Sexuality as Translation. Locating the “Queer” in Vietnamese Debates on Sexuality
Transnational debates on LGBTQ identities have centred on the conflict between universalism and particularism. Do LGBTQ identities, which are presumptively ‘Western’ come to colonize other local cultures? Does the use of the idea of ‘queer’ constitute an infelicitous Western imposition onto other cultures? In this study, I challenge some of the nativist responses to these questions by problematizing territorial claims of ‘Asian values’ and so-called ‘Western’ queer sexualities by showing the cultural infelicities and hybriding moorings in both. The article does so by examining a public debate that exploded in the Vietnamese print media in the late 1920s over the phenomenon of amorous relations between primarily male youth in the then newly emerging French-Vietnamese secondary schools. Based on this archive, the study maintains that same-sex sexuality foregrounds the dynamic practices of cross-cultural translation from East Asia and France, reflecting both the anxieties and aspirations of the interlocutors. Belonging neither solely to Eastern nor Western cultures, the phenomenon reveals its fundamental cultural impurity. In so doing, the archive brings into high relief the constructed artifice of Vietnamese nationalist ‘tradition’ and the ‘foreigness’ of queer sexuality.