- Contact Moments: The Politics of Intercultural Desire in Japanese Male-Queer Cultures by Katsuhiko Suganuma
I had a very resistive reaction when I was first introduced to queer theory in my undergraduate course on sexual identity and communication at San Francisco State University in 2004. Born and raised in Japan, I felt that queer theory did not articulate my everyday experiences as a gay Japanese international student. Queer discourse ‘color-blinded’ my intersectional knowledge of negotiating racialized, gendered, class, and foreignized marginalization in white hetero/homonormative spaces. My strong reaction to queer theory, and my reading of queer-of-color scholarship, promoted my on-going intellectual journey of researching at the intersection of queer and intercultural studies.
From this intellectual and political space, I review Katsuhiko Suganuma’s book, Contact Moments: The Politics of Intercultural Desire in Japanese Male-Queer Cultures. Suganuma maintains that male-male homoeroticism has been historically prevalent in Japan. Cultural practices of male-male homoeroticism took place among Buddhist practitioners and samurai warriors in the context of pre-modern and industrialized Japan. However, today’s Japanese male-queers are compelled to idolize and adapt the “advanced” white/western constructions of gay lifestyles in the context of post-second world war. Suganuma argues that Japanese male-queers view their cultures as “backward,” and they desire Anglo-American bodies as masculine, superior, and powerful. In the cross-cultural context of local/global and Japan/west dichotomies, the neocolonial and hierarchal binary between Japan and the west is reinforced in Japanese male-queer cultural spaces.
The Japan/west binary serves contested, contradictory, and dynamic functions in (re)producing Japanese male-queer identities in the post-World War II context. Suganuma asserts that Japan/west binary discourses “functioned as identitarian templates against which they measured their own queer mode of [End Page 215] being, which was always tentative and motile” (155). The illustration of yin (陰) and yang (陽) philosophy helps to further localize Suganuma’s argument. For example, the yin-yang philosophy, which emerged from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism and Confucianism, does not emphasize the linear thinking of extreme opposition. The oppositional nature of yin-yang cannot be separated in human life. The on-going coordination of yin-yang produces a harmonious space of energy-ki (気). In this sense, coordinating colonial hierarchies of queer Japan as “backward” (yin) and gay West as “advanced” (yang) reproduces a space of intercultural encounter (ki) in which the contested, contradictory, and dynamic natures of Japanese male-queer cultures are repeatedly altered, shaped, and reinforced. Western gay imperialism is simultaneously adapted and resisted in Japanese male-queer cultural environments. In this context, hybrid natures of Japanese male-queer cultures, which are betwixt and between “backward” queer Japan and “advanced” gay west, are uniquely (re)negotiated and (re)produced in the post-Second World War historical continuum.
Complicating today’s Japanese male-queer cultures beyond the Japan/west binary discourse requires attention. In recent years Suganuma observes “the influence of the local/global, or Japan/west binary has become less significant than the alternatives in the present, including that of cross-cultural contacts within Asia” (182). Before the end of the Second World War, Japan colonized various Asian/Pacific nations such as Korea, Taiwan, China, and Philippines. After the surrender of Japan, the U.S. reformed the Japanese societal, political, and economic structure between 1945 and 1952. Since then, Japan has become the most economically powerful nation in the Asia/Pacific region. Given today’s global capitalism, the transnational flows of cultures, materials, and people between Japan and Asian/pacific nations are frequently (re)connected. In this global context, inter/Asia-Pacific encounters are also becoming visible in Japanese male-queer cultures. Suganuma reinforces that “Japan’s male-queer culture is making increased reference to other Asia queer cultures” (182). Thus, the constructions of Japanese male-queer cultures are constantly (re)negotiated within and beyond the Japan/West binary in a larger global context. Therefore, unpacking Japanese male-queer cultures...