“Queering the Lockdown: Boys Love Series and New Queer Intimacies in the Philippines” – IACS 2021, July 28-30

gameboys title
Gameboys (2020) is a Philippine BL series that responds to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

On July 28 to 30, I will be participating in the Inter-Asian Cultural Studies 2021 Annual Conference at the National University of Singapore (and online!) to deliver a paper emerging from my research on the transnationalisation of Japanese queer popular culture forms (namely, Boys Love).

A link to the recording of this talk is here.

My paper is entitled “Queering the Lockdown: Boys Love Series and New Queer Intimacies in the Philippines.” The abstract is below:

In this presentation, I explore one of the unexpected queer outcomes of the numerous lockdowns engendered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – the proliferation and growing popularity of “Boys Love” (BL) television serials throughout Asia. Taking the Philippines as my primary case study, I first explore how social isolation and the turn to online media as a support mechanism led Philippine consumers of a variety of backgrounds to discover “Thai BL” soap operas, situating this serendipitous discovery within a broader history of the transnationalisation of Japanese queer popular culture throughout Southeast Asia. Drawing upon digital ethnography and interviews with queer Filipino fans, I discuss how Thai BL television series have provided queer support within a society noted for its hetero-patriarchal values. I then turn my attention to the role that BL has played in transforming the Philippine media landscape in the time of COVID-19 through an analysis of the local web series Gameboys, produced as a result of the wide popularity of Thai BL series. Demonstrating that Gameboys merges BL tropes with local understandings of queer expression, I focus my attention specifically on how this landmark Philippine series produces a narrative of queer intimacy under lockdown, demonstrating how the COVID-19 pandemic may facilitate challenges to heteronormativity within Asian media ecologies. I conclude by reflecting on the future of BL and its queer potentials in the Asia-Pacific in a post-COVID world.

My presentation forms part of a panel that I have organised together with Kristine Michelle Santos (Ateneo De Manila University), Lin Song (University of Macau), and Ian Liujia Tian (University of Toronto) titled “Space for Livable Lives in Pandemic Times: (Re)Thinking Queer Intimacies Across Asia.” Here is the abstract:

With abrupt changes in mobility patterns and the concomitant shrinking of social space, old dilemmas such as capitalist exploitation, heteronormativity, and state-sanctioned violence manifest themselves in new ways in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This panel explores how people inhabit these difficult conditions through a focus on queer intimacies: non-heteronormative affects that build material, social, and cultural lives despite being constrained by forces beyond our immediate control. Elucidating how queer intimacies testify and transform living with modernity’s ambiguities, pressures, erotics, and desires in Asia, the panel offers reflections on how we can carve out spaces for livable lives in pandemic times.

The panel’s four papers bring manifestations of queer intimacies into dialogue through a multi-sited investigation into media and cultural production across Asia. We start by examining how inter-Asian cultural flows enable creative ways of building new queer intimacies during lockdown and social distancing. Baudinette’s presentation focuses on the production of BL dramas in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Situating such soap operas within the context of East-Southeast Asian cultural circulation, Baudinette thinks about how BL dramas provide narratives of queer intimacy to challenge heteropatriarchy within Asia’s media ecologies. Also focusing on the Philippines, Santos looks at how fan narratives of Asian celebrities living together in a “Filipino Alternative Universe” (filo au) constitute resources of hope, connections, and aspirations for queer love during the lockdown. Next, we turn to China and explore how queer intimacies thrive in the face of capitalist exploitation and state sanctions. Tian’s presentation ponders toilet graffiti written by women migrant workers in a factory in Shenzhen. Reading desire and affective attention within these graffiti, Tian reorients our focus to lateral spaces, such as toilets, where intimate and affective encounters take place. Looking at online DIY pornography as expressions of Chinese gay men’s erotic lives, desires, and intimacies, Song draws on interviews to explicate how gay men’s claims to sexual citizenship are at once empowered and restricted by their usage of digital media.

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