Dr. Sara F. Friedman Talks on Love and the Role of Government at the 2015 Taiwan Forum at Boston University

Dr. Sara F. Friedman of Indiana University presented a talk titled “Strangers Before the Law: Contested Intimacies in Taiwan” at the 2015 Taiwan Forum held at Boston University on March 5, 2015. Dr. Friedman is an associate professor of anthropology and gender studies at Indiana University, and fluent in Chinese with extensive experience in Taiwan. 

Dr. Friedman presented two actual case studies from Taiwan to explain what is known as “stranger anxiety.” The first case involved Ms. Ping Lee, a spouse from Mainland China who moved to Taiwan to be with her husband after marriage. While in Taiwan, Ms. Lee applied for her ROC national identification card as the wife of a ROC citizen. After she and her husband divorced, Ms. Lee changed her application for a national identification card as the mother of her son who is a ROC citizen. Ms. Lee’s ex-husband then appealed to cancel Ms. Lee’s and the son’s applications, claiming that the son was not, in fact, his biological son. The National Immigration Agency made an ad hoc ruling on the case. Dr. Friedman pointed out that in this case citizenship is linked to marriage, and questions how law may revoke citizenship and what it means to be “married.”

The second case involved the marriage of Abbygail Wu and Ji-Yi Wu, a transgender couple in Taiwan whose marriage was revoked by the government in 2013. Each individual was born male and transitioned to female in 2012. Only Abbygail Wu was documented as female, however. The marriage license designated Ji-Yi Wu as the husband and Abbygail Wu as the wife in accordance with civil law in Taiwan. When Ji-Yi Wu attempted to change her gender to female on the national identification card, however, she received notice that the government was revoking the marriage on account of the gender designation.

The Wu case was covered widely both in Taiwan and in the international media, and brought attention to the question of human rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Taiwan’s increasingly diverse society. Then on August 7, 2013, the Ministry of the Interior called a special meeting in which it determined that the Wu marriage was, indeed, valid. In an official statement, the Ministry emphasized that the Wus were documented as male and female when the marriage registration went into effect, and, therefore, complied with the law. It also affirmed that the government of Taiwan respects the right of an individual to change gender.

Dr. Friedman pointed out that in the Wu case, the gap between legal regulations and Taiwan’s diverse society had caused “stranger anxiety” for those who fail to fit into gender categories in the law, and, therefore had become what she refers to as “strangers before the law.” Dr. Friedman also explored the important questions of how law defines gender, and what exactly constitutes “family” and “marriage.”

Dr. Friedman’s presentation was followed by a Q & A session, and touched upon, in part, the role that the mass media played in the Wu case, legal assistance, and the role of culture and politics in the Lee case. The talk raised many important and thought-provoking issues by those interested in Taiwan society from across the Boston area.

The “Taiwan Forum” is organized by the Center for the Study of Asia at Boston University and is sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Republic of China (Taiwan).

Group Photo
(Left to right) Director Cynthia Huang of Education Division, TECO-Boston; Dr. Robert Weller of Boston University; Dr. Eugenio Menegon, Director of Center for the Study of Asia at Boston University; Dr. Sara L. Friedman, Associate Professor of Indiana University, and Dr. Ronald Suleski, Director of Rosenberg Institute at Suffolk University

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