“What can Japanese Popular Culture Teach Us About Queer Sexuality in Southeast Asia?” – Presentation at Beyond Japanese Studies Symposium

Saint and Zee starred in Thai BL series Why R U in 2019-2020.

On 18-19 February, I will be presenting at the Beyond Japanese Studies 2021 Symposium to discuss how my training as a cultural anthropologist and media theorist of Japan has provided me with the requisite skills to begin research the changing gender norms of Southeast Asia.

The symposium, convened online by The Japan Foundation, Sydney  and the Japanese Studies Department at the University of New England, is designed “to consider how Japan-interested scholars’ work intersects with ‘global studies’, Asian Studies, trans-national and trans-cultural aspects of the human, natural, economic and physical world.”

My presentation, entitled “What can Japanese Popular Culture Teach Us About Queer Sexuality in Southeast Asia?,” forms part of Panel 2: Southeast Asian Transborder Studies, scheduled for 2.45pm to 4pm AEDT on February 18th.

Here is my abstract:

Within this presentation, I reflect on how my training in Japanese cultural studies has provided me with the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct research into the evolution of queer sexuality in Southeast Asia, with a particular focus on Thailand and the Philippines. Over the past several years, a genre of Japanese popular culture known as Boys Love which depicts romance between beautiful men has become highly popular across the Asia-Pacific, transforming the media landscape of Thailand. Thai media are now awash with local adaptions of Japanese Boys Love, leading to novel understandings of sexuality and gender to emerge in the kingdom which represent a “glocalisation” of Japanese cultural knowledge. More so than representing a “borrowing” of Japanese popular culture, however, the genre which has come to be known as “Thai BL” has produced its own innovations that provide broader insights into an emerging Southeast Asian consumer culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Philippines, where Thai BL has become immensely popular throughout the final half of the 2010s. Importantly, for Philippine consumers who I have interviewed during ethnographic research conducted between 2018 and 2020, Boys Love is no longer conceptually tied to Japan and is instead consumed as a new form of Pan-Asian media that possesses important queer emancipatory potentials. In reflecting on the historical development of Thai BL and its emerging Philippine fandom, I conclude this presentation by exploring the theoretical potentials of researching Japanese transnational media as “dislocated” from Japan. I demonstrate that while sophisticated knowledge of Japanese popular media is required to chart these complicated transnational flows, “de-centering” Japan analytically to re-focus attention on the politics of reception in Southeast Asia is particularly generative of new theory that will propel Japanese Studies in innovative directions.

You can register to attend this free event here.


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