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 ☹️).

Update: Will present this at the 2021 Association for Asian Studies conference (online) instead!

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 the 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 U.S. during the Russo-Japanese War, the threat of the “White Peril”—that is, an increasingly “immoral” Europe and the racially exclusionary attitude of the U.S. West Coast—was framed by transpacific “progressive” thinkers as defusable through a U.S.-Japan imperial partnership and tolerance of racial difference. I argue that, although racial egalitarianism and the U.S.-Japan Alliance would not take hold in U.S./global policy until the postwar—and homonationalism not appended to U.S. 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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