Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Breaking into the Closet: Negotiating the Queer Boundaries of Asian American Masculinity and Domesticity

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Breaking into the Closet: Negotiating the Queer Boundaries of Asian American Masculinity and Domesticity

Article excerpt

This article concerns Asian American queer masculinity and how the "coming out" process for gay Chinese men and their non-White immigrant families does not fit neatly within neat Western gender distinctions of public/private space. Using the film Ethan Mao as a primary text and case study, I argue for an intersectional approach to the coming out process for racialized sexual minorities. Ethan Mao is a film that tells the story of a Chinese American boy expunged from the home upon his family's discovery of his homosexuality who returns to hold his family members hostage. The fictional story thematizes the indistinct spatial and symbolic boundaries of queer Asian American identity, masculinity, and domesticity. The film observes how gay men of color do not simply come out of the closet but break into it. Through an intersectional queer of color critique, I reconceptualize "the closet" as a synecdoche of the private home space, refiguring it as a contested site of belonging/exclusion to recognize the difficulties of "coming out" for certain queer racial male subjects.

Keywords: Chinese, family, coming out, Asian American, Whiteness, Ethan Mao

"Home" names a place of much ambiguity and violence for many queer subjects. On the one hand, it names the location of familial origins and traditional kinship ties -the place where one originally comes from and supposedly belongs. On the other hand, it marks a contested violent site of struggle that brings up harsh contradictions and unresolved issues. Due to the heteronormative ideas commonly associated with "home", I believe it is necessary to always evaluate what it means to belong to, or even claim, a "home," particularly for queer Asian American men. Many gay men of color are rendered "outsiders among outsiders" due to their dubious status and positionality as multiply marginalized persons within a White* dominated society and White-majority gay community (Aguilar-San Juan, 1998; Otalvaro-Hormillosa, 1999). Through a critical analysis of Quentin Lee's film Ethan Mao, this essay speaks to larger issues of race, class, gender and sexuality for young gay Chinese men in particular, and Asian Americans in general.1 Informed by the ways Asian American subjectivities have been historically figured in the West as non-normative racial subjects antithetical to Whiteness, this essay deconstructs the construction of queer Asian gay masculinity and domesticity not from a positive "pro-gay" standpoint, but from an intersectional queer of color perspective honing in on how certain individuals and groups arbitrate multiple spaces of exclusion.

This "multiple outsider" status applies not only to sexual minorities of color but relates broadly to the historical experience of groups like Chinese Americans in the United States, the only ethnic group barred by federal law from immigration and citizenship under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese racial exclusion, maintained legally for over six decades, created "bachelor societies," demonized as sexually deviant geographies full of opium-using sex-starved criminals, prostitutes, and polygamous non-nuclear families. Spatial ghettoization and institutional segregation forestalled any hope of the Chinese to approximate Anglo-American nuclear family formation, engendering commonplace and enduring stereotypes about the Chinese as alien foreigners and different from Americans, installing the gendered perception of Chinese women as hypersexual entities and Chinese men as feminized, emasculated beings (Espiritu, 1997; Ono & Pham, 2009).2 A reconsideration of Asian American families in the light of queer social formation pushes against the popular tendency to posit them within heteronormative framings of Asian Americans as "model minorities" with good familial upbringing. From the long vantage point of Asian American history and U.S. racial history, "home" is not a stable referent of one's place of belonging, but a contested symbolic terrain that requires us to think about how "queer" subjectivities are constituted through race (Cohen, 1997). …

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