Speaker : An Huy Tran (Ph.D. Researcher at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany)
Title : Putting Foreignness into Positive Light: Male Vietnamese Migrants and The Negotiation of Sexual Desirability in Japan
Transnational migration is a process involving a wide range of social practices, in which the process of negotiation is constantly embedded. Migrants negotiate not only the motivations to migrate, economic and educational practices but also more intimate aspects such as emotional needs, gender, or sexual behaviors and identities. While migration has been one of the most prominent forces in shaping individuals’ sexualities and intimacies, only until recent years that the sexual dimension of migration has started to receive more academic attention within both migration and sexuality research (Carrillo 2017). However, studies on such an aspect in the life of male migrants within Asian contexts remain limited in comparison to the growing body of literature on female migrants’ sexualities (Baas and Yang 2020). This presentation aims at contributing to the more comprehensive understanding of migrant men’s lived experiences by looking at the ways in which male Vietnamese migrants negotiate their sexual desirability in the Japanese context. Drawing on life-history interviews with Vietnamese migrant men in Japan, it explores why many migrant men find it difficult to cultivate intimate relationships with Japanese nationals. The presentation argues that male Vietnamese migrants’ “sexual capital” within a Japanese “sexual field” (Green 2008, 2015) is negatively affected by social discourses on foreign migrants and a Japanese hierarchy of sexual desirability based on race, nationality, and ethnicity. Migrant men, therefore, have to employ suitable strategies to negotiate their sexual capital and acquire better positions within the Japanese sexual field. Most of the time, these strategies feature behaviors that put migrants’ inferior foreignness into a more positive light in the eyes of the (potential) Japanese partners such as presenting traits considered to be better than those of the average Japanese men. The presentation thus unpacks the meanings of foreignness in mixed relationships and conceptualizes how migrants’ sexual desirability can be constructed and negotiated within the Japanese context.
Tran’s research expertise focuses on the sociology of migration, transnationalism, sexuality, and gender with the regional knowledge of East Asia. His current research project focuses on the intersection of sexualities, masculinities, and migration among male Vietnamese migrants in contemporary Japan. Tran’s research interests also include student mobility, migrants’ entrepreneurship, intermediaries/brokerage, and the migration industry.