Proto transgenderal homoerotic traditions in pre modern asian pacific island societies
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Proto-Transgenderal & Homoerotic Traditions in Pre-Modern Asian & Pacific Island Societies. by Pauline Park. Presented at the Asian American & Pacific Islander Pre-Conference Institute NGLTF Creating Change Conference 2011 Minneapolis 3 February 2011. Queer API History.

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Proto-Transgenderal & Homoerotic Traditions in Pre-Modern Asian & Pacific Island Societies

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Proto transgenderal homoerotic traditions in pre modern asian pacific island societies

Proto-Transgenderal & Homoerotic Traditions in Pre-Modern Asian & Pacific Island Societies

by Pauline Park

Presented at the Asian American & Pacific IslanderPre-Conference Institute

NGLTF Creating Change Conference 2011Minneapolis3 February 2011


Queer api history

Queer API History

  • Misconception that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender” (LGBT) constitutes a purely modern phenomenon

  • Pre-modern Asian and Pacific Islander societies had what could be termed “proto-transgenderal” and homoerotic traditions

  • Importance of LGBT/queer APIs to address misconception in API communities: identification as LGBT due to white influence


Proto transgenderal

Qing dynasty (18th c.) illustration of male love observed


Chinese queer history male homosexuality

Chinese Queer History: Male Homosexuality

  • China has homoerotic and proto-transgenderal traditions going back centuries

  • “Passion of the cut sleeve” (duànxiù断袖)

    • The love of Emperor Ai of Han (27 BC-1 AD) for his male favorite, Dong Xian (董賢)

  • “Half-eaten peach” (yútáo余桃)

    • Zhou dynasty Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公) (534-403 BC) and his male lover, Mizi Xia(彌子瑕)

  • Since times of Mizi Xia and Dong Xian, the “half-eaten peach” and the “cut sleeve” have been euphemisms for male homosexuality in China


  • Proto transgenderal

    Qing dynasty illustration of male love (18th c.)


    Chinese queer history beijing opera

    Chinese Queer History: Beijing Opera

    • Tradition of the female role (dan 旦) in Beijing opera, as dramatized in Farewell My Concubine, the 1993 film by Chen Kaige, starring Leslie Cheung as the male actor and singer who plays women’s roles on stage.


    Chinese queer history lesbianism

    Chinese Queer History: Lesbianism

    • Tradition of lesbianism and female bisexuality in traditional China, though more difficult to find documentation than male homosexuality and bisexuality

    • Golden Orchid Association (Jinglanhui) was a Chinese women’s organization that celebrated “passionate friendships” and embraced same-sex intimacy

      • Origins of Jinglanhui have been traced as far back as Qing dynasty

      • Members of group participated in ceremonies of same-sex unions, complete with wedding feasts and exchange of ritual gifts (see Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol & Spirit, 1997, p. 161)

      • Women of Golden Orchid Association engaged in sexual practices described as “grinding tofu”


    Lesbians religious orders in china

    Lesbians & Religious Orders in China

    • “Rubbing Mirror Society” founded in Guandong province in 17th century by Buddhist nun, and members participated in same-sex unions (see Cassell, p. 237)

      • Eventually known as the “Ten Sisters” by 19th century, the society was called the Mojing Dang

    • In mid-19th century, philosophy of Jaitang became popular (see Cassell, p. 108)

      • Emerging out of syncretic Taoist/Buddhist milieu, philosophy of Jaitang expressed itself through communal living in “vegetarian halls” or “spinsters’ houses,” which emphasized gender equality among members who revered Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion


    Images of guanyin

    Images of Guanyin

    Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion

    Guanyin statue in a Chinese temple in Thailand


    Guanyin transgendered deity

    Guanyin, Transgendered Deity?

    • Called the “Goddess of Mercy,” Guanyin—“She who hears the cries of the world”—is a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara, the male Buddha of the Pure Land who transforms into a female one (Vern L. Bullough, cited in Cassell, 1997)

    • Revered by Chinese Buddhists and Daoists, Guanyin has special place in hearts of transgendered Chinese and Asians who know the transgenderal version of deity’s story

    • In Tibet, the Gelug (or “Gelugpa”—”Yellow Hat”) sect of Buddhism has been associated with same-sex relations between monks in its institutions, especially in the monastery at Sera (see Cassell, p. 10)


    Japanese male homosexuality

    Japanese Male Homosexuality

    • Long tradition of homosexuality in Japan, from samurai to Buddhist monks (see Gary Leupp, Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, University of California, 1997)

    • Japanese used several terms to refer to male homoeroticism, including nanshoku (male eros), wakashudo (the way of youths), nando (the way of men), bido (the beautiful way) and hido (the secret way)

    • The Great Mirror of Male Love (Nanshoku Okagami) is collection of 40 homoerotic stories from 1687 by Ihara Saikaku (1642-93) that depicts nanshoku tradition of male love in its variety


    Japan the kabuki onnagata

    Japan & the Kabuki Onnagata

    • Tradition of the onnagata, male actors who played women’s roles in the kabuki theater

    A samurai kisses a kabuki actor in a shunga hand scroll(Miyagawa Issho, c. 1750)

    Tamasaburo, the celebrated kabuki onnagata


    Korean queer history

    Korean Queer History

    • Korea has at least four distinct traditions that anticipate contemporary LGBT identities

      • (1) Hwarang warriors—sometimes referred to as the “flower boys of Silla” (dynasty that united the Korean peninsula in 7th century)—elite corps of archers who dressed in long flowing gowns and wore make-up

      • (2) Namsadang, troupes of actors who went from village to village

        • Among namsadang, youths played women’s roles, as in Elizabethan theater. It is said that youths were often lovers of older men in corps.

        • Homoeroticism of namsadang tradition was dramatized in The King and the Clown (Wang-ui Namja왕의 남자), 2005 Korean film by Lee Jun-ik. Film depicts relationship between Yeonsangun, king of Joseon (Chosun) dynasty, who falls in love with a beautifully epicene young actor from a namsadang troupe.


    Proto transgenderal

    The King and the Clown starred Gam Wu-seong as Jangsaeng (left), Lee Jun Ki as Gonggil (right), and Jeong Jin-yeong as King Yeonsan (center) and broke all box office records at the time of its release in 2005-2007.


    Korean boy wives shamans

    Korean “Boy-Wives” & Shamans

    • (3) Tradition of “boy-wives,” in which youths wed older men and are recognized as wives of the men

    • (4) Paksu mudang, male shaman who performed women’s roles in ancient shamanic, spiritual tradition that Koreans brought into Korean peninsula from eastern Siberia in pre-historic times

    Korean mudang


    South and southeast asian queer history

    South and Southeast Asian Queer History

    • In South Asia and Southeast Asia, many examples of homoerotic and proto-transgenderal traditions

      • Kathooey (often translated as “ladyboys”) of Thailand

      • Hijra of India, eunuchs who have undergone ritual castration in order to serve as temple priestesses in a tradition that has survived in India to the present day (see, for example, Michael G. Peletz, “Transgenderism and Gender Pluralism in Southeast Asia since Early Modern Times,” in Current Anthropology, Volume 47, Number 2, April 2006)


    Thailand the kathooey

    Thailand & the Kathooey

    • The 2003 film Beautiful Boxer (บิวตี้ฟูล บ๊อกเซอร์) tells the true story of Parinya Charoenphol (“Nong Toom”), a kathooey who becomes a champion in the sport of Thai kick boxing (muay thai)


    Pacific islander identities

    Pacific Islander Identities

    • Pacific Islands have many homoerotic and proto-transgenderal traditions

      • mahu in Hawai’i

      • fa’afafine in Samoa (see film The Transgender Taboo)

      • fakaleiti in Tonga

      • vaka sa lewa lewa in Fiji

      • rae rae in Tahiti

      • fafafine in Niue

      • akava’ine in the Cook Islands (New Zealand AIDS Foundation, cited in To Be Who I Am: Kia noho au ki toku ano ao, a report by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, 2007, p. 25)


    New zealand the maori

    New Zealand & the Maori

    • Maori of New Zealand have several different terms for those whose gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth, including whakawahine, whakaaehinekiri, tangata ira wahine, hinehi, and hineua (for transgendered women) and tangata ira tane (for trans men) (op cit.)

    transman (tangata ira tane) and transwoman (hineua)(Rebecca Swan photos for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission report on transgender discrimination, To Be Who I Am)


    India the hijra

    India & the Hijra

    • Individuals nowadays termed as transgender, who occupy shamanic roles in their cultures’ spiritual traditions is significant in discussing proto-transgenderal identities and practices in pre-modern Asian and Pacific Islander societies

    • In India, as mentioned before, there is tradition of the hijra, whose lives are documented in Harsh Beauty, a 2005 film by Alessandra Zeka

      • Hijra undergo ritual castration and devote themselves to Hindu goddess Bahuchara Mata, living in group houses known as jemadh, as described in Serena Nanda’s classic work, Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India (1990)


    Korea the mudang

    Korea & the Mudang

    • Similarly mentioned before, there is the mudang—a priest-like figure in Altaic shamanism

      • In that culture—the oldest level of Korean society, predating introduction of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism into peninsula by the Chinese—the mudang was always a woman but not necessarily female

      • Significant number of mudang were male, and some paksu mudang (male mudang) may have lived as women as well as performed sacred rites and rituals of the mudang spiritual tradition


    Images of the hijra the mudang

    Images of the Hijra & the Mudang

    Hijra in the film Harsh Beauty

    Korean mudang


    Vietnam the o m u tradition the ng c

    Vietnam, the Đạo Mẫu tradition & the đồng cô

    • Vietnam also has shamanic tradition, known as Đạo Mẫu, presided over by shamans, many of whom are transgendered

      • Filmmaker Nguyễn Trịnh Thi documented this tradition in Love Man Love Woman, her 2007 documentary about Master Lưu Ngọc Đức, one of the most prominent spirit mediums in Hanoi

      • In the Đạo Mẫu tradition, it is usually feminine males (referred to as đồng cô) such as Master Lưu Ngọc Đức who presides over the country’s popular worship of mother goddesses

      • Master Lưu Ngọc Đức is but one of many examples of proto-transgenderal shamanic traditions that have survived into 21st century


    Sulawesi the bissu

    Sulawesi & the Bissu

    • Another such tradition is that of the bissu, documented in the 2005 film, The Last Bissu: Sacred Transvestites of South Sulawesi, Indonesia by Rhoda Grauer

      • The Long Island University professor’s documentary focuses on Puang Matoa Saidi, a contemporary bissu priest who is attempting to keep the bissu tradition alive

    Master Lưu Ngọc Đức

    Sulawesi bissu


    Closing thoughts

    Closing Thoughts

    • In examining the history of homoerotic and proto-transgenderal traditions in pre-modern Asian and Pacific Islander societies, we must be wary of romanticizing such traditions or failing to recognize significant differences between “them” and “us” — contemporary queer LGBT/queer APIs, especially those in the diaspora

    • Those ancient traditions are embedded in societies not characterized by equality of age, gender, or class relations; many aspects of homoeroticism and proto-transgenderal identity might offend our egalitarian sensibilities

    • We must know LGBT/queer API history in order to counter homophobia & transgenderphobia and re-insert ourselves in the governing narratives of our communities of origin


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