"Chaos theory establishes that we cannot maintain a comprehensive knowledge of any historical event because not all of its initial conditions, or ‘minute particulars’, can be known." – Brian Ward, "The Chaos of History: Notes Towards a Postmodernist Historiography"
The historiographic decolonization of our sexual narratives often ends up covering over the complex and contested experiences of "pre-colonial" or indigenous peoples. Debates between imperial prudery and imported Western debauchery are not only oversimplified but center on the role of the oppressor, rather than the condition of the Other. Even the language used to revise these issues is loaded with Euro/Americentricisms (e.g., "queer," "homosexual," "gay-like") – which can never truly be avoided without using the languages of the people and their context(s). Just as Modern English users can never truly orient themselves to fully comprehend and/or
"1808 map of Asia." The Asia-Pacific Journal. Accessed February 6, 2017. apjjf.org/2011/9/17/Christopher-W.-A.-Szpilman/3519/article.html.
Historiography is as much an act of gazing as it is an act of approximation. For instance, periodization enforces temporal paradigms. Post-modernists argue that we rely too heavily on chronologies and turns, often falling into the trap of allowing them to dictate our analyses, over the content of "the historical record" itself. (Square pegs and round holes and all that.) However, organizing history into eras is, unfortunately, a means of codifying large, undelineated swaths of time that would otherwise be beyond our ken. Yet, in the mind of the layperson, the field of history is especially synonymous with determinate (teleological) linearity and the memorization of "historic dates." Historiography has been reduced to chronological narrative construction. But it is so much more than that.
Most humans perceive time linearly and, as such, our historiographies reflect that mode of perception. But why is this form prioritized? Need history be inherently temporal? Indeed, need history be inherently geographic? Attempts to unravel this mystery have yielded esoteric theories like "nonlinearity" and "polytemporality" – comparable, perhaps, to "glocalized" histories that seek to simultaneously dispel and affirm essentialized conceptions of place and position. Is post-modernism, perhaps, simply an elitist, neo-colonialist form of intellectualism that "devours spaces," rather than critically engaging with the tangible realities of these monolithic constructions (like Asia or "the Third World") "as a series of historical positions, including those that enunciate essentialisms" (Prakash, 383-384). Further, how naive (as Prakash argues) is it really to invoke dichotomous historiographies of East and West – wherein, for example, whites invite POC to "write their own histories?" Can we not affirm that need for ourselves? Or are we still (constructively?) internalizing the white man's essentialisms of "us and them?" Tongzhi activists have adopted the perspectives and discourse of those who would oppose them (stylization) in order to advance their agenda of inclusivity (Wong, 17). Similarly, POC have stolen (appropriated) the white man's ideologies to use against him – to combat colonialism (think the Enlightenment and the Haitian Revolution). Can selective assimilation or acculturation be subversive? Is it simply a performative means of survival adopted for the purpose of defending oneself against the indignity of marginalization, exclusion, and oppression?
Consider the concluding lines of Sun Yat-sen's 1924 speech on Pan-Asianism:
"Oppressed peoples are found not only in Asia, but in Europe as well. Those countries that practice the rule of
Might do not only oppress the weaker people outside their continent, but also those within their own continent.
Pan-Asianism is based on the principle of the rule of Right, and justifies the avenging of the wrongs done to others.
An American scholar [Dr. Lothrop Stoddard] considers all emancipation movements as revolts against civilization.
Therefore now we advocate the avenging of the wrong done to those in revolt against the civilization of the rule of
Might, with the aim of seeking a civilization of peace and equality and the emancipation of all races."
Can Pan-Asianism truly encompass all Others when it can hardly capture its own heterogeneity? Just as "queer" threatens the nuanced diversity of all the acts, orientations, and identities it continues to subsume within itself, we might ask how a myriad of local in extremis definitions/movements could possibly be Pan-Asian. These overarching ideologies have, after all, been abused to legitimize war and colonial rule (from the Warring States period and One-China policy to Japanese dominion). Indeed, the Japanese cast their own aggression as "more 'benevolent' than Western colonial rule because Japanese were fellow Asians" (Szpilman and Saaler). East Asia has "historically constituted [a] region with its own hegemonic structure" (Hamashita, 113), often validated by the presence of a common enemy.
However, unification in its purest form ought not be hegemonic or assimilatory. The use of "umbrella" concepts accommodates difference without mastery. What is "Queer Asia," then? Present attempts to combine Pan-Asianism, history, and ("queer") sexuality remain scanty, however some themes may have already begun to emerge. For one thing, white scholars (ironically and perhaps counterintuitively) seem invested in participating in this new narrative construction. In Ara Wilson's case, she is self-conscious of her use of "queer" and justifies its use on the grounds of queer theory being its own field (however littered with Euro/Americentricisms). She, like the two editors of Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia (both of whom happen to specialize in Japanese studies), argues that the regionalism inherent in these Pan-Asiatic histories is key to dismantling European and American generalizations. In other words, a provincializing, locally specific paradigm shift could potentially be dictated by POC. If Katz fathered LGBT history in the U.S. by drawing connections no one had attempted (going so far as to tentatively diversify by describing "gay-like" Native American peoples), how can we re-contextualize our lived experiences and rally under an umbrella not of sameness ("queer" and/or "Pan-Asian"), but of shared struggle and identifiable difference? Perhaps they are all one in the same.