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Carly Simpson: Introduction to Asia and the Pacific in the U.S. Homophile Press, 1953-64


          From 1953 to 1964 the three major U.S. homophile publications (ONE, Mattachine Review, and The Ladder) printed more than 200 articles and other items that referenced Asia and the Pacific. This introduction is intended to provide researchers with a brief quantitative and qualitative overview of these materials.

        For this study Asia and the Pacific was defined to include mostcountries, cities, landmarks, people, and regions found within continental Asia and  the Pacific Ocean. In order to develop the bibliography we created an inclusive list of terms and searched (electronically and manually) through the periodicals. In many cases the names of countries and cities have changed over the past fifty years. This is mainly a result of decolonization as westernized names have been replaced by local terminology. As a result we searched country and city names commonly used during the 1950s and 1960s. For instance, we searched for Ceylon as well as Sri Lanka, Siam as well as Thailand, and Bombay as well as Mumbai. The boundaries used to define Asia and the Pacific for this project do not align completely with contemporary continental divisions. For example, the eastern region of Russia (Siberia) and the Soviet Union (most notably Kazakhstan) are not included in the Asia/Pacific bibliography. Instead, these references can be found in the bibliography devoted to Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. Because there is a separate bibliography for the Middle East, many countries that are part of continental Asia were omitted from the Asia/Pacific bibliography. Pakistan acts as the western border for the Asia/Pacific region in this project. New Zealand was also excluded in anticipation of a future bibliography that will cover Australia and New Zealand. Whenever the geographical origins of Asian/Pacific writers, artists, and political leaders could be established we included them in the bibliography. For example, Mahatma Gandhi was referenced multiple times, usually to compare the fight of other minority groups with the struggles of the lesbian and gay movement.

        Of the 209 references to Asia and the Pacific that were identified, 98 were found in ONE, 89 in Mattachine Review, and 22 in The Ladder. These references can also be broken down chronologically. Asia and the Pacific were mentioned in 30 items from 1953 to 1956, in 98 items from 1957 to 1960, and in 79 items from 1961 to 1964. The small number of references from 1953 to 1956 is partly a reflection of the smaller number of publications in these years. For instance, The Ladder did not begin publication until 1956 and both ONE and Mattachine Review published fewer issues per year during this period. To make the bibliography more useful to scholars we have annotated the bibliography to indicate the type of item and the specific places referenced; we have also distinguished between minor and major references. Minor references are defined as brief mentions of Asia and the Pacific, whereas major references include articles, letters, and other items focused more substantially on the region and articles, letters, and other items that were written by people from Asia and the Pacific. We identified 78 major references and 128 minor references to Asia and the Pacific in the three publications.

         Asia and the Pacific can also be broken down into smaller sub-regions. This may be useful to scholars interested in a specific country or geographic area within Asia and the Pacific. Japan was referenced in 42 items, China in 41 items, and Korea in 12 items. South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) was referenced in 51 items, Southeast Asia (Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaya) in 23 items, and Pacific Islands (Indonesia, Java, Polynesia, Bali, Guam, and New Guinea) in 29 items. 

         The most common type of item that referenced Asia and the Pacific were feature articles (64), reviews (31), letters (27), and news articles (24). Of the 27 letters that referenced Asia and the Pacific, the majority were written by people living in the region. Some were American citizens stationed in Asia as a result of the Korean War and others were Asian nationals, most of whom were requesting material and praising the work of the U.S. homophile publications.  A few of the letters were written from the United States and briefly mentioned Asia and the Pacific. Again, these references were often connected to military service and time spent in Asia during the Second World War or the Korean War. ONE publisheded 14 letters, Mattachine Review 12, and The Ladder 1. Only one of the letters specified that a woman wrote it; men wrote the rest or the gender was not made apparent. One letter from Tokyo, Japan, published in the August 1962 issue of ONE, revealed that this individual had travelled to Japan as a result of reading articles in ONE about the gay scene in Tokyo.  Collectively the letters reveal that the U.S. homophile publications circulated widely and reached many readers in Asia and the Pacific. They also offer hints about how these individuals learned about the U.S. publications.

       The articles, letters, and other items published in ONE, Mattachine Review, and The Ladder characterized Asia and the Pacific in multiple and contrasting ways. For example, some articles portrayed the region as more sexually liberal and progressive in comparison to the United States and western society. Some of these items described the region as ahead of the west, citing ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Indian texts to prove this point.  In many instances the Kama Sutra was referenced to showcase the sexually progressive nature of Asian society (for example, see ONE, Jun/Jul, 1957, 13-14). An article that was reprinted in Mattachine Review stated, “Oriental and Middle Eastern sex beliefs and practices are so much freer than ours in many ways that our modern sex manuals are beginning just recently to catch up with some of the knowledge which for centuries has been recorded in Persian, Hindu, and Chinese texts” (Mattachine Review, Jul. 1956, 13-15). In other instances the region was described as less progressive, with some items noting that organizations and publications comparable to U.S. homophile groups and periodicals did not exist locally. For example, a feature article in the June 1964 issue of The Ladder entitled “Isolation in Indonesia,” describes the isolation that one lesbian felt living in Indonesia. She noted that although she had had intimate relations with Indonesian women, most of them married quickly thereafter. Her only lesbian acquaintances were European pen pals and individuals associated with U.S. homophile organizations. This woman, Ger Van Braam, wrote numerous letters and articles that were featured in the Ladder and she even appeared on the cover of the ­­­­­­November 1964 issue (see  “A Dope,” The Ladder, Aug. 1963, 12-18; “Isolation in Indonesia,” The Ladder, Jun. 1964, 9-11; “Thanksgiving From Indonesia,” (The Ladder, Nov. 1964, 9-11; and “Gift Books For Indonesia,” The Ladder, Dec. 1964, 24-25). These informative materials provide researches with intimate knowledge about lesbian and gay life in Indonesia.

         Researchers with interests in East Asia may find especially interesting the November 1960 issue of ONE. This issue has a picture of an Asian man on the front cover and contains two major articles that focus on Japan: “I Sought Love” by Danshoku Okagami and “Even in Japan” by Jonathan Gabriel. Okagami wrote of two separate visits from the United States to Japan in search of love. He was initially attracted to Japan because of what he had learned about the country’s more liberated attitudes towards homosexuality. According to Okagami, many in Japan did not have a moral problem with gay relations and so in a sense they were accepted. He also described Japanese culture as male dominated and therefore it was not uncommon for males to dance and socialize in public. After his second trip to Japan, however, he discovered that Americanization following the Second World War had led to changes in the sexual culture. He found that the gay scene had become more Americanized and that the younger generation in Japan was becoming ashamed of homosexuality because of influences from American films and literature. The fictional story “Even in Japan” also describes life in Japan from a western perspective. In this story the protagonist tells of the relative ease with which he finds sexual relations with other men while travelling through the Japanese countryside. This story racializes the Japanese characters by describing them as uneducated and naïve. In some instances the reader may feel as though the protagonist has taken advantage of Japanese people.

         In conclusion, U.S. homophile publications in the 1950s and early 1960s referenced Asia and the Pacific on multiple occasions. In fact, the Asia and Pacific bibliography garnered the most results of all the regions studied for this project. The region is portrayed as both more sexually progressive and more sexually isolating than the United States. Historians interested in gay and lesbian life in Asia and the Pacific during the 1950s and 1960s and those interested in American perceptions of Asia and the Pacific during this period will find U.S. homophile publications a useful and informative source.