Asia: Regional Dialogue on Sexuality and Geopolitics

SPW identified four themes associated with sexuality—state, religion, science, and economics—that it believed warranted further attention to advance the field of sexuality, intellectually and politically.
The Asia Dialogue was to focus specifically on the actions, agencies, processes and power relationships through which sexualities are constructed, contested and constantly changing. Of particular importance to this Dialogue was not only to describe sexuality and sexuality-related issues but also to develop action steps for innovative policy and intervention-based work (referred to as “tipping points”).
Session Two: Negotiating Multiple Identities, addressed the complex interplay of power and how people wage battles on various fronts to carve out space for the realization of human rights. It examined on the importance of multiple identities, systems of control and acts of resistance.

The overview paper by Dédé Oetomo focused on waria in Indonesia. Waria are men who change their gender in ways that challenge dominant social norms. However, within this broad definition there is considerable variation in waria identity. Some waria are more feminine, modifying their bodies through hormone use or sex-reassignment (legalized in 1973). Others are more masculine or “closeted” (they only cross-dress for pageants). Some waria never cross-dress. The boundaries between waria and other identities are not sharply defined. Not all men who dress in drag (gay or straight) identify as waria; similarly, not all men in relationships with waria identify as waria. Transgendering in Indonesia is definitely contextualized.

Waria have been officially recognized by the state since the 1960s when the New Political Order was established after the dictatorship. At that time, the newly formed Council of Islamic Clerics was asked to make a ruling on men undergoing sexual reassignment procedures. As this ruling was being considered, the government created the name waria to replace previous, more derogatory labels that had been used to identify this group. However, state recognition has not ensured the safety or social acceptance of waria. Contradictory as it may seem, especially after democratization in 1998, waria have become regular targets of militia violence (the militia harassed anyone who could pay a fine). Also as a result of the decentralization that followed, conservative Islamic political forces have gained strength at local levels, which also triggers discrimination and repression, as in the case of Aceh where Shari’a law has been imposed. Waria also face barriers when accessing health services and in the labor market.

The first short paper by Pimpawan Boonmongkon looked at the multiple identities of women living with HIV in Thailand. In Thai society, “good” women only have sex within marriage. Women with HIV, however, challenge this norm by developing multiple, short-term monogamous relationships. They also attach new meanings to sex, such as desire, personal satisfaction, revenge, love and duty. Despite moral judgments, some HIV-positive women exercise their rights to have children (although they have limited rights in terms of custody). In sum, the politics of identity for women living with HIV affords them a new sense of agency but also puts them at risk for HIV re-infection and limits their access to sexual health and rights. Future HIV policies should recognize that women have diverse identities that impact their lives and that these identities change over the life course.

The second short paper by Khartini Slamah discussed the disjunctions between “transgender” as a concept and a lived reality. As a concept, there are certain assumptions (e.g., a transgender person is a drag queen, transvestite, gay man, LGBT or MSM). The lived reality of being transgender challenges such categories and their assumptions. Being transgender also means that a number of fundamental human rights continue to be unmet (including rights to housing, employment, health and having a voice). Transgenders need a space to say who they are and what they want; these are not special rights but equal rights.

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