Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 14, November 2006

Introduction: Of Queer Import(s):
Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia

James Welker and Lucetta Kam

  1. This special issue of Intersections stems from the conference Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies, held in Bangkok, 7-9 July 2005, and features articles by conference presenters, including both papers presented at the conference and new work.[1] The title of this issue, 'Of Queer Import(s): Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia,' both asserts the significance of 'queer' in Asia and draws attention to the question of the 'importation' of 'queer' when it comes to discussion of sexualities, genders and related rights in Asia.
  2. Inspired by the tension that inheres in statements such as Indonesian gay rights activist Dédé Oetomo's assertion, 'I'm gay when I'm speaking English,'[2] we sent out a call for papers that interrogate the border between local and global queer identities, communities and cultures. We posed a number of what we feel to be questions vital to the field: Does the 'import' of queer culture, in any permutation, serve to enhance or erase the indigenous? Under what circumstances might it be desirable to distinguish between the indigenous and the imported? Do queer identities, communities and cultures transcend the East/West divide? Or is this divide politically useful for local resistance to the globalisation of queer identities—if such resistance is a desirable project for local communities? How does intra-Asian cultural influence function with regard to flows of queer Asian cultures and identities? How does this tension play out in terms of activism related to LGBT rights and the rights of sex workers and people living with AIDS? The papers we have collected here offer meaningful responses to these questions, framed in terms of the disciplines of literary and film studies, queer theory, political science, sociology, history and sexology. We must, however, emphasise that, while papers in this issue represent a wide range of current research and writing on queer Asia, they only begin to suggest the immense diversity of scholarship and presenters at the Bangkok conference.[3]
  3. In promotional announcements, the conference organisers described the event as '[a]n international interdisciplinary conference on studies of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, bisexual, and queer (LGBTQ) cultures and communities in Asia,' the goals of which were, primarily about developing 'linkages between research about Asian LGBTQ cultures and communities and promoting recognition and respect for sexual and gender diversity in the region' and, as a corollary, 'to support and defend the academic legitimacy of research and teaching about LGBTQ peoples in Asia.'[4] Over 500 delegates representing at least twenty-two countries are estimated to have attended, and approximately 165 of the more than 180 accepted papers were presented.[5] The conference clearly achieved its primary goals, and organisers as well as most of the participants we spoke with during and after the event deemed it, often euphorically, very much a success. We would argue, moreover, that the scale of the Bangkok conference as well as the diversity of papers presented and the individuals who presented them lends strong support to the assertion that—even as it continues to struggle for recognition within Asian Studies and Queer Studies[6]—Asian Queer Studies has become a field of no small import.
  4. This field is far from settled, however. The very term 'Asian Queer Studies' raises issues that were critical to the framing and organising of the conference and which remain fundamental to conceptualising the field: What do we mean by 'queer'? What do we mean by 'Asia' and 'Asian'? And relatedly, who is and should be taking part in this discourse? Finally, to what extent do the very words 'Asian queer studies' presume an English-language if not Western-focused discourse? And is this problematic? Rather than expressly defining the field of Asian Queer Studies or engaging in a survey thereof, by way of an introduction to this special issue, we would like to take up these broad questions with regard to the field and with an eye to how they were played out in the context of the conference. We begin with the term 'queer.'

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  5. In the process of soliciting funds for the Bangkok conference, the organising committee was told in their rejection by one American funding agency that there was 'a problem with this word "queer".'[7] The 'problem with this word,' we would argue, is first and foremost a problem not of funding but of naming and, thus, of defining. To define is to make something clear through a process of drawing lines, through delimiting what something is and what it is not. Yet, since the earliest academic use of 'queer' in discourse on LGBTQ lives under the rubric of 'queer theory,' the term has been deployed to 'mark a certain critical distance' from the specificities of the categories represented by the somewhat cumbersome acronym and to 'avoid…fine distinctions in our discursive protocols…but instead to both transgress and transcend them—or at the very least to problematize them,' as Teresa de Lauretis writes in the introduction to the landmark 'Queer Theory' issue of differences.[8] What are the implications of applying this seemingly fluid and flexible understanding of queer—which in fact emerged in a very specific American academic context at a very specific point in time—to individuals, communities and cultures in another place and time? Even as its meaning has been reworked and has become more expansive over the intervening fifteen years, the theoretical use of 'queer' arguably remains rooted in Western, primarily Anglo-American discourse. Well aware that its applicability in Asian contexts cannot merely be assumed, on the conference website and in other publicity materials the organisers clearly spelled out their rationale for their use of the term:

      The conference organisers use the word 'queer' in both its current senses. 'Queer' is both a shorthand for the full diversity of homoerotic, transgender, and transsexual behaviours, identities, and cultures as well as a term describing critical forms of theory that draw on poststructuralist and postcolonial analyses. In its conferences and publications the AsiaPacifiQueer Network [which organised the conference] emphasises the need to rethink queer theory in Asian contexts, simultaneously critiquing homophobic discourses and practices in Asia and questioning the eurocentrism [sic] of Western accounts of sexuality and gender.[9]

    At the conference itself, presenters often described cultures and peoples using local vocabulary, including local terms with increasing regional currency like the Chinese tongzhi [comrade], as well as localised variants of terms such as lesbian, gay and queer.
  6. When the focus is explicitly regional, however, one clearly needs terms that can cross borders—particularly so in a region as diverse as Asia. Moreover, as Tom Boellstorff and William Leap observe, 'the fact remains that ways of talking about the everyday experiences of same-sex desire have been caught up in the transnational interchange of material and intellectual commodities associated with the condition of late modernity.'[10] And this is more than a mere academic discussion. In her keynote speech at the Bangkok conference, scholar and activist Josephine Ho used 'queer' in reference both to Asia in general and specifically to her native Taiwan, where the locally inflected ku'er [queer or cool] competes with tongzhi within queer communities. While, as Ara Wilson points out in this issue, the use of queer 'does not solve any problems of English-language hegemony or ethnocentric categorisations of sexuality,' Ho believes that—in temporarily drawing attention away from the specificities of gender, sex, sexuality, nationality and language, the term 'queer' may serve as a banner under which to unify the 'queer' individuals and communities throughout Asia, whom she has called on to unite in response to another kind of globalisation, namely 'global governance,' which threatens the rights of all 'Asian queers.'[11]
  7. Whether scholars and activists choose to use 'queer' in a broad sense, or terms such as lesbian, gay, homosexual, transgender and transsexual—or a combination thereof—not spelling out clearly what—if anything—is meant in local contexts by such terms and whether they are an author's translations of indigenous terms or indigenisations of loan words runs a great risk of implying a regional or global homogeneity that does not exist.[12] Indeed, widely employed terms such as 'lesbian' and 'gay' have often greatly different valences and index different experiences and identities when transliterated and appropriated into different languages and cultures.[13] Further, although the use of local terms has been increasingly favoured by those writing in English who wish to foreground a certain specificity of experience, one must still guard against reading these terms as representing peoples, cultures, practices or identities that are substantially less fluid than the word queer attempts to convey.
  8. While we are inclined toward the use of the word queer in conjunction with more specific—though not necessarily local—terms, we would argue that even more important than one's choice of terminology is a critical and explicit engagement therewith. The contributors in this issue all variously undertake such an engagement, which not only allows for more precise scholarship but also leads to a richer understanding of border-crossing terms as regional and global signifiers, as well as what and how they mean in local contexts. Katsuhiko Suganuma describes how, for instance, theorists and activists in Japan have articulated their own meanings of queer, lesbian and gay, meanings which, while undeniably linked to the words' foreign origins, are grounded in local understandings of sexuality and gender—albeit understandings shaped by imported sexological discourse since the late nineteenth century.[14] And Ara Wilson asserts that the word lesbian is an 'untenable description…of much female-female and transgender sexuality.' Moreover, local terms may only be 'local' to a certain region of a country, as Sam Winter explains of the Philippines in his article, or their meanings may blur along with the scenery on the journey from one part of the country to another. For her part, Carol Johnson demonstrates that even if the language and ideology behind it differ from East to West, the 'threat' of homosexuality itself can be deployed to strangely similar effect. It is our own hope that such attention to the various, often blurred, meanings of terms within the field of Asian Queer Studies will lead to a more nuanced, if more expansive, notion of queer, a notion able to point to global and local conceptualisations of gender and sexuality without forcing them into a procrustean Western framework.

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  9. If queer is unstable and polyvalent, the same can of course be said of the notion of Asia, both in the West—whence the term—and in the region itself, however it is defined. In the UK, for instance, an Asian likely comes from South Asia. And Americans generally use Asia to refer to East and sometimes Southeast Asia; hence the term Asian American tends to conjure up an image of someone whose roots can be traced back to China or perhaps Vietnam rather than Pakistan or Sri Lanka, to say nothing of the Asian countries of the Middle East. In Australia, which borders Indonesia and which is situated within the equally amorphous Asia-Pacific region (if not, as it has been claimed, within Asia itself), Asia means yet another thing. Within the region the appellation attempts to delineate, Asia is mobilised for different reasons and its meaning is adjusted accordingly.[15] The centre and margins of Asia shift gradually with the landscape and more abruptly as borders are crossed. Thus, as a cultural or political region, Asia is impossible to define precisely, and the terms which attempt to delineate regions of Asia—Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, West Asia and so forth—are hardly less problematic. Moreover, such demarcation of borders creates, by definition, contestable categorisations of insider/local and outsider/foreigner, resulting in the imposition of often arbitrary inclusions and exclusions, which are themselves complicated by the Asian diaspora. If a sense of queer identity and solidarity is a modern construct—however borrowed, imposed, imported, adapted or appropriated—surely the same can be said of Asian identities. So much the more constructed then is the Asian queer identity and solidarity called for by Ho. Who may legitimately to speak of, for and as 'Asian queers' is a question that remains pertinent, sometimes urgently so, for everyone engaged in Asian queer studies and activism.
  10. We revisit the Bangkok conference for a sense of how Asia and Asians were represented and representing and in order to map out one representation of queer Asia at a particularly significant Asian Queer Studies moment. In terms of papers presented at the conference, queer Asia was clearly dominated by East and Southeast Asia—with the two regions comprising almost two thirds of accepted papers.[16] Regardless of the extent to which the balance of papers at the conference represents the attendees and organisers sense of Asia, however, it is indicative of a clear imbalance of power in terms of financial and cultural capital in the region, and of religious and other contemporary cultural prohibitions against same-sex sexuality and transgender practices in some Asian countries. Moreover, whether such research is conducted by locally based scholars is a function both of local institutional support for queer research and of the cultural acceptability thereof.
  11. We will forgo an attempt to breakdown the nationalities of presenters, not because this would not be meaningful (indeed it would be), but because of the impossibility of determining nationality on the basis of name alone, and because the diverse backgrounds of the presenters—including many bi-cultural, bi-national and diasporic individuals—renders nationality a suspect category, especially in a field of scholarship that seeks to break down barriers even as it calls for attention to and respect for local and regional differences. Even to turn our lens briefly on the twenty-three contributors to this issue is no simple matter. How does one classify a scholar who grew up in an Asian country but has been educated in and is now based at a Western institution? What should we make of the many contributors from Asia who are currently based at Asian institutions and who hold one or more degrees from Australia, Canada, the UK or the US? And if a scholar from the West, who may or may not identify as a diasporic Asian, spends a decade or more living and/or researching in an Asian country—as have a number of the contributors here—how well does she or he fit into the troubled and troubling category of Westerner?
  12. As unstable a category as nationality may be, however, a justifiable concern remains about 'foreign' queer researchers and activists coming in and 'imposing' outside values and interpretations however admirable their intentions.[17] At the same time, the influential AsiaPacifiQueer (APQ) Network, which was founded and is based in the 'ex-centric location of Australia ... simultaneously ... of the West and in Asia,'[18] has facilitated a great deal of inter-Asian exchange on queer scholarship—including three small-scale APQ conferences in Australia as well as APQ streams that have 'queered' Asia studies conferences in Australia and Singapore and attempted to foreground issues of concern to Asian queers at an international queer studies conference in London. Moreover, the group was the driving force behind the Bangkok conference itself.[19] Although the organisers of APQ, like the contributors to this issue and presenters at the Bangkok conference, cannot easily be categorised as Asian or non-Asian, they are all based at Western academic institutions—as 'ex-centric' as the institutions and individuals may be—and this has undoubtedly shaped both their perspectives on 'queer Asia' and the focus of scholarship thereon.
  13. While it would be grossly mistaken to suggest that such queer inter-Asian collaboration would not exist without Western assistance, queer local and regional organisations in Asia are sometimes linked to the West in complex ways. Moreover, as suggested above, the current state of the geopolitical affairs is such that scholarship on queer issues has been more likely over the past ten to twenty years to receive institutional support, including funding, in countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK and the US; and, while some scholars in Asia, especially in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, have recently been finding it somewhat easier to pursue research on queer issues, the field remains more established on an institutional level and better funded outside the region.[20] Thus, it is no surprise that researchers (and activists) from outside Asia have been instrumental in the development of Asian Queer Studies. Yet we are also witnessing an increasingly robust body of queer studies and queer politics developed by researchers and activists within the region. Locally initiated and organised academic and activist conferences and seminars on homosexuality and sexual rights, for instance, have started to appear in mainland China in recent years—though many of them are not acknowledged in or visible to the English academic world—reflecting the increasingly active role local scholars and activists have played in the development of queer studies and activism in the country.[21]

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  14. A third key issue that both connects and divides in Asian Queer Studies is language—an issue which is inextricably linked to the conceptualisation of queer and Asia/Asian, the tension between local and global, and the demarcation of national and regional borders. What are the linguistic and cultural assumptions that inhere in the notion of Asian queer? We are well aware of the impact of the dominance of English in the field of Asian Queer Studies, an impact whose roots stretch far beyond this particular discourse. In most parts of Asia, English has historically been and, to many, remains an elitist language, linked to centuries of British imperialism, to Western cultural and economic power, and to access to higher education in the current day. In Hong Kong, for instance, the popular use of English is restricted to the educated and the middle and upper classes, both because and in spite of the region's long history of British colonisation.
  15. The concept of queer has itself been a linguistically and culturally elitist concept to many non-English speaking tongzhi in the city. While use of the term tongzhi to indicate lesbians and gays (or to a lesser extent, bisexuals and transgenders) has become increasingly intelligible to people in- and outside of the tongzhi community, the use of queer (or ku'er, in its Chinese inflection) remains largely confined to the academic community or appears in English as a direct translation of tongzhi. The ambiguity and foreignness of the term queer has created a now long-standing gap between the academic, elitist, activist, English discourse of queer on the one hand, and the popular, non-elitist, community, Chinese discourse of tongzhi on the other. To what extent can the linguistically and culturally foreign concept of queer encompass local sexual and gender practices and expressions? What kind of local and regional politics can we employ to bridge the gap between academic English-dominated queer studies and the lived practices of individuals that many scholars and activists intend to unify under the big banner of queer? Finally, how can we unify individuals under the banner of Asian queer when many of individuals in the region are not linguistically or culturally familiar with nor, sometimes, politically invested in the very notion of queer? Undoubtedly, as Wilson outlines in this issue, 'queering Asia' is a project far more complex than the question of choosing (or not) a unifying term or tongue for all queer individuals in the region.
  16. Although language issues were addressed by and were clearly a significant concern of the Bangkok conference organisers, their acceptance of English as a regional lingua franca was such that, while the organisers saw the need to outline the language policy, they saw no need to justify the choice of English as the official language. Regardless of the official status of English, however, prior to the actual event effort was made to circulate information about it in other languages. Eleven pre-conference regional and country contact groups and email lists were set up, and partial translations of the conference website were posted in Chinese, Japanese and Thai (which perhaps both promoted and reflected the relatively large presence of speakers of these languages at the conference).[22] In addition, a stream of Thai language panels was set up, creating a conference within a conference for Thai scholars and activists. Yet, due to a lack of resources as well as logistics, at the larger conference formal interpretation was provided for only keynote and plenary speakers.[23] And aside from several of the introductory and concluding speeches being simultaneously interpreted into Thai, English clearly dominated the official functioning of the conference—a situation which advantaged certain individuals and groups and disadvantaged others, and which made it easier for those most comfortable with English-language academic discourse to both speak and be heard.
  17. What the experience at the Bangkok conference suggests is not the need to find a lingua franca other than English for Asian Queer Studies. Instead, if we are to create a field that truly seeks to unite scholars as well as activists under an 'Asian queer' banner, what is called for is a far greater sensitivity, among native speakers and non-native speakers alike, to practical measures that can be taken on the ground to facilitate actual inter-Asian, inter-cultural, indeed, inter-queer communication. For better or for worse, the dominance of English in the field is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. And as J. Neil C. Garcia suggests in this issue, the colonial and often elitist language of English may actually function as an emancipatory tool. Garcia writes that Tagalog and other local languages, 'after centuries of erotophobic indoctrination by the medieval Spanish the ear of most contemporary middle-class Filipinos, seem incapable of 'handling' matters relating to sex without at the same time vulgarising them.' Because novelist Federico Licsi Espino, Jr., 'intends both a polemic and a postcolonial "anti-nationalist" interrogation,' his novel 'simply had to be written under the aegis of the language of colonisation, even subverts the very same language that it deploys.' In the nascent field of Asian Queer Studies, it remains to be seen, however, the extent to which, in trans- and inter-Asian contexts, English will ultimately function to limit or liberate discourse on Asian queer lives.

    The contents of this issue
  18. This issue of Intersections begins with three papers that each ostensibly focuses on a single country, but even as they look at specific queer texts created in the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong, they demonstrate how borders between cultures—like borders between texts—are permeable, and how identities and communities—like texts—can literally incorporate a certain intertextuality as they reference and give new meaning to words and lives from other cultures and times.
  19. In 'The Postcolonial Perverse,' J. Neil C. Garcia renders a nuanced reading of both the Filipino nation and Federico Licsi Espino Jr.'s Lumpen, a novel which, via its perverted cast of characters, inscribes a troubled celebration both of its own hybridity and that of the Philippines. Garcia suggests that hybridity itself can be a perversion, which in the postcolonial context supports and subverts 'norms that may or may not cover the fluid calculus of gender, sexuality, nationality and other markers of identity.' Lumpen works to complicate the 'presumptively heterosexual and, not surprisingly, nativist' representations of the nation in canonical Filipino literature, representations that reduce the colonial Philippines to a grossly simplified binary relationship between coloniser and colonised. Through its narrative interrogation of the heterosexual presumptions of the 'institution of masculinity' that undergirds the Filipino nation, Garcia writes, 'Lumpen draws our attention to the perversion that inheres both in the Filipino institution of masculinity, and in the institutionalised "notion" of the Filipino nation itself.' Ultimately, even as they revel in this inherently perverse hybridity, both Espino and Garcia long, on at least one level, for a 'whole(some)ness' that can never be in their postcolonial (con)texts.
  20. Transporting us from literary to more overtly theoretical texts, in 'Enduring Voices,' Katsuhiko Suganuma performs a contextualised analysis of the groundbreaking works of Fushimi Noriaki and Kakefuda Hiroko, two central figures in 1990s Japanese lesbian and gay theorising and activism, and asserts their 'continuing relevance' to contemporary Japanese lesbian and gay politics. Suganuma productively sidesteps a discussion of the degree to which the writing of these key works is related to the development of Queer Theory (as well as lesbian and gay theories) in the West, suggesting instead that what is of greatest significance is how effectively these texts interrogated and continue to make sense of contemporary Japanese gender and sexual norms. Even as Fushimi provisionally applies the label 'gay' to himself, he aims to destabilise and undo the gender binary that underlies the very possibility of gay identity. Kakefuda's personal narrative of engaging with what it means for her to 'be…a "lesbian"' is similarly grounded in what the construct of 'lesbian' means in Japan and her desire to break free from the 'homo-hetero binary.' While Suganuma recognises that these texts demonstrate a certain 'theoretical synchronicity' with the Queer Theory of the West and does not deny the possibility of Western influence on the two writer-activists, he insists that it is the context in which they emerged—namely, on the heels of two decades of lesbian and gay activism and on the cusp of a 'gay boom' in Japanese popular culture—that have made them relevant to the 1990s and to contemporary Japanese queer culture.
  21. In 'An Intimate Dialogue with Chan Kwok Chan,' Denise Tang carries us to Hong Kong and to the cinematic realm. Tang offers a personal engagement with lesbian filmmaker Yau Ching's Ho Yuk: Let's Love Hong Kong (2002) and, in her contextualisation of the film, explores 'lesbian intimacies, disappearing city spaces and mobile bodies' in a cinematic text which diegetically—and through its very existence—struggles against lesbian invisibility in Hong Kong and in Hong Kong cinema. Moreover, Tang argues, local queer cultural productions such as Ho Yuk 'have the potential to overturn the dominance of European and American cinema in Asian queer circuits.' New communication technologies, Tang demonstrates, allow for and 'mediate' very different kinds of lesbian intimacies that liberate lesbian desire even as they impose proximal limits thereupon. While the realm depicted in the Ho Yuk was largely limited to three individuals in the (cyber)space of Hong Kong, Tang suggests that as these same technologies also allow for much broader connections, they enable those who 'identify…as ethnically Chinese and queer…[to] connect…with other queers along the lines of Chineseness' in a sphere of queer Chinese cultural exchange.
  22. The authors of the following two contributions engage in comparative cross-cultural studies, the former bridging East and West and the latter comparing two countries in Southeast Asia. Rather than focusing primarily on cultural flows or borrowing, these papers explore how such comparative work can illuminate aspects of the cultures being juxtaposed.
  23. In 'Analysing the Politics of Same-Sex Issues in a Comparative Perspective,' Carol Johnson examines the deployment by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Australian Prime Minister John Howard of homosexuality as a political and rhetorical tool. Johnson cautions that in this type of comparative analysis that we cannot assume that gender and sexual concepts and identity positions are consistent across, as well as within, cultures; and she asserts that these differences pose a 'need…for nationally and culturally specific political strategies for both decriminalisation and recognition.' Johnson's insightful analysis of the discursive strategies of Mahathir and Howard demonstrates that, in spite of 'significant differences' in terms of religion, government and the economy, for example, there are some 'strange similarities' between their promotion of discourses of heteronormativity. While there are also obvious differences in terms of attitudes toward the legality of (male) homosexuality—namely that Howard does not support criminalisation while Mahathir did—Johnson suggests that LGBTQ communities may find common ground in opposing 'the ways in which conservative politicians construct heterosexuality as the only legitimate form of citizenship.'
  24. In 'What Made Me This Way?' Sam Winter compares cultural and individual understandings of transgenderism and its origins in Thailand and the Philippines. Winter considers how the effects of religion—namely, Theravada Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, which respectively predominate in the regions of Thailand and the Philippines in which Winter conducted his research—relate to cultural and individual understandings of the cause of transgenderism and the likelihood of individuals to consider (or at least claim) their own transgenderism to be either something innate or the result of the environment in which they grew up. Moreover, while Winter links religious and other cultural differences to the probability that a transgender individual will choose to surgically alter her body to correspond with her identity as well as that the probability that she will see a need for political activism, he shows the reality is more complex than simple causality. More importantly, his simple and yet pivotal question—'What made me this way?'—and the responses he elicits in both countries demonstrate a practicable means to get at the ways 'culture influences not only how the heteronormative majority views gender-variant people' and queers in general but also how queer individuals 'make sense of themselves.'
  25. In 'Magnus Hirschfeld,' J. Edgar Bauer provides a critical reading of German sexologist Hirschfeld's Weltreise eines Sexualforschers [The world journey of a sex researcher], inscribing details of his early 1930s 'world tour' in which he visited Japan, China, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Egypt and Palestine. This work was written 'to document the diversity of sexual mores…Hirschfeld met during his trip' and 'conveys their failure to cope with the complexities of human sexuality.' For Hirschfeld, neither East nor West provided the grounds for 'a universally valid sexual morality,' a fact which 'only science is capable of grasping.' Even as Hirschfeld rejected any notion of an inherent superiority of the West or of the modern, as Bauer explains, Hirschfeld had a complex attitude about Asia: he was tolerant if not respectful of cultural differences but highly critical of practices that he felt intolerably abusive or debasing toward women. Through his 'doctrine of sexual intermediaries' [sexuelle Zwischenstufenlehre], which was informed by his admittedly limited understanding of Asian conceptualisations of gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld 'anticipated present-day discussions on issues such as individuality and categorisations, nature and nurture, and essentialism and construction' and provided a 'radical alternative' to the predominant notion of the sexual binary. Thus, Bauer offers Hirschfeld up as a figure who is underappreciated for his relevance to contemporary GLBTQ studies and Queer Theory.
  26. Rounding this issue and in crucial ways responding to and expanding upon the themes we addressed above and the projects of other articles, in 'Queering Asia' Ara Wilson offers 'suggestive illustrations of an emerging research agenda for analysing queerness in relation to intra-Asian cross-border, transcultural and transnational processes.' While she does not deny the significance of the cultural influence of the queer West on queer Asia, Wilson asserts that there is much productive potential in decentring the West and focusing instead on 'how queerness is constituted by conditions and flows within' Asia. Acknowledging the productiveness and problems with both turns toward the indigenous past and post-colonial critiques of Western modernity in the project of unsettling the dominance of Western understandings of queer in queer Area Studies, Wilson proposes a critical 'queer regionalism' as a 'heuristic and strategic device' to unsettle the Western dominance within and bias of Queer Theory and Queer Studies.
  27. Following the articles, we are delighted to include a selection of J. Neil C. Garcia's series, 'Poems from Amsterdam,' in which Garcia reflects in a very personal and intimate manner on a number of themes taken up in other ways in the rest of this issue: from the varied linkages and divisions between local and global; to flows of culture, people and sex(uality); to the importance of memory; to the longing for (a) home.
  28. In the Arts Reviews section, Subhash Chandra examines Indian writer Manju Kapur's novel A Married Woman (2003) and considers whether it might be deemed a 'lesbian novel,' given its depiction of emotional and sexual bond between two women. While Kapur's writing has won international acclaim, in his evaluation Chandra suggests it is the meaning of the text in the Indian context that is most relevant. This review is followed by Jyh Wee Sew's review of Boxing Cabaret, the one-woman show of Thai transsexual kickboxer Parinya Charoenphol, a.k.a. Nong Toom, in Singapore in June 2005. For Sew, it is not the ease with which Nong Toom traverses genders or borders, but how well she crosses over into the entertainment business that will determine her success as a performer.
  29. Finally, we are very pleased to be able to include reviews of a dozen recent academic and critical texts which offer an idea of the expansiveness of Asian Queer Studies, including works which focus on diaspora, ethnography, film, history, literature, new technologies and political activism. We must confess a certain ambivalence about the fact that most of the works we include come from major US and UK publishers, including prestigious university presses.[24] While, on the one hand, this is yet another sign of the growing interest in and rising status of Asian Queer Studies, the fact remains that, regardless of their backgrounds, most of the authors and editors of this latest round of books on queer Asian themes are based at a Western university. This is particularly the case for books published by the most prestigious presses, which are, in turn, most likely to promote the books globally. Of course affiliation with a Western university does not make one a Western scholar, and vice versa—indeed, as suggested above, in academic contexts such as Asian Queer Studies it is becoming increasingly difficult to link a particular scholar with a single nationality. Yet, the current publication situation does point to the on-going lack of institutional support for queer studies within Asia.
  30. Our selection of reviewed texts also brings us back to the language issue. We have included a review of a Chinese-language text, which allows at least a suggestion of the vital queer scholarship and criticism being published in a language other than English.[25] We are certain, however, that there are other recent significant Asian queer works written in Asian languages which we have not included in this issue and of which we are not even aware. We attribute the absence here of reviews of more such texts in part to our own limited linguistic ability and the limited range of our own scholarship, but on a structural level, it is also a product of the nature of most English-language scholarly publications. While this linguistic limit is a major shortcoming in terms of representing the true breadth of Asian Queer Studies, we note with approval that recent scholarship on queer Asia, including articles in this issue and books in the review section, is increasingly written by scholars from or who are intimately connected to the region being studied and who make significant use of local scholarship.
  31. As Helen Hok-Sze Leung's review of Yau Ching's Xingbie guangying: xianggang dianying zhong de xing yu xingbie wenhua yanjiu [Sexing shadows: genders and sexualities in Hong Kong cinema] and Suganuma's close reading of pioneering Japanese lesbian and gay texts, both in this issue, demonstrate, there is much to be gained from an awareness of the kinds of scholarly and critical works being published in languages other than English. Acknowledging the fact that no scholars can become proficient in more than a few Asian languages and the fact that it is unrealistic to expect that most of these works will be translated into English—which, as we have noted, is, by default, the lingua franca of the field—we would like to end with a call for more work which aims to, at the very least, critically summarise and review these invaluable queer Asian texts. We feel that this is a vital step toward a more inclusive Asian Queer Studies.


    We would like to express our gratitude to everyone who helped to make this special issue of Intersections a reality. We are truly thankful for all the individuals who submitted articles, including those we were unable to publish. Many thanks as well go to the anonymous reviewers of these contributions. Asian Queer Studies has become a field because of efforts by individuals to study queer Asian cultures past and present and the willingness, if not eagerness, of scholars engage in a dialogue about this work. We are also very grateful to the Bangkok conference organisers for inviting us to edit this collection and for much useful advice. Among them, Mark McLelland was particularly helpful in suggesting works to be included in the book review section as well as helping us find the right individuals to review them. In addition, we would like to thank Dr. Day Kit-mui Wong for her insightful feedback on a draft of this introduction. Finally, our highest gratitude goes to the editors of Intersections, especially Carolyn Brewer, who provided seemingly endless guidance and enthusiasm at every step along the way.

    [1] Approximately a quarter of the papers presented at the conference were submitted to the proceedings and are available online: 'Papers presented,' in Permanent Archive of Genders, Sexualities, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies, URL:, accessed 21 August 2006.

    [2] Adam Carr, '"I'm gay when I'm speaking English": sexuality and sexual identity in Indonesia: an interview with Dédé Oetomo,' in the conference 'newspaper' for 6th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, Melbourne, Australia, 5-10 October 2001 (8 October 2001): n.p. An interview with Oetomo can be found in Josko Petkovic, 'Dédé Oetomo talks on Reyog Ponorogo,' Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, 2 (May 1999), accessed 1 October 2006.

    [3] A list of confirmed papers as of two months prior to the conference can be found online: 'Confirmed papers and abstracts,' in Permanent Archive of Genders, Sexualities, and Rights in Asia, 15 May 2005, URL:, ca. 2005, accessed 21 August 2006. See also 'Papers presented.'

    [4] These quotes come from the top page of Permanent Archive of Genders, Sexualities, and Rights in Asia, URL:, ca. 2005, site accessed 21 August 2006; similar language was employed in circulated calls for papers and other promotional announcements for the conference.

    [5] These figures are based on announcements made at the conference as well as a list of accepted papers accepted as of 27 January 2005 that was provided by Mark McLelland, one of the conference organisers. See also 'Historic conference of Asian queer studies in Bangkok attracts over 500,' 12 July 2005 Fridae, URL:, accessed 20 October 2005.

    [6] For more on difficulties inserting Asia into the American dominated discourse on Queer Studies, see Peter A. Jackson, Fran Martin, Mark McLelland, 'Re-placing queer studies: reflections on the Queer Matters conference (King's College, London, May 2004),' Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 6(2) (2005):299-311.

    As for resistance to the queering of Asian Studies, we offer as an example the extreme paucity of papers on queer themes over the past decade at the arguably conservative Annual Meeting of the (American) Association of Asian Studies as indicated by an examination of the conference programs available online from past meetings since 1995 (see 'Annual Meetings Abstracts,' Association for Asian Studies, URL:, accessed 8 December 2005). It is notable that while 'gender,' 'sex' and 'sexuality' arise in paper and panel titles dozens of times over the past decade, barely a handful suggest they are related to themes which are generally situated within Queer Studies. In April 2006, James Welker had a discussion about this virtual absence with one of the leaders of the organisation at the AAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. This individual proposed that the absence of queer scholarship at the conference was probably a function of a lack of people submitting proposals. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that a number of panels on queer Asian themes, some of which included relatively prominent scholars in Asian Studies, have been proposed and rejected.

    Resistance to queer themes is not universal and it is arguably lessening, however. The success of the queer panel streams organised by the group AsiaPacifiQueer at the Third International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS3), held in Singapore, 19-22 August 2003, helped spur the 2005 Bangkok conference, for instance. See 'Report on AsiaPacifiQueer participation at the 3rd International Convention of Asia Scholars, Singapore, 19-23 August 2003,' AsiaPacifiQueer, URL:, n.d., site accessed 20 August 2006; and Jackson, Martin, and McLelland, 'Re-placing queer studies,' pp. 299-300. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests a generally increasing number of papers and panels on queer themes at regional and international Asian Studies conferences. The extent to which this represents queer scholarship being conducted by individuals working at and being supported by Asian academic institutions is unclear, however.

    [7] 'Third conference announcement,' email message from the Conference Committee to individuals who submitted proposals or were otherwise involved in the conference, 30 January 2005.

    [8] Teresa de Lauretis, 'Queer theory: lesbian and gay sexualities: an introduction,' in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3(2) (1991):iii-xviii, pp. iii, iv.

    [9] Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference on Asian Queer Studies, Conference Programme, 7-9 July 2005, Bangkok, Thailand, p. 2. See also the conference website, Permanent Archive of Genders, Sexualities, and Rights in Asia.

    [10] Tom Boellstorff and William Leap, 'Introduction: globalization and "new" articulations of same-sex desire,' in Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalization and Gay Language, ed. William Leap and Tom Boellstorff, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004, pp. 1-21, pp. 1-2.

    [11] Josephine Ho, 'Is global governance bad for Asian queers?' Keynote Address, reproduced in Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia, Conference Programme, pp. 149-61, p. 161.

    [12] See Boellstorff and Leap, 'Introduction.'

    [13] See Tom Boellstorff, '"Authentic, of course!": gay language in Indonesia and cultures of belonging,' in Speaking in Queer Tongues, ed. Leap and Boellstorff, pp. 181-201; Peter A. Jackson, 'Gay adaptation, tom-dee resistance, and kathoey indifference: Thailand's gender/sex minorities and the episodic allure of queer English,' in Leap and Boellstorff, Speaking in Queer Tongues, pp. 202-230; and Beverley Curran and James Welker, 'From The Well of Loneliness to the akarui rezubian: western translations and lesbian identities,' in Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan, ed. Mark McLelland and Romit Dasgupta, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. 65-80.

    [14] For a history of terminology relating to same-sex desire and transgender behaviours and identities in Japan, see Mark McLelland, Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005; and Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1999.

    [15] For an example of the shifting meaning of Asia in one Asian location, see Sun Ge's examination of Asia as constructed within Japanese intellectual history in her 'How does Asia mean?,' trans. Hui Shiu-Lun and Lau Kinchi, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1(1) (2000):13-47.

    [16] The paper breakdown based on topic is as follows: Asian diaspora: 11; general Asia 20; Asian inter-regional issues: 10; cross-regional dialogues: 3; Central Asia: Uzbekistan 1; East Asia: China—general 8, China—mainland 10, Hong Kong 14, Taiwan 13, (Greater China total 45), Japan 22, Korea 4 (East Asia total 71); South Asia Bangladesh 1, India 17, Pakistan 1, (South Asia total 19); Southeast Asia: Cambodia 1, Indonesia 4, Malaysia 7, The Philippines 16, Singapore 2, Thailand 14—plus 7 Thai-language panels with three to six participants, Vietnam 3 (Southeast Asia total 47); West Asia: General 1 Iran 1 (West Asia total 2). We are relying here on a list of papers formally accepted as of 27 January 2005 provided by Mark McLelland, one of the conference organisers, rather than the final program as financial and other reasons kept at least twenty people from attending. While a large number of scholarships were given, the final list may be somewhat biased in favour of individuals who were able fund their attendance either with their own money or through an institution in their own country. This breakdown is as it was in the information provided to us by McLelland; regions were indicated by the presenters themselves at the time they submitted proposals.

    [17] McLelland, Queer Japan, pp. 5-8.

    [18] See 'About APQ,' on the AsiaPacifiQueer website, URL:, site accessed 10 September 2005.

    [19] See Jackson, Martin, and McLelland, 'Re-placing queer studies,' pp. 299-300. See also 'Background to AsiaPacifiQueer's role in the conference' in the conference program for Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia, pp. 54-5.

    [20] Jackson, Martin, and McLelland, 'Re-placing queer studies,' pp. 299, 303.

    [21] For instance, a two-day seminar on organising female tongzhi community in China, Zhongguo dalu nütong shequgongzuo yantaohui (Seminar on community building of female tongzhi in China), was held in Beijing on June 24-25, 2005, with community leaders and researchers coming from more than a dozen major cities in China, as well as from Hong Kong and Taiwan. In 2006 and 2007, conferences, seminars, screenings and lectures on homosexuality, sexual health or sexuality in general have been held and are planned at various universities in China.

    [22] See 'Conference language policy,' Permanent Archive of Genders, Sexualities, and Rights in Asia, URL:, site accessed 10 December 2005. Links to sites in Chinese, Japanese and Thai were available on the conference website and are maintained on the Permanent Archive of Genders, Sexualities, and Rights in Asia. It is probably also not co-incidental that core APQ members Peter Jackson, Fran Martin and Mark McLelland's own research focuses on Thailand, Taiwan and Japan, respectively.

    [23] Volunteers were, however, available to interpret into English to facilitate attendance of non-Thai speakers at the Thai-language panels.

    [24] There are, however, other recent books which were reviewed in recent issues of Intersections and hence are not included in this issue. For books with significant queer content published in the past three years and reviewed in Intersections, see Mark McLelland's review of William Leap and Tom Boellstorff (eds), Speaking in Queer Tongues Globalization and Gay Language, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004, in Intersections 11, (August 2005), accessed 21 August 2006; Kam Louie's review of Fran Martin, Situating Sexualities: Queer Representation in Taiwanese Fiction, Film and Public Culture, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003, in Intersections 10 (August 2004), accessed 21 August 2006; Sharyn Graham's review of Teh Yik Koon, The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals, Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2002, in Intersections 10 (August 2004), accessed 21 August 2006; and Mark McLelland's review of Tagame Gengoroh (compiled), Gay Erotic Art in Japan: Artists from the Time of the Birth of Gay Magazines, English trans. Kitajima Yuji, Tokyo: Potto shuppan, 2003, in Intersections 10 (August 2004), accessed 21 August 2006. Reviews of earlier books in English on queer Asian themes can be found in issues 2, 5-10.

    [25] A review of a Japanese-language queer text can be found in issue 12 of this journal. See Nanette Gottlieb's review of Fushimi Noriaki, Matsuzawa Kureichi, Kurokawa Noboyuki, Yamanaka Toshio, Oikawa Kenji, and Noguchi Katsuzō, 'Okama' wa sabetsu ka: 'Shūkan Kinyōbi no sabetsu hyōgen jiken [Does 'okama' have discriminatory connotations? The discriminating expression case in the weekly magazine Shūkan Kinyōbi], Tokyo, Potto Publishing, 2002, in Intersections 12 (January 2006), accessed 25 August 2006.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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