Dreaming of normal while sleeping with impossible : introduction

Ching YAU

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsForeword / Postscript

20 Citations (Scopus)


Issues related to sexuality have emerged in China and Hong Kong1 in unprecedented ways in the past several years. The growth of religious fundamentalisms and global gay discourses, heightened media attention linking the rising AIDS figures primarily to the gay community, tongzhi2 activist movements, struggles and public demands of sex workers, have all contributed to this new visibility. In Hong Kong, tensions are rapidly rising within the growing impact of the religious neo-liberal front fueled with reclaimed (reimagined) post-1997 Chinese moralism vis-à-vis glocalized movements of sexual rights. Normative institutions for the regulation of sexuality including faith-based organizations and megachurches in Hong Kong and to a less successful degree in China, and government bureaucracies across the region, have adopted activist strategies to act in unprecedented unison, and with great speed, triggering waves of moral panic3 in their campaigns against sexual minorities and representations including but not limited to LBGTIQ and sex workers' movements, pornography and queer mainstreaming, in order to restabilize their stronghold and perpetuate their privileges. As a result, nonnormative sexual subjects and communities have been brought centre stage and often stigmatized together due to their "abnormal/shameful" gender identities, object choices and/or sexual practices, while tongzhi activists-often in alliance with other pro-sexual rights groups-are striving to fight back. There is a very urgent need for intellectual work to more acutely articulate, understand and analyze the complexity of the issues raised, the subject formations concerned, and the ways in which different norms line up and become synonymous with one another. This work will contribute to building situated knowledges that will strengthen the discursive power of non-normative sexual-subjects-in-alliance, enabling them to fight against the stigmatization and facilitate more visibility of variance and differences. This book showcases the work of emerging and established scholars - working mostly outside Euro-America-on contemporary tongzhi studies. As one of the first sustained collections of writings on non-normative sexual subjectivities and sexual politics in Hong Kong and China post-1997 published in English, many of the writers included here are uniquely first-generation. Unlike the Euro-American academia where gender (umbrella word including sexuality) and queer studies have been rapidly proliferating at the risk of becoming normalized, these fields are still marked in Mainland China and Hong Kong as territories for the impossible and unthinkable, inhabited by stigma, silence, risk and frustration. In most universities in China and almost all universities in Hong Kong, postgraduate students are guided away from working on topics concerning queer studies and/or sexuality; scholars are discouraged from pursuing or publishing research in these fields. As a result, queer studies scholars have produced relatively little scholarship outside the contexts of Europe, North America and Australia. Scholars based in Asia have had remarkably little opportunity and freedom to access the resources needed to conduct and publish studies regarding LBGTIQ communities and non-normative sexual practices, in our own languages even, not to mention in English. Both of these histories have contributed to a systemic suppression of sexuality and a perpetuation of varieties of hybrid heteronormativities (that also need study) in the formulation and institutionalization of knowledge. In this light, most of the research presented here is primary research, literally-most of the topics and/ or communities studied here have not been studied before. All the authors here conducted their research primarily in a language other than English. Subjects previously unthinkable in the societies they live in and in English are be(com) ing named, spoken, articulated, and communicated through this project. This book could therefore be seen, by its writers as well as its readers, as an act of disclosure. Like most acts of disclosure, a certain strategic essentialism would be considered historically necessary by writers in this book while the collection as a whole resists the normalizing logic of the modernized privileged queer agent.5 As a project of "continuous deconstruction of the tenets of positivism at the heart of identity politics", the Euro-American critique of queer studies "disallows any positing of a proper subject of or object for the field by insisting that queer has no fixed political referent" (Eng, Halberstam and Muñoz 3). However, in many parts of the rest of the world today, identity politics have not made their way into a core part ("heart") of our culture as most subjects could not afford to politicize one's identity. The Chinese translation of "queer" has also been largely unable to go beyond academic circles in China and Hong Kong.6 With Queer Eye for the Straight Guy widely consumed on Hong Kong mainstream television (entitled in Chinese as Fenhong jiu bing, literally meaning The Pink Rescue Team, thus avoiding the untranslatability of "queer" and the potential confrontation in the suggested opposition/separation between queer and straight) and on YouTube, queer consumerism has popularized itself as one of the coolest parts of Western globalization. By rechanneling expressions of seemingly non-normative desires only into commodity culture this form of queerness helps to serve rather than challenge the hegemonic hierarchies of sexualities. Resistance to the (queer) normativity seemingly offered by the Americancentric (subjectless) agent, as summarized by Eng, Halberstam and Muñoz, also needs to be problematized. In this age of globalized "queer liberalism", not only does that normativity need to be foregrounded and interrogated as "variegated, striated, contradictory" (Villarejo), it is also important to remember that normativity as a relative ideal might not be accessible for many people in most parts of the world. As a performative façade fraught with fission, consumed and upheld with ongoing-but-never-to-be-exposed sacrifices and sweat, it is practically impossible and thus always desirable. I began to learn this from the following experience. Undergraduates in Cultural Studies at the school where I teach are required to work on an article-length thesis under supervision in their final year. Last year one of my students, K., wanted his thesis to be on "Straight-boy Complexes of Hong Kong Gays". Mainly based on his self-inquiry, his personal observations of friends around him, interviews and focus group discussions with friends and acquaintances, his project tried to understand how and why Hong Kong gay boys-especially "sissies" like himself-seemed to have an unyielding fixation on straight-looking guys in spite of repeated hurt, rejection and shaming. In the second tutorial, in my most gentle and understanding voice, I asked him if he had considered these "complexes" as constituted at least partly by self-loathing homophobia. Much to my surprise, with a big nodding smile he responded he had certainly asked himself this. He didn't tell me what his answer was. Later in his paper, he concluded by suggesting that these fantasies to date or have straight boys might be closely akin to a naturalized/socialized desire to access normativity-to be as close to being normal as possible because it is through sleeping with straight boys that one can imagine being close to getting married, having children and building families. Thus the moment of being closest to normativity is also the moment of confirming the impossibility of one's desire is also the moment of knowing one's queerness. It is only upon acknowledgement of one's not being straight that one needs to put one's finger on straightness in other ways, including in ways apparently impossible. In other words, my simplistic and presumptuous question had failed to register the complex processes of construction of and negotiation with normativity within subjects who are deprived of the right or the option or resist to be normal to start with. With "As Normal As Possible"- The title of this collection-the emphasis is on the two "as"es; how its meanings change aaaasssss it moves along the conditions that define it. In what ways does normativity produce (im)possibilities for our sexualities; how do we stretch and resist the hegemony of normativity and survive to redefine, make productive and/or transform its violence and tensions in our be(come)ings? When it is given that certain forms of sexuality could not be "normal" period, the challenges for the continual and thriving existence of non-normative sexual subjects reside between the operations of at least these two levels (among others) simultaneously: Accessing "normal" as a possibility and transforming "normal" into "possible".
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAs Normal As Possible: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender in Mainland China and Hong Kong
PublisherHong Kong University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9789882205727
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


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