Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 572-574
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Queer Diasporas. Edited by Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler. Series Q, edited by Michèle Aina Barale et al. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000. Pp. vii + 306. $54.95 (cloth). $18.95 (paper).
The title Queer Diasporas summons images of Rock Hudson parting the Russian River to save Bay Area queers or Quentin Crisp beckoning hordes of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people from Greenwich Village and Fire Island to the relative safety of the Hamptons. Perhaps English professors are too literal, but the term "diaspora" used to denote the involuntary dispersal of homogeneous (as opposed to homosexual) groups, such as Jews and Africans, from their lands of origin. While few would imply that queers haven't suffered persecution and displacement, it does seem needlessly insensitive to Jews and blacks to appropriate the language and the oppression of millions of people who were expelled and banished from their homelands.
The editors of Queer Diasporas strain from the very beginning by suggesting an origin in Genesis: "although this is not in any way a 'gay' displacement, the simultaneity of the expulsion from Eden and the installation of heterosexuality suggest that Western sexual and diasporal discourses are fundamentally, if anxiously, related" (p. 2). The connection is, alas, more anxious than fundamental. It is a given, of course, that the nature of sexuality changes as it "moves between officially designated spaces" and "realignments of identity, politics, and desire take place" (p. 3). A long time has passed since anyone has argued for an absolutely essentialist definition of sexuality. Even Patton herself notes that "it makes no sense to speak of diaspora or return, but of movement ever outward from the center" (p. 21). The title and the attempt by the editors to follow up on it in their introduction turn out to be needless distractions, for Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler have assembled a collection of competent and compelling articles of original scholarship (with bits of life writing included, as well).
Patton opens the collection with her powerful essay, "Migratory Vices," which contains the same level of brilliant insight that she has brought to all her writing on AIDS, including Inventing AIDS (New York: Routledge, 1990) [End Page 572] and Fatal Advice (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). She demonstrates how countries such as Taiwan "registered their epidemics in the bodies who most nearly matched the image of the epidemic" (p. 17). Though Taiwan billed itself as a country where "AIDS arrived late," the epidemic was present as early as 1984 in its hemophiliac population (p. 17).
The strong suit of this anthology, laid out in the opening essay, is its international scope and non-Eurocentric focus on sexualities. Though, like all such collections, the countries covered are rather hit-and-miss, Queer Diasporas analyzes aspects of Asian and Latin American cultures with great success. "Dying to Tell: Sexuality and Suicide in Imperial Japan," by Jennifer Robertson, and "Sexing the Kitchen: Okoge and Other Tales of Contemporary Japan," by Sandra Buckley, are excellent companion pieces (which logically should have followed one another rather than appearing at opposite ends of the book). Robertson details the disparate treatment accorded heterosexual and lesbian couples whose families attempted to separate them. While heterosexual suicides were often romanticized in Japanese culture, same-sex couples were treated with ridicule, pity, or curiosity (some were relentlessly followed by the press). Buckley connects her own life in Japan with the work of Yoshimoto Banana and the film Okoge. What all three have in common is the importance of food to ritual and language, including gay slang. However, it is dubious how either essay demonstrates the transmigration of culture, except perhaps in how the Japanese might have been seen abroad after the release of the 1992 film.
Another piece about the contemporary world, Martin F. Manalansan IV's "Diasporic Deviants/Divas: How Filipino Gay Transmigrants 'Play with the World,'" follows the Catholic ritual of the Santacruzan as it makes its way from...