay men's "abjection" at the hands of society that provoked this range of responses. We had a half-hour of quotes on the idea of "abjection" coming from authors both well known and totally obscure. Look for the book perhaps by year-end.
In sharp contrast, Robert Aldrich, author of the gorgeous coffee table book Queer Culture: A World History, gave an elegant and lively talk on gay travellers in history. Here, the rich, the famous and the glamorous were at centre stage.
Sant Suwatcharapinun, lecturer in architecture in Chiang Mai University, mapped gay spaces in Bangkok. David Higgs from the University of Toronto mapped gay spaces in 17th century Lisbon. Welby Ings took us on a tour of public toilets in New Zealand.
The AsiaPacifiQueer program featured the usual APQ suspects - Peter Jackson on Thailand, Mark McLelland on Japan, Doug Sanders on Korea.
Neil Garcia, who has now been teaching for 16 years at the main campus of the University of the Philippines, did an update and review of his groundbreaking book Philippine Gay History: The Last 30 Years published a decade ago. In spite of the title, the book included a look back to the 19th century to ask whether the # 1 nationalist hero Rizal was gay.
The book had a picture of a punk Saint Sabastian on the cover, tied to a tree, arrows piercing his flesh. It was published by the University of the Philippines Press and included in a list of special publications marking a centennial. Not something I expected in the ultra-Catholic Philippines.
APQ focused on getting Asians to Sydney for its conference - Rosanna Flamer-Calders of Sri Lanka, Dede Oetomo of Indonesia, Chandra Balachandran of India, Prempreeda Pramoj na Ayutthaya from Thailand.
Amelia McKenzie, Director of Asian Collections for the National Library of Australia, gave a presentation at the APQ conference. The Library is committed to collecting LGBT/Queer Asian materials as part of its ongoing commitment to Asian materials. It collects local language publications from Southeast Asia and East Asia - for South Asia, it has been collecting mainly English-language materials. If you have stuff, Australia may buy it from you to add to their collection.
Doug Sanders is a retired Canadian Law Professor now living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AsiaPacifiQueer is intending to convene panels on Asian queer studies at the International Convention of Asia Scholars in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2-5 August 2007. More details coming soon.