December 5, 2019

"Asian Racialization and the Early 20th-Century Queering of Empire"

Paper abstract for the 2020 Association for Asian American Studies Conference in Washington, D.C!
(Conference canceled due to Covid-19 ☹️)

In this presentation, I argue that homonationalism has East/West roots in the late 19th-century inter-imperial Scramble for China, when racializing sexology both arose and was destabilized by the rise of Japan. Imperial queering can be seen in the juxtaposition of the trial of Oscar Wilde with the First Sino-Japanese War: Japan breaking through the China gridlock for/against the West, but Britain’s strategy of embracing what racializing sexological discourse framed as a rising “queer” power against a “degenerating” Russia while trying to excise queerness at home. German sexologist Benedict Friedländer extolled Japan for having a “male culture” rooted in a homoerotic prowess of the samurai against a “feminizing” and heteronormativizing West that had lost its moral and material bearings, a neglected element of “Yellow Peril” rhetoric that stereotyped the East as threateningly closer to masculinist “pro-gay” humanist truths. In the US during the Russo-Japanese War, the threat of the “White Peril”—that is, an increasingly “immoral” Europe and the racial exclusionary attitude of the US West Coast—was framed by transpacific “progressive” thinkers as defusable through a US-Japan imperial partnership and tolerance of racial difference. I argue that, although racial egalitarianism and the US-Japan Alliance would not take hold in US/global policy until the postwar—and homonationalism not appended to US empire until the post-Cold War after the defeat of a “degenerated” Russia—the global powers during the Russo-Japanese War era sought to “out-queer” one another in their incorporation/disavowal of the racial/sexual other so as to stabilize modernity in their favor.

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