Academic journal article ARIEL

Floating Currencies and "Colliding Worlds": Postcolonial Capitalism, Queer Diaspora, and Multicultural Recognition in Gold by the Inch

Academic journal article ARIEL

Floating Currencies and "Colliding Worlds": Postcolonial Capitalism, Queer Diaspora, and Multicultural Recognition in Gold by the Inch

Article excerpt

When encountering a dark-skinned "burly Lao guy" being "serviced" by "some little light-skinned queen" in the bushes of Bangkok's Lumpini Park (Chua 175), the unnamed narrator of Lawrence Chua's novel Gold by the Inch (1998) is "transfixed" by the mans emotional and erotic detachment even as the queen is "really getting into it" (175, 176). As the narrator and the man in the park "regard each other with the skeptical detachment of consumers in Foodland," the narrator observes how "[u]nder this sky, we are neither hetero- nor homosexual. We are just smart shoppers" (176). While it appears that this observation is similar to the narrator's claims elsewhere in the novel about the production of bodies as "prospects" and "merchandise" in postcolonial sexual economies (18, 63), it is far more than a lament over capitalism's commodi-fication of everything or a jeremiad against sex tourism in Southeast Asia. Rather, his comment marks the insufficiency of Anglo-American categories of racial and sexual identity in accounting for the multicultural histories and subjectivities specific to the region. That is, when spatialized to "this sky" and Bangkok's sexual economy, Western configurations of sexual identity (hetero- and homosexual) come unmoored from their referents.

This moment of recognition between the two characters is not one of politically calcified "out" gay masculinities, and the sexual public temporarily produced in this exchange is not that of gay male community. (1) Instead, this scene highlights the metastability of both racial and sexual subjectivities in multicultural Southeast Asia that Chua emphasizes throughout the novel. The characters' subjectivities are, like the flow of global currency markets, metastable in the sense that they are "stable only long enough to enable transactions to occur and [change with subsequent] transactions" (Cetina and Preda 116). While Anglo-American multiculturalisms take the differential incorporation of racialized and sexualized subjects into the body politic as a sign of both liberal modernity and also the non-modernity of the postcolonies, Southeast Asian multiculturalisms are the result of much longer histories of Asian migration. In the latter, subjects persistently renegotiate their differences and heterogeneity in ways that do not easily resolve into liberal identity categories. As "smart shoppers" (Chua 176), the narrator and the man in the park are maximizing value in this dynamic environment. They recognize one another not because they occupy similar identity categories such as gay or Asian but because of the specific way that transnational movements, racialized sexual desires, and local economies have situated them in place and time.

The narrator gives similar accounts of other sexual encounters as he returns to Southeast Asia in the mid-1990s following his father's death and his breakup with Jim, his bourgeois white lover. Organized in three sections that juxtapose vignettes and prose fragments that oscillate between first- and second-person narration, Gold loosely coheres around geographic markers: the first and last sections are set primarily in Bangkok's hotels and gay bars, and the middle section is set in the Malaysian and Singaporean homes of the narrator's extended family, whose patriarchs first arrived in Singapore as Teochew coolie laborers. Value and equivalence serve as central themes as the narrator unsuccessfully disarticulates the economic contours of his relationship with Thong, a Bangkok call-boy, from what he hopes to be a relationship founded on love and un-mediated by the market. The narrative grows increasingly disjointed as it seems to buckle under the pressure of multiple, non-analogous histories until, in the final section, the narrator returns from Penang to Bangkok where he acknowledges that his relationship with Thong has come to an end; the narrator also learns that what he understood to be love was merely an affective form of capital--a market intimacy organized by the circuits of gay globality. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.