Sexuality and Public Culture in Post-Renovation Vietnam – a seminar by Dr Richard Tran (Wed, 13 March 2013)

Speaker: Dr Richard Tran (Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS)
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
4:00pm – 5:30pm
AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

Queer studies scholars have long held a suspicion towards “coming out” narratives. Insofar as these narratives disclose the most seemingly private details about one’s identity, they are not unlike the religious confessions that these scholars have associated with pastoral power. In revealing the “truth” of one’s sex, these narratives unwittingly accept power-laden assumptions about the self and society, the public and private and, above all, the limits and possibilities of gender and sexual personhood. This suspicion, however, arises out of theorizing about sexual identities in the Western context. This presentation focuses on sex-advice columns published in the public media during Post-Renovation period in Vietnam (1989 and onward) to demonstrate the historical and cultural processes by which global discourses of queer sexuality are translated in the local culture. I suggest that these public columns subvert the prior power divisions in serving as an outlet for intimate disclosure and “coming out” where other conventional locales like the home would be impossible. By attending to the rhetorics of intimacy, the vocabulary and contexts of these disclosures, I propose that a different kind of power dynamic is transpiring, one that opens up spaces of possibility in Vietnam’s public culture in the 1990s.

About the speaker
Dr. Richard Tran received his PhD in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley where he worked on the cultural history of gender in colonial and contemporary Vietnam. Prior to Singapore, he was a visiting scholar at Berkeley’s Program in Critical Theory. His research interrogates the changing relationship between gender “difference” and the formation of socio-historical norms. He draws on interdisciplinary methods and firmly believes that an array of critical tools is vital to understanding the complex object that is “gender” in Southeast Asia. He is the winner of numerous awards and prizes, including the Fulbright and Jacob K. Javits fellowships. His interests encompass the history and theory of gender, theories of race and ethnicity, rhetoric and hermeneutics, critical theory, queer studies, the cultural, social and political history of Indochina and Vietnam.