I dwell on these theoretical abstractions as a lead-in to my latest research on the history of tongzhi identity and activism in Hong Kong. Last week, I began with readings that I hoped would establish both the historical and historiographic foundations for this study. H.J. Lethbridge's "The Quare Fellow: Homosexuality and the Law in Hong Kong" was most notable (and I look forward to engaging with more of his semi-problematic literature in the future). The work itself is a kind of primary source; penned in 1976 (what many scholars indicate as the year LGBT history became a serious discipline in the United States), Lethbridge dwells on a lot of medicalized terminology for homosexuality. "Overt, exclusive, obligatory, facultative, occasional, situational," and then just plain old "homosexual" litter his introduction – establishing an already unnecessarily presentist, Euro/Americentric framework for the meat of his historical survey. Before even diving into the effects of English "anti-buggery" law on Hong Kong, Lethbridge is complicating the narrative of colonized sexuality by covering over the complexities of "queer," "non-Western" sensibilities with his use of identifiers. His use of English counterintuitively re-colonizes the discussion (see: language ideology). This problem is not unique to Lethbridge, as even queer scholars of color using English in their work encounter similar problems. How do we negotiate language use and perspective in revisionist histories when we are fixed by personal context (see: linguistic relativity)?
Gazing is, in essence, an exercise in positionality. It emphasizes the ways in which the facets of our identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) are not essential, but relational and continually biasing our reception of context, reality, and epistemology. Historiography is, then, an act of gazing. Euro/Americentricism and presentism go hand in hand – our geographic (read: racial) and temporal contexts inevitably obscure lived experiences of the past. Historiography is mired in identity politics, both explicitly and implicitly. As such, if one were to do a study of "global queer history," one would be surveying any/all "sexualities" (behaviors and/or identities?) that were conceived of as "non-normative" (minority and/or taboo?) in their respective societal contexts. However, if one were to seek out a "global tongzhi history," one would presumably be limited in scope to East Asia – why? Why are Euro/Americentric terminologies afforded an undue overarching application to non-Euro/American contexts while non-western descriptors are not? Is it just as absurd to envision a "global tongzhi history" that draws decontextualized parallels to the homonormativity of the "gay rights movement?" Or is it perversely useful?
Foucualt posits that the disciplinary gaze is inevitably internalized by the individual; Lemert claims deviance (violation of social norms) is a process of labeling that is also inevitably internalized. How do we combat the white, male historiographical gaze when we have internalized it and allowed it to shape our senses of self? How might we de-internalize and redirect the white (queer) man's gaze and his labels in order to prioritize, empower and effectively decolonize narratives of sexuality? How might white queers be "startled into knowledge" of their relative position – their non-universal identities?