Fran Martin presented the ‘First Fridays’ Seminar Educational Mobility’s Queer Potentials at Deakin Downtown on 1 November 2019.
About the Seminar
Drawing on four years of ethnographic fieldwork with a group of 56 young women from China who travelled to Melbourne to study, this paper considers how this form of educational mobility may open up transformative possibilities in the realm of sexuality. The paper’s starting point is the observation that studying overseas creates a “zone of suspension” insofar as it temporarily, incompletely distances educational transmigrants from certain aspects of sex-gender regulation at home, and enables the development of revised norms. This zone of suspension affords multiple and multivalent potentials, of which this paper focusses on just one: the opening up, for some, of queer possibilities; that is, the elaboration of sex- and/ or gender-non-normative forms of identification, desire, and relationships while studying abroad. Scholars working on mobility’s queer potentials in Chinese contexts have emphasised, on the one hand, the new sex-gender possibilities opened up by geographic distance from surveillance by people’s parents and immediate hometown social networks; and, on the other hand, the ways in which hometown homophobia may itself become mobile and manifest in migrant communities abroad. This paper draws on detailed studies of the longitudinal experience of a small number of research participants, including both straight-identified women whose encounters with queerness in Melbourne prompted them to rethink aspects of their understanding of sexualities, and questioning and queer women for whom time studying abroad enabled them to elaborate counter-normative forms of sex-gender identification. However, I argue that while such stories reveal multiple points of resistance to the normative regulation of feminine sexuality and gender within China, the central theme that emerges is not so much the decisive overthrow of neo-traditionalist ideals, but rather the exhausting emotional work that these mobile women perform in mediating between divergent systems of sexual and gendered value. The women in these stories do not escape “Chinese oppression” to find “freedom” in the west; rather, they endlessly mediate between divergent systems of value, personally absorbing the stresses generated by the contradictions between these systems.
About the Speaker
Fran Martin is Reader in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her best-known research focuses on television, film Internet culture, popular fiction and other forms of cultural production in the contemporary transnational Chinese cultural sphere, with a specialization in cultures of gender and queer sexuality. She is co-author, with Tania Lewis and Wanning Sun, of Telemodernities: Television and Transforming Lives in Asia (Duke U.P., 2016), and her other publications include Backward Glances: Contemporary Chinese Cultures and the Female Homoerotic Imaginary (Duke UP, 2010); Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia (co-edited with C. Berry and A. Yue, Duke UP, 2003); Situating Sexualities: Queer Representation in Taiwanese Fiction, Film and Public Culture (Hong Kong UP, 2003); Angelwings: Contemporary Queer Fiction from Taiwan (Hawaii UP, 2003); AsiaPacifiQueer: Rethinking Genders and Sexualities (co-edited with P. Jackson, M. McLelland and A. Yue, Illinois UP, 2008); and Embodied Modernities: Corporeality, Representation and Chinese Cultures (co-edited with LN Heinrich, Hawaii UP, 2006). Fran is currently working on a 5-year research fellowship, funded by the Australian Research Council, that uses longitudinal ethnography to research the social and subjective experiences of young women from China studying and living in Australia. The results of that study are forthcoming in an in-progress monograph, Dreams of Flight: Gender, Subjectivity, and China’s Student Transmigrants (contracted to Duke University Press).