Gender, Stigma, and Melancholia in Sinophone Cultural Representations

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room 6

  • Organised by Wen-chi Li
  • Andrea Riemenschnitter, Chair
  • Wen-chi Li, “More than Shame: Constructing Melancholia in the Poems of Chen Ke-hua”
  • Helen Hess, “Querying Gender Roles in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature and Art”
  • Sujie Jin, “Fantasising About a Different Gender Identity in Boys’ Love Fiction”
  • Andrea Riemenschnitter, Discussant

The panel is organised in a multiscalar framework that takes into account intersecting categories such as gender, race, class, culture, affective intensities, and aesthetic forms to analyse their entanglements with the (trans-)local, socio-political forces, and their particular forms of oppression. Stigma and discrimination against LGBT and other marginalised groups classify the Other in undesirable stereotypes (Goffman) and produce negative affections such as shame, fear, loneliness, and melancholia. Regarding the latter, Kristeva argues that aesthetic and literary creation triggered by melancholia can set forth an artistic work that represents the subject’s coming to terms with the collapse of the symbolic. Indebted to her intervention, this panel will engage in a dialogue with marginalised queer artists. It will in particular study how they and their audiences read these Others within the Sinophone communities, and how their struggles in the battlefields of heteronormativity employ the affective intensity of melancholia in order to produce redemptive social action. We will argue that behaving, writing, or thinking queerly empowers them to escape, challenge, and (theoretically) undo the majorities’ enforcement of male heteronormativity. To provide a comprehensive perspective on how gender, stigma, melancholia and other tropes are operated in Sinophone texts and their communities, the panel cuts across various identities (such as queer, transgender, lesbian, and straight), genres (i.e. photography, poetry, and novel both printed and online), and geographical areas (in particular, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and mainland China).

Wen-chi Li, “More than Shame: Constructing Melancholia in the Poems of Chen Ke-hua”

Taiwan’s LGBT tolerance nowadays has come from continuous struggles against the social conservative. In the 1990s, when gay and lesbian novels and poems were widely published, the writers tended to portray homosexual sex and desire as unspeakable and tabooed, with a strong lyrical tone, and in a counter-rational style that implicitly challenges heteronormativity and patriarchy. Such writings do not merely stage feelings of shame—an affect often connected to gay identity in queer theories—but also are underpinned by melancholia. This presentation intends to offer an alternative perspective on Taiwanese LGBT experiences, particularly that of the gay writer Chen Ke-hua (陳克華, 1961), and exemplify how the poet’s life and oeuvre are connected to melancholia. I will explore how melancholia represented in gay writings is associated with personal experience and social denial, and consider the specific affective dynamics within Taiwan’s identity and gender politics.

Helen Hess, “Querying Gender Roles in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature and Art”

The Merlion is a mythical creature that is commonly believed to represent Singapore’s identity. It has the body of a fish and the head of a lion. In Amanda Lee Koe’s short story Siren, the hybrid animal dwells in a human transsexual protagonist called Marl, who in this way represents a queer version of Singapore’s national allegory. Marl’s classmates claim that he is half lion half fish because he does not fit into their concept of a typical boy. Marl keeps telling himself a tale about a sailor, who fell in love with a siren and brought up a child that is half-human, half mermaid. The appropriation of supernatural figures and mythical creatures often functions as a kind of self-empowerment. When accepted and encrypted with positive meaning, the experience of stigmatisation can be reversed and turned into a powerful defence mechanism. Many of Koe’s stories question the heteronormative gender roles that dominate public discourse, against which some of Koe’s lesbian protagonists do not even dare to raise their voices. Drawing on Foucauldian discourse analysis, postcolonial feminism, and gender theories, the paper intends to analyse how gender and sexuality are represented in Singapore’s and Malaysia’s public discourse from the late colonial era until today. Furthermore, it will study how stereotyped role models are challenged in contemporary Sinophone fiction and artworks. The goal is to explore how power relations and disparity based on discursively constructed identity categories have changed over time, and how cultural representations map out alternative concepts of subjecthood.

Sujie Jin, “Fantasising About a Different Gender Identity in Boys’ Love Fiction

Chinese online boys’ love (BL) fiction—a genre that features male-male relationships—is a collective product created by and for women since the late 1990s under the influence of Japanese BL culture. The female writers and readers, who are commonly named as fujoshi (funü 腐女 in Mandarin, literally, rotten girls) in a self-deprecating sense, are relatively marginalised socially and have to endure the anxieties of gender essentialism within the cultural patriarchy. To escape from the prevalent gender stereotypes, they construct an ideal, liberal, and utopian community through BL texts. It is significant to investigate fujoshis’ reaction toward the kind of gender identity that is conveyed and fantasised about in BL fiction. Two stories—The Water Buffalo Man 牛男 and Groceries for Pathfinders 南北杂货 written by the female author Baozhihuqiang 报纸糊墙—will be presented in a case study in order to show how fujoshi fictionalise a better life based on the imagination of gay desire and experience in the settings of an imagined contemporary Chinese society or the golden times of the Tang Dynasty. Actively participating in the making of the fantasy, the fujoshi community comments on the text online, thereby affecting the development of the characters and plot. The analysis will thus illustrate how fujoshi challenge the existing female stereotypes as encountered in the real, patriarchal world by building an alternative, digital, and open cultural sphere.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 6