Z&G Chapter 25 - Chapter Twenty—five...

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Unformatted text preview: Chapter Twenty—five ————““_———— w Maiden Voyage Excursion into Sexuality and Identity Politics in Asian America Dana Y., Takagi The topic of sexualities—in particular, lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities—is an important and timely issue in that place we imagine as Asian Arnerica. All of us in Asian American Studies ought to be thinking about sexuality and Asian American history for at least two compelling reasons. One, while there has been a good deal of talk about the “diversity” of Asian American communities, we are relafivelyr‘unuintgryg about Asian American sub- cultures Organized specifically around sexuality. There are Asian American gay and lesbian social organizations, gay bars that are known for Asian clientele, conferences that have focused on Asian American lesbian and gay experiences, and electronic bulletin boards catering priinarily to gay Asians, their friends, and their lovers. I -use the» term “subcultures” hererather loosely and not in the classic sociological sense, mindful that the term is somewhat inaccurate since gay Asian organizations A are not likely to View themselves as a gay subculture within Asian America any more than they are likely to think of themselves as an Asian American subculture Within gay America. If anything, I expect that many of us view ourselves as on the ' 547 548 DANA Y. TAKAGI smw;n=fi:&‘¥llxfiqu; ,flgwannwgag W m «Mama. .. margins of both communities. That state ofqnarginalization is What prompts this essay and makes the issuesvrm the more urgent for all of us—gay, straight, somewhere—in-between. For, as Haraway has suggested, the view is often clearest from the margins where “The split and contradictory self is the one who can interrogate positionings and, be accountable, the one who can construct and join rational conversations and fantastic imaginings that change his— tory.”1 , To be honest, it is not clear to me exactly how we ought to be thinking about these organizations, places, and activities. On the one hand, I would argue that an organization like the Association of Lesbians and Gay Asians (ALGA) ought to be catalogued in theannalso'f'AsianArnerican'Mstory. 'But on'th'e'other hand, having " noted that ALGA is as Asian American as Sansei Live! or the National Coalition for ' Redress and Reparation, the very act of including lesbian and gay experiences in Asian American history, which seems important in a symbolic sense, produces in me a moment of hesitation. Not because I do not think that lesbian and gay sexualities are not deserving of a place in Asian American history, but rather, because the inscription of nonstraight sexualities in Asian American history immediately casts theoretical doubt about how to do it. As I will suggest, the recognition of different sexual practices and identities that also claim the label Asian American presents a useful opportunity for rethinking and reevaluating notions of identity that have been used, for the most part, unproblematically and uncritically in Asian American ' Studies. . t The second reason, then, that we ought to be thinking about gay and lesbian sexuality and Asian American Studies is for the theoretical trouble we encounter in our attempts to situate and think about sexual identity and racial identity. Our attempts to locate gay Asian experiences in Asian American history render us “un— informed” in an ironic double sense. On the one hand, the field of Asian American “ism. Studies is mostlyiifgn0:33:13}y about the multiple ways that gay identities are often hidden or invisible withingAsian American communities. But the irony is that the more we know, the less we know about the ways of knowing. On the other hand, just at the moment that we attempt to rectify our ignorance by adding say, the lesbian, to Asian American history, .we arrive at a stumbling block, an ignorance of how to add/her. 7 Surely the quickest and simplest way to add her is to think of lesbianism as a kind of ’ ad hoc subject-position, a minority within a minority. But efforts to think of sexuality. in the same terms that we think of race, yet simultanepgsly different from race in certain j ' " ' r ' - “r are hke minorities/but also diffefent to W..- "M, "Emma." gnaw.” ,n-L . wwmmfi” . “We “counting” pragtige: While many mmonty worn n spéikwo’fw‘t‘r’iple Jeopardy” ) oppressionjas if class, race, and gender could be disentangled into discrete additive parts—some‘Asian American lesbians could rightftu claim quadruple jeopardy oppression—class, race, gender, and sexuality. Enough counting. Marginalization is not as much about the quantities of experiences as it is about qualities of experi- ence. And, as many writers, most notably feminists, have argued, identities whether sourced from sexual/desire, racial origins, languages of gender, or class roots, are simply not additive.2 ‘ , . .. M...“ Maiden Voyage 549 Not Counting discussion of sexualities is fraught with all sorts of definition conundrums. What exactly does it mean, sexualities? The plurality of the term may be unsettling to some Lw’ho recognize three (or two, or one) forms of sexual identity: gay, straight, bisexual. But there are those who identify ‘as straight but regularly indulge in homoeroticism, and, of course, there are those who claim the identity gay/lesbian but engage in {heterosexual sex. In "addition, some people identify themselves sexually but do not ‘ ctually have sex, and, there are those who claim celibacy as a sexual practice. For those who profess a form of sexual identity that is, at some point, at odds with their sexual practice or sexual deSire, the idea of a single, permanent, or even stable sexual identity is confining and inaccurate. Therefore, in an effort to capture the Widest possible range of human sexual practices, I use the term sexualities to refer to the variety of practices and identities that range from homoerot' _...1n%fiw:l;p'£’1d i‘ fi'ZEEEEEHSJ”Ennywhtfisifibsexual a: what happens when we try to locate homosexual identities in Asian American . history. ., Writing, speaking, acting queer. Against a backdrop of lotus leaves, sliding shoji " panels, and the mountains of Guilin. Amid the bustling enclaves of Little Saigon, . Koreatown, Chinatown, and Little Tokyo. Sexual identity, like racial identity, is one 7 of many types of recognized “difference.” If marginalization is a qualitative state of being and not simply a quantitative one, then what is it about being “gay” that is 1 different from “Asian American”? . The terms “lesbian” and “gay,” like “Third World,” “woman,” and “Asian Amer— 'can,” are political categories that serve as rallying calls and personal affirmations. In concatenating these identities we create and locate ourselves in phrases that seem a {familiar fit: black gay man, third world woman, working-class Chicana lesbian, Asian :American bisexual, etc. But is it possible to write these identities—like Asian Amer— ican gay—without writing oneself into the Corners that are either gay and only gay, or Asian American and only Asian American? Or, as Trinh T. Minh—ha put it, “How do you inscribe difference without bursting into a series of euphoric narcissistic accounts of yourself and your own kind?”3 _ It is vogue these days to celebrate difference. But underlying much contemporary talk about difference is the assumption that differences are comparable things. For example, many new social movements activists, including those in the gay and lesbian movement, think of themselves as patterned on the “ethnic model.”4 And for many ethnic minorities, the belief that “gays are oppressed too” is a reminder of a same— , ness, a common political project in moving margin to center, that unites race-based . movements with gays, feminists, and greens. The notion that our differences are “separate but equal” can be used to call attention to the specificity of experiences or _ to rally the troops under a collective banner. Thus, the Concept of difference espoused in identity politics may be articulated in moments of What Spivak refers to as “strategic essentialism” or in what Hall coins “positionalities.” But in the heat of local political struggles and coalition building, it turns out that not all differences are 7 Created equally. For example, Ellsworth recounts how differences of race, nationality, / 550 DANA Y. TAKAGI and gender, unfolded in the context of a relatively safe environment, the university classroom: \ Women f0und it difficult to prioritize expressions of racial privilege and oppression when such prioritizing threatened to perpetuate their gender oppression. Among inter- national students, both those who were of color and those who’ were White found it difficult to join their voices with those of U.S. students of color when it meant a subordination of their oppressions as people living under US: imperialist policies and g 7 as students for whom English was a second language. Asian American women found it i difficult to join their voices with other students of color when it meant subordinating ‘, their specific oppressions as Asian Americans. I found it difficult to speak as a White \ woman about gender oppression when I occupied positions of institutional power \ relative to all students in the class, men and women, but positions of gender oppression \ relative to students who were White men, and in different terms, relative to students \ who were men of color.5 M.» The above example demonstrates the tensions between sameness and difference that haunt identity politics. Referring to race and sexuality, Cohen suggests that the “sameness” that underlies difference may be more fiction than fact: ' . . . the implied isomorphism between the “arbitrariness of racial categorizations” and the “sexual order” elides the complex processes of social differentiafion that assign, legitimate, and enforce qualitative distinctions between different types of individuals. Here the explicit parallel drawn between “race” and “sexuality,” familiar to so many _ polemical affirmations of (non—racial) identity politics, is meant to evoke an underlying and apparently indisputable commonisense that naturalizes this particular choice of political strategy almost as if the “naturalness” of racial “identity” could confer a corollary stability on the less “visible” dynamics of sexuality/.5 There are numerous ways that being “gay” is not like being “Asian.” Two broa distinctions are worth noting. The first, mentioned by Cohen above, is the relativ' at,» :t armamthfiséfliéflm While both can be sai the body and negotiated by political groups.7 Put another way, there is a quality 0: voluntarisni in being gay/lesbian that is usually not possible as an Asian American One the optiogljfmgeglbnesefi as “gay” or alternatiwelylto attempt to p ’ 5rjg§3£nin “th§:5§§§£2:.th§ti§rto hide. sis;s§i{ii§l1 erence However, these same options are not available to most racial minorities in face-t face interactions with others. As Asian Americans, we do not think in advance about whether or not to prese I *ourselves as “Asian American,” rather, that is an identification that is worn by us: Whether we like it or not, and which is easily read off of us by others. A second major reason that the category “gay” ought to be distinguished fro the category “Asian American” is for the very different histories of each grou Studying the politics of being “gay” entails on the one hand, an analysis of discursi fields, ideologies, and rhetoric about sexual identity, and on the other hand, know edge of the history of gays/lesbians as subordinated minorities relative to heterose Viable, Maiden Voyage 551 's'. . Similarly, studying “Asian America” requires analysis of semantic and rhe- ‘cal discouISC in its variegated forms, racist, apologist, and paternalist, and requires addition, an understanding of the specific histories of the peoples who recognize emselves as Asian or Asian American. But the Specific discourses and histories in each case are quite different. Even though we make the same intellectual moves to ’proach each form of identity, that is, a two-tracked study of ideology on the one and, and history on the other, the particular ideologies and histories of each are \ V In other words, many of us experience the worlds of Asian America and gay '.Arnerica as separate places—emotionally, physically, intellectually. We sustain the :separation of these worlds with our folk knowledge about the family—centeredness and supra-homophobic beliefs of ethnic communities. Moreover, it is not just that -;these communities know so little of one another, but we frequently take greatacafib‘ to keep those wor‘lgswdistant {rpm gaggi‘qt‘hggr; What could be more different than the scene at gay bars like “The End Up” in San Francisco, or “Faces” in Hollywood, and, on the other hand, the annual Buddhist church bazaars in the Japanese Ameri— can community or Filipino revivalist meetings?10 These disparate worlds occasionally collide through individuals who manage to move,» for the most part stealthily, be— tween these spaces. But it is the act of deliberately bringing these worlds closer together that seems unthinkable. Imagining your parents, clutching bento box lunches, thrust into the smoky haze of a South of Market leather bar in San Francisco is no less strange a vision than the idea of Lowie taking Ishi, the last of his tribe, for a cruise on Lucas’ Star Tours at Disneyland. “Cultural strain,” the anthropologists would say. Or, as Wynn Young, laughing at the prospect of mixing his family with his boyfriend,.said, “Somehow I just can’t picture this conversation at the dinner table, over my mother’s homemade barbecued pork: ‘Hey, Ma. I’m sleeping with a Sixty-year—old white who’s got three kids, and would you please pass the soy sauce?’ ”11 Thus, “not counting” is a warning about the ways to think about the relationship of lesbian/gay identities to Asian American history. While it may seem politically efficacious to toss the lesbian onto the diversity pile, adding] one more form of subOrdination to, the heap of inequalities, such a strategy glosses over the particular or distinctive ways sexuality is rtroped in Asian America. Before examining the possibilities for theorizing “gay” and “Asian American” as nonmutually exclusive identities, I turn first to a fuller description of the chasm of silencelthat separates ‘ them. ' \ ‘ Silences , The concept of silence is a doggedly familiar one in Asian American history. For example, Hosokawa characterized the Nisei as “Quiet Americans,” and popular media discussions of the “model minority” typically describe Asian American stu- dents as “quiet” along with “hardworking” and “successful.” In the popular dressing. of Asian American identity, silence has functioned as a metaphor for the assirnilative 552 DANA Y. TAKAGI and positive imagery of the “good” minorities. More recently, analysis of popular imagery of the “model minority” suggests that silence ought to be understood as an adaptive mechanism to a racially discriminatory society rather than as an intrinsic part of Asian American culture.12 ‘ r 7 4 If silence has been a powerful metaphor in Asian American history, it is also a crucial element of discussions of gay/lesbian identity, albeit in a somewhat different way. In both cases, silence may be viewed as the oppressive cost of a racially biased or heterosexist society. For gays and lesbians, the act of coming out takes on symbolic importance, not just as a personal affirmation of “this is who I am,” but additionally as a critique of expected norms in society, “we are everywhere.” While “breaking the 7 silence” about Asian Americans refers to crashing popular stereotypes about them and shares with the gay act of “coming out” the desire to define oneself rather than be defined by others, there remains an important differencebetween the two. The relative invisibility of homosexuality compared with Asian American identity means that silence and its corollary space, the closet, are more ephemeral, appear less T fixed as boundaries of social identities, less likely to be taken for granted than markers ' of race, and, consequently, more likely to be problematized and theorized in discus- sions that have as yet barely begun on'racial identity. Put another way, homosexuality is more clearly seen as constructed than racial identity.13 Theoretically speaking 3 homosexual identity does not enjoy the same privileged stability as racial identityfi The borders that separate gay from straight, and “in” from “out,” are so fluid tha in the final moment we can only be sure that sexual identities are, as Diana Fuss notes, “in Foucaldian terms, less a matter of final discovery than a matter of perpet- ual invention.”l4 Thus, while silence is a central piece of theoretical discussions of homosexuality it‘is viewed primarily as a negative stereotype in the case of Asian Americans. What seems ’at first a simple question in gay identity of being “in” or “out” is actually laced in epistemological knots. For exampleya common question asked of gays and lesbians by one another, or by straights, is, “Are you out?” The answer to that question (yes and no) is typically followed by a list of who knows and who does not (e.g., my coworkers know, but my family doesn’t . . . ). But the question of who knows or how many people know about one’s gayness raises yet another question, “How many, or which, people need to know one is gay before one qualifies as “out?” Or, as Fuss says, “To be out, common gay parlance, is precisely to be no longer out; to be out is to be-finally outside of exteriority and all the exclusions and deprivations such outsider-boo ’ imposes. Or, put another way, to be out is really to be in—inside the realm of th‘: visible;the speakable, the culturally intelligible.”15 / Returning to the issue of silence and homosexuality in Asian America, it seem that topics of “sex, sexuality, and gender are already diffused through discussions \ Asian America.16 For example, numerous writers have disclosed, and challenged, th panoply of contradictory sexually charged images of Asian American women as docil and subservient on the one hand and as ruthless Mata-Hari, dragon—lady aggresso on the other. And, of course, Frank Chin’s tirades against the feminization of Asi American men has been one reaction to the particular way in which Asian American Maiden Voyage 553 ’ )sexualized as racial subjects. Moving from popular imagery 11 people, to Asia, the nation, Chow uses Bertolucci’s block— Emperor, to illustrate what she calls “the metaphysics of femi— ' e)1~= wherein China is predictably cast'as a “feminized, eroti— hbmors‘exuality in Asian American studies is often treated in 'on'edat all, should Veg some indication of trouble. It is noteworthy, ’s mj thlogy on Asian American women, Making Waves, e essay‘on Asian American lesbians was the only contributor who 'e‘ last ame to be published.18 Of course, as we all know, a chorus of ‘ ’e‘fi ystanders is chanting about homophobia, saying, “she was worried ‘, p jfamily, her community. . . .” Therefore, perhaps a good starting n51der' lesbian and gay identities in Asian American studies is by proble— silence'sfsurrounding homosexuality in Asian America. ( I “easy: enough for me to say that I often feel a part of, me is “silenced” Arnerican Studies. But I can hardly place all of the blame on my colleagues. f es I silence myself as much as I feel silenced by them. And my silencing act 7g welter of false starts, uncertainties, and anxieties. For example, on the dim omnipresent little voice tells me that visibility is better than invisibility, _refore,"coming out is an affirming social act. On the other hand, I fear the aid silences and struggle for conversation that sometimes follow the business ommg out. One has to think about when and Where to time the act, since yrno one has ever asked me, “Are you a lesbian?” Another voice reminds me act of coming out, once accomplished, almost always leaves me wondering perl did it for myself or them. Not only that, but at the moment that I have . This time, my worry is that someone will think that in my coming out, they nOW have a ready—made label for me, lesbian. The prospect that someone may that they know me because they comprehend the category lesbian fills me with bborn resistance. The category lesbian calls up so many different images of women ho love other women that I do not think that any oneJ—gay or straight—could 7P7 my girlfriend in conversation. In effect, my sexual identity is often backgrounded 7 Orstored somewhere in between domains of public and private. I used to think that my style of being gay was dignified and polite—sophisticated, civilized, and genteel. Work Was work and home was home. The separation of work and home has been an easy gulf to maintain, less simple to bridge. However, recently, I have come to think Otherwise. ' ‘ But all this talk about me is getting away from my point, which is that While it Mum—w—nw. 554 DAN-A Y. TAKAGI would be easy enough for me to 'say many of us feel “silenced,” which alone might argue for inclusion of gay sexualities in discourse about the Asian American experi- ence, that is not enough. Technically speaking, then, the terms “addition” and ' “inclusion” are misleading. I’m afraid that, in using such terms, the reader will assume that by adding gay/lesbian experiences to the last week’s topics in a course / on Asian American contemporary issues, or by including lesbians in a discussion of Asian women, the deed is done. Instead, I want to suggest that the task is better thought of as just begun, that the topic of sexualities ought to be envisioned as a means, not an end, to theorizing about the Asian American experience. For example, one way that homosexuality may be seen as a vehicle for theorizing identity in Asian America is for the missteps, questions, and silences that are often clearest in collisions at the margins (identities as opposed to people). In the following discuSsion, I describe two such confrontations—the coming out of a white student in an Asian American Studies class and the problem of authenticity in gay/lesbian. Asian American writing. Each tells in its own way the awkward limits of ethnic—based models of identity. I The Coming—Out Incident Once, when I was a teaching assistant in Asian American Studies at Berkeley during the early 1980s, a lesbian, one of only two White students in my section, decided to come out during the first section meeting. I had asked each student to: explain their interest, personal and intellectual, in Asian American Studies. Many students mentioned wanting to know “more about their heritage” and “knowing the. past in order to understandthe present.” The lesbian was nearly last to speak. After; explaining that she wanted to understand the heritage of a friend who was Asian; American, her final words came out tentatively, as if she had been deliberating abou whether or not to say them, “And, I guess I also want you all to know that I am lesbian.” In the silence that followed I quickly surveyedthe room. A dozen or 3 Asian American students whom I had forced into a semicircular seating arrangemen stared glumly at their shoes. The two white students, both of whom were lesbians, a I recall, sat together, at one end of the semicircle. They glanced expectantly aroun the circle, and then they, too, looked at the ground. I felt as though my own worl had split apart, and the two pieces were in front of me, drifting, surrounding, and at that moment, both silent. g. I knew both parts well. On the one side, I imagined that the Asian American students in the class recoiled in private horror at the lesbian, not so much becaus she was a lesbian or white but because she insisted on publicly baring her soul in front of them. I empathized with the Asian American students because they reminde‘ me of myself as an undergraduate. I rarely spoke in class or section, unless, of course I was asked a direct question. While my fellow white students, most often the males chatted effortlessly in section about readings or lectures, I was almost always mute marveled at the ease with which questions, thoughts, answers, and even half-baked ideas rolled off their tongues and floated discussion. For them, it all seemed so ea Maiden Voyage 555 As for me, I struggled with the act of talking in class. Occasionally, I managed to add uestion to the discussion, but more often I found that, after silently practicing my Intry into a fast—moving exchange, the discussion had moved on. In my silence, I hastised myself for movingtoo slowly, for hesitating where others did not, and, ternately, chastised the other students for their bull—dozing, loose lips. I valorized and resented the verbal abilities“ of my fellow classmates. And I imagined how the Asian American students who sat in my class the day the lesbian decided to come in, like me, named the ability to bare one’s soul through words “white.” On the ther side, I empathized as well with the lesbian. I identified with what I imagined s her compelling need to claim her identity, to be like the others in the class, indeed : o be an “other” at all in a class where a majority of the students were in search of \ p r d that being a lesbian, whileflnflotmquite like beinqusian Amflgi; M «- N... is...nuamiapAuwmhwn"awn-r >"Z’7nglagr—‘1f31wa :gmmenm—MW can, must have seemedt intrepid student as c ose th ‘ethwnzicégnodel asmsfihgm could get Fmallfifiluthought siié‘iéfif‘e'is‘éfiiéawé’siaé‘b‘ me that always wanted, but ' Ineveryzcould quite manage, to drop the coming—out bomb in groups that did not expect it. Part of the pleasure in being an “outsider” can be in the affirmation of the identity abhorred by “insiders.” I imagined that she and her friend had signed up for my section because they knew I too was a lesbian, and I worried that they assumed that I might be able to protect them from the silence of the closet. ’ H In the silence that followed the act of coming out, and, indeed, in' the ten weeks Of class in which no one spoke of it again, I felt an awkwardness settle over our discussions in section. I was never sure exactly how the Asian American students perceived the lesbian—as a wannabe “minority,” as a comrade in marginality, as any White Other, or, perhaps, they did not think of it at all. Nor did I ever know if the lesbian found what she was looking for, a better understanding of the Asian American experience, in the silence that greeted her coming out. . The silences I have described here dramatize how dialogue between identities is hampered by the assumption of what Wittig calls the “discourses of heterosexuality.” She says: Thesediscourses of heterosexuality oppress us in the sense that they prevent us from speaking unless we speak in their terms. Everything which puts them into question is at once disregarded as elementary. Our refusal of the totalizing interpretation of psycho— analysis makes the theoreticians say that we neglect the symbolic dimension. These discourses deny (us every possibility of creating our own categories. But their most ferocious action is the unrelenting tyranny that they exert upon our physical and mental selves.” ~- More important, the coming—out incident. suggests that marginalization is no “guarantee for dialogue. If there is to be an interconnectedness between different vantage points, we will need to establish an art of political conversation that allows 1 for affirmation of difference without choking secularization; The construction of :7 such a politics is based implicitly on our vision of what happens, or what ought to ’ 'hjlppen, when difference meets itself—queer meets Asian, black meets Korean, fem— mist meets Greens, etc., at times, all in one person.20 What exactly must we mg ' about these other identities in order to engage in dialogue? M WW ' “pawns-wings.“ "Masonifinh 1......“ My... ~ Waflwprm . , “WW .. ..,a=r~;gm_;;mc, _ _),.AWI,M«M , . 556 DANA Y. TAKAGI The Question of Authenticity What we do know about Asian American gays and lesbians must be gleaned from personal narratives, literature, poetry, short stories, and essays. But, first, what falls under the mantle Asian American gay and lesbian writings? Clearly, lesbians and gays whose writings are self—conscious reflections on Asian American identity and sexual identity ought to be categorized as Asian American gay/lesbian writers. For example, Kitty Tsui, Barbara Noda, and Merle Woo are iindividuals who have identified themselves, and are identified by others, as Asian American lesbian voices. Similarly, in a recent collection of essays from a special issue of Amerasia, “Burning Cane,” ‘ Alice Hom ruminates on how an assortment of Others—White dykes, Asian dykes, .family, and communities—react to her as butchy/andrOgyfious, as Asian Arnerican, as a lesbian. These writers are lesbians, and they write? about themselves as lesbians, _which grantsrthem authorial voice as a lesbian. But they also identify as Asian American and are concerned with the ways in which these different sources of community—lesbian and Asian American—function in their everyday lives. But what then about those who do not write explicitly or self-consciously about :- theirsexuality or racial identity? For example, an essay on AIDS and mourning by Ieff Nunokawa, while written by a Japanese—American English professor, does not focus on issues of racial and sexual identity and, as such, is neither self-consciously gay nor Asian American.21 What are we to make of such work? On the one hand, we might wish to categorize the author as a gay Asian American writer, Whether he wishes to take this sign or not, presuming, of course, that he is gay, since his essay appears in an anthology subtitled “gay theories,’.’ and, in addition, presuming that he is Asian American, or at least identifies as such, given his last name. On the other hand, we might instead argue that it is the author’s work, his subject matter, and n ; the status of the author, that marks the work as gay, Asian American, or both. . . In; this case, we might infer that since the topic of the essay is AIDS and men, the wor : is best categorized as “gay,” but not Asian American. This may seem a mundane :exan‘iple, but it illustrates well how authorial voice and; subject matter enter into our deliberations of what counts and what does not at Asian American gay/lesbian writings. . . . The university is filled with those of us who while we live under signs like gay, Asian, feminist, ecologist, middle—class, etc., (1 not make such signs the central subject of our research. And what about thos individuals Who write about gays/lesbians but who identify themselves as heterosex ual? In the same Way that colonizers write about the colonized, and, more recently the colonized write back, blacks write about whites and vice versa, “we” write abou “them,” and so on. I want to be clear, here. I am not suggesting that we try to locate Asian American gay/lesbian sensibilities as if they exist in some pure form and are waiting to discovered. Rather, I think we ought to take seriously Trinh T. Minh-ha’s warnin: E I that “Trying to find the other bygefining getfiliegr‘nkfiizgrfithedothe udfigggfleralities is, as Zen says, anting Eekmoon wi ole; wwmmswmw . W» W ,, 7:, M if Mn 't hin foot from the outside of a shoe.”22 My concernfhefre is to '_,_ amu’wnzubxi’ ansaanQ—flv, ,m»mWMVA—.fl2‘. , , Maiden Voyage 557 fion from one about a particular identity to the more general question of in which the concept of identity is deployed in Asian American history. ' not only is marginalization no guarantee for dialogue, but the state of being ‘ alized itself may not be capturable as a fixed, coherent, and holistic identity. 1,: attempts’to define categories like “Asian American” or “gay’,’ are necessarilJfl mplete. For example, as Judith Butler has noted: write or speak as a lesbian appears a paradoxical appearance of this “I,” one which is neither true nor false. For it is a production, usually in response to a request, to me out or write in the name of an identity which, once produced, sometimes ctions as a politically efficacious phantasm. . This is not to say that I will not appear at political occasions under the sign of \ elesbian, but that I would like to have it permanently unclear what precisely that sign ignifies.” politics of identity and whatever kind of politics ensues from that project— ticulturalism, feminism, and gay movements—is first of all a politics about entity. That is, about the lack of a wholistic and “coherent narrative” derived from ce, class, gender, and sexuality. . . . Because no sooner do we define, for example, apanese American” as a person of Japanese ancestry when we are forced back to drawing board by the biracial child of Japanese American and an African Amer— “who thinks of herself as “blac ” or “feminist.” Rethinking Identity Politics sa Lowe in her discussion of identity politics affirms the articulation of ‘Asian erican” identity while simultaneously warning us of its overarching, consuming, id essentializing dangers. She (Lowe) closes her discussion saying: I want simply to remark that in the 19905, we can afford to rethink the notion of ethnic fldentity in terms of cultural, class, and gender differences, rather presuming .sunilarities and making the erasure of particularity the basis of unity. In the 19905, we can diversify our political practices to include a more heterogeneous group and to nable crucial alliances with other groups—ethnicity—based, class—based, and sexuality- based—inthe‘ ongoing work of transforming hegemony. 2“ :I have intended this essay, in part; as an answer to Lowe’s call to broaden the fcope of Asian American discourse about identity. But there is a caveat. The gist of. this essay has been to insist that’our valuation of heterogeneity not be ad hoc and that we seiie the opportunity to recognize nonethnic based differences—like ’omosexuality—as an occasion to critique the tendency toward essentialist currents 1n ethnic-based narratives and disciplines. In short, the practice of including gayness .111 Asian America rebounds into a reconsideration of the theoretical status of the I concept of “Asian American” identity. The interior of the category “Asian American” Ought not be viewed as a hierarchy of identities led by ethnic—based narratives but rather, the complicated interplay and collision of different identities. I 558 DANA Y. TAKAGI I, At the heart of Lowe’s argument for recognizing diversity within Asian American, generational, national, gender, and class, as well as my insistence in this essay on a qualitative, not quantitative, view of difference, is a particular notion of subjectivity. F That notion of the» subject as nonunitary stands in sharp contrast to the 'wholistic _ and coherent identities that find expression in much contemporary talk and.writing about Asian Americans. At titnes, our need to “reclaim history” has been bluntly translated into a possessiveness about the Asian American experience (politics, his— tory, literature) or perspectives as if such experiences or perspectives were not diffuse, shifting, and often contradictory. Feminists and gay writers, animated by poststruc— turalism’s decentering practices, offer an alternative, to theorize the subject rather than assume its truth or, worse yet, assign to it a truth. I Concretely, to theorize the subject means to uncover in magnificent detail the “situatedness”25 of perspectives or identities as knowledge which, even as it pleads for an elusive common language or claims to establish truth, cannot guarantee a; genuine politics of diversity, that is, political conversation and argument, between: the margins.26 Such a politics will be marked by moments of frustration and tension; politics that is not primarily ethnic—based or essentialist along some other ads will be that conversations like the one which never took place in my Asian American Studies section many years ago will finally begin. Moreover, our search for authenci of voice—whether in gay/lesbian Asian American writing or in some other identity string—will be tempered by the realization that in spite of our impulse to ~clearl (de)limit them, there is perpetual uncertainty and flux governing the constructio and expression of identities. NOTES My special thanks to Russell Leong for his encouragement and commentary on this essa I 1. See Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14:3 (1988): 575—599. ” V 2. See Teresa de Lauretis, “Feminist Studies/Critical Studies: Issues, Terms, and Contexts in Feminist Studies/Critical Studies, edited by Teresa de Lauretis (Bloomington: Indiana U versity Press, 1986), 1—19; bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Bosto South End Press, 1990); Trinh T. Minh—ha, Woman, Native, Other (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1989); Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Schol ship and Colonialist Discourses,” in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, edit by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres (Bloomington: Indiana versity Press, 1991), 52—80; Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism versus Post-Structuralism: Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” Signs 13:3 (1988): 405—437. 3. Trinh T. Minh-ha, 28. . F 4. Epstein (1987). Jeffrey Escoffier, editor of Outlook magazine, made this point in a sp at the American Educational Research Association meetings in San Francisco, April 24, 1992 5. See Elizabeth Ellsworth, “Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working Through Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy,” Harvard Education Review 59:3 (1989): 297—324. ) Maiden Voyage 559 {a Oohefi, f‘Who Are We”? Gay ‘Identity’ as Political (E)rnotion,” in inside/out, edited 5, New York and London: Routledge, 1991), 71—92. L e, there are exceptions, for example, blacks that “pass,” and perhaps this is osexuality and racial identity come/closest to one another, amongst those minori— Viassr’éand gays who can also “pass.” ' of mean to suggest that there is only one presentation of self as lesbian. For he development recently featured in the Los Angeles Times is the evolution of sbians’,’ (Van Gelder, 1991). The fashion issue has also been discussed in gay/lesbian is; For example, Stein (1988), writing for Outlook, has commented on the lack of ndence betWCen fashion andsexual identity, “For many, you can dress as femme one butch the next. . . .” V mpare for example the histories Takaki’s Strangers from a Different Shore, Sucheng zan Americans, and Roger Danie’ls’ Chinese and Japanese in America with Jonathan Gay American History, Jeffrey Week’s The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault’s The 71's‘tOry f Sexuality, and David Greenberg’s The Construction of Homosexuality. A See Steffi San Buenaventura, “The Master and the Federation: A Filipino—American Movement in California and Hawaii,” Social Process in Hawaii 33 (1991): 169—193. Wynn Young, “Poor Butterfly” Amerasia Journal 17:2 (1991): 118. See Keith Osajima, “Asian Americans as the Model Minority: An Analysis of the op at Press Image in the 19605 and 19805,” in Reflections on Shattered Windows: Promises _, ringrospects for Asian American Studies, edited by Gary Y. Okihiro, Shirley Hune, Arthur A. f f: and John M. Liu (Pulhnan: Washington State University Press, 1988), 165—174. , 13 : See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge 1990); Michel Foucault, The , History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, ‘ 1980); Monique Wittig, The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon 1992); Greenberg, The, Construction of Homosexuality. » 14." Diana Fuss, “Inside/Out,” in inside/out, edited by Diana Fuss (New York: Routledge, .1991),1—1o. ‘ (1 ,15,»_,Ibid. _ 16. Consider; for example, debates in recent times over intermarriage patterns, the contro- Versy over Asian Americans dating white men, the Asian Men’s calendar, and the continuation of discussions started over a decade ago about gender, assimilation, and nativism in Asian American literature. , 17. ,See Rey Chow, Woman and Chinese Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). 18 See Asian Women United, Making Waves (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989). . 19. Monique Wittig, “The Straight Mind,” in The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 25. l I 20. All too often we conceptualize different identities as separate, discrete, and given (as Opposed to continually constructed and shifting). For an example of how “identity” might be conceptualized as contradictory and shifting moments rather than discrete and warring l “homes,” see Minnie Bruce Pratt, “Identity: Skin Blood Heart” and commentary by Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade- Mohanty, “Feminist Politics: What’s Home Got to Do with It?” 21. See Jeff Nunokawa, “ ‘All the Sad Young Men’ Aids and the Work of Mourning,” in inside/out, edited by Diana Fuss (New York’: Routledge, 1991), 311—323. ‘ ’ 22. ,Trinh T. Minh-ha, 76. 23. Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Subordination,” in inside/out, edited by Diana Fuss (New York: Routledge, 1991), 13—31. Q .8 560 DANA Y. TAKAGI 24. Lisa Lowe, “Heterogeneity, Hybridity and Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Dif- ferences,” Diaspora (Spring 1991): 21—44. ' 25. Haraway. . . 26. I am indebted to Wendy Brown for this point. See Wendy Brown, “Feminist Hesita— tions, Postmodern Exposures,” Diflerences 2:1 (1991). ' ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/13/2008 for the course ASIA 078 taught by Professor Lee during the Spring '08 term at Lehigh University .

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Z&G Chapter 25 - Chapter Twenty—five...

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