22 January 2017

Book Review: Queer Phenomenology

Sara Ahmed was until very recently a professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmith College, University of London. She is now an independent scholar

I'll quote Jack Halberstam from the back cover regarding the book: "Sara Ahmed has begun a much needed dialogue between queer studies and phenomenology." But the dialogue didn't go very far. As you know, I am very rarely fully critical of any book dealing with queer theory, LGBT studies, etc.,. This will likely be the most unforgiving critique of a book I've ever written, and I'd like to forewarn the reader.

Ahmed unfortunately doesn't have a dialogue. While she does attempt to provide some background on existential phenomenology in the first part of the book, she constantly digresses into self-navel gazing -- I'm sorry but I really don't care that much about Husserl's table or the paper he wrote on. It appears the connection that this totally unnecessary and long-winded discussion of Husserl's table with social reproduction in the Marxist sense was entirely missed. Much of the first half of the book felt like I was talking to someone that was rolling or on acid, thinking about their dissertation. I didn't find it unsettling or disorienting, I found it annoying.

I was originally drawn to the book by its claims that it would explicate the "orientation" in "sexual orientation" and a theoretical linking of it to Orientalism. And even in these modest marketing aims, it also failed. I was very disappointed to say the least.

She has some good citations and is obviously well read in existential phenomenology, but I don't think there was much dialogue and I thought the overall book was a disappointment. She appears to have failed to make obvious and clear connections in theory and philosophy that would have really moved the discussion into truly disorienting discussions but instead the text was trapped in academic navel gazing.

The version I read was a 223 page paperback published by Duke University Press (December 4, 2006).

20 January 2017

Book Review: Metroimperial Intimacies

Victor Roman Mendoza is a Filipino-American Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan. This is his first book.

One of the criticisms I have had with Philippine studies, queer theory and American studies is the lack of work on the early Philippine-American period and sexuality. One of the problems, as Mendoza points out (and noted at some level by Neil Garcia 20 years ago) is that there is scant evidence of sexuality in the archive.

The book starts off strong and Mendoza finds an excellent case to focus on, the court martials of Captain Boss Reese. And there is much in his account that is useful and interesting. But Mendoza is limited in the breadth and depth of his Philippine studies sources which reflects on when there is a gap in the historical account. His explanations occasionally veer off into inserting present social formations of the early 21st century U.S. to fill gaps in early 20th century Philippines in ways that seem unbelievable relative to the vast anthropological work done on various Philippine societies over the last 125 years.

Mendoza makes several "assumptions" about the meaning of something which appears to conflict or lack support by any of the available anthropological material. And from these assumptions, Mendoza begins to speculate. By the end, one starts to get the feeling that the telling the Philippine history is being nakedly reworked to read into it, present day American sexuality and postindustrial capitalism.

I hope this criticism isn't considered to be too strong. I am very happy with that his book has been written, someone had to be the first. But there needed to be more broad understanding of Philippine cultures and societies before making a series of assumptions that turned into distracting and seemingly unsupportable speculation.

That being said, I thought much of his analysis was spot on and the bringing into awareness from the bowels of the archive, the story of the Boss Reese and the enlisted native Philippine scouts that he had sexual relations with and others that he raped is worthy of publication.

The version I read was a 312 page paperback printed by Duke University Press (November 27, 2015).

18 January 2017

Book Review: The Feeling of Kinship

David Eng is an American English Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

David Eng is a really good writer and several times I had to go back and reread what I had just read. This book is no different. Eng examines the limitations of what he calls "queer liberalism" which is founded on the racist theory of a "colorblind" society -- that liberal freedom and "progress" are actually particular articulations of market forces which a racist history and structure.

He uses kinship and subjectivity to interrogate "queer liberalism" using film, literature and a psychoanalytical case study of a Korean adoptee to trace how Asian migrant labor, transnational Asian-American adoption and Japanese internment in World War II are all articulations of a particular type of forgetting in the neoliberal order that allows a queer "liberal" "freedom" to exist.

I feel the only limitation that Eng did not address was the role of Filipinos, the Philippine-America war or intraclan/transnational adoptions of Philippine children Is it that Asia is re-read as East Asian and somehow the Philippines is too far south, or east or both to make it into the Asian imaginary? Or perhaps it will be to the next scholar to bring Philippine Studies, American Studies and literary criticism together for America's first overseas colony.

The version I read was a 268 page paperback published by Duke University Press (April 30, 2010).

16 January 2017

Book Review: Gender on the Edge

Niko Besnier is a Dutch anthropology professor and Kalissa Alexeyeff is an Australian genderstudies lecturer and together edited and contributed to this book.

Both popular and academic accounts of the Pacific narrate sexuality and (from the colonial, capitalist view) non-heteronormative sexualities as free floating, culturally recognized and sanctioned forms and identifies, uniformly throughout the Pacific.

Gender on the Edge dispels this view. Sexuality is socially reproduced in each society based upon its own history and the struggle between traditional authority and the globalizing tendencies of capitalist/imperialist domination.

Some of the anthropological matters could get a bit boring although I appreciated the distinction between mahu and raerae in Tahiti, clarification of the status of fa'afafine in Samoa -- especially in relation to the evangelicalization of Samoan Christian -- and most importantly, sexuality in Micronesia. I have mentioned previously the lack of writing on the matter -- whether sexuality and colonialism intersection in societies where traditional authority appears to predominate (what has been joking referred to as the only gay Eskimo).
The version I read was a 388 page paperback published by the University of Hawaii Press (March 31, 2014).

14 January 2017

Book Review: Captive Genders

Eric Stanley is an American professor of Gender Studies at University of California, Riverside. Nat Smith is a community organizer with numerous transgender and intersex NGOs. They co-edited this book.

This is part of that same genre of books that I don't usually read. While the "LGBT" community markets and looks to the G and to a lesser extent the L in LGBT, it is the last of those letters, the T who suffer the most brutal, systematic and dehumanizing violence of all.

This volume uses primarily autobiographical accounts of how the prison industrial complex  actively and passively tortures and otherwise subjects working class (non-white) transbodies to brutal, systemic violence.

Looking at the totality of the present situation, it is somewhat strange that so much attention is focused on public restrooms in North Carolina and the rules of gender identity to use one when as soon as a young transgender grows up, they will likely be subjected systematic dehumanizing violence, physical and psychological, regarding their gender identity. What is already hell for Gs and Bs in prison becomes even more so for Ts. It is likely that the bathrooms get so much coverage because it is where trans spills over into the circumscribed lives of non-trans people. The torture and brutality against transgenders are removed from general view, compartmentalized and otherwise obscured from general view. Women's restrooms are no safe space for those "other" women, etc.,.

This is another depressing book about the criminal justice system that is worth reading and feeling crushed.

I version I read was a 425 page paperback published by AK Press (October 27, 2015).

12 January 2017

Book Review: Already Doing It

Michael Grill is an American assistant professor at Grinnell College in Iowa. This is his second book.

Already Doing It is about sexual agency with those that live with intellectual disability. I have to admit that I have thought very broadly and very deeply over the years about sexuality, sexual agencies, kinship, etc., and in my own able-ist way, I have never really thought deeply about sexual agency of the intellectually disabled.

For those with intellectual disability, having a sexual partner or having sex is in part determined by parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers and judges. The most disturbing aspect that I had no knowledge of previously is how right-wing evangelical Christian views of kinship and gender roles so strongly filter into sex education materials for not just those with intellectual disabilities but also for all of the "professionals" who participate in decision making about these issues. Gay, straight, whatever.

He then moves onto even more (to me) alien issues such as the impulse of persons with intellectual disability to be parents. Is parenthood only reserved the rich, white, able-bodied heterosexual couples? If the state intervenes and manages so much of a particular person's life, should such intervention and management vouchsafe for an intellectually disabled person's desire to be a parent?

I'll let you ponder those questions but definitely consider reading this book. In some ways I'm embarrassed that I had never fully considered these issues. In fact, when I first starting reading the book, it wasn't that these issues were demystified or that I had some hidden reactionary view that was dispelled. Rather, there was an absence of a position entirely. I had never thought about it although, for certain state institutions, these are fairly common considerations to be taken account of.

The version I read was a 288 page paperback published by University of Minnesota Press (March 17, 2015).

10 January 2017

Book Review: Queer (In)justice

Joey L. Mogul and Andrea J. Ritchie are American attorneys and Kay Whitlock is an American author. Together they wrote Queen (In)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States.

For a number of reasons, I actively avoid this genre of book and when I read books like this I both feel bad that I avoid reading this genre and also for what it contains.

In certain settings, certain LGBT people are able to find a homeostasis with the pervasive and institutional homophobia that structures heteronormative life. We tend to associate the ease with which someone finds this homeostasis with the economic class the person is in or has been born into.

This book, however, identifies how this homeostasis, if and where it exists, is small and precarious. Heteronormativity and homophobia are reproduced in such a way as to turn to prison industrial complex (in the US) against LGBT people. As same-sex marriage becomes a legitimate social institution, recognized in the law, the space for other forms of sexual and intimate expression narrows. This is not revolutionary. It was the central thesis of Fear of a Queer Planet and The Trouble with Normal over twenty years ago.

What Queer (In)justice demonstrates, however, is the facticity of those predictions. How transbodies are subjected to tremendous amounts of violence by representatives of the state. How HIV disproportionately affects the poor, non-white. How hate crime legislation appears to enhance the penalties of a racist, anti-poor criminal justice system while failing to protect LGBT persons.

The version I read was a 240 page paperback published by Beacon Press (January 24, 2012).