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Report on 'Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia
The 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies

James Caspian

 
GENDYS JOURNAL

Issue 36
Winter 2006

 
I arrived in order to acclimatize myself to Bangkok a couple of days early, to the Ambassador hotel in a lively part of the city surrounded by street markets, shops and eating places. The hotel was large, with two wings, and easily able to accommodate the five hundred or so delegates who had come from all over Asia to attend the conference, which was taking place in the hotel. It had been organized by people from universities in Thailand, Australia and the UK, and according to the conference programme aimed to make links between research about Asian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer cultures and communities, and to promote recognition and respect for sexual and gender diversity in Asia, where there are many countries in which this is not accepted and where people who are different to the norm are discriminated and even legislated against. Rights, Cultures and Health were main themes of the papers given, and there was a Transgender 'stream' which meant that we had two panels daily of three or four papers on transgender. I learned about Kathoey (known as 'ladyboys') in Thailand and Laos, TG in Hong Kong, Japan and Iran, the Hijra in Pakistan, and TG and sex work; as well as meeting many other delegates and speakers from all over Asia. I witnessed what may prove to be the beginnings of an organized LGBT rights movement across Asia, and was pleased to meet up again with Eh- Sam Winter and Mark King from the University of Hong Kong, with several of their associates.

The conference was covered by the Thai media and had a mixed reaction, some Thai Buddhist clergy and politicians criticized it, one saying it was 'a sex tour'! However, coverage in the English language media in Bangkok was favourable; The Nation, a major broadsheet, gave a sympathetic interview with Mark King about the Hong Kong campaign for transgender rights.

I presented my paper on Transgender in the People's Republic of China to a receptive audience; prior to that I had given a short presentation on the work of G.I.R.E.S., and afterwards distributed G.I.R.E.S. literature, and displayed GENDY'S books and conference reports, and Beaumont Trust leaflets. Interestingly, it became clear that the field of 'Queer Studies', which informed a good deal of the papers presented at the conference on the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual panels, and has a body of theory underlying it which is heavily influenced by psycho-social theories of behaviour, is not very open to research into biological influences on behaviour or identity! One speaker recoiled in surprise when I mentioned recent research into biological influences on sexuality, and another delegate made a short and impassioned speech urging us to ignore such research. Nevertheless, the literature I took with me was taken up by many delegates, and my GENDYS books disappeared from the display table on the second day.

I also saw something of Bangkok's Kathoey nightlife, as Dr Winter knew some local Kathhoey girls and they accompanied us to dinner and lunch, as well as a stunning Kathoey cabaret. Two of DrW's friends are setting up a Kathoey advice and information centre in Thailand, and were keen to find out more about hormone treatment, as it seems that many post-op MTF's are not taking any hormones, and are unaware that this may impact on their health. I intend to send them relevant information, and to make a link between their organisation and the UK.

I had a marvellous week at the conference, and met many wonderful people as well as enjoying the opportunity to talk about my research. I would like to thank G.I.R.E.S. and the Beaumont Trust for their generous financial support in making it possible for me to take part in what was both a unique opportunity to make contact with people from many other countries and cultures, and to share our knowledge and information.

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