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Queer Has Always Been Here – A Reading List

This Pride month, we are highlighting a selection of books and articles that focus on the long history of queer communities within the Global South. Queerness is often portrayed as a modern western identity without much reference to how colonialism controlled and repressed indigenous queer communities. This reading list aims to challenge Eurocentric perceptions of queerness and emphasise that from the Two-Spirit peoples in the Americas to the Hijra communities in India, queer has always been here.

Image: Ladies of the Zenana on a roof terrace sourced from Queer Art History

1. Two-Spirit Indigenous Americans: Fact not Fiction by Casey S. O’Higgins

Article published in 2015

This paper examines the narratives of Two-Spirit Indigenous Americans who have been oppressed by heteropatriarchal norms of colonisation. Two-spirit creation stories are explored to show the prevalence and importance of their identities prior to contact with Euro-American settlers and the evolution of violence, exclusion, and marginalisation due to colonisation.The term “Two-Spirit” is examined as a cultural identity of the Indigenous Americans. Finally, the paper looks at how Two-Spirit scholars are looking to combine Queer Theory with Indigenous Studies to deconstruct colonial heteropatriarchal America.

2. Badhai: Hijra-Khwaja Sira-Trans Performance across Borders in South Asia by Adnan Hossain, Claire Pamment & Jeff Roy

Book published in 2022

This is the first full-length book to provide an introduction to badhai performances throughout South Asia, examining their characteristics and relationships to differing contexts in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Badhai‘s repertoires of songs, dances, prayers, and comic repartee are performed by socially marginalised hijrakhwaja sira, and trans communities. They commemorate weddings, births and other celebratory heteronormative events. The form is improvisational and responds to particular contexts, but also moves across borders, including those of nation, religion, genre, and identity.

This collaboratively authored book draws from anthropology, theatre and performance studies, music and sound studies, ethnomusicology, queer and transgender studies, and sustained ethnographic fieldwork to examine badhai‘s place-based dynamics, transcultural features, and communications across the hijrascape. This vital study explores the form’s changing status and analyses these performances’ layered, scalar, and sensorial practices, to extend ways of understanding hijra-khwaja sira-trans performance.

3. The Decolonisation of Homosexuality in Zimbabwe: Unpacking the Colonial Roots of State-Sanctioned Homophobia by Abigail Edla King

Article published in 2022

Political leaders throughout Africa claim that homosexuality is an un-African, western import that was brought to Africa by European colonists. This claim is often utilised by these same leaders to justify the continued prevalence of state homophobia – laws and policies that criminalise homosexuality and explicit anti-homosexual sentiment expressed by political leaders. Through an examination of the history of sexuality in Zimbabwe, from homosexual behaviours documented in pre-colonial Zimbabwe to the introduction of state homophobia during the colonial period to the maintenance and expansion of these anti-homosexual policies and attitudes into the post-colonial modern day, I argue that state homophobia, not homosexuality, is a product of colonialism. This prevalence of state homophobia in post-colonial Zimbabwe can be understood as a product of colonisation, contributing to the ongoing conversation concerning the definition of decolonisation, and illuminating a gap in decolonial literature regarding African sexuality.

4. Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations by Samar Habib

Book published in 2008

This book, the first full-length study of its kind, dares to probe the biggest taboo in contemporary Arab culture with scholarly intent and integrity – female homosexuality. Habib argues that female homosexuality has a long history in Arabic literature and scholarship, beginning in the ninth century, and she traces the destruction of Medieval discourses on female homosexuality and the replacement of these with a new religious orthodoxy that is no longer permissive of a variety of sexual behaviours. Habib also engages with recent “gay” historiography in the West and challenges institutionalised constructionist notions of sexuality.

5. Queer Natives in Latin America: Forbidden Chapters of Colonial History by Fabiano S. Gontijo, Barbara M. Arisi & Estêvão R. Fernandes 

Book published in 2020

This book defies long standing assumptions about indigenous societies in the Americas and shows that non-heteronormative sexualities were already present among native peoples in different regions of what is now Latin America before the arrival of European colonisers. Presenting data collected from both literature and field research, the authors give examples of native queer traditions in different cultural regions, such as Mesoamerica, the Amazon and the Andes, and analyse how colonisation gradually imposed the models of sexuality and family organisation considered as normal by the European settlers using methods such as forced labor, physical punishments and forced marriages.

Building upon post-colonial and queer theories, Queer Natives in Latin America: Forbidden Chapters of Colonial History reveals a little known aspect of the colonisation of the Americas: how a bureaucratic-administrative, political and psychological apparatus was created and developed to normalise indigenous sexuality, shaping them to the colonial order.    

6. From “Long Yang” and “Dui Shi” to Tongzhi: Homosexuality in China by Jing Wu

Article published in 2008

Homosexuality was widespread, recognised and fairly tolerated, although not entirely accepted, in ancient China. After being invaded and defeated by the Western powers in the mid- to late nineteenth century, “progressive” Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century believed that Chinese traditions were “backward” and the actual cause of China’s defeat; they looked to Westernisation as a cure for the nation. This occurred at a time when homosexuality was regarded as a psychiatric condition in the West. Consequently, a pathological view of homosexuality and other antihomosexual attitudes were adopted by the Chinese along with Western technology and other “progressive thoughts.” It was only after 1949 that homosexual behavior was seriously punished in China and served as grounds for persecution during Chinese political upheavals between the 1950s and 1970s. In the 1980s, the Chinese government’s “open door” policy made it possible for the Chinese gay and lesbian community to develop; its bumpy journey since then reflected the fluctuation of the general political situation in China over the last two decades. Despite the official pathologising position of Chinese psychiatry–the prevailing view until recently–starting in the late 1980s, gay-friendly scholars and health professionals began to sympathetically research gay (tongzhi) communities in China and to advocate for sexual minorities. In 2001, the latest edition of the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders (CCMD-3) removed the diagnosis of homosexuality per se but still retained a diagnosis resembling ego-dystonic homosexuality. Nevertheless, the tongzhi community in China has much work left to do before achieving full civil rights.

7. The colonisation of indigenous sexualities: between dispossession and resistance by Manuela L. Picq

(Click here for the English translation)

Article published in 2020

Sexual colonisation represses indigenous sexualities, regulating sexual and gender experiences, forcing indigenous peoples to exist within heteronormative western codes. This essay analyses the suppression of indigenous sexualities as part of a broader process of colonial dispossession. Sexual diversity is examined in indigenous languages, the colonial narrative of sodomy that criminalises bodies to justify dispossession under the doctrine of discovery, and aims to decolonise sexualities as a fundamental act of self-determination to resist dispossession in all its forms.

8. Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800 by Khaled El-Rouayheb

Book published in 2005

Attitudes toward homosexuality in the pre-modern Arab-Islamic world are commonly depicted as schizophrenic—visible and tolerated on one hand, prohibited by Islam on the other. Khaled El-Rouayheb argues that this apparent paradox is based on the anachronistic assumption that homosexuality is a timeless, self-evident fact to which a particular culture reacts with some degree of tolerance or intolerance. Drawing on poetry, biographical literature, medicine, dream interpretation, and Islamic texts, he shows that the culture of the period lacked the concept of homosexuality.

9. Same-sex relationships in Yorùbá culture and orature by George Olusola Ajibade

Article published in 2015 

It is widely believed that lesbianism and homosexuality are foreign concepts and colonial imports to Sub-Saharan Africa. This popular view is not unconnected with hegemonic heterosexual orientation of the society. The pitfall of heterosexual orientation, which hinges on politics of sexual representation, is worth an academic investigation. Therefore, this study seeks to close the analytical gap by examining Yorùbá oral literature, which is regarded as the repertoire of their traditional and cultural beliefs and nuances, to unravel the subject of lesbianism and homosexuality from a sociological approach. Drawing on interviews and oral literature, this article examines the vital ideas of lesbianism and gay culture among the Yorùbá people of southwestern Nigeria. This article argues that the preconceived obscenity of lesbianism and homosexuality among the Yorùbá hinges on the culture of silence within the cultural milieu of the people. The study concludes that the representation of lesbianism and gay in diverse oral literature, as the repertoire of people’s experiences and worldview, rubberstamped its presence and practices in the Yorùbá society.

10. A Chronicle of Sexuality in the Indian Subcontinent by Keya Das & T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao

Article published in 2019

Human sexuality has been researched, documented, and scrutinised through the centuries but persists in retaining its unfathomable depths in its layers. Sexuality in India has undergone paradigm shifts from the Bronze Age civilisation to present-day India. Ever changing facets dependent on the cultural, social, religious, political, regional, and timely aura have resulted in sexuality in India having many hues. The manner of experience and expression has also undergone significant changes over time in individual desires, attitudes to sex, beliefs, values, behaviours, gender roles, and relationships. We chronicle the conceptualisation of sexuality in its inception in ancient India and its journey through the ages.

11. Amphibious Subjects: Sasso and the Contested Politics of Queer Self-Making in Neoliberal Ghana by Kwame Edwin Otu

Book published in 2022

In “Amphibious Subjects,” Kwame Edwin Otu offers an in-depth ethnographic exploration of the lives of sasso, effeminate men in urban Ghana, amidst the country’s backdrop of growing antigay political hostility and LGBTIQ+ advocacy. Otu commits to indigenising queer theory by utilising Kwame Gyekye’s framework of “amphibious personhood.” Guided by this conceptual tool, Otu shows how sasso manage fluid identities that reconcile self-determination and expression with the overarching need to belong to community. Importantly, the work builds upon queer African studies’ emerging works demonstrating the complexities of navigating local heteronormative pressures and the often paternalistic and problematic international LGBTIQ+ and rights organisations. Through detailed ethnographic insights and archival research, Otu challenges racialised and homocolonial narratives that depict Africa as inherently homophobic. As such, this study is a significant social science contribution to queer African studies.

12. Queer: A Term from/of the Global South by Petrus Liu

Article published in 2023

Petrus Liu argues that queer is not an exclusively Western identity and should start from non-Western experiences and communities, and urges us to consider Marxist political analysis of an asymmetric but interconnected world, rather than cultural differences, as a useful way to decenter queer theory from its US paradigm.

13. On Decolonising Queerness with Sandeep Bakshi

Article published in 2023

Sandeep Bakshi is an Associate Professor in Decolonial, Postcolonial, and Queer Studies at Université Paris Cité and Co-founder of the Decolonising Sexualities Network. Sandeep Bakshi explores critiques of eurocentric queer articulations through the lens of decolonial studies. Their current projects focus on analysing the status of equitability in queer archives, and how the reading of queer sexualities in the Global South is intertwined with the influence of colonial power structures.

Want to add a book or article to this list? Email us on [email protected] and we will include your suggestions.