I Am Tongzhi/Ku’er: Translation and Destigmatization of Homosexual Identity in Taiwan
University of Alberta (Canada)
Abstract: Translation, as Maria Tymoczko notes in Translation, Resistance, Activism, “plays a pivotal role in ideological dialogue and struggle, including resistance to … cultural straitjackets of all types, from sexual puritanism to military dictatorships” (2010: 3). This paper aims to highlight translation’s role in destigmatizing homosexual identity in Taiwan by tracing the appearance of tongzhi and ku’er, two discursive terms in Mandarin for “queer.” Both terms, being two different translations of the word “queer,” were adopted in the 1990s by gay people in Taiwan as self-affirmative appellations to fight against homophobic parlance, especially that in journalistic discourse, from the mid-1970s onwards.
In this research, I wish to address the following questions: How does translation serve as a crucial force to alter the existing discourse of homosexuality in Taiwan? What is the dynamics between translation and destigmatization of a sexually-misunderstood community? How does translation help to form a hybrid queer identity in Taiwan?
This paper consists of three parts. Part one presents a historical account of various terms in Chinese, some of which were considered pejorative, that were used to refer to homosexuality and gay community until the 1990s, including traditional Chinese expressions like renyao (freak, or literally, human chimera) and duanxiu (cut sleeve), local epithet like boli quan (glass circle) and ka-ah (ass man), and translated psychiatric terms tongxinglian/tongxing’ai (same-sex love). Part two describes the occasion when the local intelligentsia and the gay community started to use tongzhi and ku’er for self-affirmation and public destigmatization after the concept of queer was introduced to Taiwan. Analysis in this part focuses on examining media discourse, from activist journals, such as Daoyu bianyuan (Isle Margin) and G&L, to mainstream newspapers like Zhongguo shibao (China Times) and Lianhe bao (United Daily). The last part argues that translation of queer as tongzhi or ku’er aspires to differentiate from earlier discursive terms and attempts to construct a diverse and hybrid queer identity in Taiwan.
Keywords: tongzhi, ku’er, destimatization, queer identity, Taiwan
Bio: Wangtaolue Guo is an MA student of transnational and comparative literature at University of Alberta. Before joining U of A, he has received his BA in translation from Jinan University and MA in translation from Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests include gender and sexuality studies, postcolonial studies and multi-ethnic literature.