This is important when it comes to decolonisation. It is highly salient that the British Empire imposed Victorian gender roles and sexual mores (and their attendant anxieties) on the colonies it occupied and administered. For example, India’s law banning gay sex – which was finally overturned in 2018 – was a colonial law, only on the statute books because of British rule.
As openDemocracy’s former fellow Arya Karijo, a Kenyan transwoman, has compellingly shown, British colonial rule also worked to stamp out and erase a variety of gender-diverse identities in Africa. Of course, the various kinds of trans and non-binary identities that have existed – and do exist – throughout the world have experienced varying degrees of acceptance, ranging from reverence to severe marginalisation.
It would be wrong to lump them all together. Or for Western queer folks to appropriate them as our own. Or for Westerners to dictate specific paths to the decolonisation of gender and sexuality in former colonies.
Even so, the very existence of this gender diversity reveals that the right-wing religious argument that queerness and LGBTQ rights advocacy are “Western imports” is transparent gaslighting.
Over the last decade or so, certain religious leaders and politicians in Uganda, encouraged by Western missionaries, have been pushing this argument as they advocate for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. In recent years, Putin’s increasingly authoritarian and Christian-centric Russia has also been a major source of disinformation about the supposedly “Western” nature of LGBTQ identities, providing fuel for those Western “leftists” – not least Britain’s very visible contingent of trans-exclusionary radical ‘feminists’ (TERFs) – to deceptively frame their anti-trans hate as “anti-bourgeois” and “anti-colonialist”.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. TERFs are white feminists exhibiting an imperial mentality in their drive to erase and suppress those who fall outside the lines of the gender binary. TERFs’ warm reception in the British press is surely one reason that, this September, the Council of Europe announced that it “condemns with particular force the extensive and often virulent attacks on the rights of LGBTI people that have been occurring for several years in, amongst other countries, Hungary, Poland, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United Kingdom.”
Backlash against human rights
We are living in a period of democracy in crisis, surging political reaction and backlash against human rights. In this climate, gender nonconforming people are disproportionately targeted for violence. It is a shame that many people who self-identify as leftists, and major media outlets in supposedly democratic societies, are adding fuel to the fire instead of working to protect and include the trans population as part of the general pursuit of liberation and equality.
According to monitoring by Transrespect vs. Transphobia Worldwide, 2021 has seen a record-breaking 375 reported murders of transgender individuals – a number that probably only scratches the surface, since many such murders are not reported as hate crimes.
This seems to me to be a good reason for people who are committed to democracy and human rights to resolve to learn more about historical and contemporary gender diversity across the world in the New Year.
This content was originally published here.