This is the first of a two-part essay. The second instalment is forthcoming with Invert.
Queer Asia is Burning
Asia is burning. It is so, because after being a site of colonial/imperial violence and exploitation for four hundred and fifty years, Asia continues to be a central locale of economic development and capital accumulation. This means that Asia has been one of the biggest providers of technocratic labour and cheapened workers for racial capital. The mass migration and return of workers in/to China, Southeast and South Asia have constituted what Lisa Rofel calls “temporal-spatial migration”.
1 That is, contrary to the thesis of (forced) dispossession and urbanisation of peasants in the early stages of industrialisation, contemporary inter-state/region labour migration is temporarily relocated to industrialised urban centres. Migrants tend to return to their villages rather than being fully subsumed into urban centres as industrial labour.
Asia is burning, however, with a queer twist. What we call “Asia” here – a geopolitical boundary, cultural signifier or civilisational concept, has no unified, fixed or concretised definition.
2 Much like queerness, Asia is liquid and ambiguous: it immediately denotes East/Southeast/South Asia, but how about West Asia and the Middle East? Does Russia count as an Asian country? How many religions are there in Asia?
3 Working against determinism and essentialism, we conceptualise Asia in this paper as the liquidised land that constitutes the Other of Europe/North America: the “Different”, “Oriental” and “Exotic” East/Far East. If the Asian continent and other islands are the container of “Asia”, then the liquidity of Asia suggests that Asia is always extending/spilling out, flowing/moving inside and absorbing from outside. We are, of course, aware of the mutually constitutive character of this Asia/ West dyad. The very concept of the “West” does not stand without the “Rest”. We centre Asia, then, as a means of decentralising and dislocating the West, moving strategically away from the imperial mobilisation of “area studies” (East Asia/South Asia) as strategies of hegemonic control. Moving away from area-specific knowledge production, queer Asia entails theoretical and critical potency to understand the grounded manifestation of global capitalism, nation-states and transnational financial class.
Moreover, as we consider the importance of Asia in the global political economy, we cannot but discuss the emergence of queer organising and activism in Asia. Indeed, queers in Asia are burning with desire for liberation, love and freedom even though these notions may refer to different things for various individuals. For example, our relative work in China, Southeast Asia, Iran and India have demonstrated that the signifiers of liberation often appear in different trajectories, structured by historical colonialism/imperialism. The U.S., for instance, has been the imagined free land for some queers in (post)socialist China, while Britain occupies a certain special place in public memory of queer liberty in India, owing to its colonial history.
Further, queer Asia is burning for another reason. As national elites in Asia collaborate to safeguard the passage of capital and the accumulation of wealth, a homogenous nation-state form is maintained as the pre-structure for the entry of global capital.
6 In Lefebvre’s theorisation of space and state, he indicates that the state as a space is simultaneously homogeneous and fractured.
7 This set of contradictions suggests that we might read queerness as a “fractured” force that threatens the homogeneity of the (post)colonial nation-state. Departing from the argument that queerness does not belong to “Asian tradition”, we assert that cultural traditionalism elides the material benefits of maintaining the homogenous state-form. Hence, given the vast contexts, cultures and histories of Asia, queer Asia is inevitably burning for a re-conceptualisation of (post)colonial nationalism, state socialism, religion, nation-state and South-South collaboration.
Both queer and marxist responses to a burning queer Asia have been slow and inadequate. Queer theory in general tends to treat Asia as a “different” site of theorising. Canonical queer texts by Foucault, Butler, Sedgwick and Altman, for example, claim that sexuality in the non-West are somehow outside of “Western” sexuality, thus constituting the “conceptual limits of the modern West”.
8 Yet the conception of “West” and “East” is structured by Orientalist epistemology; the reluctance of queer theorists to announce the universal presence of heteropatriarchy and hetero/homo separation is less motivated by an intent to decolonise than an expression of Eurocentric fragility, a form of unease when the domination of “theory proper” by the North over the South is revealed. Against the grain of such blindness, it is only recently that queer Asia has become a site of theorising.
The revival of “Asia” as a critical concept has coincided with the translation of several books by Asian scholars into English, for example The Structure of World History, The End of The Revolution and Asia As Method, as well as the growing interests in practices such as inter-referencing and South-South anti-colonial theory exemplified by Latin American scholars. However, these rejuvenations are yet to travel into the burgeoning field of queer marxism and anti-capitalism. Much of the literature at hand is geographically bound to the North and linguistically limited to Anglophone audiences. For example, we picked up a recent publication, Handbook of Queer Development Studies and found out that there are only five contributors who are from the South out of eighteen.
9 Despite the nuanced materialism of its analysis, the collection of essays is still confined by the geopolitics of knowledge structured by global academic capitalism and the coloniality of power. We will turn to these concepts later but before we move on, we must first clarify what queer marxist/anti- capitalist theorising actually is.
A queer marxist investigation of sexuality and desire seeks to uncover the connections between capitalist modes of production, race, class, gender, erotics and nation-states. First, as an initiative developed out of the socialist movement and the gay/lesbian liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, a queer anti-capitalist project has expanded to mobilise various marxist concepts in order to understand the production of categories such as sexuality, performativity, gender and the heterosexual family. This project has sparked calls for the abolition of gender, the heteropatriarchal family structure and global capitalism. An expanded form of queer anti-capitalism, as Drucker notes, incorporates anti-racist and feminist influences.
10 In terms of political economy, sexuality is increasingly becoming an entry point into theorising the wider global economic system. For example, queer development studies have adopted a materialist lens through which to analyse the many issues facing queers in different locales. Rao’s “global homocapitalism” is a crucial concept that maps the production of the “homophobic” South in relation to structural adjustment programs as well as the globalisation of SOGI.
11 We are witnessing a growing body of literature produced in theNorth detailing forms of oppression, sexual liberation and economic exploitation in and of the South.
These revolutionary provocations on the part of queers have often been overlooked or treated as equality markers within traditional marxism. Queer marxist theorising of, by and from Asia, thus constitutes a more marginalised critical position. The intention of this paper is to ask what Asia means for queer anti-capitalism. How does the geopolitics of knowledge manifest in the production of queer marxist knowledge—that is, what counts as theory and what constitutes empirical data? We further Deshpande’s point that, as queers of Asia, we have much to learn from each other with the help of the linguistic instrument known as English and the theoretical framework and vocabulary of marxism. We must be aware of our geopolitical locations and the disadvantages and advantages they bring, since the revival of queer Asia is a process within the historical movements of capitalism, neo-colonialism and imperialism, and their production of war and conflict.
13The following pages will centre queer Asia, rather than merely update the rest of the world on what is happening in Asia. We first offer critical readings of two recent queer marxist publications, mapping out the Eurocentric tendencies of some of the theoretical formations in both books. We argue that the sexual regime in many Asian countries cannot simply be looped into the European narrative of capitalism. Our observation is that feudality continues to form a hybrid organisation of knowledge about/of sex and gender that has facilitated capitalism in Asia. For example, the continuation of the family kinship structure observed in Chinese rural areas has enabled the transnational exploitation of migrant labour without the expense of the massive urbanisation of rural migrants, as with patterns of mass proletarianisation observed in the West.
In the second section, we bring together activist accounts and our knowledge and experiences together to show what we mean by learning from each other instead of learning from the North-centric globalised anti-capitalist movement. In the final section, we theorise queer anti-capitalist Asia as method. Following Chen, we centre Asia not to stake a claim to the particular, but rather, to argue for a geographical historical materialism of the sexual that sees the temporal divergence and convergence of sexual regimes/knowledge through the lens of geography: territories, lands, continents, logistics of knowledge, noopolitics (the politics of the mind/technology), colonialism, the geopolitics of imperialism and the Cold War, and the spatiality of cultures.
Decolonising Queer Anti-capitalism
One of the typical assumptions of North-centric anti-capitalist approaches is that capitalism, nation-state, hetero-patriarchy and imperialism would fall one after another as long as the first tile (the capitalist mode of production) is levelled down, as in a game of Dominos. We want to problematise this tendency, prompted simultaneously by (post)colonial readings of capitalist social relations in the South, while seeking to depart from the postcolonial fetish of the pre-modern/pre-capitalist. We find the Domino model incapable of asking key questions such as how the state has been conceptualised in Asia. Why is it that capitalism works well with authoritarian state mechanisms? Why is it that non-normative sexual practices have long been present in many locales in Asia, and how has capitalism in its colonial form interacted with these practices? How can queers in Asia situate their history through a narrative of colonial capitalism? Indeed, as many New Left intellectuals in Asia have attempted to grapple the collective history of Asia, we think that any discussion of anti-capitalism in Asia must take a detour and enter through the history of colonialism and the formation of the terrorised nation-state.
To be clear, our critique is neither to stage an internal/external conflict, as Chakrabarty has done.
15 Nor are we suggesting that the colonised are totally engulfed by the “universality” of capitalism.
16 Rather, following Grant Farred and Fadi A. Bardawil, we offer a decolonial critical theory that focuses on an anti-/post colonial condition as the starting point.
17 We use the term “decolonisation”/”decolonial”, “(post)colonialism” and “anti-colonialism” differently. Decolonisation is the process through which both the colonised and the colonisers interrogate the legacies of colonialism spiritually, mentally and institutionally. (Post)colonialism is a framework for understanding issues in the formal colonies/semi-colonies. The “post” does not signal a temporal separation but suggests “as a result of” and “in relation to” colonialism. Colonialism does not end at a particular historical juncture but re-configures itself through, for example, the making of the “global village” and the globalisation of capital.
18 Anti- colonialism refers more specifically to ongoing struggles by indigenous nations against settler colonialism; historically, it connotes the independence movements in the colonies of European empires in the 20th century.
What we mean by “decolonising queer marxism”, then, is an attempt to argue that queer marxism produced in the empires is not immune to the coloniality of power. Action “proper” to the knowledge economy unfortunately tends to be articulated under historical conditions that bear the legacy of North-centrism and academic colonial relations. Hence, in the process of knowledge production, agencies, struggles and activism unknown to the Northern academy are omitted due to geographical and linguistic borders.
19 The geopolitics of knowledge renders the North as “theory proper”and the South as a reservoir “empirical data” whereby global academic capitalism, much like global capitalism, confines the circulation of ideas, capitals and knowledge in the North. Indeed, relatively new members of the queer marxist family: Warped and The Politics of Everybody are not immune to many problems we identify. In what follows, we specifically focus on parts of these two books where discussions of transnational and global queer politics appear.
Peter Drucker’s Warped is a recent and important addition to theory and practices of queer anti-capitalism. We choose to focus on this text as the first of its kind to construct a global framing of the gender regime. Here, we focus on Drucker’s periodisation of sexual/racial regimes and the historical construction of what he calls “gay normativity”.
First, Drucker’s historical account of the “before homosexuality” and the accumulation regimes and same-sex formations is written with European history as the baseline, which can be summarised as such:
![imgur](https://i.imgur.com/CWmMhrB.jpg "Fig 1")
Two limitations can be observed in this narrative. Firstly, it is a linear account that compartmentalises and periodises history from a Northern perspective. This is different from a vertical view of history in which remnants of the past are sedimented and imbricated in the present. For instance, while the feudalist mode of production might appear to have “ended” in Europe by the 15th/16th century, it persisted in many parts of Asia as well as Europe beyond this point. In fact, even though we might have passed the “Asiatic mode of production”, feudal social relations were and are being continually reorganised through state-sanctioned reforms which make the passage of capital possible (e.g. the Muji Reform). Uno Kōzō conception of “feudality” suggests that at least in East Asia, feudal customs, modes of thinking and social organisation continue under the capitalist mode of production.
20 In this process, the feudal sexual regime is incorporated and perverted by capital for its accumulative purposes, to the extent that the whole notion of primitive accumulation may as well be based on the benefits of feudal sexual and gender relations. Think, for example, of the socially reproductive work undertaken by extended family members under feudal regimes. These practices did not “disappear” after their formal subsumption into global colonial capitalism. Tight kinship structures continue to provide capital with “free” social reproduction. Nevertheless, Drucker’s historicism levels all such heterogeneous temporalities in its path, erasing the material remnants of historical capitalism (e.g. hybrid feudal-capital sexual regime). For Drucker, these remnants either had no bearing on the rise of capitalism, or were incorporated into its matrix, losing their temporal identities. In this sense, the ascendance of neoliberal gay normality becomes the sexual regime that absorbs all other deferred arrivals.
Secondly, the role of the post-colonial nation-states remains underdeveloped in Drucker’stheorisation of gay normativity. For us, situated in the formal colonies/ semi-colonies, the nation-state has been the legitimate entity to organise industrial production and to advocate “sexual modernity”. Note that many anti-imperial nations in Asia have voiced critiques of capitalism (e.g. China; Vietnam); yet industrialisation and modernisation of the “nation” has remained part and parcel to anti-colonial projects, in tandem with the reproduction of capital on a global scale. The feeling of lagging behind, or what Trotsky termed “combined and uneven development”, has forced the newly independent nation-states to accelerate the absorption of the peasant masses into industrial production. Such mega-projects seemed to be accomplished with the presence of the strong “despotic” state, normally under the leadership of one supreme leader. For Asia to “catchup” with the North, liberation of any kind has had to give way to centralised industrialisation. Hence nation-building becomes a homogeneous process of making modern (mostly cisgender, heterosexual) subjects. Asian postcolonial struggle unfortunately negates its promises and becomes the regeneration of the national bourgeoisie.
Our intent here is not to reinforce the West/East (North/South) binary; rather, we are reminded of Césaire, Fanon, Du Bois and others’ caution about colonial and racial conditions. To be fair to Drucker, he cites his previous engagements with “combined and uneven social construction,”
22 yet his approach fails to adopt a sufficiently geographical lens in its examination of geographical encounters—of sexualities and genders as fundamental to the regime of gender and sexuality he proposes. Like most Eurocentric narratives of historical formations, Drucker tends to treat homonormativity in West Europe/North America as being capable of emerging by itself, as if the historical process of colonialism and the geographical encounter of racialised/indigenous sexualities were not part of the defining and making of the gay normality/sexual modernity. A relational view, then, would assert that 1) the invert-dominant regime could not fully define itself without indigenous sexualities, racialised Southern sexuality and Oriental fantasies. 2) The gender-dominant model would have had different mutations if Cold-War and anti-colonial struggles had not taken place (Northern sexual modernity is anti-communist and designed to set the model for newly independent Asia).
23 3) Homonormativity would have been less likely to construct itself without the dialectical positioning of the homo/trans-phobic authoritarian Southern states (Northern sexual modernity II is an extension of the Eurocentric project in which the North sets the sexual liberalism of “love is love” for Asia).
Drucker’s sexual schema is therefore predicated upon a North-centric view of queer politics and is not entirely applicable in Asia due to its omission of the crucial question of the nation. For us, the historical narrative thus looks more like this:
![imgur](https://i.imgur.com/jqAQK1o.jpg "Fig 2")
Here, we chart an interconnected process in which contemporary Northern see
sexual liberalism is dialectically formed through an engagement with “the other” in the context of colonialism, imperialism and the Cold War. We argue the nation-state with a European script in many Asian countries today is the mechanism that negotiates the simultaneously unifying and dividing forces produced by global capital.
24 The articulation of social systems, territories, human bodies and general arrangements, glued together by ideological normality, came into existence as nation-states because the transition to imperialistic global capitalism requires “nation-state systems” as the equaliser. Insofar as the nation-form is the irreversible historical product of colonialism and imperialism, the Southern nations will continue to be disadvantaged and thus require surplus homogenisation to counter the rupture/multiplication of global capital.
25 Queerand trans populations in Asia, outsiders to this liquidation, become the historical victims of the “passing” of capital. Critiquing homonormativity in the North is only made possible historically by the colonial forms of accumulation that produced West European whites as the embodiment of sexual modernity, and contemporarily by transnational capital accumulation sustained through the state biopolitical rendering of labour-power ready for extraction in the South.
A Response to The Politics of Everybody
Colonialism, real/formal subsumption and the question of the nation are central to a decolonial queer anti-capitalist project. The Politics of Everybody, while it does not
explicitly formulate a global queer marxism, is grounded in North America/Europe and lacks discussions around the ways in which capitalist modes of production produce both universal (real subsumption) and culturally mediated consequences (formal subsumption) in different locales. Here, we specifically respond to the section where Lewis directly criticises (post)colonial theory.
First, Lewis offers a partial reading of post-colonialism. Post-colonialism is not, for us, solely a literary and social theory.
27 It is an attempt to understand our realities in relation to and as a result of semi/colonialism. Although Lewis is right to point out that (post)colonial theory is a diaspora academic project, she fails to attend to other streams of Subaltern Studies (in her critique, the poststructural-postcolonial stream represents Subaltern Studies as a whole) and numerous others in the formal semi/ colonies who insist on the importance of critiquing Eurocentrism.
Second, decolonisation, as we have defined it, involves both the colonised and the colonisers. The mind of the colonisers is also shaped by the process of the colonisation: as Césaire suggests, the brutal violence deployed on the “colonised animal” also shaped the minds of those in the metropolitan centres.
29It is not so much that “postcolonial theory sees marxism is not the answer for the colonised,”
30 but that because of colonialism, the relations between the subaltern and hegemony are always asymmetrical, even for marxist theory. Insofar as the global North academy still occupies a hegemonic position by the monopoly of English, one’s structurally and geographically advantaged standpoint has to be brought to light and negotiated.
Third, transnational capitalism may have engendered a transnational industrial working class, but in Asia and certainly in other (post)colonial capitalist economies, the primitive accumulation of capital is demonstrably continuous. Capitalism is ironically legitimised as the process that ensures the subsistence of life, when in fact, the continuation of primitive accumulation is a fundamental characteristic of postcolonial developmentally, precisely because capital feeds on the surplus, the dispossessed and the non-value-producing.
31In many post-colonial Asian countries, the national project to “improve” the lives of the dispossessed becomes the justifications for more wholesale capitalist investment, industrialisation, gentrification and urbanisation. Industrial labour organising alone is not enough to address these challenges. In this sense, transnational capitalism has produced important consequences that those born and raised in the North would never experience, though they are capable of objective understanding and analysing. In the search for a marxism that responses to these new formations, we find that Eurocentric marxism does not fully correspond to our theoretical urgency. Lewis may have rightly put that there are grounds for solidarity,
32 yet who gets to lay that ground and on which historical grounds we theorise are of crucial concerns for us. Indeed, though we may be capable of understanding each other based on the observation of objective conditions, this cannot negate the incommensurability of experiences between the two parties engaging in a dialogue of solidarity building.
33 In queer marxism, these incommensurable experiences have to be the basis of solidarity and the co-resistance to global capitalism.
In essence, both Warped and The Politics of Everybody are highly valuable contributions to queer marxism, but this does not mean they are not complicit in North-centrism. The emergence of gay normality is a historical process taking place in a geographical-historical-material context. Homonormativity is not necessarily a “rupture” but the product of exchanges between sexualities in particular historical junctures. Critiques of homonormativity tend to be North-centric, negating colonial differences and the specificity of their narratives to a Eurocentric history of sexual modernity. There is, we reiterate, an irreducible epistemic difference between queer marxist social science projects from the North and the theories and practices of queer anti-capitalism in Asia. Our chart is a starting point for engaging with, narrating and partially departing, from North-centric queer marxism, while aspiring towards a revolutionary politics of the world proletarian.
The world has never appeared to be a sleek world to queer Asians; what we call for are zigzagged concepts. A queer marxism that responses to these multiplicities should not hide the violence of colonial expansion, which includes the expansion of North- centric knowledges of sexual modernity and queer politics. In the later section of this project, we will travel to three locations in Asia, delineating a decolonial, anti-capitalist queer critique of the state, colonialism and racial capitalism. A marxism for the feminised should be a marxism for the subaltern; for the feminised in the subaltern and for the subaltern amongst the feminized.
The collective would like to thank the editors of this journal and comrades who made this journal possible. This piece is dedicated to all the comrades in Iran, China and India and across Asia who are fighting for better futures. Part of this piece is written during Professor Kanishka Goonewardena’s course “Space and Revolution”. For this, we thank him for his encouraging comments. Ian, Sabra and Vinaya would like to thank Professor Jamie Magnusson for their passion and love; Mani would like to thank Professor Vannina Sztainbok, Professor Rinaldo Walcott and Professor Robert Diaz for giving him the space to think and write. Lastly, we would like to thank Arash Ghiassi for his helpful comments on the first draft.