Spencer RuelosProf. M. ScogginAnthropology Capstone8 March 2013 Queer(y)ing Globalization: Theories of Transnationalism within Queer Anthropology Gay people are born into— and belong to—every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors, and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes. Hillary Clinton, 2011 The Secretary of State’s above response to homophobic political leaders in other countriesrepresents one of dominant public perceptions regarding homosexuality. With the globalization ofthe mainstream U.S. LGBT movement, gay and lesbian identities have ‘popped up’ all over theworld. There are people who identify as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia,and Egypt, among many other places. However, within the fields of both queer studies andanthropology, the globalization of these gay, lesbian, and—more broadly—queer identities has beenscrutinized and debated for more than a decade. The bulk of these debates can be summed up intwo questions that Megan Sinnott (2004:24) posits: “Can we say that these identities and behaviorsare results of transnationalism and globalism? [D]oes the presence of these strangely familiar termsmean that these identities are products of the globalization of the Western gay/lesbian movement?” In this paper, I will articulate my position within these debates through a review of some ofthe literature that has emerged from the field of queer anthropology. I will draw upon some of therecent theorists who have tackled this question of globalization; ultimately, I will argue that, in orderto understand the rich complexities of same-sex sexual desire and practice in other societies andcultures, we need to apply a more nuanced theoretical problematic of globalization andtransnationalism to our analysis of queer identities and practices. I will begin by contextualizing whatI mean by transnationalism and globalization. Following such contextualization, I will summarizeone of the dominant theories of transnationalism by Dennis Altman, ultimately to set up an
Ruelos 2oppositional framework for complicating his notion of westernization of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ subjectpositions. Finally, in the bulk of this essay, I will frame some of the counter-arguments to Altman’swork by theorists in the field of queer anthropology and position my own theoretical perspectivetherein.Contextualizing Transnationalism and Globalization First of all, what is meant when I refer to theories of transnationalism? This has been onearea that has been largely contested from its origins. In their pivotal feminist and queer work,“Global Identities: Theorizing Transnational Studies of Sexuality,” Grewal and Kaplan (2001)articulate several ways that ‘transnationalism’ has been defined within academia, which are summedup 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 stressthat the term has immense usefulness in the study of sexuality. “Since ignoring transnationalformations has left studies of sexualities without the tools to address questions of globalization, race,political economy, immigration, migration, and geopolitics, it is important to bring questions oftransnationalism into conversation with the feminist study of sexuality” (Grewal and Kaplan2001:666). Many previous studies regarding (homo)sexuality has often ignored questions of thetransnational and situated their analysis on more essentialist claims that reproduce thetradition/modernity dichotomy. These are the studies that have sought out gender and sexualdiversity that has been ‘untouched’ by global capitalism and cultural imperialism, thus more ‘pure’indigenous understandings of gender and sexuality. But because of the increasingly visible forms ofglobalization and inter-cultural relations, recent theorists or both queer studies and anthropologyhave applied a more transnational analysis to their discussions of gender and sexuality.
Ruelos 3 To place my perspective within these new theoretical engagements, I conceptualizetransnationalism as a broad term that encapsulates the history of economic and cultural imperialismdue to colonization; the influences this history has on the constructions of nation-states; and thecultural, political, and economic interplay between nations, which constitute both localized andglobalized systems. This view on transnationalism includes the discussion of both colonialism andglobalism, and in fact, sees them as intimately connected. It also problematizes the binaries oftradition/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 andeconomic power it has now through the successful extraction of wealth and resources from theThird-World. The history of colonialism links the West to the Rest, rather than seeing them asseparate with distinct non-overlapping histories. With this, let me turn first to Altman’sconceptualizations of transnationalism and globalizationAltman’s Theories of Global Queering One of the earliest theories of globalization of queer subjectivities comes from DennisAltman. Altman (1996, 2000) argues that the emergence of ‘Western-style gay/lesbian subcultures’ innon-Western locations are linked with the expansion of consumer society, global capitalism, andglobal mass media. I am inclined to agree with Altman in this sense. However, Altman takes it onestep further by arguing that the Western homosexual subcultures have spread to the rest of theworld, creating the Western archetype of the ‘macho’ gay man and the ‘lipstick’ lesbian in manylocales. “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.[…] American books, films, magazines and fashions continue to define contemporary gay and lesbianmeanings for most of the world” (Altman 1996:2, emphasis added). It is clear to Altman that“economic and cultural globalization is creating newly universal sense of homosexuality as a basis foridentity and lifestyle, not merely behavior” (1996: 7). While this dominant discourse echoes the U.S.
Ruelos 4public’s perception of the globalization of gay/lesbian identities, it is naïve to believe that varioussexual cultures have simply adopted Western constructions of sexual selfhood wholesale and justabandoned previous conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. In addition to this theory of Westernization and homogenization of gay and lesbianidentities, Altman suggests that, because of the globalization of gay and lesbian identities, societieshave transitioned from ‘traditional’ gender-based practices to ‘modern’ identities based on sexualorientation. As we can see in this argument, Altman’s work, while applying a transnational analysis tostudies of sexuality, reproduces the problematic binaries of tradition/modernity, West/Rest, andlocal/global. As Sinnott (2004:26) and several others that I will draw up show us, “Altman’sproposal 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 throughthe examination of the negotiation of multiple discourses from both local and global contexts thatelicits a nuanced account of same-sex desires, sexual practices, and gender performance.Glocalizing and Hybridizing Same-Sex Sexual Desires Arjun Appadurai (1996:17) has so brilliantly pointed out that globalization is a “deeplyhistorical, uneven and even localizing process. Globalization does not necessarily or even frequentlyimply homogenization or Americanization” (original emphasis). This is the basis that many theoristsand researchers have taken up in response to Altman. Because of this, I refer to the process of‘glocalization’ as a transnational analytic that allows us to examine the ways in which sexual andgendered subjects in various cultures and societies navigate and negotiate multiple and oftencontradictory subject positions and discourses. Another term that I—and others—will use to referto this glocalization of queer identities is hybridization. Lisa Rofel (2007) is one queer anthropologist who problematizes Altman’s framework. Rofelultimately argues that we need to decenter the universalism of Euro-American notions of what itmeans to be gay; “To move toward a study of transcultural practices, we need to emphasize the
Ruelos 5complexity of cultural production in the interactions of the West and non-West—with attention,that is, to the transcultural practices and representations” (2007:92). Rofel’s work on gay Chinesemen then resists homogenizing their experiences in terms of either global impact or indigenouscultural evolution. One of the ways in which Rofel articulates this glocalization or hybridization ofgay 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, Rofelargues that gay men still often desire to get married and have children in addition to having extra-marital same-sex relations. “In China ongoing discursive productions of family are indispensablesites for establishing one’s humanness as well as one’s social subjectivity. For gay men to establishtheir normality as men, they must marry not to prove their virility but to produce heirs” (Rofel2007:100). Thus rather than simply adopting the global ‘gay’ identity category and the culturalmeanings that go along with it, men in China appropriate the term and situate their subjectivitywithin national Chinese contexts. Tom Boellstorff (1999) has also seen this phenomena occur in Indonesia. “Most gayIndonesians marry and have 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 Indonesians view marriage as not only compatible, butalso desirable within their gay subjectivities. Simultaneously, gay Indonesians also tie themselves tothe broader global ‘gay’ community, which they too suspect is compatible with heterosexualmarriage. 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 constructtheir translocal subjectivities through the competing discourses of the local–global and the national–transnational (221, emphasis added). Megan Sinnott’s work (2004) examines the ways in which Thai toms and dees can also be seenas a hybridized subject position. Toms are biological females who embody and perform masculinity
Ruelos 6and seek sexual and conjugal relationships with dees, biological females who are positioned asnormative women. However, tom and dee subjectivities are crafted through the transnationalrelationship with Western constructions of sexuality. Linguistically, tom and dee come from theEnglish words ‘tomboy’ and ‘lady,’ respectively; yet are appropriated in the Thai language to create anew, meaningful subject position—one that is simultaneously foreign and local (Sinnott 2004:36).Sinnott analyzes tom and dee subject positions as hybrid identities to refer to the simultaneity of theThai-ness and Western-ness which influence same-sex sexual relations and gender performance inThailand. Delving into Afro-Surinamese women’s sexual culture also warrants a transnational analysisthat is contingent on the history of colonization. Gloria Wekker (2006) argues that women’s same-sex sexual desire and practice through the mati work is forged through the interrelationship betweenthe Netherlands’ economic exploitation of Suriname and global capitalism. Because of origins ofSuriname are found at the height of colonialism, Wekker argues that Suriname has always beenmodern—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 thecompeting discourses of working-class women’s culture, West-African constructions of genderegalitarianism, and histories of slavery and diaspora. Even with the history of both colonization andglobalization, the mati work as a cultural construction has not been supplanted by globalconceptualizations of lesbianism, as Altman’s work suggests would happen. However, because of the cultural and economic ties to the Netherlands, many women whoparticipate in the mati work end up travelling back and forth between the two nations. According toWekker, “The multiple directions of cultural influence under globalization necessitates focusing onthe Netherlands as a postcolonial space and the meeting ground of two models of female same-sexdesire, lesbianism and the mati work (2006:225, emphasis added). This cultural interchange is illustratedin one of the most interesting cases of the transnationalism of the mati work through cultural
Ruelos 7hybridization and the redeployment of the Western concept of lesbianism. After moving toAmsterdam, Lydia “coined a new phrase by saying ‘to love the lesbian work,’ showing the mixingand matching of two different models of same-sex desire. She illustrated, in fact, the ways in whichlesbianism could be infused with new meaning, holding on—in the new formulation—to the mutualobligations implied by ‘work’” (Wekker 2007:240). Examining the transnational mobility of the matiwork allows us to understand the context of sexual globalization and blending of meanings andcategories beyond national boundaries. Thus, Wekker’s analysis of the mati work illustrates both thehybridization of competing discourses as well as the problematizing of the Westernization of globalgay and lesbian identities. One additional controversy that goes along with examining the transnational effects onsame-sex sexual subjectivities is the issue of terminology. As you can see above, many of thetheorists above attempt to situate categories of identity within local contexts. Thus, queeranthropologists in particular have tried to foreground using autochthonous terminologies whererelevant, rather than prescribing the terms ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ or ‘homosexual.’ But what doesthat say about the term ‘queer’? Because queer in the academic sense has meant examining ‘non-normative sexualities and genders’ (see Corber and Valocchi 2003), queer has become less aboutidentity and more about power relations. Boellstorff (2007) explains that queer has a history of bothetic and emic analysis. In an etic sense, ‘queer’ should be no more controversial as the term ‘woman,’‘exogamous,’ or ‘cross-cousin marriage’ (Boellstorff 2007:20). ‘Queer’ as a conceptual tool is thenuseful for examining how same-sex sexual desires and practices as well as gender performance whichfall outside the (hetero)norm. However, the issue comes about when we attempt to ontologize andprescribe ‘queer’ as an emic category that it becomes problematic. Thus, I agree with Boellstorff inthat “the pressing issue with regard to ‘queer’ is not one of adequation because this is a general issueof analysis and critique; instead, the pressing issue is one of timing” (2007:21). A careful use of
Ruelos 8‘queer’ can provide useful analysis for expanding our discussion of transnational sexual and genderedsubjectivities.Conclusion As I have shown, a transnational analysis applied to the anthropological study of sexuality isan important conceptual tool for understanding the richness and complexity of sexual and genderedsubjectivities. This transnational analysis is one that I hope to apply to my own anthropologicalinquiry in the near future, examining the complex cultural negotiations of identity and desire withthe postcolonial locales. The theorists that I have cited above have had a great influence on theconceptualizations of how to do queer anthropology. This influence is already very apparent in pastworks, such as my literature on transnational queer tourism as well my description of my researchinterests in my personal statement. Queering the concept of globalization to examine theglocalization, hybridization, and transcultural exchanges of identities and same-sex desires has cometo problematize both the dominant public perception of the inherency of a global gay identity aswell as simplistic transnational analyses that foreground the westernization of sexual identities acrosscultures. 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 oftransnationalism in the fields of both queer studies and anthropology. Queer anthropology still hasquite a ways to go to continue this work, but I’m looking forward to both reading and contributingto this theoretical foundation within the discipline.
Ruelos 9 Works 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 of Minnesota Press.Boellstorff, Tom. 1999. “The Perfect Path: Gay Men, Marriage, Indonesia.” Pp. 218–236 in Queer Studies: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Ed. Robert Corber and Stephen Valocchi. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.---. 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 in Queer Studies: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Ed. Robert Corber and Stephen Valocchi. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.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 University Press.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.