Denise Cruz

Fashion, gender, sexuality in 
national and transnational cultures

Denise CruzI write and teach about gender and sexuality in national and transnational cultures. The subjects I study are varied: from the connections between the rise of English literature and the women’s suffrage movement in the Philippines; to the vibrant high fashion world of contemporary Manila; to the artistic strategies modernist authors used to imagine a transpacific world during the early twentieth century. My methods range from closely examining literary aesthetics to ethnographic observation to print archival history.  My research documents and explores national, regional, and global dynamics in North America, the Philippines, and Asia, and their effects on how we think about gender and sexuality. Ultimately, all of my work is driven by a fascination with how people use different kinds of cultural production—novels and poetry, performances and collections, fashion shows and blogs—as venues for responding to changes in their worlds; to question their lived, social realities; and to imagine and even enact new possibilities.

I am the author of Transpacific Femininities: the Making of the Modern Filipina, a book that uses Philippine print culture to argue that the early to mid-twentieth century period was dominated by a fascination with transpacific Asian women—figures who were connected to both nationalist movements in Asia and the global women’s suffrage movement. While Transpacific Femininities centers on Filipina and Filipino literature and culture, ultimately, the book tracks geopolitical transitions and presents a new way of thinking about constructions of a feminized Asia. I am currently working on two book projects: a history and study of the development of high fashion in Manila from the 1940s to the present (funded by a five-year Insight Grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council), and an analysis of the importance of the regional to Asian American literature. You can see an example of this work on my writing and developing projects pages.

In my courses at the University of Toronto, my students and I work together to complicate the geographic, chronological, and disciplinary parameters that shape the study of gender, sexuality, and the global in twentieth and twenty-first century American, Asian North American, ethnic American, and Philippine literature and culture. Most recently, I’ve taught the large first-year lecture course, Literature for Our Time, for the Department of English. With over 400 students and the support of 12 graduate teaching assistants, we consider how the study of literature—as a collective and community-building endeavor—can engage a global and transnational world.