After successive invasions by European empires, we have heavily focussed on what was taken, however we oft overlook what was left behind.
Western colonisation has played a significant role in imprinting an intolerant culture onto its invaded colonies. This was not true of the prior cultural status of these countries. Queerness was rooted in their rich history, thriving in Sufi poetry, Hindu mythology, and under liberal Caliph rule. Before strict gender norms in the Middle East, there was space for Mukhannathun (“effeminate men”) who arguably represent the earliest recognition of asexuality. These “effeminate men” held significant status in 10th century Medina and even later became instrumental in the popularisation of Arab music. In a similar vein, with the 1861 sodomy ban, the British’s stigmatisation and condemnation of homosexuality as perverse in India has naturally led to a grim underbelly in Indian society of closeted men predictably forced into conventional marriages and a nuclear family. Despite this ‘new’ establishment of heteronormativity, same sex relations in India were integrated into cultural dogma from as early as the first millennium through Sanskrit epics of gods and goddesses, like Ramayana and Purānas, harmoniously engaging in same-sex relations.
But why is an event, such as colonisation, so deeply entrenched in historical textbooks, relevant today? It’s because it is the people of these same colonised nations which face its harsh ramifications. Meanwhile, the sanctimonious West turns its nose to judge the same attitudes it once introduced. One of the most affected sects of the LGBT community in these nations are trans women. Commonly known as hijras, in South Asia, they are quickly disowned and forced to fend for themselves on the streets, against a harsh backdrop of job discrimination and herd mockery. Derogatory slurs like ‘kusra’ have tainted the roads on which these women have to beg for money, and life remains a challenging struggle with some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Whilst it is important to celebrate our own successes within the trans community at home, we must remember the on-going, laborious fight for transgender rights in other countries around the world, still eclipsed by the shadow of the empire.
Unravelling the queer experience, as a person of colour, is unique and involves both the re-learning and un-learning of our histories. The intersectional conflict of balancing this dual identity is distinctive to the new generation who must grapple with reclaiming their heritage. This disconnect between sexual orientation and cultural self-hood seeps into their relationships with their parents who still absorb the remnants of their own old countries. It is truly an educational experience for all generations who realise they have subsumed culture with ideology.
It is unsurprising that the ripple-effect of colonialism is long-lasting; however, queer life is not all bleak. The increase in queer minority-ethnic spaces is growing, such as the QPOC project and specific club events targeted towards minorities. In an increasingly open-minded and evolving society, no longer should POC queers feel not white enough, not represented enough nor gay enough.