On Queer / Asian / Canadian Critique

For many queer diasporic communities, inclusion within institutionalized forms of national belonging are often illusive, ambivalent, and unresolved. This reality has been the vantage point from which scholars, artists, and activists have traced the contours of Asian Canadian—as a collective term and as a means of pursuing social change. By focusing on diasporic communities, Richard Fung, Shani Mootoo, Wayson Choy, Larissa Lai, Nayan Shah, and many others have convincingly foregrounded how non-normative sexualities exist within transnational circuits of intimacy, mobility, and kinship. They also highlight how queerness functions not just as an identitarian term but as a means of ethically engaging with the world. Queerness, as José Esteban Muñoz reminds us, is that “thing that tells us that the world is not enough, that indeed something is missing” (1). Queerness is a tactic for animating performances of world-making that insist that our now is not necessarily our future. Queerness is a horizon, a utopic futurity that we sense and that we create. This horizon is made up of differently situated investments, gestures, pleasures, and desires culled from the debris of our past that may be reoriented, reimagined, and reactivated in unexpected ways to craft a more humane and just reality. In this regard, queerness has been an essential tool for problematizing the insidiousness of multiculturalism and settler colonialism—processes that rely on the occlusion of racist and colonial histories.

Despite such crucial interventions however, one could argue that Asian Canadian critique has not been queer enough. It has yet to fully examine the lived realities of sexually marginalized Filipinos/as for example. Such an oversight compartmentalizes certain queer archives within an “area studies” framework that views global south sexualities as always already foreign to Canadian culture and society. My research on LGBTQ Filipinos/as in Canada further demonstrates that the paucity of knowledge around these communities is not accidental but is in fact systemic. This absence stems from the differently situated hierarchies and material inequities that already exist within ethno-specific categories like Asian Canadian. As Roland Coloma, Ethel Tungohan, and John Paul Catungal note, Filipinos/as experience high levels of de-professionalization and disempowerment that limit their full participation in society. This absence is also a symptom of migration research that unwittingly reifies ethno and homo nationalistic ideals of gender, masculinity, citizenship, and cultural acceptance, most evident in studies that focus on the lack of role models for boys and men. These heteronormative tropes are reified when Filipino/a Canadian studies circulate notions of labour, leadership, and kinship which unwittingly exclude those whose lives do not fit into currently existing theoretical models or whose experiences are illegible within normalized analytical schema. Martin Manalansan has demonstrated that such heteronormative investments in transnational migration research offer a limited view of the realities that many diasporic Filipinos/as—queer and non-queer identified—face on the ground.

In order for Asian Canadian critique to be truly radical and capacious then, we must continually question the ways in which these three terms—queer/ Asian/ Canadian—exist within a nationalist paradigm that functions through the continued disempowerment of certain communities and the privileging of others. We must interrogate how the terms queer / Asian / Canadian coalesce and are severed from each other, depending on the vastly different geopolitical stakes of their deployment. By acknowledging that these terms exist in critical tension, we can then pursue interdisciplinary and intersectional ways of thinking that are attentive to the machinations of marginalization, power, and privilege. This critical approach also enables us to re-evaluate the political contributions of queer of color critique—a predominantly United States based framework that has mapped the confluences of racialization and sexuality—from a comparative North American frame. In so doing, we can problematize narratives of national exceptionalism that erase racist, settler colonial, and homophobic histories within Canada. A reanimated queer of colour critique shifts our political concerns beyond the United States, as we understand how queers of colour in Canada have thrived and survived despite the disempowerment they face. Such a shift is needed as certain queer communities (often white and upwardly mobile) have been allowed entry into facile notions of acceptable citizenship through laws normalizing domesticity, inclusion, and tolerance. Such a shift is needed as contemporary social movements against anti-black racism and settler colonialism in Canada continue to lay bare the state’s systemic dehumanization of Black and Indigenous bodies through strategies that pit minoritized communities against each other. Such a shift is needed as we witness globalization’s inequitable distribution of resources between the global north and the global south—a process that has also influenced the migration and movement of diasporic, often precarious, communities into Canada. Queer utopias are made to cross borders. The political usefulness of queer / Asian / Canadian critique thus lies in its ability to acknowledge the multiple histories that make up our relationship to Canada, as a geographic site, as an ideation, and as a point of divergence. Its radical politics lies in the stubborn insistence that although these histories inevitably assert themselves in our present, they not be the only basis for creating and willing a future that is yet to unfold before us.

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