Queer: A Term from/of the Global South



Another term we meant to question in this issue is the word “Queer.” For this, we turn to Petrus Liu who argues that queer is not an exclusively Western identity and should start from non-Western experiences and communities, and urges us to consider Marxist political analysis of an asymmetric but interconnected world, rather than cultural differences, as a useful way to decenter queer theory from its US paradigm.

Thien Ngoc Ngo Rioufol Funambulist
Cruising Again by Thiên Ngoc Ngô-Rioufol.

“Is homosexuality a Western concept?” “Is queer theory Eurocentric?” As a transnational scholar of color with deep roots in Sinophone communities, I have encountered these questions in all stages of my academic career and grassroots activism. My friends in China and Taiwan like to tell me that “tongzhi” is not gay in the Western sense because the basic sociological unit of Sinophone cultures is the family rather than the individual. An uncritical application of an US style of sexual politics risks presenting a country like the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—where coming-out is not a common goal and same-sex marriage has not been legalized—as culturally backward. Moreover, the conflation of tongzhi with Western homosexuality overlooks premodern China’s rich tradition of same-sex erotic relations, tolerance, and harmony, for which there is no Western equivalence.

There are clearly good reasons for rejecting the universalizing claims of queer theory. In my own writing and activism, however, I have been less interested in defending the singularity of East Asian cultures than finding ways for queer theory to expand its horizons through engaging non-Western histories and epistemologies.