Annotation: Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s “Assembling Asian American Men in Pornography” (2010)

Peer-Review: 0

Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. “Assembling Asian American Men in Pornography: Shattering the Self Toward Ethical Manhoods.” Journal of Asian American Studies 13.3 (June 2010): 163-189. Print.

Analyzing two Asian American 2004 porn films–Darrell Hamamoto’s “Yellowcaust” and David Hou’s “Masters of the Pillow”–Shimizu underscores the risks and dangers in current projects of pornographic production that aim to reclaim Asian American sexual representation.  Producing these porn films to counter dominant representations of Asian American masculinity as lacking, the filmmakers privilege heteronormativity and same-race coupling.  Within these problematic frameworks, Asian American masculinity is privileged and defined through the domination of Asian American women–reclaiming them from interracial couplings on-screen–and rejecting queer and asexual Asian American men; of course, lesbians are once again excluded from this equation.  Shimizu argues that the visibility of Asian American men in such porn productions upholds gender hierarchies and heteronormativity; consequently, such representations ironically reinforce notions of Asian American masculinity as lacking and destructively closes off possibilities for exploring and representing sexualities beyond binaristic norms.

According to Hamamoto, dominant images in the media and in porn shape our desire for whiteness and instigate our self-hatred.  Framing Asian Americans as victims within structures of white power, he calls for the assertion of Asian American masculinity over Asian American women “as redemptive of racial wounding” (168).  Shimizu argues, however, that such a reading is overly simplistic and neglects to consider the complex dynamics in which the viewers process their consumption of porn.  She further critiques simplistic assessments of visibility which posit that the mere representation of opposite-sex Asian American couplings in porn is revolutionary.  On the contrary, Shimizu underscores the need for critical analyses of “gendered power” in such porn productions that deny Asian American women their sexual agency and portray gayness as undesirable (170).  Portraying heterosexual sex acts as “the actual order of things,” the filmmakers impose their own meanings through these films and deny viewers the ability to participate with representations as sites in which other possibilities for sexuality may be negotiated (173).

By “shattering of the self,” Shimizu calls for challenging dominant linkages between sex acts and identities such as penetration symbolizing masculinity.  She stresses the opportunity for reconstructing notions of self by first deconstructing such destructive linkages.  One means of doing so is understanding and deconstructing the different forms of sexualization based on gender and their manifestation on screen through porn.  For Asian American women in porn, Shimizu argues that they “use the tools of their subjugation to recast and rewrite their roles” whereas men assert domination over women (180).  The two porn films, Shimizu argues, reinforces notions of sexuality as inherent and coherent.  Therefore, their mission is for men to reassert their (coherent) sexuality over their victimization.  This emphasis and claim of a coherent masculinity as the key for liberation of Asian Americans as a whole represents male narcissism, which Shimizu connects to Hamamoto’s own capitalist ambitions of constructing a porn empire (which would necessitate the presence of Asian American male subjects).

The framing of sexuality as whole and purely in terms of domination and power represses understandings of sexuality as a production that could be negotiated.  In debunking this notion of wholeness and self, Shimizu calls for a productive discourse surrounding sexuality.  Shifted away from concepts of power, we may then redefine masculinity in terms of “ethical manhoods” to stress sexuality as an ethics of care toward the self and toward others.  This necessitates a clearer understanding of power and privilege among individuals, including Asian American men.  Instead of seeing themselves as mere victims, they must understand and acknowledge their own privileges and the powers that their actions may assert.

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Annotation: Roundtable Discussion on “Intersex Practice, Theory, and Activism” (2009)

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Creighton, Sarah M., Greenberg, Julie A., Roen, Katrina, and Volcano, Del LaGrace. “Intersex Practice, Theory, and Activism: A Roundtable Dicussion.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 15.2 (2009): 249 – 260. Print.

A group of activists and scholars gathered to discuss the crucial issues, obstacles, strategies, and goals facing intersex activism. Ranging across multiple personal and professional backgrounds, these activists–Creighton (Gynecologist and researcher), Greenberg (law professor), Volcano (visual artist), and Roen (social scientist)–emphasize the importance of sustaining such a conversation and “building bridges” in order to understand and address activism through multiple channels (259).

One of the most crucial issues facing gender variant individuals is genital surgery. Many infants born with variant sex are either operated on by doctors without the awareness of the parents or executed by the consent of the parent. This leads to questions of what constitutes the best interest of the child as well as the autonomy of the child in determining whether or not ze desires surgery. Legal scholar points to two ways in which the law could be used to address this issue: (1) through legislature preventing surgery and (2) as a means of redress through filing a lawsuit. Yet, several obstacles impede such efforts, including lack of governmental support and the question of who is to file the lawsuit. Other related questions are definition and “normative pressure” (254): who gets to define the child?; how may the child negotiate the category of intersex when it is defined by the medical community that is often oppressive through the individual?; how does one decide when surgery is necessary?

Efforts could be made through other means. For clinicians, they often feel the tension between activists who insist on appreciation of gender/sex differences and social pressures for gender normativity that might be internalized by patients. This tension between desires for social change and individual patient desires may be mediated through other means to ensure the best interest of the patient are met. Clinicians must ensure that parents and patients understand all the benefits and risks of surgery. Clinicians should also discuss all the treatment options available. Indeed, surgery is necessary at times. For older patients, the inability to have sex might be a frustration leading to a decision for surgery. However, alternative treatments such as vagina dilation are available and must be made known to patients. Unfortunately, desire for genitals that appear ‘normal’ lead many to choose surgery and may result in damage to sexual sensation as well as a lack of psychological improvement.

More structural issues then are forms of societal pressure and discrimination against intersex bodies, which are forced to conform to faulty gender and sex binaries. Thus, individuals face “fear of difference and compulsory heterosexuality as well as gender normativity” (253). These social pressures often lead individuals to desire a ‘normal’ appearance and to view surgery as a cure for all their problems. While scholarship and activist work serve as means to change social opinion, education should also be entertaining, as artist Volcano suggests.

Many obstacles still exist in terms of establishing a dialogue and working toward social change. Difficulties exist in reaching across disciplinary boundaries and building relationships between individuals and institutions. Although this article ends on this disappointing note of realities, the formation of this discussion and increasing scholarship/activism on issues of justice for intersex individuals serves as a source of inspiration and hope for an increasing movement.

Annotation: Lili Kim’s “Doing Korean American History in the 21st Century” (2008)

Peer-Review: 0

Kim, Lili M. “Doing Korean American History in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 11.2 (2008): 199-209. Print.

Kim argues that despite the blossoming field of Asian American history in the past several decades, there is a considerable dearth of scholarship in Korean American history in comparison to that produced on its East Asian American counterparts.  This dearth, she argues, is perpetuated not only by a lack of interest in grad students to pursue this field, but it also impedes further scholarship due to the difficulty of researching works already produced.  Analyzing several works produced on the history of Koreans in Hawai’i, Kim illustrates that the task still remains one of “filling gaps” (202).  The same is true, she demonstrates, regarding the invisibility of gender in these narratives.  Kim points to the role of literary production, especially memoirs, as an intervention in voicing Korean American women’s experiences.  In further examining root causes of the dearth in scholarship, Kim posits that the dominant transnational approach at times leads scholars to place too much emphasis on Korea while undermining experiences in the U.S.  Nevertheless, Kim argues that transnational analyses are crucial as international politics constituted a significant role in Korean immigration to the U.S.  Due to the significant lack of documentation regarding Korean immigrant experiences, scholars find themselves actually writing in these histories.  She concludes with underscoring the urgency of producing these works and documenting Korean American history, along with the many exciting new areas of study available to historians, such as the role of globalization in the changing Korean American landscape.

Annotation: Eve Sedgwick’s “How to Bring Your Kids up Gay” (1991)

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Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “How to Bring Your Kids up Gay.” Social Text.  29 (1991): 18-27. Print.

Opening her article with statistics of adolescent suicide rates that are disproportionately higher among gays, Sedgwick attacks the inefficiency of current psychoanalysis and psychiatry in addressing the needs for guiding gay development among children and adolescents.  Instead, the field, though it removed sexual object-choice as pathology, equates gender as natural to the given biological sex as the sole form of proper subjectivity and condemns deviance from this gender as a pathological disorder.  She critiques the works of psychoanalysts—mainly Friedman and Green—that align gender assignment as essential to a healthy self.  She argues that while many people now allegedly adopt a more tolerant attitude towards existent gays, they object to the development of homosexuality among kids and adolescents, which impedes the wish for a world in which gays do not exist.  On the contrary, institutions more frequently take efforts to turn these kids away from homosexuality, rather than facilitating their development.  In a broader sense, Sedgwick shows that the privileging of essentialist explanations of sexuality among scholars is futile in the hope for the dignified treatment, rather than the interference with homosexual bodies, and that there is ultimately no theoretical safe haven for queers without the affirmation of desires and the need for gay people in the world.

Annotation: Soo-Young Chin’s “Asian American Cultural Production” (2000)

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Chin, Soo-Young, Feng, Peter X, and Lee Josephine. “Asian American Cultural Production.” Journal of Asian American Studies 3.3 (2000): 298-282. Print.

Written as an introduction to the journal in 2000, the writers examine the proliferation of discourse around “Asian American cultural production” as a means of re-visioning understandings of ‘culture’ within Asian American Studies.  Temporally, this essay is positioned not only at the turn of the millennium, but also as a middle point between Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts and Kandice Chuh’s Imagine Otherwise.  Consequently, this piece offers an astute analysis of the distinct linkage between “Asian American” and “cultural production” and affords the possibility of extending upon as well as highlighting the limits of both theoretical frameworks.

Framing ‘culture’ within the discourse of cultural nationalism in Asian American Studies, the writers highlight the three forms in which ‘culture’ now manifest: (1) intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; (2) idea about a way of life; and, (3) intellectual and aesthetic activity (271).  Asian American culture, the writers argue, is “inherently activist” (271) given its emergence as resistance against dominant images perpetuated by the hegemonic culture, which possesses representational power.  Thus, discourses around Asian American culture must always address the relationship to this history of activism.  Cultural nationalism was useful in fostering “what [Chele] Sandoval terms an oppositional consciousness” (271; emphasis added) and building a collective political identity.  Furthermore, it beckoned an examination of the everyday in a site of creating Asian American culture and also a site in which problematic ideologies are exposed.

In the debate surrounding ‘culture,’ the writers point to continuing tensions between those with a more theoretical basis in striving for disciplinary legitimacy and academic recognition and those who stress the need to connect act with goals of social activism.  Asian American culture must then negotiate these multiple visions in order to establish the connection between the aesthetic and political that is necessary to effect social change.  The section “The Social Imaginary: Toward a Theory of Cultural Production and Consumption” is particularly apt in conceptualizing the multifaceted players and processes within “cultural production.”  The writers stress the need to examine not only the creation of art, but also its consumption.  Inherent in the examination of consumption are interrogations of who the intended consumers are and why.  The writers beckon us to understand “culture as simultaneously a material and a symbolic production” (273).  This notion echoes needs for critiquing disciplinary boundaries, as argued for in an Asian Americanist critique.  The writers apply Paul Ricoeur’s concept of “the social imaginary” to frame “Asian American” as a collective of history and practices that influence current textual production (experience).  The medium through which this imaginary materializes into experience is the fictive.  In what ways can we extend this framing of Asian American culture as “the fictive” in order to rethink Chuh’s urge to read literature as theory?

Annotation: Lisa Lowe’s “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, and Multiplicity” (1996)

Peer-Review: 0

Lowe, Lisa. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996. 60-83. Print.

Lisa Lowe offers heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity as tools to conceptualize “Asian American Differences” that challenge dominant discussions of authenticity and what it means to “be” an Asian American. She defines heterogeneity as the pluralism within the group of ‘Asian Americans’; hybridity as cultural intermixing due to (often involuntary) histories; and, multiplicity as the positioning of each individual along multiple axes of power (67). Lowe calls for an understanding of film and literature as agents in producing a pluralistic Asian American culture. Furthermore, she appropriates Gramsci’s notion of hegemony in understanding that while this culture includes dominant/racist representations of Asian/Americans, we could actively work to contest such images. Accordingly, Lowe offers examples from several literary works to illustrate the limits of positioning Asian Americans merely in terms of culture—through reinforcing narratives of East versus West in the form of parent-child tensions—as illustrative of this popular and problematic discourse in which critics must use as a point of departure (63).

In stressing cultural differences, Lisa Lowe intervenes in larger discourses within Asian American Studies that seek to examine an Asian American ‘identity’ which privileges commonality over differences. Centering a discourse around race, culture and/or ethnicity continually marginalizes examination of the means through which gender, class, sexuality and other differences intersect and complicate various experiences among Asian Americans. Thus, there are dangers in framing discussions around binaristic concepts such as ‘Old World,’ ‘New World,’ and other terms that seek to establish notions of concrete, static cultures based upon race. As her use of Angela Davis’s quote suggests, focus should be shifted away from people to the agenda: “basing the identity on politics rather than the politics on identity” (75). Lowe’s contribution is significant and transformative for imagining Asian American Studies as a critique that stresses the urgency of understanding past histories and experiences of exclusion while stressing the need to sustain this critique onto the present and into the future. Lisa Lowe’s work is also valuable for sustaining possibilities of coalition building with other scholars/activists while shifting away from identity politics.

Annotation: JeeYeun Lee’s “Toward a Queer Korean American Diaspora” (1998)

Peer-Review: 0

Lee, JeeYeun. “Toward a Queer Korean American Diaspora.” Q & A: Queer in Asian America. Eds. David L. Eng and Alice Y. Hom. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. 185-209.

Lee looks to the analytic of diaspora (based on assumptions of a common origin) as a challenge to the previously more dominant lens of immigration with the U.S. as a common destination for Asian immigrants.  In looking to claim a diasporic history, however, Lee appropriates Stuart Hall and echoes Lowe’s claims of culture as a production in order to argue that histories and notions of a ‘homeland’ are narratives that are imagined and constructed in order to frame and understand current identity formations.  Lee explores the historical relations between the U.S. and Korea that shape the phenomenon of Korean migration to the U.S., stating: “We are here because you were–and are still–there, economically, politically, culturally” (187).  Therefore, the myth of pure desire and choice is dispelled.  At the same time that we consider diaspora as a framework, due to complex and heterogeneous history of Korea, Lee points to the dangers of imagining a romanticized ‘homeland.’  Rather, “the contesting and the contested is home” (191).  The author references Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s “Dictee” as a text that illustrates the means through which the sense of national history upon which personhood is claimed must always be negotiated.

In “Queering the Homeland,” Lee argues that non-normative sexualities could play a role in rearticulating history.  Lee does not offer any specific strategy as the best one, but rather points to the possible benefits from this project of queering.  These consequences include the “critique of exclusive ideas about cultural authenticity” (193) that posit queer sexualities as Western constructs.  I interpret it this way: if we ‘queer’ notions of kinship that pose a common motherland nation, then we might examine history in another way.  Lee also notes dangers in our task of queering the homeland, such as (1) setting a false dichotomy between diasporic and queer, which repeats imperialist narrative of White versus ‘Other’; (2) assuming queerness is inherently a critique and therefore not accounting for the reproduction of exclusionary operations; (3) queering homeland must not be done by glossing over historical contexts and particularities; (4) must not impose Western definitions of sexuality.

At the same time, we must remember that history consists of “modes of representation” (200) and is never fixed and knowable.  In writing this history, we must account for our own subject positions and our methodologies.  Furthermore, we must insist that this task of claiming a queer diasporic history be framed within the present.  It must be used to understand our present and show that “We cannot depend solely on histories to justify our existence.  Queer and diasporic, wherever we are and whoever we fuck, the truth is that we always completely belong” (204).