Spencer RuelosProf. M. ScogginAnthropology Capstone8 March 2013Queer(y)ing Globalization: Theories of Transnationalism within Queer AnthropologyGay people are born into— and belong to—every society in theworld. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors, andteachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes.Hillary Clinton, 2011The Secretary of State’s response to homophobic political leaders in other countries represents thedominant public perceptions regarding homosexuality—an essentialist assumption that ‘gay’ people share the sameexperiences cross-culturally. With the globalization of the mainstream U.S. LGBT movement, it has been assumedthat ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ categories of identity have emerged and are similar to those in the U.S. or Europe. There arepeople who identify as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, and Egypt, among many otherplaces. However, within the fields of both queer studies and anthropology, the globalization of these gay, lesbian,and—more broadly—queer identities has been scrutinized and debated for more than a decade. The bulk of thesedebates can be summed up in two questions that Megan Sinnott (2004:24) posits: “Can we say that these identitiesand behaviors are results of transnationalism and globalism? [D]oes the presence of these strangely familiar terms meanthat these identities are products of the globalization of the Western gay/lesbian movement?” (emphasis added). In otherwords, has ‘gay liberation’ created these new categories with people have started to identify?In this paper, I will articulate my position within these debates through a review of some of the literaturethat has emerged from the field of queer anthropology. I will draw upon some of the recent theorists who havetackled this question of globalization; ultimately, I will argue that, in order to understand the rich complexities ofsame-sex sexual desire and practice in other societies and cultures, we need to apply a more nuanced theoreticalproblematic of globalization and transnationalism to our analysis of queer identities and practices. I will begin bycontextualizing what I mean by transnationalism and globalization. Following such contextualization, I willsummarize one of the dominant theories of transnationalism by Dennis Altman, ultimately to set up an oppositionalframework for complicating his notion of westernization of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ subject positions. Finally, in the bulk
Ruelos 2of this essay, I will frame some of the counter-arguments to Altman’s work by theorists in the field of queeranthropology and position my own theoretical perspective therein.Contextualizing Transnationalism and GlobalizationFirst of all, what is meant when I refer to theories of transnationalism? This has been one area that has beenlargely contested from its origins. In their pivotal feminist and queer work, “Global Identities: TheorizingTransnational Studies of Sexuality,” Grewal and Kaplan (2001) articulate several ways that ‘transnationalism’ hasbeen defined within academia, which are summed up into bullet points below:1. ‘Transnational’ describing migration at the present time,2. ‘Transnational’ signaling the demise of the importance of the nation-state,3. ‘Transnational’ as a synonym for ‘diasporic,’4. ‘Transnational’ designating a form of neocolonialism through multinational corporations,5. ‘Transnational’ illustrating the NGOization of social movements and human rights.Despite transnational being used in these many different contexts, Grewal and Kaplan still stress that the term hasimmense usefulness in the study of sexuality. “Since ignoring transnational formations has left studies of sexualitieswithout the tools to address questions of globalization, race, political economy, immigration, migration, andgeopolitics, it is important to bring questions of transnationalism into conversation with the feminist study ofsexuality” (Grewal and Kaplan 2001:666). Many previous studies regarding (homo)sexuality has often ignoredquestions of the transnational and situated their analysis on more essentialist claims that reproduce thetradition/modernity dichotomy. These are the studies that have sought out gender and sexual diversity that hasbeen ‘untouched’ by global capitalism and cultural imperialism, thus more ‘pure’ indigenous understandings ofgender and sexuality. But because of the increasingly visible forms of globalization and inter-cultural relations,recent theorists or both queer studies and anthropology have applied a more transnational analysis to theirdiscussions of gender and sexuality.To place my perspective within these new theoretical engagements, I conceptualize transnationalism as abroad term that encapsulates the history of economic and cultural imperialism due to colonization; the influencesthis history has on the constructions of nation-states; and the cultural, political, and economic interplay betweennations, which constitute both localized and globalized systems. This view on transnationalism includes thediscussion of both colonialism and globalism, and in fact, sees them as intimately connected. It also problematizes
Ruelos 3the binaries of tradition/modernity, local/global, and West/Rest by examining the ways that each of these elementsin these categories co-constitute the other. For example, the West has only gained its political and economic powerit has now through the successful extraction of wealth and resources from the Third-World. The history ofcolonialism links the West to the Rest, rather than seeing them as separate with distinct non-overlapping histories.With this, let me turn first to Altman’s conceptualizations of transnationalism and globalization.Altman’s Theories of Global QueeringOne of the earliest theories of globalization of queer subjectivities comes from Dennis Altman. Altman(1996, 2000) argues that the emergence of ‘Western-style gay/lesbian subcultures’ in non-Western locations arelinked with the expansion of consumer society, global capitalism, and global mass media. I am inclined to agree withAltman in this sense. However, Altman takes it one step further by arguing that the Western homosexualsubcultures have spread to the rest of the world, creating the Western archetype of the ‘macho’ gay man and the‘lipstick’ lesbian in many locales. “The ‘macho’ gay man of the 1970s, the ‘lipstick lesbian’ of the 1990s, are a globalphenomenon, thanks to the ability of mass media to market particular lifestyles and appearances. […] Americanbooks, films, magazines and fashions continue to define contemporary gay and lesbian meanings for most of theworld” (Altman 1996:2, emphasis added). It is clear to Altman that “economic and cultural globalization is creatingnewly universal sense of homosexuality as a basis for identity and lifestyle, not merely behavior” (1996: 7). While thisdominant discourse echoes the U.S. public’s perception of the globalization of gay/lesbian identities, it is naïve tobelieve that various sexual cultures have simply adopted Western constructions of sexual selfhood wholesale andjust abandoned previous conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. Without naming it, Altman alludes to thiswesternization of gay/lesbian identities as a form of neoimperialsm and neocolonialism; a romanticized notion ofcolonization that positions autochthonous populations as passive to the process of cultural imperialism.In addition to this theory of westernization and homogenization of gay and lesbian identities, Altmansuggests that, because of the globalization of gay and lesbian identities, societies have transitioned from ‘traditional’gender-based practices to ‘modern’ identities based on sexual orientation. As we can see in this argument, Altman’swork, while applying a transnational analysis to studies of sexuality, reproduces the problematic binaries oftradition/modernity, West/Rest, and local/global. As Sinnott (2004:26) and several others that I will draw up show
Ruelos 4us, “Altman’s proposal of a globalization of Western homosexual culture has generated controversy as well effortsamong researchers to situate these sexual/gender forms…in a local context” (emphasis added). It is through theexamination of the negotiation of multiple discourses from both local and global contexts that elicits a nuancedaccount of same-sex desires, sexual practices, and gender performance.Glocalizing and Hybridizing Same-Sex Sexual DesiresArjun Appadurai (1996:17) has so brilliantly pointed out that globalization is a “deeply historical, unevenand even localizing process. Globalization does not necessarily or even frequently imply homogenization orAmericanization” (original emphasis). This is the basis that many theorists and researchers have taken up inresponse to Altman. Because of this, I refer to the process of ‘glocalization’ as a transnational analytic that allows usto examine the ways in which sexual and gendered subjects in various cultures and societies navigate and negotiatemultiple and often contradictory subject positions and discourses. Another term that I—and others—will use torefer to this glocalization of queer identities is hybridization.Lisa Rofel (2007) is one queer anthropologist who problematizes Altman’s framework. Rofel ultimatelyargues that we need to decenter the universalism of Euro-American notions of what it means to be gay; “To movetoward a study of transcultural practices, we need to emphasize the complexity of cultural production in theinteractions of the West and non-West—with attention, that is, to the transcultural practices and representations”(2007:92). Rofel’s work on gay Chinese men then resists homogenizing their experiences in terms of either globalimpact or indigenous cultural evolution. One of the ways in which Rofel articulates this glocalization orhybridization of gay men’s subjectivities is by incorporating the cultural logics of kinship, family, and culturalcitizenship. While the category of ‘gay’ has influenced same-sex desire among men in China, Rofel argues that gaymen still often desire to get married and have children in addition to having extra-marital same-sex relations. “InChina ongoing discursive productions of family are indispensable sites for establishing one’s humanness as well asone’s social subjectivity. For gay men to establish their normality as men, they must marry not to prove their virilitybut to produce heirs” (Rofel 2007:100). Thus rather than simply adopting the global ‘gay’ identity category and thecultural meanings that go along with it, men in China appropriate the term and situate their subjectivity within boththe globalization and national Chinese contexts.
Ruelos 5Tom Boellstorff (1999) has also seen this phenomena occur in Indonesia. “Most gay Indonesians marry andhave children and see these actions as consistent with their subjectivities. Most also assume that gay men in the‘West’ marry women” (Boellstorff 1999:225). In this case, Boellstorff articulate the ways in which gay Indonesiansview marriage as not only compatible, but also desirable within their gay subjectivities. Simultaneously, gayIndonesians also tie themselves to the broader global ‘gay’ community, which they too suspect is compatible withheterosexual marriage. Boellstorff ties this hybridized form of same-sex sexual subjectivity to the mass media,similar to Altman. However, Boellstorff emphasizes that both gay and lesbi Indonesians construct their translocalsubjectivities through the competing discourses of the local–global and the national–transnational (221, emphasisadded), rather than simply being displaced through westernization, economic imperialism, and neocolonialism.Megan Sinnott’s work (2004) examines the ways in which Thai toms and dees can also be seen as a hybridizedsubject position. Toms are biological females who embody and perform masculinity and seek sexual and conjugalrelationships with dees, biological females who are positioned as normative women. However, tom and deesubjectivities are crafted through the transnational relationship with Western constructions of sexuality.Linguistically, tom and dee come from the English words ‘tomboy’ and ‘lady,’ respectively; yet are appropriated in theThai language to create a new, meaningful subject position—one that is simultaneously foreign and local (Sinnott2004:36). Sinnott analyzes tom and dee subject positions as hybrid identities to refer to the simultaneity of the Thai-ness and Western-ness which influence same-sex sexual relations and gender performance in Thailand.Delving into Afro-Surinamese women’s sexual culture also warrants a transnational analysis that iscontingent on the history of colonization. Gloria Wekker (2006) argues that women’s same-sex sexual desire andpractice through the mati work is forged through the interrelationship between the Netherlands’ economicexploitation of Suriname and global capitalism. The mati work refers to a Surinamese cultural institution wherewomen have sexual relations both with men and women either simultaneously or consecutively (Wekker 2006).Because of the origins of Suriname are found at the height of colonialism, Wekker argues that Suriname has alwaysbeen modern—it has had a huge impact on the success of the Western extraction of wealth and economicexploitation. Wekker points out that the mati work as a form of relationship emerged out of the competingdiscourses of working-class women’s culture, West-African constructions of gender egalitarianism, and histories of
Ruelos 6slavery and diaspora. Even with the history of both colonization and globalization, the mati work as a culturalconstruction has not been supplanted by global conceptualizations of lesbianism, as Altman’s work suggests wouldhappen.However, because of the cultural and economic ties to the Netherlands, many women who participate in themati work end up travelling back and forth between the two nations. According to Wekker, “The multipledirections of cultural influence under globalization necessitates focusing on the Netherlands as a postcolonial spaceand the meeting ground of two models of female same-sex desire, lesbianism and the mati work (2006:225, emphasisadded). This cultural interchange is illustrated in one of the most interesting cases of the transnationalism of themati work through cultural hybridization and the redeployment of the Western concept of lesbianism. Aftermoving to Amsterdam, Lydia “coined a new phrase by saying ‘to love the lesbian work,’ showing the mixing andmatching of two different models of same-sex desire. She illustrated, in fact, the ways in which lesbianism could beinfused with new meaning, holding on—in the new formulation—to the mutual obligations implied by ‘work’”(Wekker 2007:240). Examining the transnational mobility of the mati work allows us to understand the context ofsexual globalization and blending of meanings and categories beyond national boundaries. Thus, Wekker’s analysisof the mati work illustrates both the hybridization of competing discourses as well as the problematizing of thewesternization of global gay and lesbian identities.The Terms ThemselvesOne additional controversy that goes along with examining the transnational effects on same-sex sexualsubjectivities is the issue of terminology. The mainstream public perception, as illustrated in Secretary Clinton’sspeech, is to position same-sex desire and practice across cultures with the identity category of ‘gay’ (or evensometimes including ‘lesbian’). There are two ways to complicate this simplistic assumption of terminology. Oneway is to realize that many identity categories that refer to sexual desire and practice (whether same- or opposite-sex) are actually employed through their own linguistic categories outside the dominant Euro-American LGBTacronym—for example, tongzhi in some parts of China, travesti in Brazil, or even mollies in eighteenth-centuryEngland. In many of these cases, people who identity with these categories would refuse the ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ or
Ruelos 7‘transgender’ identity category. Thus, linguistically, identity performance and sexual desire becomes directly called tothe fore through the deployment of localized terminologies.The second problematic is to examine the hybridization of language without romanticizing and assumingpassive internalization of cultural imperialism and globalization. As many of the authors argue above, just becausethe language seems similar to Western identity categories (take example gay and lesbi Indonesians) does not mean thatwe can equate the experiences of LGBT Westerners with those in other countries. It is through the nuancedexamination of cultural, economic, political, historical, geographical, and transnational contexts in which theseidentity categories are situated (as illustrated in the above authors) that problematizes essentialized notions ofidentity.As you can see above, many of the theorists above attempt to situate categories of identity within localcontexts. Thus, queer anthropologists in particular have tried to foreground using autochthonous terminologieswhere relevant rather than prescribing the terms ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ or ‘homosexual.’ But what does that sayabout the term ‘queer’? Because queer in the academic sense has meant examining non-normative sexualities andgenders (see Corber and Valocchi 2003), queer has become less about identity and more about power relations.Boellstorff (2007) explains that queer has a history of both etic and emic analysis. In an etic sense, ‘queer’ should beno more controversial as the term ‘woman,’ ‘exogamous,’ or ‘cross-cousin marriage’ (Boellstorff 2007:20). ‘Queer’ asa conceptual tool is then useful for examining how same-sex sexual desires and practices as well as genderperformance which fall outside the (hetero)norm. However, the issue comes about when we attempt to ontologizeand prescribe ‘queer’ as an emic category that it becomes problematic. Thus, I agree with Boellstorff in that “thepressing issue with regard to ‘queer’ is not one of adequation because this is a general issue of analysis and critique;instead, the pressing issue is one of timing” (2007:21). A careful use of ‘queer’ can provide useful analysis forexpanding our discussion of transnational sexual and gendered subjectivities.ConclusionAs I have shown, a transnational analysis applied to the anthropological study of sexuality is an importantconceptual tool for understanding the richness and complexity of sexual and gendered subjectivities. But where dowe go from here? I believe that the next step with this theoretical engagement is to continue to provide alternative
Ruelos 8discourses around globalization. Rather than simply reifying romantic notions of colonization that refer the West asthe ‘penetrator’ and the Rest as the ‘penetrated,’ we need to be looking at the complex relationships that have beenproduced because of global capitalism and cultural exchange. As Boellstorff (2003:26) points out, “in queeringglobalization…, we do not lose sight of the immense suffering and injustice it causes,” but rather examine the waysin which globalization is susceptible to change and transformation. This framework of queering globalization allowsus to examine the power relations of westernization while simultaneously examining the ways that targets of culturaland economic globalization have resisted and created their own meanings within both the local and global contexts.Other queer anthropologists, along with myself, have begun to examine at alternative frameworks for globalizationand transnationalism.Queering the concept of globalization to examine the glocalization, hybridization, and transculturalexchanges of identities and same-sex desires has come to problematize both the dominant public perception of theinherency of a global gay identity as well as simplistic transnational analyses that foreground the westernization ofsexual identities across cultures. In the end, this transnational approach that complicates notions of globalization ofsexuality and gender is what ultimately situates my understanding within the debates of theories of transnationalismin the fields of both queer studies and anthropology. Queer anthropology still has quite a ways to go to continuethis work, but I’m looking forward to both reading and contributing to this theoretical foundation within thediscipline.
Ruelos 9Works CitedAltman, Dennis. 1996. “On Global Queering.” www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive. July.---. 2000. Global Sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Vol. 1. Minneapolis: University ofMinnesota Press.Boellstorff, Tom. 1999. “The Perfect Path: Gay Men, Marriage, Indonesia.” Pp. 218–236 in Queer Studies: AnInterdisciplinary Reader. Ed. Robert Corber and Stephen Valocchi. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.---. 2003. “I Knew It Was Me: Mass Media, ‘Globalization,’ and Lesbian and Gay Indonesians.” Pp 21–51 in MobileCultures: New Media in Queer Asia. Ed. Chris berry, Fran Martin, and Audrey Yue. Durham: Duke UniversityPress.---. 2007. A Coincidence of Desire: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia. Durham: Duke University Press.Corber, Robert and Stephen Valocchi. 2003. Introduction to Queer Studies: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Pp. 1–17 inQueer Studies: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Ed. Robert Corber and Stephen Valocchi. Malden: BlackwellPublishing.Grewal, Inderpal and Caren Kaplan. 2001. “Global Identities: Theorizing Transnational Studies of Sexuality.” GLQ:A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7(4):663–679.Rofel, Lisa. 2007. Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality, and Public Culture. Durham: Duke UniversityPress.Sinnott, Megan. 2004. Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand. Honolulu:University of Hawai’i Press.Wekker, Gloria. 2006. The Politics of Passion: Women’s Sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. New York:Columbia University Press.