Thin and Wistful: James Fugate and the Logic of White Male Frailty in the American Colonial Philippines, 1900–38

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:50 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Karen Miller, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York
Promoted to governor of Siquijor, an island in the central Philippines, James Fugate saw himself as a selfless martyr to the cause of Philippine modernization. Fugate suffered from chronic digestive problems, neurasthenia, a broken neck, and tuberculosis during his time in the Philippines. He was also a lifelong bachelor and lived alone. Married to his career, he was always eager to return to the islands after recuperative stints in the United States. Fugate’s sickly body and weak masculinity stood both in tension with and as a complement to celebrations of the virile muscularity of military conquest. Indeed, as his biography demonstrates, the bodies of colonizers who possessed flexible and unconventional masculinities and who sustained an openness to multiple gendered affects in their personal comportments, could help amplify the flexibility of colonial rule. Fugate’s life and death in the Philippines explores how compromised American colonial masculinities helped facilitate, rather than undermine, violent US power. Described by a military doctor in 1929 as “thin, wistful [and] white… almost alone in a brown man’s country,” Fugate’s weakened body and lack of visible sexuality stood as a metaphor for the perfectly beneficent colonial state, a representation of how Americans wanted to see their best selves in the Philippines. This affect helped produce a veneer of softness over a colonial project rooted in violent conquest.