As the debate on extending marriage to same-sex couples raged on in America, the radio show Pacific Time ran a feature in August 2004 on Asian American opinions of same-sex marriage in the Asian American community. The show gave airtime to Asian Americans on both sides of the debate, such as Chinese American lesbian activist Helen Zia, and a Chinese Evangelical Christian leader.
While the overall tone of the program was balanced, I was disappointed to hear the cliched claim that homophobia is a problem in the Asian American community. While it is clear there are homophobic individuals in the Asian American community, such individuals also exist in other communities, perhaps even to a greater degree. By singling out the Asian American community for mention in relation to homophobia, we imply that homophobia is less of an issue in non-Asian American communities, which is certainly not the case. I have personally seen many examples to the contrary - in my experience, straight European Americans tend to have a more violent, irrational and emotional reaction to 'queer' individuals and issues than straight Asian Americans in general.
The Chinese Evangelical leader who spoke on the radio show claimed that homosexuality was incompatible with the "Chinese tradition". No one on the air countered his view, perhaps because most modern Chinese are unaware of their ancient history, in which same-sex relationships figured quite prominently. In fact, same-sex romance was celebrated in ancient and medieval Chinese literature. Those Westernized Chinese who have internalized Western European concepts of homophobia and 'morality' are in that sense more "untraditional" than the homosexual/transgender/bisexual Chinese they reject. If Pacific Time had brought in a Chinese scholar who could tell this modern Chinese Evangelical of China's 2000 year old sexual minority/gender minority history, it would have added another dimension to the dialog.
Being aware of ancient sexual/gender minority traditions may not necessarily sway anybody's opinion on the morality of being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender. After all, one can argue that there are many archaic practices from all over the world, such as slavery, human sacrifice and genital mutilation, that most modern people, regardless of ethnicity, do not wish to revive.
While I am not of the view that homosexuality or transgender behavior fall within the same category as the said practices, those who disagree with the 'gay lifestyle' are entitled to their opinion. However, I do believe that regardless of our personal views, we should not project our modern biases onto the tradition of our forbears to satisfy our personal agenda. If we truly wish to 'uphold tradition', we should seek to educate ourselves on our rich and long history, both its ugly and glorious parts, so that we can perpetuate positive traditions while changing the less healthy ones. (Of course, what one considers 'positive' and what one considers 'unhealthy' is highly subjective.) But even if we identify an aspect of tradition as something we wish to 'reject', we should not deny that it ever existed. Our past, whether we like it or not, can inform our future.
This ignorance of the past and the denial of the possibility that someone might both be queer and a person of color is by no means limited to the Chinese Americans or even Asian Americans for that matter. People of color of various ethnicities have often expressed that they feel they are "forced to choose between being Asian/African/Native American/Latin American/[fill in the blanks] and being queer", as if the two conditions are mutually exclusive. In reality, queer people of color have existed for thousands of years. J.B., a Lakota man, states succinctly, "Anyone who thinks Western society is ahead of other cultures when it comes to GLBT issues is seriously ignorant. As a corollary, anyone who thinks homosexuality is a 'white man's disease' is seriously ignorant." On this note, we bring you the following articles:
中国古代同性恋和性别转变的网上资料编 (Chinese language)
Sexual and Gender Minorities in Chinese History (This is an English article created using the Chinese language resources listed above)
Yes, these were written way before Western 'gay liberation' came along.
Except for The Great Mirror of Male Love, these books are not exclusively dedicated to the topic of male homosexuality. We make no guarantees as to whether the homoerotic overtones have been lost in the English translation. Other East Asian pre-modern literature with homoerotic themes exist, but are not available in English translation.