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

Queering Asia [1]

Ara Wilson
    Western exports, Asian imports
  1. This essay proposes to analyse queer life in Asia by focusing on the Asian region itself, asking how queerness is constituted by conditions and flows within the geopolitically constructed region of Asia. This proposal is at once simple and complicated. Simply, it suggests that a focus on the region (understood in a post-Orientalist and transnational way) provides an overlooked counterweight to Eurocentric, Western hegemonic frames for gay, lesbian, transgender or queer worlds in Asia. But the complexity of queer regionalism calls for some justification before turning to consider its potential directions.
  2. First the term 'queer.' I use the word as an English-language shorthand to refer to non-normative sexualities connected with a range of erotic desires, relationships, identities or politics that involve overlapping sets of sex/gender domains associated with non-heterosexual, same-sex or transgendered subjects, including the common categories of lesbians (or variants, like lesbi), gays, men who have sex with men (MSMs), bisexuals and so forth. One of the crucial points of ethnographic and post-colonial scholarship is that the conceptualisations of the sexual vary profoundly, and in particular depart from the Anglo or Western assumptions about sexuality (e.g., a core identity predicated on object choice and gender binaries): this work has made appellations of 'lesbian' untenable descriptions of much female-female and transgender sexuality.[2] For now, the term queer appears to represent a loose domain of disparate non-normative genders and sexualities, although it does not solve any problems of English-language hegemony or ethnocentric categorisations of sexuality. It is not a gloss for Asian vernaculars, nor is it necessarily a term of choice for Asian actors (although it appears popular in Taiwan, for instance).[3] Moreover, despite the political inflection of the term intended in queer theory, I do not mean to imply that 'queer' sexual practices or subjects index counter-hegemonic dissent. In short, my use of queer is provisional academic shorthand that denotes an unfixed set of subjects and that also flags an affiliation with critical analytic approaches, including queer theory but also feminist and post-colonial theory.
  3. A crucial problem for critical discussions of queer life in Asia is the problem of Western hegemony. Popular discussions conflate Western, modern and globalisation as the source of sexual modernity, particularly non-normative sexuality, in Asia. In the global north, queer Asia has tended to be recognised to the extent that it articulates with first world metropoles, for example, through queer life in diasporic communities, or through northern consumption of select cultural products from the global south, such as the 1996 movie Fire[4] or a recent spate of gay-themed movies from East Asia.[5] In prevailing Western gay discourse, visible queer life in the region is read through the lens of Stonewall, Sydney's Mardi Gras and San Francisco, while same-sex or transgender practices that do not fit this mold are categorised as 'tradition.'
  4. Public and political discussions of 'modern' Asian queer subjectivities share the general framework of an import-export calculus: the assumption that legible queer sexualities derive from US-inflected Western modes of sexuality or from Western-based systems of modernity, such as capitalism. One version of the import-export model underpins homophobic nationalist discourses, which assert that Western imperialism produced first world queers.[6] An import-export logic also surfaces in well-meaning work in sexual rights. When advocates stress the homophobia of third-world traditions, they imply (or assert) that modernisation will make the non-Western world more liberated for queers. Even when they are critical of Western dominance in the world, as is the case with nationalists and many sexual-rights advocates, this interpretation recapitulates Western hegemony, by locating the origin and agency of modern queer life squarely in the West. As Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan write, 'the United States and Europe are figured as modern and thus as the sites of progressive social movements, while other parts of the world are presumed to be traditional, especially in regard to sexuality' or else are attributed with a kind of primitive sexual openness.[7] How to recast the relation between Western (and/or first world, global north, white) forms of queer life with queerness in the non-Western world or their diasporas is a paramount concern for transnational Queer Studies.
  5. Western sexual discourses, both normative and radical, have undeniably had great influence over the globe, and are intertwined with first world political, economic and cultural power. Thus, conversations about queer sexualities in Asia—or in the non-West more generally—have difficulty avoiding the centrifugal powers of Western formulations, particularly those attached to the hegemonic force of the United States. Critical attention to Western hegemony risks reproducing the import-export model—conflating sexual modernity with the West and obscuring the complex histories and forces that condition sexual life.[8] In other words, an emphasis on Western hegemony, however necessary, risks reproducing Western centrism. Such Western-centrism has impacted on sexual politics in the region, by rendering gay, lesbian, queer or radical sexual politics inauthentically local or national in Asian contexts.[9] It is urgent, then, for Queer Studies in Asia and transnational sexuality studies to heed calls to 'provincialize Europe' as Dipesh Chakrabarty has put it.[10] Anjali Arondekar argues that Queer Studies needs to 'decenter the hegemony of the American impact model, and to instead articulate the simultaneity of multiple local global spatialities.'[11]
  6. There have been two major modes of challenging this default evaluation of non-Western queer life as the product of Western influence. One method is recuperative, pointing to indigenous non-heterosexual, non-procreative sexual practices. Such research has offered important resources for framing queer in national or local ways. These efforts have been critical in proposing alternative sexual histories, memories and continuities, tracing a local genealogy for queer life in Indian traditions or Native American communities, for example. They have, for instance, informed the emergence of culturally sensitive HIV/AIDS projects.[12] Yet this approach has also been criticised for nationalism and nativism and for an essentialist (and often romantic) conception of cultures in the past. In effect, this recuperative work accepts the association of modernity and the West, arguing instead that there was queer life in local traditions.
  7. The second major direction in efforts to decentre queer Western-centrism is broadly characterised by post-colonial critiques of both modernity and tradition. Usually non-nationalist, this approach rethinks the relation of non-Western sexuality to Western gay culture and indeed challenges the binary of West and the rest. Recasting identity as hybrid, diasporic and syncretic, this approach challenges the import-export image of southern queer identities as mimicry of the West.[13] Conversely, post-colonial critics have also pointed out the historical and cultural embeddedness of US or European forms of queer. This body of work identifies multiple trajectories for non-heterosexual sex, love and politics, without forgetting the global dominance of US and Western powers. It also emphasises the significance of culture, history, race, capitalism and geography for sexuality, noting that sexuality holds different meanings and relates to community, rights or possibilities in different ways in non-Western contexts. For example, studies of queer Indians and Filipinos have challenged the Western narrative about coming out or the image of first world as a beacon of liberty for immigrant queers.[14]
  8. This project of decentring is above all motivated by the political problem of Western-centrism, especially the ways that knowledge about gay life around the world is intertwined with national, racial and global power. Diasporic and post-colonial studies provide the major critique of Western hegemonic interpretations of queerness and of non-Western sexualities. However, the ability of these studies to provincialise the West remains curtailed. Diasporic studies, for example, have been criticised for recentring the analysis of cultural struggles on those subjects who migrated to the neglect of those (a majority) who remained in the home country.[15] But more generally, while such analyses create alternative queer narratives within the global north, diasporic queer critiques of Western hegemony still pivot on the first world.[16] Is there a way to make queer life in the complex modernities of the non-West, third-world and global south itself the centre of transnational queer analysis?

    Queer regionalism
  9. I see a third emergent approach to provincialising Europe in global Queer Studies, which is a critical regionalism. My focus here is on scholarship but the analytical direction I outline parallels political efforts more or less in the spirit of the non-Aligned movement. The possibilities for a queer regionalism are supported by examples of sex/gender activism in the global south, which, while not closed to participation from the north, remains centred in non-Western orbits.[17]
  10. A proposal for queer regionalism, invoking Area Studies as it does, requires some justification. For its part, Queer Theory cannot have been said to have embraced Area Studies. 'Asia' is a geopolitical concoction, a cultural dream, a fiction. Whether by Western forces, Asian elites, or by imperialists within Asia, the constitution of a terrain named Asia is political, not innocent: memories of Japan's Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere reminds us that pan-Asianism has real risks.[18] 'Asia' has been seen as:

      an abstract entity countering the 'west'/Europe; as a concrete geographical zone; as a physical space and an imaginary sign; as a mind set or a mode; as a unified civilization and non-unified subregions; as a location to be conquered; and as a method of constructing cultural identity.[19]

    Aihwa Ong notes that a regional perspective has 'followed the lead of spatial categories given by the entrenched division of area knowledge, by politicians, and the news media,' warning that 'these geographical spaces are not always the most appropriate for evaluating emerging social phenomena and their effects on human beings and society.'[20]
  11. Such deconstruction of 'Asia' is itself part of an analytical reflection within Asian Studies. It has generated a critical understanding of region that recognises these risks but still insists that studying the region is productive.[21] As the editors of the inaugural issue of the journal Inter-Asia Cultural Studies write, 'Comparisons have always been made, where the "west" has been the frame of reference. Now, it is perhaps the time to multiply and construct alternative frames of reference, and the "third world", very much like "Asia", is a promising possibility for this reframing.'[22] With this orientation, 'Asia' can thus be read as economic, political and cultural construction and also understood to be realised as a material locus of social processes. Describing Asian subjects as 'diversified subject positions produced by shifting geopolitical lineaments,' for example, Gayatri Spivak, in an interview with Tani Barlow, calls for a critical 'pan-Asianism': 'let us think of a more than merely economically diversified Pan-Asianism, and more than merely "comparative Asianism".'[23] A critical regional scholarship understands Asia not merely as the recipient of first-world influences but as itself generating complex modernities and transnational flows in a global context shaped by political economic asymmetries. It offers grounded studies of regions and countries that demonstrate complex dynamic histories and processes that involve, but do not rotate on, the Western world. This direction is particularly rich in Asian Studies and particularly relevant for transnational queer analysis.[24]
  12. A focus on region does not replace critical attention to the dominance of the first world to define sexual norms (and deviance), for example, the growing body of criticisms of international women's rights or sexual rights projects as more or less imperialist.[25] Such post-Orientalist scholarship, for example as found in the pages of such journals as such as positions and Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, understands Asia to be constituted by European global hegemony and by intra-Asian dynamics.[26] This work also does not deny the complex interweaving of diasporas, migrations and diverse transnational flows between multiple geographic locations, which have shaped the meanings of gay and Asian identities, as Martin Manalansan's ethnographic work on Filipinos in the Philippines and the United States shows.[27] Instead, what I see as an emerging direction presents a different centre of gravity. It exceeds 'the nationalist origins of area studies' to emphasise the transnational nature of Asia itself.[28] In-depth studies then explore how modernisation, capitalist development and cultural formations are constituted by complex historical processes across national borders. Significantly, these analyses highlight power relations within Asia, stressing internal hierarchies and inequalities alongside those of the greater world system. This critical sense of region invites more attention from Queer Studies as a resource to provincialise, while recognising, the forces of the West. The view of dynamic, power-inflected histories in Asia allows for an analysis of queer possibilities within the global south that can decentre the attribution of sexual modernity to a white US and European model.
  13. There are a number of research projects that illustrate this direction, which might be called queer regionalism, queer Asianism or queer pan-Asianism, Asian queer cultural studies or queering Asia.[29] Studies have shown how same-sex sexuality is not only interpreted through frameworks of 'local' culture but is generated by specific Asian histories, even when elements resemble Western gay cultures.[30] Many studies of Asian queerness continue to focus within one country but their analyses emphasise heterogeneity, conflict and power relations rather than a homogenous national or local culture. Evelyn Blackwood interprets lesbi subjectivities in one part of Indonesia as gendered sexual identities that are 'a product of modern national and transnational processes.'[31] In The Gay Archipelago, Tom Boellstorff extends the analysis of gay and lesbi identities in Indonesia. His analysis self-consciously deploys the (nationalist) conception of islands unified as an archipelago to conceptualise gay identity as Indonesian, that is, as a post-colonial national identity that crosses the significant ethnic and religious differences of the country. His analysis of gay Indonesian identity goes beyond the notion that Western vocabulary becomes vernacularised to demonstrate how the emergence and realisation of gay life in Indonesia has been produced through national history and politics. Moreover, drawing on political anxieties about popular culture, Boellstorff recasts the import-export model of non-Western queer identities as instead an instance of 'dubbing culture.'[32] These two examples of Indonesian studies, for example, like this essay, are produced by white authors working in the current centre of Eurocentrism, which is the United States. In decentring the West, the geography of knowledge production is an important consideration. While anthropologists are engaged in 'local' conversations, clearly a project for queering Asia requires much more attention to the critical work being generated within Asia.[33]

    Queering Asia
  14. In 'Queer pop Asia: toward a hybrid regionalist imaginary,' John Nguyet Erni explores an intra-Asian regionalist cultural sphere, which 'can serve as a parallel modernity, and even as an antidote, to western-led forms of global understanding of cultures and modernities.' His conceptualisation of a 'hybrid regionalist imaginary' involves flows in two directions: centrifugal (outward flowing) and centripetal (based on proximity). I think that Erni's notion of the centripetal dimensions of a queer regionalism deserves more attention, and accordingly I here highlight directions of work—both existing and potential—that emphasise transnational assemblages within Asia.[34]
  15. This version of queer Asianism highlights the transnational, border-crossing, transcultural dimensions of Asia. Grewal and Kaplan have called for understanding 'sexual identities in the current phase of globalisation' through a 'more interdisciplinary and transnational approach that addresses inequalities as well as new formations.'[35] As with critical Asian Studies that analyses 'the situated character of Asian transnationalities by focusing on the circulation of people, goods, and images to and from East and South Asia,'[36] queer regionalist work recognises 'the importance of intra-regional networks and interactions amongst queer cultures and communities in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific,' as a call for papers for a 2007 conference organised by AsiaPacifiQueer network puts it. Along with the organisers for this conference, I am interested in analyses of 'intra-regional flows of people, knowledge, representation, and capital in the histories and contemporary forms of queer cultures and communities in the region.'[37] This work might see facets of sexuality as a 'global assemblage' within an open-bordered area of Asia—while recognising that versions of the 'global' can centre in Asia.[38] It can explore how flows and processes within Asia provides conditions for sexuality—how intra-Asian circuits shape cultural norms and their transgressions, as well as erotic practices, identifications, institutions and politics.
  16. What I offer in this essay is not a review but suggestive illustrations of an emerging research agenda for analysing queerness in relation to intra-Asian cross-border, transcultural and transnational processes. One of the ways of establishing the difference of Asian sexual life from the West has been through the exegesis of specific categories of sex/gender identification. Discourses about sexuality, crystallised in categories of identity or practice, offer a subject for mapping intra-Asian flows. One such migration is found in the appropriation of the term tongzhi as a version of 'queer' in Greater China. Tongzhi means 'same-will' and comrade, while tong echoes the formal term for homosexuality, tongxinglian. It has been appropriated by queers in KMT nationalist Taiwan and urban mainland China as 'a coalitionist view of something like lesbian/gay/bisexual, and sometimes as a translation of queer.'[39]
  17. Another set of terms ripe for transnational Asian analysis are those variations of the English term tomboy found in Southeast and East Asia, such as T in Taiwan or tomboi in Indonesia. The Thai category tom can be differently glossed as meaning tomboy, butch, lesbian or female-to-male (f2m) transgendered people. While Thais recognise the English origins of the word, and the identity is considered modern (often a modern fashion), tom is very much a Thai category, interpreted in relation to Thai sex/gender aesthetics and principles.[40] On the horizon are detailed chronicles of the regional travels and reformulations of identity categories like tomboy.
  18. Popular culture offers another irresistible domain for queer regionalist research. There are on-going investigations into the pan-Asian networks of commercial visual culture—television (especially Asian satellite TV companies), the migratory cinemas of Bollywood and Hong Kong, new media technologies and Japanese popular culture.[41] Such cultural production and consumption is representative of the social imaginaries that constitute Asian modernity. The queer readings and critiques of these discursive circuits model a transnational approach to queer Asian Studies. But a focus on popular culture remains limited to the populations that can and do engage these texts and styles. Moreover, popular culture is the domain which, for queer worlds, are most articulated with Western gay cultures. It is equally important to consider other forms of culture and social life beyond the discursive level of sexual categorisation or cultural texts.
  19. Indeed, a regional focus invites wide-ranging reflection on the units and objects of analysis. Understanding the intra-Asian formation of queer Asian lives calls for attention to a plurality of differentiated flows and circuits. I have elsewhere outlined nine provisional categories of what I see as potentially salient circuits conditioning non-normative sexuality in the region.[42] These included efforts to recast—or to queer—canonical Asian Studies, for example, by considering how regional knowledge traditions inform the erotic or considering sexuality in the longue durée of transcultural flows in subregions of Asia (for example queering the Silk Route). The kind of close analysis that has characterised canonical, even Orientalist Area Studies might be recast to illuminate subtler dimensions of sexuality beyond visible Asian queer publics. Ethnohistories explore patterns in formations of selfhood, of bodies, relationships, gender, sovereignty or entitlements that condition the erotic and need not be confined to an ethnolocality or national culture. As Blackwood notes, 'even the use of transnational as a frame for exploring sexualities and genders makes it extremely difficult not to rely on and privilege Western understandings of sexuality.'[43] Specific cultural histories of the body and desire entail addressing the problems of objectifying 'sexuality' as an object of study.[44] The remainder of my suggested list of research domains is weighted towards empirical studies of the modern period: on capital flows and political linkages; flows of people within Asia (as migrants, refugees or tourists); civil society and the public sphere; visual and narrative culture; science, medicine and technology; spiritual flows (orthodox and heterodox); and international institutions (e.g., schools). However productive this research agenda wish list might or might not be, it endorses empirical and situated studies of the many cross-border flows that provide the conditions for queer life in the region.
  20. Engaging Area Studies, regionalism, or pan-Asianism remains a complicated prospect. Yet however complex the undertaking, this essay insists on a simple point: that social life within Asia has the layered, power-laden complexity to generate conditions and possibilities for diverse sexualities in the region. This understanding underwrites an emerging transnational, post-Orientalist approach to understanding queer life in Asia, an orientation found in unfolding critical research as well as in political projects. Such critical regionalism offers a heuristic and strategic device to 'reorient American-based prescriptions about sexuality and geopolitics' and revise Eurocentric maps of sexual modernity.[45]


    [1] This essay is a revised version of a paper presented at the 2005 Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Bangkok, Thailand, 7-9 July 2005. See Ara Wilson, 'Intra-Asian circuits and the problem of global queer,' in the Permanent Archive of Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies. Bangkok, Thailand, 7-9 July 2005, URL:, site accessed January 2006. The essay has also benefited greatly from presentations at the 2005 Cultural Studies Association Conference at the University of Arizona and at the Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality at Kent University. I would like to thank for invitations and encouragement: Davina Cooper, Neil Garcia, Yukiko Hanawa, Miranda Joseph, Geeta Patel and James Welker. Research and writing was supported in different ways by The Five College Women's Studies Research Center; the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Mt. Holyoke College; a Seed Grant from The Ohio State University; and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    [2] On plural systems of sex/gender categories in Thailand, for example, see Rosalind Morris, 'Three sexes and four sexualities: redressing the discourses on gender and sexuality in contemporary Thailand,' in positions 2(1) (1994):15-43.

    [3] Cindy Patton, 'Stealth bombers of desire: the globalization of "alterity" in emerging democracies,' in Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism, ed. Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé & Martin F. Manalansan IV, New York: New York University Press, 2002, pp. 195-218.

    [4] Fire written and directed by Deepa Mehta, Kaleidescope India (pvt) and Trial by Fire Films Inc., 1996.

    [5] John Nguyet Erni, 'Queer pop Asia: toward a hybrid regionalist imaginary,' in Permanent Archive of Sexualities, Genders, and Rights in Asia: 1st International Conference Of Asian Queer Studies, Bangkok, Thailand, 7-9 July 2005, URL:, site accessed January 2006.

    [6] A blunt critique of Western gay imperialism can be found in Joseph Massad, 'Re-orienting desire: the gay international and the Arab World,' in Public Culture 14 (2002):361-85. For a more nuanced look at sex/gender in relation to the interaction of 'Westernization' and post-colonial politics, see Uma Narayan, Dislocating Cultures/Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism, New York: Routledge, 1997.

    [7] Inderpal Grewal & Caren Kaplan, 'Global identities: theorizing transnational studies of sexuality,' in GLQ 7(4) (2001):663-79, p. 669.

    [8] Dennis Altman has been criticised for conflating transnational sexual modernity with Western capitalism and Western gay styles. See Jaspir Kuar Puar, 'Global circuits: transnational sexualities and Trinidad,' in Signs 26(4) (2001):1039-65. Also see responses to his early formulation of these ideas: Dennis Altman, 'On global queering,' Australian Humanities Review 2 (July-August 1996), URL:, accessed August 2006, although these critiques address a range of issues, not only the concerning the unilateral, Western nature of globalisation.

    [9] The inauthenticity of Asian queers resembles what the philosopher Uma Narayan's work describes in being an Indian feminist in nationalist Indian contexts—where the feminism is viewed as foreign, Western and a betrayal of community. See Narayan, Dislocating Cultures. For the equation of sexual rights with Western materialism, see Ara Wilson, 'The transnational geography of sexual rights,' in Truth Claims: Representation and Human Rights, ed. Mark Philip Bradley & Patrice Petro, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002, pp. 251-65.

    [10] Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

    [11] Anjali Arondekar, 'Border/Line sex: postcolonialities, or how race matters outside the United States,' in Interventions 7(2) (2005):236-50, p. 247.

    [12] See Vinh-Kim Nguyen, 'Uses and pleasures: sexual modernity, HIV/AIDS, and confessional technologies in a West African metropolis,' in Sex in Development: Science, Sexuality, and Morality in Global Perspective, ed. Vincanne Adams & Stacy Leigh Pigg, Durham: Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 245-67. Lawrence Cohen proposes that 'native' categories for men who have sex with men (MSMs) have been generated from transnational advocacy, or what he calls AIDS cosmopolitanism. See Cohen, 'The Kothi wars: AIDS, cosmopolitanism and the morality of classification,' in Sex in Development, ed. Adams & Pigg, pp. 269-303.

    [13] Roberto Strongman, 'Syncretic religion and dissident sexualities,' in Queer Globalizations, ed. Cruz-Malave & Manalansan, pp. 176-92.

    [14] The stream of post-colonial works on queer subjects is by now wide and deep. In a recent special issue of Social Text 23(3-4) (Fall-Winter 2005), ed. David L. Eng, Judith Halberstam & José Esteban Muñoz, 'What's queer about queer studies now?,' the main answer to the question of the title is that work in post-colonial and transnational queer subjects was queering Queer Studies. Other examples re-read nationalism and location, for example, Geeta Patel, 'Homely housewives run amok: lesbians in marital fixes,' in Public Culture 16(1) (2004):131-57. Postcolonial deconstructions of the coming-out narrative, particularly the conjunction of migration with sexual liberation include, e.g., Puar, 'Global circuits;' Martin Manalansan, 'In the shadows of Stonewall: examining gay transnational politics and the diasporic dilemma,' in GLQ 2(4) (1995):425-38; and Strongman, 'Syncretic religion and dissident sexualities.' Critical explorations of Asian-American queer identities are a growing field. Some representations include Yukiko Hanawa, 'Inciting sites of political interventions: queer 'n' Asian,' in positions 4(3) (1996):459-89; Gayatri Gopinath, 'Nostalgia, desire, diaspora: South Asian sexualities in motion,' in positions 5(2) (1997):467-89; and David L. Eng, 'Out here and over there: queerness and diaspora in Asian American studies,' in Social Text 52/53 (1997):31-52.

    [15] There are a number of critiques of the uses of diaspora or hybridity. Two brief examples are found in Tom Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005, p. 5; and in Grewal & Kaplan, 'Global identities,' p. 665.

    [16] See Erni, 'Queer pop Asia,' for a critique of Western consumption and formation of queer Asia. See also Gayatri Gopinath, 'Queer regionalism,' talk given at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS), New York City, 17 May 2006.

    [17] The most prominent model of south-based politics is the World Social Forum, which includes, though unevenly, attention to sexual politics. There is any number of HIV/AIDS, queer and feminist networks that practice a kind of strategic regionalism. One Asian-based political project was the Asian Lesbian Network, initiated at a meeting in Bangkok hosted by the Thai lesbian group Anjaree in 1990. This was open to diasporic Asians in the first world but was centered on Asians (and to some extent, non-Asians) living in Asia. The South-South Dialogue is a promising transnational effort for GLBT rights based in the south; its current director is a black South African lesbian who lives and works in Latin America. See Irene León & Phumi Mtetwa (eds), Globalization: GLBT Alternatives, Quito, Ecuador: GLBT South-South Dialogue, 2003.

    [18] Sun Ge offers a detailed exegesis of Japanese intellectual thinking about Asia or Asianism. Sun Ge, 'How does Asia mean?,' trans. Hui Shiu-Lun & Lau Kinchi, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1(1) (2000):13-47.

    [19] Kuan-Hsing Chen & Chua Beng Huat, 'Problematising Asia: an introduction,' in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, special issue on Problematizing 'Asia,' 1(1) (April 2000):13-47, p. 10.

    [20] Aihwa Ong, 'Southeast Asia inside out: from nations to constellations,' Frank H. Golay lecture, Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 25 March 2003. Reprinted in Southeast Asia Program Bulletin, Winter-Spring (2004-2005):16-22.

    [21] See, for example, Peter A. Jackson, 'Space, theory, and hegemony: the dual crises of Asian area studies and cultural studies,' in Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 18(1) (2003):42-88.

    [22] Chen & Chua, 'Problematising Asia,' p. 11.

    [23] Tani E. Barlow, 'Not really a properly intellectual response: an interview with Gayatri Spivak,' in positions 12(1) (2004):139-63, p. 159.

    [24] The relationship of Area Studies to regional analysis particularly around sex and gender varies. Latin America, the Middle East and Africa have each been conceptualised regionally within gender and sexuality studies, in part aided by area-wide languages. These regional analyses are associated with political linkages in feminist, lesbian, queer organising, HIV/AIDS work, and NGO and human rights work, as well as work that could be seen as canonically Orientalist (in the case of the Middle East) or based on enduring colonial logics.

    [25] For example, Massad, 'Reorienting desire;' and Grewal & Kaplan, 'Global Identities.'

    [26] See John M. Hobson, The Eastern Origins Of Western Civilisation, Cambridge, UK & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005; Inter-Asia Cultural Studies special issue on Problematizing 'Asia' 1(1) (April 2000); Koichi Iwabuchi, Stephen Muecke & Mandy Thomas, Rogue Flows: Trans-Asian Cultural Traffic, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004; Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Larry E. Smith & Wimal Dissanayake, Transnational Asia Pacific: Gender, Culture and the Public Sphere, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999; Kris Olds & Nigel Thrift, 'Cultures on the brink: reengineering the soul of capitalism—on a global scale,' in Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, ed. Aihwa Ong & Stephen J. Collier, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005, pp. 270-90; Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics Of Transnationality, Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1999; Aihwa Ong & Donald M. Nonini (eds), Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, New York: Routledge, 1997; Sun, 'How does Asia Mean?;' and Rob Wilson & Arif Dirlik, 'Introduction: Asia/Pacific as Space of Cultural Production,' in Boundary 2, 21(1) (Spring 1994):1-16.

    [27] Martin F. Manalansan IV, Global Divas : Filipino Gay Men In The Diaspora, Durham: Duke University Press, 2003; Manalansan, 'In the shadows of Stonewall.'

    [28] See Inderpal Grewal, Akhil Gupta & Aihwa Ong, 'Introduction,' in positions 7(3) (Winter 1999):653-66, p. 663. My argument for a focus within and on Asia departs from their proposal for a 'transnational mode of analysis' that deconstructs area studies, comparative studies and disciplinary understandings of locality.

    [29] Critical scholarship on sexuality in Asia is expanding rapidly. Some examples include Sunila Abeysekara, 'Asia: complex and diverse,' in Globalization, ed. León & Mtetwa, pp. 56-68; Chris Berry, Fran Martin & Audrey Yue (eds), Mobile Cultures: New Media In Queer Asia, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003; Evelyn Blackwood, 'Transnational sexualities in one place: Indonesian readings,' in Gender & Society 12(2) (April 2005):221-42; Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago; Peter A. Jackson & Nerida M. Cook (eds), Genders & Sexualities in Modern Thailand, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 1999; Peter A. Jackson & Gerard Sullivan (eds), Lady Boys, Tom Boys, Rent Boys: Male and Female Homosexualities in Contemporary Thailand, New York: Harrington Park Press, 1999; Geeta Patel, 'Subject selves: financing a future,' paper presented at the Third Annual Meeting of the Cultural Studies Association, Tucson, Arizona, 22 April, 2005; Lisa Rofel, 'Qualities of desire: imagining gay identities in China, in GLQ 5(4) (1999):451-74; Megan Sinnott, Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004; Amanda Lock Swarr & Richa Nagar, 'Dismantling assumptions: interrogating "lesbian" struggles for identity and survival in India and South Africa,' in Signs 29(2) (2004):491-516; Ara Wilson, The Intimate Economies of Bangkok: Tomboys, Tycoons, and Avon Ladies in the Global City, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

    [30] Rofel, 'Qualities of desire'; Ruth Vanita (ed.), Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society, New York: Routledge, 2002.

    [31] Blackwood, 'Transnational sexualities,' p. 238.

    [32] Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago. Boellstorff's concept of 'dubbing culture' uses the motif of English-language films dubbed into Indonesian, and a government programme to forbid such dubbing (for the way it blurred the line between Indonesian and Western) as a way to think about Indonesian gayness that acknowledges Western influence but situates it within an Indonesian context of meaning and practice.

    [33] In her editorial remarks on this essay, Lucetta Kam points out that writings in local languages, like Chinese, have worked towards a 'queer regionalism,' but their work has not been accessible to (or recognised by) English-language academic circuits. There are a number of projects attempting to recentre conversations within regions like Asia, for example, the Queer Asian Sites Conference and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) International Research Network (IRN) effort. The lack of Asian-based materials in the circulating conversations about globalisation and sexuality also raises the serious problem of English as the lingua franca for conceptualising queer Asia, a vexed concern that is beyond the scope of this essay to address (or escape).

    [34] Erni, 'Queer pop Asia,' pp. 2, 4. For the most part, Erni's examples of 'queer Asia' focus on gay men and male-to-female (m2f) transgendered subjects. This emphasis correlates with the greater visibility of those communities' public cultures but in some senses reproduces the focus of the neo-Orientalist queer discourses (which also concentrate on men or m2f transgenders) that he ably criticises.

    [35] Grewal & Kaplan, 'Global identities,' p. 664.

    [36] Grewal, Gupta & Ong, 'Introduction,' 654.

    [37] Call for papers, Queer Asian Sites, URL:, site accessed 27 July 2006.

    [38] Ong & Collier, Global Assemblages.

    [39] See Chou Hua-shan (Wah-shan), Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies, Binghamton NY: The Haworth Press, 2000; Chris Berry & Fran Martin, 'Syncretism and synchronicity: queer'n'Asian cyberspace in the 1990s,' in Berry, Martin & Yue, Mobile Cultures, pp. 87-114, p. 113.

    [40] Megan Sinnott's meticulous ethnography, Toms and Dees, offers one of the most sustained in-depth discussions of non-Western same-sex or transgender f2m-female sexuality. On tom, see also Jackson & Cook, Genders and Sexualities in Thailand; and for an analysis of the 'modern' nature of tom see the chapter, 'MBK: the retail revolution and the infrastructure of romance,' in Wilson, The Intimate Economies of Bangkok, pp. 102-32.

    [41] See Erni, 'Queer pop Asia;' and Berry, Martin & Yue, Mobile Cultures. While rarely touching on sexuality, Aihwa Ong analyses masculinity and gender in relation to new pan-Asian cultural commerce in Flexible Citizenship. On Japan's cultural popularity, see Leo Ching, 'Imaginings in the Empire of the Sun: Japanese mass culture in Asia,' in Boundary 2 21(1) (Spring 1994):198-219; Mary Roach, 'Cute inc,' in Wired 7(12) (Winter 1999), URL:, site accessed November 2005; and Larissa Hjorth, 'Pop and ma' in Mobile Cultures: New Media in Queer Asia, ed. Chris Berry, Fran Martin & Audrey Yue, Durham: Duke University Press, 2003, pp. 158-79.

    [42] Wilson, 'Intra-Asian circuits and the problem of global queer.'

    [43] Blackwood, 'Transnational sexualities,' p. 222.

    [44] While this essay does not avoid the problem of reifying sexuality as an object of knowledge, it recognises the importance of evacuating the assumptions underlying research on the sexual. See Elizabeth A. Povinelli & George Chauncey, 'Thinking sexuality transnationally: an introduction,' in GLQ 5(4) (1999):439-49; Lenore Manderson & Margaret Jolly, 'Sites of desire/economies of pleasure in Asia and the Pacific,' in Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, ed. Lenore Manderson & Margaret Jolly, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 1-26.

    [45] Arondekar, 'Border/Line sex,' p. 247.


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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