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Phil Freestone (University of Reading)
Abstract ID: 285
Topic: Language, gender, sexuality
General Session paper

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This linguistic-ethnographic study of the practices of same-sex-attracted men in Chengdu and Taipei explores the impact of histories, traditions, and global cultural flows on sexual identities and related social actions. The political and cultural trajectories of the two research sites have led to distinct combinations of global and local influences, and an intriguing variety of social and cultural performativities. For example, trends in the negotiation of social progress towards LGBT+-friendly legislation and same-sex marriage are distinct in each region, while clear similarities exist in terms of influence from traditional ‘Chinese’ and/or ‘Asian’ discourses of family and marriage, and in terms of the prominence of global discourses of media, fashion and popular culture.

Study participants tend to navigate such discursive networks with agency and creativity, and the study therefore takes a relativistic and dialogic stance on the relationship between discourses of sexuality across the globe, and rejects of a ‘West to rest’ theory of the development of non-mainstream sexual identities in Asia. Instead, the relationship between discourses and everyday language use is seen as key in the development of hybridized local identities, since the various social languages offered by discourses are used as tools in the continually emergent performance of simultaneously global and local identities. Indeed, it is argued that what same-sex-attracted men say and do in Taipei and Chengdu does not simply index their identity amongst a number of pre-formulated notions (e.g. ‘Gay’, ‘Asian’, ‘Chinese’, ‘Westernised’), but that discourses allow them to construct their identities spontaneously, with nuance, and with a degree of creativity and control.

The resulting performance of highly individualised identities shows varying degrees of influence from divergent discourses, some with fuzzy geographical origins, and reflects the complexity of contemporary processes of global recentering, discursive reworking, and identity articulation.

Keywords: Discourse, Identity, Sexuality, China, Taiwan, Gay, LGBT, Globalization, Performativity, Hybridization