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Pleasure, Pain and “Perversions” in Modern Vietnam

Sat, April 2, 10:45am to 12:45pm, Washington State Convention Center, 3rd Floor, Room 306

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


This multidisciplinary panel critically examines sexual behaviors and identities that were considered non-normative in 20th century Vietnam. Grounded in religious, moral or social belief systems, ideas of gender and sexuality in modern Vietnam were transformed during the colonial and postcolonial eras. By focusing on desires and activities considered deviant or unnatural, the papers explore the tensions between social norms and and private life in the colonial and contemporary periods from various disciplinary perspectives. Drawing on reportage and editorials from the interwar years, Martina Nguyen examines the attitudes of mainstream intellectuals towards rapid modernization and Hanoi prostitution. Christina Firpo explores the intersection of race, age, and “sexual perversion” in a Catholic orphanage for Eurasian boys. Through a close reading of contemporary fiction, Vinh Quoc Nguyen argues that despite their humane and positive portrayals of homosexual characters, the novels of Bùi Anh Tuấn often remain fraught with cultural ambiguity. And finally, Oscar Salemink looks at how transgender and crossgender practices considered transgressive in everyday society privilege transgender and transsexual bodies in ritual time-spaces. While scholars such as Michael Peletz and Barbara Andaya have made significant contributions to gender and sexuality in Southeast Asia, Vietnam studies have been relatively lacking in such research. Together these papers on what in colonial and postcolonial Vietnam were considered sexual “perversions” demonstrate that the “normality” of filiality and patriarchy has to constantly reassert itself against the challenges of “perverse” desires, thus making a distinct multidisciplinary contribution to the emergent scholarship on sexuality and gender in Vietnam.

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