The Politics of Love in Myanmar offers an intimate ethnographic account of a group of LGBT activists before, during, and after Myanmar's post-2011 political transition. Lynette J. Chua explores how these activists devoted themselves to, and fell in love with, the practice of human rights and how they were able to empower queer Burmese to accept themselves, gain social belonging, and reform discriminatory legislation and law enforcement. Informed by interviews with activists from all walks of lifecity dwellers, villagers, political dissidents, children of military families, wage laborers, shopkeepers, beauticians, spirit mediums, lawyers, studentsChua details the vivid particulars of the LGBT activist experience founding a movement first among exiles and migrants and then in Myanmar's cities, towns, and countryside. A distinct political and emotional culture of activism took shape, fusing shared emotions and cultural bearings with legal and political ideas about human rights. For this network of activists, human rights moved hearts and minds and crafted a transformative web of friendship, fellowship, and affection among queer Burmese. Chua's investigation provides crucial insights into the intersection of emotions and interpersonal relationships with law, rights, and social movements.
About the Author
Lynette J. Chua is Associate Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore. Her first book, Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights & Resistance in an Authoritarian State (2014), received the Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociology Association's Sociology of Law Section.
Table of Contents
Contents and Abstracts
This introduces the book's central concept of human rights practice as a way of life and presents an overview of the Burmese LGBT movement. It sets out the three motivating questions of the book: How did the Burmese LGBT movement emerge? How do LGBT activists of the movement make sense of human rights and put them into action, that is, practice human rights? What are the implications of their human rights practice? The chapter also explains the significance of the book: a study about how human rights matter in a society where they were suppressed for decades and where self-conceptions have been informed by Buddhist beliefs and other cultural sources of knowing, feeling, and interacting with the world.
1Human Rights Practice as a Way of Life
This chapter elaborates on the book's central concept, human rights practice as a way of life, to explain how it advances human rights studies and sociolegal research on the relationship between rights and social movements. This concept has three salient features: (1) The practice comprises recursive, overlapping social processes of formation, grievance transformation, and community building, (2) which are shaped by and shape emotions and interpersonal relationships and (3) produce three outcomes: self-transformation of the rights bearer, the creation of a distinctive emotion culture, and the introduction of new claims by a new collective claimant, LGBT rights for LGBT people, into Burmese politics. The chapter also uses the concept to explain the flaws and limitations of Burmese LGBT activists' human rights practice. By tracing processes and attending to emotions and relationships, the concept emphasizes the complexities of agency when assessing the power and prospects of human rights.
2Forming the Movement: Founding Emotions and Social Ties
This chapter draws from the author's fieldwork to illustrate formation processes, the first of three sets of processes that make up Burmese LGBT activists' human rights practice as a way of life. As the chapter details the movement's emergence from formation processes, it begins to show how emotions and interpersonal relationships constitute human rights practice. To get in touch with and encourage other Burmese to participate in their human rights workshops and join the movement, movement pioneers make use of preexisting ties rooted in all kinds of suffering caused by the violence of the Burmese state and the discrimination of queer Burmese. By tapping these relationships, they also stir up raw emotions that stem from the suffering, affections toward movement leaders, and a mix of apprehension, courage, and composure that recruits have to muster to answer their calls.
3Transforming Grievances: Emotional Fealty to Human Rights
This chapter draws from the author's fieldwork to illustrate grievance transformation, the second set of social processes of human rights practice as a way of life. Grievance transformation elicits, remakes, and produces emotions to cultivate Burmese LGBT activists' fealty to human rights and perpetuate their practice. To make human rights relevant to their lives, they engage familiar cultural schemas and resources, using common experiences, Buddhist karmic beliefs and social norms that support the movement's cause and sidelining those that are disadvantageous to it. Their unique interpretation, centered around dignity, social belonging, and responsibility, depicts human rights as a collective good to be collectively achieved. The processes of grievance transformation lead to three interrelated outcomesself-transformation, distinctive emotion culture, and new political claims of LGBT rights in Myanmardemonstrating how human rights practice has the potential to influence formal institutions of law and politics from the bottom up.
4Building Community: Emotional Bonds Among Activists
This chapter uses empirical details to illustrate community building, the third set of processes in the human rights practice as a way of life. Community-building processes engender affinity, camaraderie, solidarity, and fellowship, which germinate affective ties among those who commit to their practice, forming a community of Burmese LGBT activists. The bonds emerge from the affinity of sharing the collective marker of "LGBT" and from the social interactions involved in practicing human rights together. They bind people together as LGBT activists, draw them to stay with the movement, and sustain the practice itself. Community building contributes to self-transformation, distinctive emotion culture, and new claims and claimant by emphasizing LGBT identities as an embodiment of dignity, facilitating bonding inclusive of all queer Burmese, and creating an LGBT activist community. They further highlight the potential to influence formal institutions of law and politics starting from personal and grassroots changes.
5Faults, Fault Lines, and the Complexities of Agency
This chapter examines the flaws and limitations of Burmese LGBT activists' human rights practice as a way of life. Power dynamics, differences, and divides among activists result in varying degrees of self-transformation and adoption of their distinctive emotion culture. Their ability to make LGBT rights claims is also hampered by deep norms, beliefs, power, and hierarchy in Burmese society. Because the shortcomings arise from the social processes of human rights practice, they also critically inform the power and prospects of human rights to stimulate collective action and social change. They are just as vital as the enthusiasm and optimism encountered in previous chapters. The shortcomings, together with the positive outcomes, indicate that human rights practice is far from overtaking the old and entrenched modes of feeling, interacting, and knowing already existing in Burmese society. Instead, with human rights, LGBT activists offer an alternative way of life alongside others.
This chapter takes stock of the book's central concept, human rights practice as a way of life. It looks at the concept's principal features and contributions to human rights scholarship as well as the sociolegal study of rights and social movements. It considers the book's broader lessons for understanding the potential of human rights to advance collective action and attain social progress. It concludes with the intellectual premises with which the book started: the socially contingent nature of human rights, reflecting on what relational and emotional emphases mean for their empirical study.