11 August 2011

Book Review: Sex and Conquest


Richard Trexler was a professor of history at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He was a strong supporter of "public life" being considered a valid area of inquiry for professional historians.

This is a curious book. I felt, in some respects, I got way too much information. In others, I felt like I didn't get enough. If somewhere were to write a history of early contact Filipinos' sexuality through the lens of conquistador and early missionary writing, the first half of that book would already have been written in this book. You see, the subtitle, "Gendered Violence, Political Order and the European Conquest of the Americas" spends about 75% of the time on gendered violence, political order and European gender and sexuality and conquest.

Trexler looked at everything in terms of power, which is what all Foucauldean historians do, and so I felt like there were times when alternative explanations could be presented for areas where the historical record called for reasonable inferences. Trexler did not do that.

But I did find the discursive practices of the Spanish regarding sexuality, gender and violence to be very helpful to consider the colonial past of present Philippine sexuality. I continue to hold an abiding suspicion than the traditionally understood transgender bakla, fa'afafine, fakaleiti, mahu, hijra, etc., etc., are a response from the collective conscious attitude towards colonialism. (I myself have located this in 19th century Philippine folktales.)

Nevertheless, I do think that gendered violence has a role to play in this, but in one that is slightly different than Trexler suggests. Instead of trying to hypothesize by triangulating from biased documents regarding sexuality, Trexler ought to have looked to sources where sex and gender weren't the main focus like oral histories, folktales, folksongs, etc., to help organize an understanding of pre-contact sexuality and gender.

He doesn't really do that, unfortunately. I still found the description of Iberian sexuality and gender to be interesting -- especially in light of the deep and abiding contact with Muslim sexualities and genders for such an extended period and how that contact was transformed by power (complexes) into a gendered conquest.

The version I read was a 292 page hardcover published by Cornell University Press (October 1995), ISBN-13: 978-0801432248. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was used at abebooks.com and amazon.com.

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