Metroimperial Intimacies: Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philippines in U.S. Imperialism, 1899-1913

Metroimperial Intimacies: Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philippines in U.S. Imperialism, 1899-1913

by Victor Román Mendoza

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In Metroimperial Intimacies Victor Román Mendoza combines historical, literary, and archival analysis with queer-of-color critique to show how U.S. imperial incursions into the Philippines enabled the growth of unprecedented social and sexual intimacies between native Philippine and U.S. subjects. The real and imagined intimacies—whether expressed through friendship, love, or eroticism—threatened U.S. gender and sexuality norms. To codify U.S. heteronormative behavior, the colonial government prohibited anything loosely defined as perverse, which along with popular representations of Filipinos, regulated colonial subjects and depicted them as sexually available, diseased, and degenerate. Mendoza analyzes laws, military records, the writing of Philippine students in the United States, and popular representations of Philippine colonial subjects to show how their lives, bodies, and desires became the very battleground for the consolidation of repressive legal, economic, and political institutions and practices of the U.S. colonial state. By highlighting the importance of racial and gendered violence in maintaining control at home and abroad, Mendoza demonstrates that studies of U.S. sexuality must take into account the reach and impact of U.S. imperialism. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822374862
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 12/17/2015
Series: Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Victor Román Mendoza is Assistant Professor of Women's Studies and English at the University of Michigan. 

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Metroimperial Intimacies

Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philippines in U.S. Imperialism, 1899â"1913

By Victor Román Mendoza

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2015 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7486-2



During the first decade or so of the U.S.'s occupation of the Philippines, colonial military officials, trying to quell the anticolonial Philippine insurrection, developed state-of-the-art surveillance, regulatory techniques, and civil reform measures to gather intelligence about and control the racially and geographically heterogeneous Philippine population. But managing sex didn't at first seem to interest colonial administrators that much. While colonial governing involved regulation of some sexual practices considered "moral evils" (such as Philippine women's sex work with U.S. soldiers), it did not often, quite remarkably, target same-sex erotic acts and gender-variant behavior. I say "remarkably" for two reasons. First, both were documented (though not always policed) in the islands during Spanish colonial rule. Second, in the U.S. metropole, there was a "revolutionary expansion" of sodomy laws, which governed over same-sex acts, between 1881 and 1921 — an expansion in terms of the varied sex acts that constituted sodomy, the number of states that prosecuted it, and the instances of prosecution. Imperial expansion into the Philippines did not, however, incorporate the revolutionary expansion of sodomy laws, or, for that matter, the proliferation of anti-cross-dressing laws occurring in the metropole during the late nineteenth century.

In the early years of the U.S. colonial state's consolidation of administrative power in the Philippines, there wasn't so much an explosion of discourse around sexuality as a slow burn. In this chapter, I reconstruct the emergence of U.S. racial-sexual governance in the Philippines during the first decade of colonial state building. As I lay out in the introduction, the U.S. metropolitan state, lacking a clear picture of the "homosexual" developing in sexological discourse, worked toward an inchoate yet capacious understanding of the "degenerate," a term that, evoking a prior evolutionary status, was articulated intimately to contemporaneous racial discourse. At the same time, the U.S. state was producing discourses and knowledges to fix the "Philippine race" on its newly acquired territory an ocean away. Thus, the turn-of-the-century U.S. imperial-colonial state came into form through the racial-sexual governance of a plurality of populations within the metropole, on one hand, and the stabilization of the legal status of the Philippines and its native people, on the other. While several scholars in Philippine and Philippine American studies have recently considered the role of the early U.S. colonial state in the Philippines in regard to continual racial formations, none has studied the state's relationship to what we might now call nonnormative sexuality in the archipelago. The absence of such scholarship is not surprising. Records of same-sex erotic acts or gender variance in the early U.S. colonial state in the Philippines are distinctly scarce. The U.S. colonial state in the Philippines — even while its surveillance techniques within a few years quickly surpassed those in the U.S. metropole — did not yet include same-sex behavior among the objects of its totalizing surveillance.

The claims in this chapter are historical, genealogical. Charting the development of the colonial administrative state's apprehension of illicit sex acts in the Philippines, I argue that during the earliest years of the occupation, there was very little explicit state management of same-sex erotic acts; by the end of the first decade of occupation, however, colonial state administrators were going to great lengths to locate and target individuals and populations alleged to be engaged in same-sex erotic behavior. To track this shift in disciplinary power, this chapter locates both the vague constitution of the vagrant and the often unmarked policing of sodomy in the archipelago. Colonial administrators in the Philippines imported from the U.S. metropole the capacious crime of vagrancy to regulate, on local and national levels, a range of nonnormative, unproductive, and habitually immoral bodies. Among the habitually immoral bodies, vagrancy laws were then used to prosecute the more elusive crime of sodomy. As many scholars have recounted, "sodomy" in U.S. metropolitan criminal law has historically described a range of perversions not always attached to same-sex erotic acts; non-procreative sex acts between men and women, for example, were prosecuted under sodomy statutes just a few decades earlier. Because of the range of definitions attached to "sodomy" and because criminal legislation has historically treated the behavior with a mixture of severity and tolerance, Foucault called sodomy an "utterly confused category." Still, sodomy in the U.S. metropole by the late 1880s came more and more to refer to anal or oral sex acts between an adult man and a male adolescent, male child, and another male adult. In the U.S. colonial Philippines during the early 1900s, administrators seem to have understood sodomy primarily as a sex act between two adult men. But it took a few years for "sodomy" to arrive as a proper target for the U.S. colonial state in the Philippines at all. Put another way, the discourse of "sodomy" emerged as a shorthand expression of what Slavoj Zizek has called U.S. imperialism's "unknown knowns" — "the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values" — that administrators eventually settled on to make sense of the unmentionable liberties that, to wit, could not have been happening on the empire's new territory (but, in fact, were). Thus, to the extent that this book traces intimacies made possible by and constrained by imperial contact, I consider here how the production of "sodomy" can be regarded as a fantasmatic articulation that makes legally legible the unknown knowns of colonial social life. In tracing the emergence of this category within colonial law and administrative institutions, I show how administrators' utterly confused and culturally informed understanding of the historically unmentionable act saturated the production of its regulation in the archipelago. "Sodomy" might be a behavior, but it is also a cultural production. Moreover, it is a condensation of biopolitical practices regulating immorality that could only have appeared retrospectively — even retroactively — vis-à-vis the more commonly ascribed, though no more precise, category of the "vagrant," another figure associated with habitual immoral behavior. Significantly, administrators sought to brace this regulation of both sodomy and the vagrant against imperial fantasies of the sexually available, disease-carrying, degenerate, and thus perverse figure of the Philippine native. Vis-à-vis the colonial state in the archipelago, the genealogies of the "Philippine subject" and of "sodomy" thus are not that far removed. Both categories — that they are not parallel is no accident — occupy the space of a deadlock in the aspirations to totalizing knowledges of imperial-colonial surveillance and administrative state formation.

The Tentative Character of the U.S. Colonial State in the Philippines

The emergent discursive and legislative attempts within the U.S. metropole to consolidate racial-sexual categories that I lay out in the introduction coincided with the U.S. imperial state's attempts to fix the political status of the colonial Philippines and Philippine subjects. While the U.S. bureaucratic state was, to echo Margot Canaday, merely "maturing" during the time in which knowledges about the sexual deviant or pervert proliferated within U.S. metropolitan consciousness, the U.S. imperial state was far less developed in the area of colonial governance of distant territory and its people. As a prominent scholar of U.S. colonial economic policy would describe in 1905 to anyone interested in studying U.S. colonial state governance in the Philippines, "He is called upon to study a work that is not yet completed; ... he must examine institutions that to a certain extent may be said to have a tentative character."

This section sketches the "tentative character" of the early U.S. colonial state in the Philippines, focusing on the emergence of its governance of same-sex acts. As several historians have shown, the colonial state was yet immature, but it underwent a tremendous growth spurt during the first decade of occupation in the Philippines. Starting at the beginning of conflict, the U.S. colonial military and civil rule in the Philippines, attempting to stamp out a guerrilla warfare insurrection, mobilized countless techniques and technicians of security, accreting into a bureaucratized surveillance state: a civilian police, typewritten constabulary reports, specialized intelligence units, a centralized phone network, photo-identification systems, fingerprinting, the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the numbered file — not to mention various secret services in the army, constabulary, police, customs, and internal revenue. The formation of an administrative state in the Philippines called for legislative, judicial, and liberal economic systems operating independently from the corresponding institutions in the metropole. In short, while the U.S. state within the conventional borders of the metropole was figuring out how to apprehend and govern increasingly visible racial-sexual individuals and populations, the U.S. state in the colonial Philippines mobilized very early a formidable range of surveillance, security, and finance tactics more generally. Colonial administrators' arguably successful biopolitical management of their subjects in the Philippines — within twenty years, for example, the Metropolitan Police in Manila would compile an astonishing index of alphabetized file cards for 70 percent of that city's entire population — surpassed in a short time the intensity and scope of the regulation of bodies within the U.S. metropolitan arena.

The lack of maturity and tentative character of colonial state governance was conspicuous in 1901, when the U.S. Supreme Court, contemplating what were known as the Insular Cases, sought to determine the legal status of the United States' new island territories under the charge of the War Department's Bureau of Insular Affairs. Not insignificantly, this was the same court that had ruled on Plessy v. Ferguson just five years earlier. The Insular Cases, however, did not so much claim to clear up seemingly increasing ambiguities in racial difference vis-à-vis heteronormativity (as I discuss in the introduction) as aspire to resolve legislatively the status of the new territories of the United States vis-à-vis the imperial metropole in Washington, DC. In these cases, the Supreme Court considered the contemporary arguments by pro-expansionist legal scholars and public officials favoring the doctrine of ex propio vigore, which held that "by its own force," the U.S. Constitution applied not only to the North American territories but also to the new territories of Hawai'i, Alaska, Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. To put it in the idiom of the day, under ex propio vigore, "The Constitution follows the flag." In the cases of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, however, the court ruled against the doctrine of ex propio vigore and imposed instead a doctrine of incorporation. That doctrine insulated the United States politically from the new territories and left colonial officials to their own discretion when it came to the transmission and application of metropolitan state power. Colonial government bureaucrats in turn decided that the new overseas territories would have the vague and arbitrary status of "unincorporation." This status meant that although the United States would maintain sovereignty over the territories, the territories would only be annexed and would not be immediately incorporated into the union as proper states. The U.S. colonial Philippines, in the end, remained under the sovereignty of the U.S. government but external to its body politic.

In short, if under the doctrine of ex propio vigore the "Constitution followed the flag," then under the doctrine of incorporation, the Constitution followed the flag only onto the territories that subsequently would be incorporated into the metropolitan state. Since the Philippines, it was determined, was not such a territory, the Constitution did not then follow the flag into the "unincorporated" archipelago but, rather, tarried indefinitely behind. Colonial administrators, cut loose from Washington, were able to improvise on governmentality in the archipelago. "The U.S. colonial state in the Philippines," as Julian Go and Anne Foster have summarized, "had emerged as a reality on the ground and as an abstraction at home." Such remote and disjointed rule from Washington was supported by the widespread metropolitan fantasy that the Philippine people wanted imperial intervention. As front-page editorials in the New York Times and several local newspapers, presuming to project the "desire" of the Philippine people, diagnosed in 1899, "The inhabitants are desirous of American rule."

While the U.S. press presumed to express the desire of Philippine subjects to be ruled, busy colonial administrators did not often concern themselves with Philippine subjects' sexual desire, especially same-sex desire. More specifically, evidence of governance of same-sex or gender-variant acts by the U.S. colonial state in the Philippines, particularly during the years I examine (1899–1912), remains largely elusive. One might assume that the nascent policing of same-sex "perversion" in the U.S. metropole at this time would have also been constitutive of the biopolitical management of racialized colonial subjects in the Philippines. Regulation of, say, cross-dressing, sodomitic Philippine insurgents surely would have justified intervention by reform-minded administrators. My mining of the U.S. colonial archive, however, does not bear out such conjecture. As the U.S. imperial state in the metropole by the fin-de-siècle had an increasing but still nascent idea of the sexual "pervert," the colonial state's legal idea of perversity in the Philippines remained similarly to be determined.

To be sure, colonial administrators did attempt to govern immoral sexual — albeit opposite-sex — acts. Shortly after the arrival of the U.S. colonial forces, for example, as Paul Kramer has recounted, both the U.S. Medical Commission and the Board of Health sought to regulate women's sex work in Manila, especially since many U.S. troops engaged in such commerce, and the troops could not be left vulnerable to disease. The scope of such regulation was unprecedented and formative: the U.S. army's informal program for the venereal inspection of female prostitutes in the Philippines was the broadest program the U.S. military had taken hitherto anywhere and became grounds for the regulation of sex commerce in the military writ large. The administrators' regulation of Philippine women's bodies — regulation that, borrowing largely from Spanish colonial policy, included inspections, the imposition of fees, incarceration, and deportation — received no attention in the U.S. metropolitan press until a prohibitionist journalist, reporting on the dangers of alcohol use in the Philippines, exposed the regulatory practice in June 1900. Once this sexual scandal blew up in the press, a range of social activists were quick to point to how venereal inspection in colonies was itself a symptom of emerging and urgent social and moral diseases resulting from colonial contact. Alcohol consumption, miscegenation, the spread of venereal disease, and the advance of depraved sexual practices in the Philippines all threatened to corrupt not just the U.S. soldiers stationed there but also the U.S. metropolitan public writ large. And colonial administrators, unable to stop the practice, had recourse only to regulating it. It was this notion of regulation of these immoral practices — rather than their outright elimination — to which social reformers most objected. To wit, the sex work of women enabled by colonialism and the tactic of simply containing this work were perverting the republic. Such social panic around the regulation of prostitution was precisely the reason that administrators sought to keep regulatory practices out of the public eye. Imperialism didn't need bad press spoiling claims to benevolent assimilation. In fact, it was this particular "social evil" and "vice" — and not any reports of same-sex erotic acts — that inspired one religious conservative commentator's nominating Manila as a modern incarnation of "the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah." The colonial state thus did regulate "wicked" sexual practices that, like sodomy, were considered "social evils." Same- sex erotic behaviors just were not often among them.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

1. Racial-Sexual Governance and the U.S. Colonial State in the Philippines  35

2. Unmentionable Liberties: A Racial-Sexual Differend in the U.S. Colonial Philippines  63

3. Menacing Receptivity: Philippine Insurrectos and the Sublime Object of Metroimperial Visual Culture  95

4. The Sultan of Sulu's Epidemic of Intimacies  131

5. Certain Peculiar Temptations: Little Brown Students and Racial-Sexual Governance in the Metropole  167

Conclusion  203

Notes  211

Bibliography  259

Index  279

What People are Saying About This

For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India - Anjali Arondekar

"In this deft and thought-provoking book, Victor Román Mendoza sets forth detailed and lucidly theorized accounts of archives of neglected state and cultural intimacies that move from the colony to the imperial metropole, from the Philippine-American War to its afterlife within the broader iterations of U.S. empire. Tracking the manifold uses to which genres of fantasy-making were deployed during the period, Mendoza shows how sexual and racial fantasies founded the emergence and resilience of U.S. empire. This move radically centers Philippine colonial history as not peripheral to studies of U.S. empire, but indeed as constitutive of its very heteromasculine and genocidal form."

Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora - Martin F. Manalansan IV

"Metroimperial Intimacies is a magisterial work of cultural and historical scholarship, and one of the best books about Philippine cultural exigencies in the early twentieth century to come out in recent years. Wielding an expert and elegant hand, Victor Román Mendoza deploys a queer of color perspective and relocates it outside of American shores into its colonial frontier. An exciting, intricately argued, and pathbreaking book, Metroimperial Intimacies marks a major turn."

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