Racial Castration
I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental,
I could never be completely a man.
song liling, M. Butterfly
Being Oriental: the antithesis of manhood, of masculinity? So declares
Song Liling to the judge, to the law, under oath, and in a suit.The derobed
Chinese opera diva/transvestite/spy attempts to explain to the pontifi-
cating bureaucrat how it is that Gallimard, the white male diplomat, can
mistake him less for a rug than a woman: ‘‘The West thinks of itself
as masculine—big guns, big industry, big money—so the East is femi-
nine—weak, delicate, poor.’’
Such is the particular crossing of sexual
and racial fantasy that compels Gallimard’s colonial world order, a fan-
tastic reality in which the Oxford English Dictionary would define Orien-
tal as ‘‘submission,’’ as ‘‘weakness,’’ as ‘‘woman.’’ Such is the fantasy that
makes Oriental and masculine antithetical terms in Gallimard’s universe,
a place in which an ‘‘Oriental . . . could never be completely a man.’’ In
such marvelous narratives of penile privilege, the Westerner monopo-
lizes the part of the ‘‘top’’; the Asian is invariably assigned the role of
the ‘‘bottom.’’ For twenty-five years, Aiiieeeee! editors Frank Chin, Jeffery
Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong have bemoaned the
predicament of Asian American masculinity in similar terms: ‘‘It is an
article of white liberal American faith today that Chinese men, at their
best, are effeminate closet queens like Charlie Chan and, at their worst,
are homosexual menaces like Fu Manchu.’’
In ‘‘Looking for My Penis,’’
Richard Fung summarizes the phenomenon even more bluntly: ‘‘Asian
and anus are conflated.’’
Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America explores
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