Academic journal article Genders

The Lack of Chinese Lesbians: Double Crossing in Blue Gate Crossing

Academic journal article Genders

The Lack of Chinese Lesbians: Double Crossing in Blue Gate Crossing

Article excerpt

[1] Although no critic has noted this, it still appears trite and painfully embarrassing to proclaim: "There are no lesbians in Chinese societies." After all, it is almost a cliche to argue that sexuality is a construct. Thirty years ago, Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality examined how power structures in the nineteenth-century had defined homosexuals as a "species," repressing and at the same time, defining them, giving a voice to the love that dares not speak its name. Following Foucault, historian Jonathan Ned Katz traces the etymology of the terms "homosexual" and "heterosexual" only to uncover that their definitions change over the century. He concludes: "Radical social constructionists ... posit the historical relativity of sexual behaviors, as well as of identities, meanings, categories, groups, and institutions. Such relativity theory ... remains subversive ... for it challenges our stubborn, ingrained idea of an essential eternal heterosexuality and homosexuality" (179). It is hardly a great leap to apply the relativity theory to the word "lesbian." Indeed, Judith Halberstam argues that "lesbian" is a term produced by the politicized powers "of the rise of feminism and the development of what Foucault calls a homosexual 'reverse discourse'" in the mid to late twentieth-century and since the term is situated in a specific time, it "cannot be the transhistorical label for all same-sex activity between women" (51). By extension, neither can the term "lesbian" be transnational if it means differently to women in different cultures. Hence, discourses on sexuality ought to be culturally and historically specific.

[2] However, given the hegemonic academic hold of Western discourses and the lack of lexicon regarding sexuality in the Chinese language, it is impossible that terms are not translated. "Queer" is translated into "ku'er" and "homosexuality" into "tongxing ai" or "tongxing lian" (which literally means same-sex love). Even though "tongxing lian"is translated from the West, in its mistranslation, something is transmogrified, lost, and reconfigured for "tongxing lian" or same-sex love, an emotion, is not the same as the clinical species of homosexuality. Furthermore, in translating Chinese back to English, there is a double crossing, a doubly "lost-in-translation"-ness. In the Chinese lexicon, "lesbian" is a translated word from the West. If thoughts are defined by words, then in the Chinese imagination, there are no "lesbians." In this article, I will examine the consequences of the nondescript "lesbian" in Chinese societies through Blue Gate Crossing (2002), a contemporary coming-of-age Taiwanese film about a teenage "lesbian" and the film's engagement with Western discourses. While I appreciate that China and Taiwan (and other countries with large Chinese populations) are affected by globalization in different ways, I have conflated the countries as "Chinese societies" since my analysis focuses on how the Chinese language acts as a reverse discourse to Western theories.

Burdensome Names

[3] While Katz and Halberstam argue from a social constructionist's point of view, the more basic fact that there is no neologism for the term "lesbian" in Chinese lexicon points out that there are truly no "lesbians" in Chinese societies. Tze-lan Sang uncovers the genealogy of the word "tongxing lian" in her book, The Emerging Lesbian, although she overlooks the term she is more interested in--"lesbian." When one mentions "tongxing lian," one usually refers to the male homosexual. A "lesbian" is a "nu tongxing lian" (a female homosexual), a mere addition of the word "female" as a prefix to "homosexual": it is hardly a translated word. Furthermore, as Wah-shan Chou evinces in his book, Tongzhi, not many in Chinese societies identify with the terminology of "tongxing lian." Judith Butler in "'Dangerous Crossing'" remarks, "At issue is how to read the name as a site of identification, a site where the dynamic of identification is at play" (Bodies 143). …

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