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Professor analyzes sexuality in Taiwan

| Friday, February 12, 2016

IMG_5884Kathleen Donohue

Saint Mary’s hosted Amy Brainer, assistant professor of women and gender studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Thursday night to present her recent research on LGBTQ people coming out in Taiwan.

Brainer is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled “Gendering Home: Queer Kinship and Family Change in Taiwan,” and her research focuses on families in East Asia.

The term “coming out” is largely a term used in the West, Brainer said, and outwardly identifying oneself as LGBTQ is uncommon in Taiwan.

Brainer spent 16 months in Taiwan doing ethnographic fieldwork. She said she attended support group meetings for parents of LGBTQ children, workshops on queer family issues and other LGBTQ gatherings, such as the annual pride parade.

In addition to the gatherings, she was able to have extended visits in family homes.

“The visits allowed me to get a feel for family life that I couldn’t catch through an interview,” Brainer said.

Brainer interviewed 80 Taiwanese families during her visit and discovered that members of the LGBTQ community would participate in heterosexual marriages. These marriages were based on the need to relieve family pressures and to carry on the paternal line of the family, she said.

Oftentimes, families in Taiwan would have strategic silences in which a family would know or assume that a member is LGBTQ, but wouldn’t say anything or acknowledge it, Brainer said.

Brainer recalled one middle aged man named Bing, who struggled with the pressures of being gay and coming out to his family.

Brainer said Bing told her, “You worry that if they come in and know this thing about you, it will sadden them. So you have to lock yourself behind the wall.”

“In Bing’s case,” Brainer said, “silence represented distance, a wall and a burden, separating himself from his family members.”

Brainer said Bing told her he felt a great relief after coming out to his family.

Coming out is part of accepting one’s own identity and contributes to better relationships, Brainer said.

“Then you become willing to share yourself with others and others become willing to share themselves with you also,” she said.

Brainer said researchers need to change how they study LGBTQ individuals and their families.

To understand these families, we must start from scratch and build new theories,” she said. “There’s an urgent need for ethnographically grounded research. I do think comparisons are fruitful, but we do need to move [away] from a Taiwan and U.S. comparison.”

Sophomore Liana O’Grady said she found Brainer’s presentation compelling due to the different pressures LGBTQ men and women face in Taiwan’s culture.

“I thought it was interesting how they were more concerned about their family and didn’t want ‘coming out’ to hinder their role,” O’Grady said.

Editor’s Note: This article was edited from its original version to distinguish between Brainer’s ideas and those of her informant, Bing.

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