David Kuo-Cheng Tsai
Prof. Amie Parry
MA Thesis Proposal
Dec. 30, 2003
Modern sport has always been the locus where the boundary project is implemented and maintained. For instance, sports are strictly segregated on the basis of sex due to the inherent difference in physical strength between the sexes. Therefore transsexuals or transgender people are usually excluded from most sports events because they do not conform to the boundary project, in this case, the categories of man and woman. Besides, by applying postcolonial theory to sports, I observe that modern sport also differentiates the modern and the traditional, especially along the lines of ethnic differences. Since the 19th century, the traditional sports of the Third World have gradually become outdated and substituted with the “modern” white Eurocentric sports in an attempt to be included within the elite of the so called developed world to whose values they aspire. This point is illustrated by the development of physical education in late Qing and the early Republic. And when the traditional sports are practiced, it’s usually in the name of patriotism or the West’s fascination with all things exotic. In either case the traditional sports are still treated as “pre-modern,” something for the natives to preserve, or primitive, something
romanticized for the West. Further scholars have demonstrated that modern sport also produces the hierarchies in both class and masculinity, delineates sickness and health, and, last but not least, highlights the tension between masculinity and femininity, and between heterosexuality and homosexuality. It’s within these contexts I find the emergence of gay sports groups in postcolonial Taiwan especially unique and worthy of further research.
My purpose in writing this thesis is to offer a feminist perspective and a different approach to the current literature on sport studies in Taiwan. The feminist perspective is to read sport as a site of domination and subordination, not only referring to gender oppression but also class, race and sexuality oppressions. As for my approach, I want to read sport as a social and cultural practice instead as a scientific subject. In fact, despite the integration of sport and cultural studies around the world, in Taiwan the study of sport is predominately confined to the fields of physical education, kinesiology, management science, psychology, and medical science. Thankfully, the emergence of gay sports groups since the 1990’s has started to encourage some scholars to examine the political characteristics of the deep structure of sport mechanism in society such as its sexism, homophobia, and identity politics. For
instance, Zong Zhao-Jia, a student in the Graduate School for Social Transformation Studies in Shih Hsin University, has written her MA thesis on “Movement Through
Sport: An Analysis of ‘Les-Cup’ and Lesbian Identity.” In her thesis, she places the lesbian sports groups and Les-Cup within the gay movement by emphasizing the empowerment of gathering, pleasure/leisure theory, and identity politics. However, she mentions in the end of her thesis that the emergence of gay sports groups is distinct from the lesbian experience due to differences based on gender and social status, thus this area is as yet unexplored. I intend to write my thesis to piece together the broader picture of gay and lesbian sports groups while not effacing the subtleties of the anti-boundary project gay and lesbian sports groups respectively deploy. With my thesis, I also look forward to encouraging a dialogue between the gay and the lesbian sports groups and to promoting integration and cooperation between them against the boundary project.
I will divide my thesis into four chapters. In the first chapter, I will address the issue of modern sport as a project of boundary maintenance and illustrate this with more examples in different arenas. On a national scale, modern sport stabilizes the notion of nation-states while that national identity also reinforces the boundary project of modern sport. This can be seen in the frenzied outpour of national celebration displayed when winning medals at international events, for instance the reaction of the Taiwanese public upon learning of Taiwan baseball team’s victory over Korea in 2003 Asian Championship which qualified them to compete in the 2004 Olympic Games. In terms of the categorization of racial identities, the discrimination, romanticiziation and hypersexualization of black athletes are the most intricate byproducts of the boundary project. This can be seen in the media representation of various black athletes including Venus Williams in tennis (being called a black orangutan), Tiger Woods in golf (romanticized for his skills), and Dennis Rodman in basketball (portrayed as a sex menace). Modern sport also defines sickness and health, Magic Johnson being the most pertinent case in point. After he announced his HIV status, he suddenly became taboo and was excluded from the sports arena. On a personal level, modern sport calls attention to the innermost fear of gender incongruity and homosexuality. The name-calling of the lesbian tennis player Mauresmo as “half a man” and “butch” by other tennis players is one example I’d like to probe into. Based on the examples above, I will demonstrate how rigid the governance of dominant ideology is and how the emergence of gay sports groups is both inside and outside that ideology.
Then I’ll approach the emergence of gay sports groups in Taiwan by historicizing the concept of modern sport itself which took shape since 1895. From 1895 to 1945, Taiwan was under Japanese colonization. The colonial discourse of modern sport at this time was meant to remold Taiwanese bodies, to reshape their mentalities and further to assimilate their identities in order for the colonial rule of Japan to further its own aims, such as the efficiency and productivity in the workforce and producing manpower for the military. After Taiwan gained its independence from
Japan, the sporting culture was deeply rooted in the educational system. However, due to martial law, people rarely gathered and formed clubs to engage in sporting activities outside the nation’s subsidized teams. Later martial law was lifted and the social climate started to change. Debates between the feminist movement and lesbian politics furthered the visibility and solidarity of the queer community. With the Five Working Day Policy releasing manpower and increasing the demand for leisure activities and through the ubiquitous Internet, gay sports groups gradually emerged from these advantageous forces whether political, economical or technological.
Following this is an introduction to the research subjects, i.e. the gay sports groups. I intend to include both gay and lesbian sports groups and events in northern Taiwan. I am hoping to bring gender differences and power relations into discussion when analyzing the gay and lesbian sports groups separately. As for the methodology, I am greatly inspired by the author of Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam, who adopts an interdisciplinary approach while writing her book. Like Halberstam, I’d like to find a balance between cultural studies and theory; between text-based analysis and action-based observation. The cultural texts I want to analyze not only include media representation of gay sports groups but also literary works and films while the action-based observation embodies the sporting practice itself, athletes’ self-representation, and athletes’ involvement in the gay movement. Also in order to bolster the credibility and validity of this kind of qualitative research, participant observation and interviews will be both undertaken.
I will begin my second chapter by approaching gay sports groups with performance theories. Based on Richard Schechner’s seven ways to approach “play,” I have come up with five dimensions to analyze gay sports groups, i.e. structure, spatiality, temporality, experience and function. In terms of structure, some gay sports groups are organized while some are more informal. This has to do with different sport populations, various formations, and group consensus. As for spatiality, it’s not easy for gay sports groups to play in a particular place since all space, not to mention just sporting venues, is heterosexual space. Therefore some groups make use of outdoor playing-fields in schools or parks while some rent indoor space on a regular basis if the members can afford the rent. The former makes use of the policy of the “national fitness awareness program;” the later functions under the capitalistic principle. When it comes to temporality, the gathering time varies according to the status of the members. Students are generally more available than the working members. Besides, the length of the sporting event is directly proportional to the amount of energy exerted and to the degrees of friendship between the members. More than often the sporting event doesn’t have a clear beginning and an end because the members might have treated it as part of a greater performance—a queer family or community. In terms of experience, I intend to bring in identity politics based on my interviews and participant observation to shed light on the positive empowerment of such sporting gatherings. The gay sports groups for some people are places to liberate their bodies and exert their sexualities; for some, the gay sports groups have become their alternative family. Moreover, they are fortresses for gay and lesbians alike to transgress the boundary project, to pursue further relationships with other gay people. All these are achieved through the act of gathering and engaging in sporting practices together. Lastly, I will talk about the function of gay sports groups from the perspective of the gay movement, such as voluntary fundraising for the lesbian players to join the Gay Games in 2002, and the participation of the gay swimming club in the gay parade in Taipei in November 2003. By theorizing gay sports as performance, the interaction among the performers, spectators, and those in-between enriches the potentiality of sports activity as a social movement. The presentation of self in gay sporting culture is challenging to the boundary project as such.
In chapter three, I will deal with the body politics of gay sports groups. Members of the gay sports groups explicitly and implicitly unite to resist hetero-stereotyped identities, but are the gender behavioral patterns similar between lesbian sports groups and gay sports groups or even just among different gay sports groups? How does each group view masculinity and femininity? Is gender mocked or reproduced when engaged in sports? At this moment in my research my answer is both yes and no. In the gay context, some people I interviewed consciously pointed out the greatest difference between gay sport and straight sport was the fun that some effeminate men brought to the playing-field with their flamboyant demeanor, boisterous screams and laughter, and incessant wisecracks. However, some people confided in me the uneasiness and embarrassment they felt in the presence of these effeminate men. In the lesbian context, the butch-femme stereotypes condition the interaction between self-identified butches and femmes. For example, butches will never want to lose to femmes in sports but in the meantime they are under peer pressure (other butches) to be gentle to femmes. That’s hard for butches and femmes to have a fair play. I will first delineate the respective body politics and gender politics within gay and lesbian sports groups. Then I will focus on the obsession of masculinity by both lesbians and gays when engaged in sport. I believe the obsession has different effects for women’s groups and men’s. Then I will try to find in the groups some possibilities for gay sport to become postmodern and transgressing instead of being modern and conditioned.
In chapter four, I will focus on two specific events that reshape the relationship between sporting gays and the gay movement. One is the Rainbow and Les-Cup Sporting Event held in Taipei in the summer of 2001. It was the first gay sporting event sponsored by the Taipei government. The other event is the 2002 Sydney Gay Games which was the first time Taiwan had ever participated. In the former event, the players were well-protected for fear of being unnecessarily outed. In the later event, the players were supposed to embrace the event as an “outing” according to the spirit of the Gay Games but instead they chose to highlight national identity as if they helped Taiwan itself to come out but not themselves on this international debut. I find both events intriguing and I want to analyze the political undercurrent beneath both events. In addition, I’d like to unearth the hidden messages behind the participation of gay sports groups in such social events and the gay movement and discuss whether there should be certain expectations of gay sports groups or the gay movement in Taiwan and whether Gay Games is the ultimate realization for gay sports groups to demonstrate their self-acceptance and anti-boundary project.
In conclusion I’d like to examine the pros and cons of identity politics involved in gay sports groups and the gay movement. Identity politics could be a way to empower and to form a community. However, any identity is formed based on excluding an “Other” and sometimes is even incorporated by the “primary” identity. Gay sports groups and the gay community are no exception. Thus we need to be careful what gay sports groups might exclude and be prejudiced against because we don’t want another boundary project at work in gay sport. By engaging dialogues and cooperation among gay and lesbian sports groups, gay activists and other social minorities, gay sport could implode the masculinity and femininity myth, prescribed gender expression, and the desire to win through aggression. Ultimately, I hope that my thesis can challenge the boundary project as well as the traditional approach of doing sport studies in Taiwan and contribute to the possibilities of actively engaging in sport as a social movement.
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 I borrow the term and concept of “boundary project” from Brian Pronger, who used this term in his essay “Post-Sport: Transgressing Boundaries in Physical Culture,” which was collected in the book Sport and Postmodern Times edited by Geneviè Rail. The book was published in 1998 by State University of New York Press, Albany.
 This is illustrated in the essay “The Gay Games Controversy” written by Riki Anne Wilchins. The essay is in the book Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender by the same author.
 This background information is from Chien-ming Yu’s work “A Probe into Views on Women’s Physical Education in Modern China,” which could be found in New History. (Vol. VII No. 3. Sep 1996. 119-159.)
 A keyword search related to sport studies in the Dissertation and Thesis Abstract System (全國碩博士論文資訊網) testifies to this.
 In my thesis, gay sports groups generally refer to both gay and lesbian sports groups unless I specify otherwise. I do not intend to belittle lesbian sports groups by mentioning “gay” sports groups alone.
 Les Cup in Chinese is 雷斯盃which sounds like “Lesbian Cup.” For more information, see http://www.geocities.com/les5466/history.htm Zong Zhao-Jia’s thesis is on line on http://sex.ncu.edu.tw/course/liou/Thesis2.html
 The background information is from another work of Chien-ming Yu, “The Development of Female Physical Education in Taiwan during the Japanese Colonial Period.”
 Richard Schechner reads play as more than just an activity. To him, play can also mean anything from a mood or a performance to make-believe. In this sense, gay sports groups do create certain moods and are related to both gender and political performance. See Performance Studies: An Introduction. (2002)