Research seminar no4 in Cultural Anthropology. Sex and the Temple: Cross-gender practices in Spirit Possession Rituals in Vietnam
- Date: –15:00
- Location: Zoom link given upon registration
- Lecturer: Professor Oscar Salemink (Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen)
- Organiser: Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology
- Contact person: Claudia Merli
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Organiser: Dr Claudia Merli (Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology)
In this paper I explore cross-gender practices within spirit possession rituals loosely associated with Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian cosmologies in southern Vietnam, and since 2016 inscribed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list as the ‘Practices related to the Viet beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms’. I focus on ritual performances by transgender and cross-sexual bodies. Transgender mediums distance themselves from everyday heteronormative behavior within their kin groups and localities, and associate themselves with a separate, liminal sphere that usually characterizes ritual, thus forming new groups and creating new forms of sociality. I pay particular attention to the co-occurrence and articulation of religious, sexual, material and entertainment desires through sexualized transgender dance, music, juggling and bingo performances during a village festival and a temple festival at a pilgrimage site.
In a cosmological worldview where this world is considered as yang [dương] and the other (spirit) world as yin [âm], sexually transgressive behavior that is commonly dismissed as perverse [pêđê] in everyday life can become sacred in ritual time-spaces. In different ways and with different degrees of explicitness, spirit possession privileges male-to-female and female-to-male cross-gender practices, constituting an arena of gendered license in an otherwise sexually restrictive cultural space. I look at ways in which transgender and cross-sexual categories converge with religious boundaries and simultaneously offer privileged conduits for communication between this world and the other world within the ritual time-space of spirit possession practices, often taking place in the context of village and temple festivals. I argue that it is the sexual ambiguity of transgender bodies that makes them potentially efficacious mediums for communicating between the two worlds.