By Hsin-Hui Lin

 This piece is part of the East Asia Solidarity blog series, “Look East”, which highlights gender knowledge and studies of the East and Southeast Asia region. The initiative was conceptualised and led by MSc students of the LSE Gender Department in the summer of 2023, and explores themes around locating identity, heritage and (re/newed) knowledge of gender studies in the region. The series hopes to be a platform for those with links to the region to not only express themselves but contribute to the decolonisation of gender knowledge.


Time is never neutral or static. In its physicality, time is shaped through speed, space, height, and gravity as proven by several quantum physicists. It is also socially and historically constructed through various methods and scales of measurement. On an individual level, everyone is influenced and dominated by the normative linear time to a different extent. A normative timeline suggests one should follow the path that centres on reproduction, heterosexuality, labour, and productivity. Those who fail to follow this normative life path are often degraded as ‘abnormal’, ‘unproductive’, and thus stigmatised.

As a critical discipline that accounts for sexual oppression and liberation, queer studies have long formed a critique of normative time. For example, Lee Edelman argues that “no future” is a queer temporality defying the pervasive “reproductive futurism” that projects an optimistic future on the image of children in advertisements, visual media, and every aspect of mainstream culture. Another example is “chrononormativity,” coined by Elizabeth Freeman, which describes and criticizes “the use of time to organize individual human bodies toward maximum productivity.” such as schedules, calendars, and time zones that regulate how we organize our days and hence lives in coherence to presumed norms. Therefore, a presumed progressive time is inscribed into social construction, materiality, and gender performativity.

However, from a posthuman or a new materialist scope, I realized an unchallenged presumption underlying the concept of “queer time”: it inherently assumes time as immaterial so that time can only be observed and embodied through physical bodies. Queer time suggests a dichotomy between bodies’ materiality and time’s immateriality. According to Karen Barad, this dichotomy is arguably a part of Foucault’s legacies, which limits discursive practices only to the human social domain. As a queer posthuman theorist who grounds her argument partly on quantum physics, Karen Barad notes that for Foucault and descendant queer theorists, “agency belongs only to the human domain, and neither addresses the nature of technoscientific practices and their profoundly productive effects on human bodies, as well as the ways in which these practices are deeply implicated in what constitutes the human, and more generally the workings of power.” In short, the underlying presumption of queer time views time as a social construction, which fails to address the technoscientific aspects that are indispensable for us to understand and perceive time as it is.

Drawing from Barad’s revision of queer theories, I propose a “posthuman time” as an elaboration on queer time. While queer time understands queer subjectivities as the material embodiment of discursive temporalities, posthuman time suggests queer subjectivities as entangled with time, in which the cause-effect relation between discourse and materiality is multidirectional rather than unidirectional. Simply put, posthuman time assumes that time and queer bodies are materially co-constructed.

In what follows, I will examine two queer science fiction works from Taiwan, from which I have developed an understanding of the posthuman time. These stories depict queer individuals who navigate multiple versions of their pasts and future and transform their bodies and sexualities according to different life narratives. Reading these stories from Taiwan not only inspires us to acknowledge the materiality of time but also opens diverse discourses of futurity.

The Membranes: the dynamics of queer subjects and posthuman time

 Written in 1995 and translated into English in 2021, The Membranes remains an iconic queer science fiction novel from Taiwan. Published more than 25 years ago, Ta-Wei Chi’s The Membranes nevertheless foresees the dilemma we are facing in the contemporary technological society, such as the pervasive power of tech companies that exploit individual privacy as data and capital or devices that track and surveil personal body status in the name of health control. Most of all, The Membranes presents the intersecting nature of queerness, memory, and virtuality: it delves into how queer identity is determined and configured through technological materiality rather than socially constructed through discourses and disciplines.

The story is set in a dystopian world where the earth’s surface is uninhabitable due to climate change, resulting in countries moving underwater and waging wars with combat droids left on the land. The protagonist, Momo, is a celebrated “dermal care technician” who applies special membranes to her clients’ skins to make them look forever young and beautiful. The story surprises readers by the end when it reveals that everything Momo believes to be her life experiences is only fabricated—she is neither human, nor a cyborg, but only a brain in a vat into which the life stories are implanted. Momo’s brain was the only organ to survive a childhood disease; afterward, it was installed into an android worker for repairing combat droids. To prevent Momo from realizing this, her mother intentionally fictionalized life experiences and implanted them into Momo’s brain.

This ending may seem nihilistic, especially when virtual entities are commonly associated with the unreal and immaterial. However, if we consider that living in virtuality is the only way for Momo’s brain to live her life, then virtuality is no longer unreal but a reality for Momo. Since she cannot embody the actual world, her way out is to live in a virtual one. In this sense, virtuality is actuality for her. At the end of the story, Momo’s mother is asked whether she will move Momo’s brain to another android. She answers that she would rather Momo live in her brain, believing in the dream she fabricates for her. This means that Momo will continue to live in virtuality, taking everything virtual to be real. In this sense, Momo not only lives in a virtual world but also in a “technologically configured time,” by which I mean precisely her memories and experiences upon which a life timeline is inscribed.

Furthermore, Momo’s queerness is, and can only be, built on those virtual life experiences. Momo’s mother crafts Momo’s life narrative from before her birth. In that memory file, Momo is programmed to understand a queer love story between her mother and her same-sex partner and to know that she was born through artificial fertilization. In addition, Momo lives a trans-gender and trans-species experience through this constructed memory. Momo believes that she was originally born to be a human boy, and her organs that survived the disease were later transplanted into a clone girl’s body. Therefore, Momo underwent a physical transformation in terms of both gender and species. All these constructed life narratives are a technologically configured time in which Momo lives a queer life.

As I suggested, posthuman time is not just a time through which queer subjects emerge but also a time that is transformed by queer subjects. The story also reveals that Momo’s consciousness constantly translates the information coded into her brain into other incidents. For example, her mom inputs a piece of information about how she met Momo’s doctor. Later on, when her mom views Momo’s brain activity, she discovers that Momo perceives her relationship with the doctor as a same-sex romance. It can be inferred from all the hidden clues within the story that Momo’s brain processes this information as a queer story because her brain had been implanted with a queer lineage. In this sense, Momo is not only born with virtual queer life narratives, but she also actively transforms the life experience into a queer one. The dynamics between Momo’s given life narratives and her reinvention of them manifest the entanglement between queer subjects and technologically constructed time, which is how posthuman time functions. 










This photo was taken by Hsin-Hui Lin at an exhibition she attended in Taipei. The artist’s name is Andre Wekua, and the artwork: Untitled, 2014.

 “Memory is an IC Monument”: when queerness is programmable

 Another representative queer science fiction writer Lucifer Hung also wrote a short story “Memory is an IC Monument ”( ji yi shi yi zuo jing pian mu bei, 記憶是一座晶片墓碑) in 1994 in which the life timeline of queer subjects was technologically and virtually configured. A contemporary with Ta-Wei Chi, Hung also proliferated in science and fantasy fiction in the 1990s when meta-narratives and queer writings were leading the trend in the Taiwanese literary field.

The story is about an interstellar detective, Alpha, who lands on a yet-to-be-developed planet. Alpha’s adventure includes her romance with another crew member, Beta, and her encounter with an androgynous figure, Omega. As the story unfolds, readers will gradually learn that Alpha’s adventure is nothing but a program inscribed on a chip operated with iterative processes. Therefore, Alpha continuously lives her interstellar adventure again and again, endlessly.

The gender non-binary character Omega is the meta narrator who tells the story from an omniscient view. They initiate the feedback loop of Alpha’s experience, with each iteration resetting Alpha’s gender. Although designated with she/her pronoun, Alpha has male reproductive organs in her current life. And her assigned lover, Beta, turns out to be an android in a male body. In the end, Omega says they will turn Alpha into a female setting for the next round and assign her android lover Beta to be a woman. In this sense, Alpha doesn’t have a rigid sexuality; instead, her sexuality is based on a random yet arbitrary choice of Omega. More precisely, Alpha’s queerness is not self-evident; on the contrary, her queer body and life experience are grounded on the looping timeline inscribed on a chip. The chip is the technological materiality for Alpha’s virtual life to embody.

Like Chi’s novella, Hung’s story also shows how queer subjects emerge through technologically configured time and transform that programmed time. By default, Alpha’s programmed life narrative follows the pattern in which she comes to a new planet (“new” to Alpha, though actually, she has already arrived here many times), realizes the conspiracy of the interstellar corporation Almighty, and plots to overthrow this enterprise. Although Alpha fails each time, she confronts the Almighty in many ways. According to Omega, Alpha breaks into a room one time, which almost leads her to subvert the corporation successfully; at another time, Alpha cooperates with Almighty’s rival company to undermine its ruling power. Alpha, with her queer embodiment, lives her programmed lives divergently, just like mutations happen within innumerable DNA replications.

Posthuman time from Taiwan and beyond

Although published almost thirty years ago, Chi and Hung’s queer science fiction leaves a lasting legacy in Taiwanese science fiction and literary history. Their works consciously resist the heterosexual norms latent in the science fiction tradition both within Taiwan and abroad. Chi once prefaced Hung’s science fiction collection, where he pointed out that the imaginative nature of the science fiction genre did not unleash writers from conservative heterosexual norms; moreover, some of them stick to that even more strictly. With this high awareness of heteronormativity in science fiction, they pioneered in combining the science fiction genre and queerness in Taiwan, and they also made queer parodies of Western science fiction canons. For example, in another science fiction short story by Chi, he rewrote the relationship between Rick Deckard and Roy Batty from Blade Runner into a queer romance.

Most importantly, by intersecting queerness, virtuality, and timelines, Chi and Hung’s works open up a scope of queer time that is entangled with technological materiality. In these works, queer subjectivity and bodies emerge from a series of transformative times that are technologically constructed as virtual life experiences. Accordingly, I suggest “posthuman time” to conceptualize the entanglement between technologically formed time and queerness. Unlike the queer time that views individuals as the embodiment of socially constructed time, which implies that time is inherently immaterial, posthuman time understands that time is a part of materiality through which queerness emerges. In addition, posthuman time suggests that individuals don’t live on a presumed static and objective time; instead, individuals and time are entangled space-time-matter, as stated by Karen Barad.

The concept of “posthuman time” not only offers a fresh perspective on time, identity, and technology within Taiwanese science fiction but it also possesses the potential to extend its applicability to a range of academic disciplines. For instance, in science and technology studies, “posthuman time” encourages a deeper exploration of how technoscientific practices are deeply implicated in what constitutes the human experience. It calls for a re-evaluation of the relationship between technology and humanity, with an emphasis on the multidirectional interactions that shape both our identities and the passage of time. Posthuman time encourages interdisciplinary dialogues and provides a lens through which researchers can explore the multifaceted relationship between technology, identity, and time in diverse cultural and societal contexts, propelling the discourse on these interrelated subjects into new and uncharted territories.


Hsin-Hui Lin is a science fiction writer and literary critic based in Taipei. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Taiwanese literature at the National Chengchi University and was a Visiting Graduate Researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles (2022-2023). She is the author of the sci-fi novel Contactless Intimacy (2023) and the short story collection Human Glitches (2020); the latter has been awarded the 2020 Taiwan Literature Award for Books, one of the local major literary prizes. Her works investigate the blurring boundaries between humans and non-humans in the current technological time. Lin frequently publishes reviews and essays on major media, intersecting literary texts with technological, ecological, and medical humanities.