Queering the English Translation of Male Same-Sex Desire in 1990s Chinese-Language Literature


  • Zhengtang Ma The University of Melbourne




In recent years, we have come to see translation studies as intimately intertwined with queer theory. The interpenetration of the two fields has stimulated significant shifts in how we understand both the nature and the uses of queering social identities and categories. It has also illuminated the complex and nuanced ways in which desire, sexuality, and gender are inscribed in languages and translation. If the word queer is significant both for its “celebration of difference” and in its “reappropriation of the language used by the heterosexist culture,” then the meanings that queer acquires in its translation both to and from non-English linguistic and cultural codes are particularly useful for the study of how queer goes beyond universal notions, fixed identities, or default categories. Translation is “comparably indeterminate and similarly imbricated with issues of gender and sexuality, playfulness, and power.” In this article, I discuss the relationship between queer and translation, and the implications of this relationship for the queering of translation, through textual analysis of the translated, transferred, transmitted representations male same-sex desire and practices, particularly fetishism and sadomasochism, in Taiwanese queer literature from the 1990s. That decade saw an unprecedented flowering of queer literature in Taiwan and, as such, provides a fascinating case study in the historical and social development of the global circulation of queer theory across languages and cultures. I centre my discussion around two seminal texts, Ta-wei Chi’s short story anthology 膜 (The Membranes, 1996) and Chu T’ien-Wen’s novel 荒人手記 (Notes of A Desolate Man, 1994), and draw on William J. Spurlin’s (2017) rethinking of gender and sexual politics in the spaces between languages and cultures, Brian James Baer’s (2020) application of queer theory to translation studies and Douglas Robinson’s (2020) formulation of “equivalencefuck.” I argue that their insights enable an approach to the queering of translation that incorporates queer theory into the theory and practice of translation by understanding translation as essentially a queer praxis that simultaneously fucks with linguistic and cultural binaries on the one hand and with sexual and gender binaries on the other. While fucking binaries plays a vital role in critiquing what is fetishized as source-target equivalence in translation, considering translation as a queer praxis demonstrates that the conjunction of queer and translation offers “new sites of heterogeneity and difference.” Thus, I argue that bringing queer theory to translation and translation studies disrupts some of the foundational assumptions about translation. In turn, this offers new opportunities to queer how we think about sexual and gender difference, cultural dissimilitude, and linguistic diversity in both translation practice and translation studies.  


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Author Biography

Zhengtang Ma, The University of Melbourne

Yahia Zhengtang Ma is a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Melbourne. His thesis examines English translations of queer desire in 1990s Chinese-language literature. He recently published the English translations of Ta-wei Chi’s short story Howl in Queer Taiwanese Literature: A reader (2021) and Xia Mucong’s Military Dog (an excerpt) in Queer Time: A Notebook of Taiwanese Tongzhi Literature (2021). His critical work has appeared in Melbourne Asia Review, Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, American Journal of Chinese Studies, Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice, Taiwan Insight and elsewhere.