Saturday, November 1, 2014

Queers w/o Borders: 014 UCLA Queer Graduate Student Conference

 “Queers w/o Borders,” this year’s QGrad Conference, was kicked off with opening remarks from Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Chair of LGBT Studies and Professor in the Departments of Chicana and Chicano Studies, English, and Gender Studies. Instead of addressing her remarks to “Ladies and Gentlemen,” she greeted “Lesbians, Gays, Queers, Allies, Transgender, and Those with Variations of Fluid Identities.” After thanking all the people who helped the conference come to fruition, she posed this question: “Can we exist without borders?” Whether we like it or not, borders have become a crucial part of our lives. Power, however, comes from navigating between and outside such borders (hence the title of the conference). I attended two of the sessions: “Cultural Representations of Queer Lives” and “Cross-cultural and International Exchanges.”

Cultural Representations of Queer Lives
This panel featured “The Amercanized Queer of Historical Television,” Britta Hans, USC; “Does Emotion Matter? An Examination of Affect in Queer Social Protest,” Eric Baldwinn, UCI, and “From Intimate Expressions to International Publication: the Poetry of Marcel Proust,” Louise Brown, UCLA. Sue-Ellen Case, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Ph.D. Program in Theater and Performance Studies at UCLA, was the moderator. Hans argued that even in historical television shows that are located in Europe (for instance The Borgias and Spartacus), queer characters conform to contemporary American queer stereotypes. The shows only depict queers to the extent that the audience will be comfortable watching and hence resort to ahistorical and stereotypical methods of depiction. Baldwinn’s presentation explored records on social movements and suggested that even though popular assumption is that emotions play a big role in mobilization of social movement, emotions actually play no role in the actual mobilization. It is likely, he argued, that only after successfully carrying out the movement’s goals to mobilize citizens that emotions come into play in the formation of a narrative of mobilization. Lastly, Brown explored the poetry of Marcel Proust, which was written when he was an adolescent boy. Suggesting that the use of obscurity was a tactic that Proust deployed, Brown suggested that such a method could also be incorporated into social interactions to garner more diverse methods of exchange among queer folks.

Cross-cultural and International Exchanges
Paola Concia
Moderated by Laure Murat, Professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA, this panel featured “Locating the Filipina Lesbian: Navigating Spaces of Inclusion and Exclusion in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Centers in the Philippines,” Mylene DeGuzman, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Philippines; “Mapping LGBT Discourse in Italy,” Cate Fugazzola, University of Chicago; and “To Celebrate Diversity between the West and Asian: the Desire of Tokyo Rainbow Pride,” Kyohei Itakura, UC Davis. DeGuzman explored BPO call centers in Philippines and how lesbians working in them coped with their sexuality in a seemingly but not actually inclusive work environment. For instance, she discussed common microaggressions. Being asked, for example, “Who’s the guy in the relationship?” or “Were you ever raped?” Fugazzola discussed her research—using regional newspapers and how they portrayed events or people related to LGBTon the LGBT movement in Italy. Some of her findings show that these newspapers did not acknowledge the LGBT community as a community but instead as individuals with no sense of community. Moreover, male politicians who come out as gays are labeled with feminine adjectives, whereas Paola Concia, a female politician who came out as a lesbian received more honorary and respectful adjectivesperhaps because she was perceived as less like a woman and more like a man. Lastly, Itakura explored the Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) website in its Japanese and English translated version and the differing agendas and messages of the two websites. By examining the homonationalist rhetoric of the Japanese website, he demonstrated that TRP seeks to be the bridge between Western queer culture and the rest of Asia, thereby idealizing competition.
Although I only attended two sessions, my expression at QGrad made me realize the true intersectionality of queer studies. Circling back to the questioncan we exist without borders?—from Gaspar de Alba’s opening remarks, I believe the diversity of the conference itself provided the answer. Looking at the identity of queer in the past, present, and future not only in the U.S but in various countries, I felt that borders do exist whether it is national borders, borders of personal interest, or borders of language. However, as presenters of different research interests came together on this day under the very large idea of queerness, perhaps borders can be transformed into spaces that create powerful interaction (like this conference) and agency rather than boundaries that section people off and enforce hierarchies of power.

-- Min Joo Lee is a doctoral student in the Department of Gender Studies at UCLA.

Complete conference schedule of “Queer w/o Borders: 2014 UCLA Queer Graduate Student Conference” is available at the website:

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