In Queer Marxism in Two Chinas, Petrus Liu problematizes the narrative of globalization, homonormativity and neoliberalism that dominates the study of sexuality. This "postsocialist" discourse minimizes the role that postwar communism played in shaping conceptions of sexuality unique to China and Chinese cultures. Though he only discusses these issues in relation to the mainland and Taiwan as a means of "historicizing the implications of their coexistence for queer practice" (4), Liu offers an alternative framework for defining sexual political consciousness in a "non-Western" context. Rather than positioning Chinese queerness as an imperfect carbon copy of the "original" gay liberation of the West (thus obscuring China's own history and agency in the development of its sexual politics), Liu pushes us to examine the interiority of our cultures and the theories forged within them.
Liu opens his second chapter ("Chinese Queer Theory") with an acerbic critique of ABC Aibai columnist Damien Lu. Lu scorns queer theory as a Western import that undermines "born this way" rhetoric, which he views as essential to the defense of the LGBT community. Liu calls out Lu's conflation of the nature/nurture debate (arguing the "innateness" of homoerotic desire as a means of promoting its acceptance) with the clash between essentialist/constructionist frameworks (maintaining that the definition of such desire is fixed) (35). Liu censures Lu, an American-educated sexologist, for promoting the medicalization of queer identities – an infamously "slippery slope" that has historically led to the pathologization of homosexuality (and may explain the proliferation of "gay conversion therapy" in Chinese societies). [Indeed, despite Lu's nationalism, his vehement promotion of "modern scientific thought" harkens back to a tradition of Chinese elites disparaging indigenous scientific frameworks in favor of the Western model.] Additionally, Liu challenges the basis of Lu's entire argument – questioning whether queer theory is inherently Western: "anyone writing in Chinese on queer topics ... is assumed to be working with a translated Western concept rather than articulating an original thought" (35).
Liu uses this second issue as a point of departure, entering a discussion of how capitalism has not so much "liberated" us, but constructed and fit us into easily definable identities ("liberal pluralism") and forced us to institutionalize these identities – thus assimilating into the "formal correctives" of the state, such as marriage. In opposition to this process, Liu describes how Chinese theorists have conceived of queerness as recontextualizing, boundless and relational to both "an unequal structure of power" (40) and to the myriad unnameable/unknowable manifestations of sexuality across cultures and time. Simultaneously, this queer Marxian tradition exists at the contested linguistic intersection of Chineseness and the appropriation of tongzhi, such that the latter term was first popularized in Hong Kong and Taiwan, "where a cultural Marxism, decoupled from state ideology and bureaucracy, flourished in a way that made it easier to imagine and articulate" (42).
I conclude with the question of how we direct this theorizing towards a specific end (as bell hooks stipulates). In "Constructing Sexual Citizenship: Theorizing Sexual Rights," Diane Richardson outlines what Liu would describe as a trinity of liberal pluralist practices: conduct-based rights claims (freedom of sexual practice), identity-based rights claims (the freedom of "self-definition"), and relationship-based rights claims (public validation of sexual relations) (2). How does queer Marxism disrupt the entirety of this framework – such that we would not be obligated to petition the state for "rights" on any basis? The amorphousness of theory is difficult to apply to our lived realities.
I had the opportunity to present my research at the 2017 National Council on Public History Conference this past week. This was my first experience meeting and interacting with public history professionals outside of Philadelphia. It was a wonderful experience listening to, learning from, and networking with individuals from a variety of disciplines and specialties. I got to connect with other students ("Out to Lunch – Grad Student Edition"), LGBT historians ("Dine Around: Presenting LGBTQ History"), and people of color (Diversity Task Force Roundtable).
When it came time to present my project, I found that the comments and questions of the people who visited my poster echoed common contemporary conceptions of gayness. Most notably, remarks on the gender demographics of early queer activists predominated. This observation (that the most visible activists of the time were men), while very accurate, is informed by a continued resistance to androcentric historical narratives – something with which we must still contend. In fact, 2017 NCPH attendees' identification of this issue touches on a larger question; could we, in fact, view the origination of queer activism by men as "the root of all evil" – a major part of the reason why women have been sidelined in our histories and continue to be, rather than the circumstances of our past merely mirroring those of our present?
Likewise, despite my colleagues' preoccupation with male-dominated narratives, no one mentioned the issue of whiteness also present in these early activist narratives. Why is that? Because NCPH conference goers (and members) were (are) exceedingly white. [This issue was explored last year in a post on NCPH's History@Work blog; one may note, however, that the post's author and misguided commenters are presumably white.] This issue, overall, illustrates what happens when a conversation is led and/or overtaken by the voices of those "in power"/with privilege. Case in point – a room full of white people discussing race and racism is an inconsequential, unproductive farce. When combined with the lived, multidimensionality of our real lives (i.e., intersectionality), we can understand how a field predominately composed of white, middle-class women receives a project that commemorates the work of white, upper/middle-class men: an acknowledgement of gender imbalance, but no consciousness of race and class disparities.
Note: 87.1% of archivists, curators, and museum technicians are white, compared to 61.3% in the general population. Similarly, the National Council on Public History’s 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals found that 88.5% of respondents identified as white, while only 7% identified as “of color” (4.5% chose not to answer). The same survey also found that two thirds of public history professionals were women – a reversal of gender ratios from thirty years ago. Even still, we must remember how the public history field (its institutionalization) circumscribes the practice of collective memory management – legitimizes the work of some (wrests the power of narrative construction from others), all the while professionalizing practitioners (imbuing them with a false sense of authority). I overheard one conference attendee of color remark to a colleague: "There's such a focus on bringing us 'into the fold,' without any acknowledgement that we've always been doing this kind of work. It's just not viewed as such." Indeed, one might say white people columbused the entirety of public history by occupationalizing it. To combat how these dynamics inform our work, we can begin by looking inward and owning up to our own racial biases (not just expounding upon them).
As we seek to envision the future of sexual identity politics in Hong Kong and abroad, we must evaluate the interplay of space, "modernity," economics and the law in shaping our perspectives. Hong Kong's urban landscapes continue to transform in parallel with its sociopolitical topography. We must (re)conceptualize space as neither purely physical nor impermeable. At this potent political moment – fraught with both expectancy and uncertainty – we exist not just in a state of liminal temporality but liminal acculturation.
First, note that cohabitation is presently being utilized to denote "non-traditional" sexual intimacy and/or partnership. Examining the history of familial living arrangements in the last century, we know that immigration patterns and class dynamics conjured circumstances wherein multiple families shared single tenement rooms. In "A Fading Tongzhi Heterotopia," Travis SK Kong explores how gay men (now all over sixty years of age) negotiated their home lives, bearing in mind that "from 1842 to 1990 (the year when homosexuality was decriminalized), there was no legal homosexual space in Hong Kong" (900). In doing so, he blurs the lines between the parallel binaries of publicity/privacy, heterosexuality/homosexuality. Indeed, the interconnectedness of the four concepts may defy conventional expectation. The heterosexual family unit's private domain versus cruising at public toilets; or the public performance of a heterosexual lifestyle versus the private same-sex relationships one keeps hidden?
Following the 1980 MacLennan Incicent, "deviant sexual conduct" was no longer just a "legal issue," but an identity (905). The proliferation of "sites exclusively for tongzhi consumption" (e.g., bars, bathhouses, boutiques, and bookshops) post-1991 helped replace "the citizen-pervert" with "the good consumer citizen," while solidifying a "positive cultural sense of belonging for tongzhi" (908). Today, an online community of tongzhi may exercise their hybrid knowledge of Western "gay and lesbian studies [and] queer theories [...] and their Chinese cultural and literary heritage" (303) – as noted by Terri He in "Online Tongzhi?." The contrast between tongzhi experiences just over half a century ago and those today are stark, delineated not just by mediums of contact or methods of anonymity but access to information and means of self-definition. Both the public and private spaces have been intruded upon by capitalism and technology, and transformed from the inside out. As such, we are left to envision how this process interconnects with transnational flows of neocolonialist interests and glocalization.
cover international examples of queer politics throughout time (yes, very ambitious), it only features European and American events. I would be lying if I said I did not have a role in contributing to this problem.
Mayer makes the excellent observation that the bulk of our knowledge production and the systems within which it takes place are dominated by a small collection of specialists (or even hobbyists) that have the time and interest to actively seek out crowdsourcing projects. (I only superficially toyed with this issue back in October.) However, Mayer makes it very clear that the core agenda of this work – to democratize the exchange of information (facts and/or ideas) – is undermined by its own process, be it the (pseudo-)privatization of the platforms through which we contribute or the very nature of "niche knowledge" and the sorts of people it attracts.
I would, however, like to present an alternative argument on the very real ways in which crowdsourcing continues to support the dominant (meta)narrative. Consider queer historiography. The field was originated in tandem with LGBT activism and grassroots archival work in the community continues to grow. The preservation of our own legacy is essential to building unity and maintaining institutional memory; our records practically provide a roadmap to effective (and ineffective) political organizing – where we were, where we are going, etc. Now, consider sites like Equaldex and OutHistory.org. Who do these sites attract? It is highly unlikely that the contributors (at least most of them) are cishets.
Yet, within our community itself, knowledge of and engagement with our histories is very stratified. To put it bluntly, there's a pantload of gay white men out there – writing our histories and having histories written about them. Though OutHistory.org has made an effort to create separate transgender, African American, Native American, Latinx American, and Asian American LGBTQ history timelines, they all remain empty. Is this anyone's fault in particular? Maybe it is the biases that compose the historical record itself, the gaps in our own narratives, the internalization of that voicelessness by QTPOC or the valorization of the white (hu)man. Maybe it is all of these things.
Bearing these issues in mind, I decided to contribute some small points of interest that I came across in my independent study work on tongzhi ("LGBT") activism in Hong Kong. What I liked about re-adding to this Euro/Americentric project is that it felt reparative – like I was breaking into the monolith. What I did not like was that it also felt insignificant – trying to edit something to which I once had complete access, through the backend. I will probably not be notified of any updates (if there are any). I do not know how my contributions will be assessed by "the powers that be." However, the process is opaque by necessity; the "free-for-all" method really only works as an ideal, not as a reality. (For some inexplicable reason, I am reminded of the PublikFacebook™ experiment from two years ago.)
This project was opened to the public because that is what OutHistory.org and other grassroots initiatives are (or ought to be) about. Indeed, the note at the end of the timeline declares: "Our aim is to create a thorough representation of queer history that pays attention to the many conversations about what sexuality has meant in various communities across time." Everyone is invited to participate, and citations are, of course, required.
In “(Post-)Identity Politics and Anti-Normalization: (Homo)sexual Rights Movement," Day Wong presents the ultimate conundrum of sexual citizenship in Hong Kong. Pressuring institutions to encompass sexual minorities gradually alters their foundations. At the same time, however, these equality movements employ respectability politics and other modes of conformity to better convince people of their personhood. This normalization reinforces the hegemonic status quo – the privileging of one group's narrative (i.e., that of heterosexuals) over Others. A sense of commonality – evoked by the image of a desexualized, middle-class, law-abiding tongzhi – acts as a means of "humanizing" a struggle. In doing so, the multifarious nature of a community is gradually subsumed within the homogeneous rules and regulations of the state; or rather, the movement's "undesirable elements" are cast off, excluded and erased. The state co-opts the movement to fit an enduring exclusionary mold. But, if our liberation takes root in simply what benefits the majority, not the Other, what will come of future generations, when other subordinate groups must challenge the dominant narrative? How will they argue their personhood? This process is historically cyclical.
Conversely, "post-identity politics" seem an impractical alternative. How does one go about striking a balance between the need for legal protections and the complex reality of sexualities (uncircumscribed by identity politics)? Wong acknowledges that "seeking civil law protection for marginalized groups requires specification of the protected categories" (199). Apart from the armchair theories of queer radicals, she offers the example of the local organization Rainbow Action's 2001 political activities. In the same month the group was engaging respectability politics at a public hearing ("We are also taxpayers but why do we enjoy fewer rights?"), members staged the first sado-masochism protest in Hong Kong in response to a sex shop police raid (208-9). The duality of these public appeals represents the hybrid agenda Wong hints at as a feasible outcome for tongzhi activism: efforts to gain legal protections paired with efforts to increase public awareness (e.g., dispelling myths about the S&M community and arbitrary definitions of "obscenity").
Wong establishes the state as a powerful arbiter of sexual discourse, with individuals and activist groups as precarious agents of social change. Ongoing efforts to define “sexual citizenship” necessitate that "(homo)sexual" political activists engage moments of both citizenship and transgression.