Many people in East Asia, as elsewhere, understand their experiences and identities within frameworks that may appear quite similar to globalised notions of sexual identity (Altman 1997: 417—36). The story of why some people in East Asia came to identify themselves with particular categories of sexual identity is, however, complex and historically contingent, as many of the contributions to this volume attest. It may sometimes be easy, for example, to use the term ‘gay’. William Leap and Tom Boellstorff (2003: 4) have described this term as a ‘referential shorthand for a broad range of same-sex desires, practices and subjectivities’ but argue that we should do so ‘without presuming that this usage establishes a universal ethnographic referent’. The word ‘gay’, in other words, may not mean the same thing in all places. This is in many ways a given in sexuality studies today. In recent decades, however, there has been a growth in recognition on the part of states and the transnational organisations of global governance that certain labels of sexual identity (such as gay and lesbian) are being adopted and deployed by people across the region to make sense of their own experiences and articulate them politically. The subsequent adoption and codification of these labels in transnational agreements raises some interesting questions about how localised understandings of sexual experience intersect with socially adopted, and at times legally codified, transnational frameworks.

In the case of China, Lisa Rofel (2007: 87) argues that the ‘emergence of gay identities and practices. is tied, in certain critical respects, to transnational networks of lesbians and gay men’. This started, in Rofel’s telling, in the 1990s, when China began to address a perceived problem with the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) and when Beijing hosted the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, which brought many lesbians and other queer women to China. The 1990s also saw a growth in international migration to China, with many gays and lesbians setting up lives and making connections with local people. Despite the significant impact these transnational interactions had on Chinese queer communities, this does not mean that Chinese people simply adopted a ‘global’ gay identity. Rofel argues that, ‘[w]hile the visions of many Chinese gay men in China about what it means to be gay are certainly connected to the knowledge that gay people exist all over the world, these men do not simply imagine a global community of horizontal comradeship’ (Rofel 2007: 110). In fact, there is plenty of evidence that both within and outside Sinophone communities, there is large-scale transnational political and social organisation. Lucetta Yip Lo Kam (2013; see also Martin in this volume), for example, describes transnational networks of lalas, or women-identified lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities operating across borders in greater China and organising on the basis of these cross-border identifications. The signatories to the abovementioned Yogyakarta Principles also included the Chinese activist Wan Yanhai, Founder of the AIZHI Action Project and director of Beijing AIZHIXING Institute of Health Education (Yogyakarta Principles 2006). The place where transnational models of sexual identity are engaged with and made sense of is, therefore, within ‘transcultural spaces’ which are opened up by interactions between people.

Katsuhiko Suganuma (2012: 18), in his study of postwar queer male cultures in Japan, looks specifically at ‘contact moments’ — an adaptation of Mary Louise Pratt’s notion of the ‘contact zone’ (1992: 8) — to refer to ‘the historical moment (or a series of those moments) that allows us to imagine the discursive conditions and effects enabled by cross-culturation’. Suganuma focuses on those moments when Japanese queer communities came into contact with the ‘West’ after the end of the Second World War. He explores the ways in which contact facilitated processes of ‘modification, refinement, and rearticulation’ of sexual discourses despite differences in power (Suganuma 2012, 19; see also Suganuma in this volume). These models of modification, refinement and rearticulation are mapped in the work of Mark McLelland (2005), who has argued that this has resulted in a ‘hybridised’ queer culture in Japan with its own traditions of language and politics with respect to the politics of sexual identity. The hybridised nature of these cultures comes through clearly in the wide range of voices collected in the 2007 volume, Queer Voices from Japan, which demonstrate that ‘Japan was by no means a passive recipient of influences from the West, [with ideas] only ever selected, borrowed and strategically deployed to enunciate very nuanced Japanese understandings of sexual diversity’ (McLelland, Suganuma and Welker 2007: 2).

This active engagement with ideas has not been without contestation. In Japan for example, the last couple of decades have on several occasions seen local understandings of sexual and gender diversity come into conflict with liberal demands for individual rights which are con­nected to transnational models. This has concerned debates between those who identified with the local category of okama and those who saw this as a derogatory term for homosexual men and preferred gei (a homophone of ‘gay’) or dOseiaisha (homosexual) (McLelland 2012; Lunsing 2005). There have also been debates concerning those who deploy categories of gender variance (such as nyuhafu ‘new half) which do not always easily map onto transnational medical models based on a diagnosis of gender identity disorder (McLelland 2004; McDermott 2012). In 1993, gay and lesbian activist group OCCUR successfully mounted a court case against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for denying them access to public meeting facilities, in the process establishing within Japanese law a gay subject (McLelland 2009: 194—95). Later in the decade, the Japanese medical establishment recognised gender identity disorder and recommenced sex – change operations, which led eventually to the legal and social recognition ofsome post-operative transsexual identities (McLelland 2009: 194). As these developments took place, however, the politics espoused by advocates of these positions came into conflict with pre-existing models of sexual and gender identity. Take the example of radical activist, author and entrepreneur Togo Ken, who from the 1970s had been advocating a sexual politics which anticipated later moves by ‘Western’ queer theory in a number of ways (McLelland 2012; see also Suganuma 2011: 345—58). Togo did not view ‘mainstream society as repressing a small number of sexual minorities, and calling for their liberation… [instead arguing that] society restricted the free sex and gender expression of all its members’. Togo’s radicalism, however, and particularly his gender non­conformity, ‘increasingly fell out of sync with the wider homosexual community’ who, influenced by international groups, began to more strongly advocate for a liberal rights-based politics, along the lines of OCCUR (McLelland 2012). A similar split occurred between transgender advocates who sought access to newly available treatment on the basis of a clinical diagnosis and those who deployed other models of gender variance with or without medical or surgical intervention (McLelland 2004; McDermott 2012).

These different examples highlight that despite the apparent homogenisation of global ‘gay’ identities, understandings of sexual and gender identities in East Asia have coexisted with localised traditions and practices, resulting in processes of contested hybridisation. In the remainder of this section, I will take this hybridisation and its contested nature as a given, while asking how recent moves to consolidate globalised discourses of sexual identity into frameworks of human rights and regional/global governance have impacted on this narrative of hybridisation. I suggest that there has been a shift in the ways in which globalised sexual identities have been understood and responded to and that this is shaped by systems of regional and global governance. This is evident in projects emerging from people within the region in conjunction with transnational institutions. In essence, the incorporation of certain definitions of sexual identity (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) into legal frameworks and transnational agreements results in a process of codification and demarcation, but also potential exclusion. In 2008, for example, the Japanese news website GayJapanNews partnered with several international NGOs, including the Inter­national Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, to prepare a shadow report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee evaluating ‘Japan’s compliance with the Inter­national Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)’ (Birchfield 2008: 1). The report, prepared in conjunction with activists and non-governmental organisations both in Japan and internationally, highlighted a number of ways in which Japan did not address the rights of LGBT people through the absence of relationship recognition or laws which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Birchfield 2008: 9). This report is one example of the ways in which some people are able to deploy broadly applied categories of identity in attempts to improve their lives. This is an undoubtedly important development, but it may not be the whole story. It is also worth thinking about how these categories may function to limit opportunities for sexual expression, or place people of non-normative sexual identities within structures that foster surveillance and compliance.

One area in which this has become prominent in recent years is in situations where people claim asylum on the basis of persecution of their sexuality or gender identity. These cases, as Laurie Berg and Jenni Millbank (2009: 197) have argued, are increasingly based on relationships of distrust between claimants and decision makers, are ‘heavily influenced by Western conceptions of the linear formation and ultimate fixity of sexual identity’ and may be used to exclude people who do not conform to these expectations (see also Offord 2013: 335—49). As Shane McGrath (2005: 27) has pointed out, in refugee law cases relating to sexual or gender identity, the need to identify a particular group that is in need of protection results in ‘a certain forcing of Western identity norms onto the identity and onto the body ofthe sexual other’. This can have unintended outcomes, like the Australian adjudicator who decided that an asylum seeker could not be gay because he did not know of Madonna (McGrath 2005), or the case of Iranian claimant Shayda, who was deported from Japan in 2005 after a multi-year struggle with Japanese authorities over whether his sexuality was the basis for an asylum claim. The authorities determined that, as Shayda could hide his sexuality, he could not legitimately claim persecution in Iran and was therefore not an eligible refugee (Matsubara 2004). The codification of identity within law can therefore force disparate people into narrowly defined categories. This results, then, in both the exclusion of those who may not fit within these categories and the legal channelling of a range of sexual and gender practices and identities into the parameters of limited categories.

There are also concerns in some parts of the region about the way in which transnational frameworks are materialised through local laws and social structures. In the case of Taiwan, Josephine Ho has argued that global systems of governance, which are necessarily reliant on collaboration between states and non-state actors, are primarily oriented towards fostering uni­versal acceptance of particular norms and values, typically couched in terms of ‘respectability’ and enforced by juridical frameworks supported by conservative civil society (Ho 2008: 460—64). This has typically taken the form of alliances between conservative NGOs and mainstream women’s groups who together foster what Ho (2008: 466) has termed a ‘sexual fundamental­ism’ of marital, procreative heterosexuality based on clearly demarcated differences between two genders (male and female) and with state-backed power to control and police others’ sexuality through expanding the regulatory power of the state. While what it means to be ‘respectable’ may have changed over time, and increasingly includes some LGBT identities, the idea of ‘respectability’ still implies that there must be a counterpoint of the ‘unrespectable’, with implications for those who may fall outside the boundaries of respectability. As Ho (2008: 471—72) attests, however, this process does not occur without resistance. Many East Asian queers have collaborated within and across borders to protest local legislation and transnational interventions into their lives.

Ho’s argument raises some larger questions about whether the framing of sexual identities in relation to injury, either real or potential, is the only possible vocabulary available. As Wendy Brown (1995: 10—26) has argued, the ready connection between the politics of sex/gender and victimisation/injury has led to a reliance on states for both the provision of rights and protection from injury. We can see this in the abovementioned shadow UN report, which called for increased criminalisation of ideas through mechanisms of hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation (Birchfield 2008: 14—15). For Brown, if LGBT people are always in need of protection from liberal states, it becomes much more difficult to see how individual experiences may relate to broader inequalities. It also creates new tools for state intervention into people’s lives. This has been a concern within East Asia, too. Some critics, like Japanese author and activist Fushimi Noriaki, have argued that the demand for anti-discrimination protection for limited identity categories of sexual and gender minorities does little to ‘offset the negative repercussions of… the “hetero system” overall’ (McLelland 2009: 203—4). Like Togo above, Fushimi is suggesting that a narrow focus on liberal rights does little to challenge the broader social systems which limit people’s sexual expression, regardless of their identities.

A further concern about the shift in global politics to recognise LGBT rights is how this connects to broader geopolitical priorities of the states who are promoting such recognition. While external influence on sexual politics in the region is not new (Liu and Rofel 2010: 285—86), the recent decision by the Obama administration to position LGBT rights at the centre of its foreign policy agenda highlights this influence in new and profound ways (US Department of State 2011). We might start by thinking that it is progressive that LGBT people are now on the diplomatic radar of major powers. However, asJasbir Puar (2007: 4) has argued, the positioning of certain sexual subjects with limited legal rights in liberal states such as the US as central to transnational politics may be at least partially about ‘representational currency’ by these states.

One place to look for whether this is taking place in East Asia may be in recent discussions about recognising LGBT rights through transnational political structures. At the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee (Third Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly in

November 2012, a draft resolution was passed condemning extrajudicial killings. The resolution was notable because it included killings related to sexual orientation and, for the first time, those related to gender identity. The successful resolution was also significant because it involved the Asian Group of United Nations members, a group that has not always been actively supportive of LGBT rights. On this occasion, the Japanese representative said, ‘[w]e cannot tolerate any killings of persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity… we think it is meaningful to mention such killings from the perspective of protecting the rights of LGBT people’ (IGLHRC 2012). Japan was joined by South Korea, Mongolia, and several South East Asian nations in voting in favour of the resolution, while many other prominent East Asian nations, such as China and North Korea, abstained. None voted against (IGLHRC 2012; UNGA 2012).

While the resolution is no doubt significant, if we take Puar’s warning we might ask why the Japanese spokesperson is arguing in 2012 that these killings are now intolerable after not being noticeably concerned about this before. Is it more about marking out a space for Japan as liberal and progressive in contrast with its regional neighbours, or about marking out the Asian group as progressive in comparison with other regional UN groupings? One outcome of a differ­entiation based on LGBT experience is the alignment of certain queer subjects as ‘complicit with heterosexual nationalist formations’, which Puar (2007: 4) calls ‘homonationalism’. The positioning of LGBT subjects as both needing state protection and as markers of transnational or intercultural difference may not, then, be based on the needs of queer people. Rather, it reveals something about the diplomatic and geopolitical interests of the states promoting these changes.

These questions relate to the ways in which sexual politics intersects with systems of global governance and ideological contestation, one of the key sites of which is the contemporary politics of migrant sex work.