Tue, Aug 14, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Book review: Queer Politics and Sexual Modernity in Taiwan

A lack of first-hand accounts and an overemphasis on academic gobbledygook makes “Queer Politics” practically impenetrable

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Queer Politics and Sexual Modernity in Taiwan, by Hans Tao-ming Huang.

I don’t think I’m particularly stupid. But I have to admit that I struggled with this book for many hours, and only came out at the end with a tiny amount of information on the author’s position, and almost nothing about gay life in 21st century Taiwan.

The ostensible reason for this, of course, is that this is an academic publication. Academic books these days are academics speaking to academics, plus perhaps their struggling students (many of whom will find this book as difficult as I did, even more so when they’re reading it with English as their second language).

What Queer Politics and Sexual Modernity in Taiwan is about appears to include the consideration of a new kind of sexual orthodoxy in which self-styled feminist women ally themselves with the old male ruling positions. They adjust their “feminism” so that it endorses compulsory heterosexuality and the monogamous family system, and then set up as their targets homosexuals and prostitutes, not because they have much in common, but because they are both seen as the enemies of “family values,” supposedly so essential to Asian culture.

Books like this are all very well in their own narrowly-conceived context, i.e. the academic study of the relationship between sexual reality at a grass-roots level and the over-arching, often abstract, moral conceptions put out by the state. What they lack, paradoxically, is any extensive attention to this aforesaid grassroots reality.

Where in this book, for example, are portraits of gay individuals, with interview-based accounts of their experiences? Where are depictions of the clubbing venues, the swimming-pools, the beaches, the saunas, or the cruising parks that make up much of the gay life in a city like Taipei? Almost none of these are present in this book, other than an oft-repeated reference to 228 Peace Park and the 1983 novel Crystal Boys (partly set in that park), a book that’s very frequently referred to. But of today’s 228 Peace Park there’s scarcely a word.

Publication Notes

Queer Politics and Sexual Modernity in Taiwan

By Hans Tao-ming Huang

208 pages

Hong Kong University Press

Paperback: Asia

Reading this book, my mind inevitably went back to the celebrated “beast love” case of 2004 in which Josephine Ho (何春蕤), the head of the Center for the Study of Sexualities of the English Department at Taiwan’s National Central University, was dragged in front of a judge at the alleged instigation of just such a “neo-feminist” grouping to answer charges of having culpably provided her graduate students in human sexualities with a hyper-link to a US organization devoted to sex with animals. She argued that she wasn’t promoting such activities, merely studying them (as one might study Fascism without in any way endorsing it), and was duly declared not guilty. The author of Queer Politics and Sexual Modernity in Taiwan teaches at this university, and thanks Ho in his acknowledgements, so that one knows what he means when he refers to a new kind of middle-class, married “feminist” who’s a staunch ally of state Confucianism and an enemy of everything he stands for, just as much as feminists 30 years ago would have been by and large his allies.

It’s important to point out that this book is better than many; indeed, in the context of “queer theory” and so on, it’s probably something of which Hans Tao-ming Huang (黃道明) can be proud. This doesn’t detract, however, from the general point that academic publishing in the humanities no longer speaks to the educated general reader — to, let’s say, doctors, lawyers, journalists or teachers — but only to fellow specialists in an often very narrow field.

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