As can be seen in the abovementioned chapters and the suggested further reading, there is now a critical mass of sexuality studies on East Asian societies by scholars based in the region itself as well as working across institutions in the Anglophone world. It is particularly remarkable how, in the last two decades, studies on non-heterosexual practices and identities have proliferated, making ‘queer studies’ of East Asia one of the most productive areas of research in this still emergent discipline. At the same time, sexuality research has challenged the privileging of heterosexuality, rather looking at the processes whereby heterosexuality is naturalised in most places. Indeed, a major contribution of sexuality studies has been the challenging of the applicability of the accepted Anglophone definitions of ‘heterosexuality’, ‘homosexuality’ and ‘bisexuality’ and an exploration of local terminologies and taxonomies of sexual behaviours and identities.
So, what challenges lie ahead for scholars working on sexuality studies in the region? As noted above, there is a significant body of work that looks at how Euro-American forms of sexual knowledge were transformed and localised in culturally specific ways. We also noted that intra-regional movements of sexual knowledge, particularly from China and Japan, have also had a transformative effect on the understanding of sexuality across the region. Nevertheless, the influence of English as a global language as well as the fact that many of the best resourced and most influential universities are in the Anglophone world has meant that there is still a bias toward Anglophone forms of sexual knowledge and research in sexuality studies as well as many other disciplines. Although excellent work is being done on sexual histories and communities in the languages of the region, unless this work is also published in English, it is difficult to access by international scholars and unlikely to have an impact outside its society of origin. One aim of this handbook has been to make some of this research accessible to the Anglophone reader.
One challenge for East Asian sexuality studies is to increase the amount of dialogue between scholars working in local languages and thereby to help trace the flows of terminology, knowledge, practices and people that have shaped regional forms of sexuality. Hong Kong University Press has done a great service through establishing a ‘Queer Asia’ book series that attempts to do just this. Journals such as Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies and positions: asia critique have been proactive in recruiting and publishing papers on East Asian sexuality studies, some by authors published in English for the first time. As far as we know, there is as yet no journal specifically focusing on East Asian sexualities that seeks to translate and publish scholarship from researchers working in local languages. For some years, the journal Traces attempted to make critical cultural studies work available simultaneously in English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and German, demonstrating just what a challenge it is to work across several languages (Sakai 2001: x). It may or may not be realistic to envisage one journal exclusively devoted to sexuality studies in East Asia, and there would be a danger that such research would thereby be ghettoised. It may be more productive and worthwhile to continue to encourage sexuality studies journals to include research papers from outside the Euro-American centres, and to encourage area studies journals to include research papers on sexuality studies. Also largely lacking in the existing scholarship are easily accessible collections of first-person narratives detailing sexual histories and experiences. There are some collections in local languages, particularly in Japanese and Korean by survivors of the military sexual slavery system of the Asia-Pacific War (the so-called ‘comfort women’). Some of these testimonies have been translated into English (Howard 1995; Henson 1996; Kim-Gibson 1999; Schellstede 2000; Yoshimi 2002; Soh 2008; O’Herne 2008 ). We also have ethnographies of sex workers in various parts of Asia, which include some first-person accounts (Aoyama 2009). A growing corpus of work in Japanese deals with the experience of sexual minorities, particularly transgenders, but so far only going back to the 1960s (see for example, Yajima 2005; Bessatsu 1987). There are also efforts being made in China and Taiwan to gather non-pathologising case studies of sexual minorities, but so far little of this research has been made available in languages other than Chinese. Hence, it is still the case that, compared with the detailed and comprehensive sexual histories collected by researchers working in European languages, sometimes reaching back over two centuries, there remain few such accounts in Asian languages. Unlike the several archives in Europe and North America dedicated to collecting and preserving such accounts, especially from sexual minorities, institutional support for these kinds of initiatives remains limited in East Asia.
Despite these institutional limitations, as the contributors to this volume show, sexuality studies is a vibrant and growing research area within the broader field of East Asian studies. In bringing this collection together we have highlighted some of the excellent work that already exists in the field and hope that this will stimulate and facilitate further research and dialogue.