Deities and Divas: Queer Ritual Specialists in Myanmar, Thailand and Beyond

$36.00 SGD

edited by Peter A. Jackson and Benjamin Baumann

In central Thailand, a flamboyantly turbaned gay medium for the Hindu god of the underworld posts Facebook selfies of himself hugging and kissing a young man. In Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, a one-time member of a gay NGO dons an elaborate wedding dress to be ritually married to a possessing female spirit; he believes she will offer more support for his gay lifestyle than the path of LGBTQ activism. The only son of a Chinese trading family in Bangkok finds acceptance for his homosexuality and crossdressing when he becomes the medium for a revered female Chinese deity. And in northern Thailand, female mediums smoke, drink, flaunt butch masculine poses and flirt with female followers when they are ritually possessed by male warrior deities.

Across the Buddhist societies of mainland Southeast Asia, local queer cultures are at the center of a recent proliferation of professional spirit mediumship. Drawing on detailed ethnographies and extensive comparative research, Deities and Divas captures this variety and ferment. The first book to trace commonalities between queer and religious cultures in Southeast Asia and the West, it reveals how modern gay, trans and spirit medium communities all emerge from a shared formative matrix of capitalism and new media. With insights and analysis that transcend the modern opposition of religion vs secularity, it provides fascinating new perspectives in transnational cultural, religious and queer studies.

"Deities and Divas is a remarkable achievement. By linking queer studies and religious studies, this volume’s contributors bring new insights to the study of Mainland Southeast Asia, transgenderism, and faith. Bringing together a range of disciplines and both historical and contemporary data from Myanmar and Thailand, this book will prove invaluable to all those interested in how ritual and queer experience intersect in the modern world." – Tom Boellstorff, University of California, Irvine

"Traditional spiritual practices such as cross-gender spirit-possession are resurgent throughout Southeast Asia, in a historical moment when the epistemic hegemony of the Eurocentric world-system is cracking open. This important collection of essays brings that phenomenon into dialog with Western queer and trans studies, and builds a bridge to the future." – Susan Stryker, University of Arizona & Mills College

"Deities and Divas is the first volume to bring together two lines of inquiry and theorization that are usually kept strictly separate, namely queer studies and studies of spirit possession. The exciting insights at the intersection between sexuality and the spirit world offered in the eight empirical chapters and the superb Introduction promise to make a deep theoretical impact in both of these fields. … [T]his book will be highly relevant to people working on similar issues around the world." – Oscar Salemink, University of Copenhagen

"Drawing on extensive fieldwork and insights both sympathetic and astute, the authors of these essays make signal contributions to ritual studies, to queer studies, to Southeast Asian studies – and beyond. Their essays are as authoritative as deities would demand, and as fabulous as divas could wish." – Ward Keeler, University of Texas at Austin

Peter A. Jackson is Emeritus Professor in Thai cultural history at the Australian National University. Over the past four decades, he has written extensively on religion, gender and sexuality in modern Thailand as well as critical approaches to Asian area studies.

Benjamin Baumann is an assistant professor at the University of Heidelberg. His ethnographic work examines rural lifeworlds, socio-cultural identities and local language games in Thailand’s lower Northeast.

Publication year: 2021
324 pp / 229mm x 152mm
44 images (19 in colour)
ISBN: 978-87-7694-308-0, Paperback
ISBN: 978-87-7694-307-3, Hardback

NIAS Press