Lynette Chua – The Politics of Love in Myanmar

Describe your book

The Politics of Love in Myanmar is a story about how human rights matter.  It is an ethnographic study of how activists practice human rights, particularly how they interact with and produce emotions and interpersonal relationships as they put human rights into action to build an LGBT rights movement.  By offering an intimate account of a group of LGBT activists before, during, and after Myanmar’s post-2011 political transition, the book explores how these activists, as they devoted themselves to, and fell in love with, the practice of human rights, 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 life—city dwellers, villagers, political dissidents, children of military families, wage laborers, shopkeepers, beauticians, spirit mediums, lawyers, students—it details the LGBT activists’ vivid experience of founding a movement first among exiles and migrants along the border and then into Myanmar’s cities, small towns, and countryside. The book finds that 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 can move hearts and minds, and sew a transformative web of friendship, fellowship, and affection among queer Burmese across Myanmar.

Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?

When I developed my ideas for The Politics of Love in Myanmar, I knew that I wanted Stanford University Press to publish the book because it would be a great fit for the Stanford Studies in Human Rights series.

Do you enjoy the writing process?

I very much enjoyed the writing process. Writing is also a thinking process for me, that is, I develop and refine my ideas by expressing them in sentences and organizing them into paragraphs. Thus, I had been “writing” the book from day one, when I wrote my research memo based on my first few days of fieldwork. 

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?

The best piece of advice came from two people. One was Kristin Luker, who said that we would always write “shitty first drafts,” so we might as well get over any apprehension and start writing! The other was David Engel, who told me always to write the first draft quickly and get the ideas out, before going back to mull over word choices, expressions and other finer details. 

What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps?

I would pass on the same advice about writing, and I would encourage them to choose research projects that they love, something that they will enjoy for many years. 

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by elite ballet dancers, ice dancers, and rhythmic gymnasts, people who can perform physically difficult moves with effortlessness and beauty. 

What’s next?

I have started a new project that examines and compares several Asian societies where there are “filial piety laws” that impose legal obligations on adult children to provide care and support to their elderly parents.

Lynette J. Chua is Assistant Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore.