Decolonizing Queerness – Abolish The Western Lens With Intersectional Collectivism

Zionist pinkwashing narratives exploit the struggles of Palestinian queer individuals and promote the notion that queer individuals from Palestine lack agency by unfairly portraying Islam as inherently conservative, despite the existence of people of other faiths, such as Mizrahi Jews and Christians among Palestinians.

In solidarity with Palestinian queer individuals combating Israeli State’s imperialistic pinkwashing propaganda that erases them from the broader queer liberation discourse.

90 days into the aggression, the Israeli settler-colonial state has intensified its deadly attack on the Palestinians of Gaza supported by the American “democracy”. Gazan children are now waking up amidst white phosphorus-covered homes and the elderly and disabled are choosing to stay put instead of fleeing, even in the face of imminent danger. It is increasingly clear that the situation is worse than what the Palestinians might have earlier anticipated. A genocide, a Holocaust, a nakba, a sweeping eradication of an entire people, obliterating any possibility of Palestinian life with the basic conditions that most of the world treats as a given. If it wasn’t for the press folks of Gaza, we wouldn’t have been able to learn about the genocide as it unfolds in real-time. History has shown us that the Zionists are at it again to take down or attack queer voices that have stood in support of Palestinian freedom.

However, I stumbled upon a post recently that inspired me to write this piece, and it revolves around Adeline Abaid, a transmasculine queer individual hailing from Palestine. The post highlighted the absence of any online information about this person, a fact I confirmed after extensive research. What’s truly remarkable is that Adeline Abaid was living an openly queer life back in the early 1900s. This raises a significant question: Why is there such a dearth of information about them? This isn’t merely a result of queerphobia. It could be attributed to one of two factors. Either there were very few openly queer individuals at that time, or this could be a deliberate erasure of Palestinian queer history perpetuated by settler colonialism, initially under the British Empire and later as part of the ethno-nationalistic endeavor known as Israel.

“Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretence that these differences do not exist.”

– Audre Lorde

Breaking the Western Gaze

In India, we celebrated the abolition of the colonial-era Section 377 of the IPC, but have we ever pondered its origins? Here’s a quick fact: Currently, there are approximately 69 countries where homosexuality remains illegal, and it’s noteworthy that nearly two-thirds of these nations were once under British colonial rule. This can be attributed to the dehumanisation of societies in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East, which Edward Said, a Palestinian American academic and political activist known for his work in Orientalism, defines as the “Orients.” The historical connection is evident as these regions were formerly part of the British Empire.

Also read: The Politics and Persistence of Truth

In a BBC interview, Dr. Enze Han, an Associate Professor at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, who specialises in ethnic politics, explained that British colonial rulers enacted such laws due to their Victorian-era, Christianity-minded puritanical view of sexuality. He pointed out about these laws: “They aimed to safeguard innocent British soldiers from the allure of the ‘exotic, mystical Orient’ – a view that overly sexualized Asia and the Middle East.” This sexualized perception stems from Orientalism, an intellectual tradition that crafted and defined the Orient, emphasising the perceived eternal differences between the “East and West” and paving the way for Western dominance and control over the societies and states of Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. In simpler terms, it created a framework for distinguishing between what the West considered acceptable and unacceptable characteristics of the Orient.

Pinkwashing – The Western Dehumanisation Project

Whether you believe it or not, we’ve all absorbed these standards, largely thanks to the pervasive influence of manufactured media, from popular culture to movies that portray queer narratives. Moreover, this isn’t limited to the queer community; it has left its mark on the individual identities of all of us. Within the context of the queer community, its impact has resonated across various aspects, but I’d like to draw attention to the resurgence of an important issue: pinkwashing. The root cause of our lack of awareness can be attributed to colonialism. Pinkwashing is a strategy that involves the superficial promotion of queer rights protections, often as a facade for imperialistic motives and to demonstrate liberal and democratic values.

Pinkwashing manifests in various ways throughout the Oriental regions, and I’d like to highlight two specific examples in the following sections.

Also read: On Decolonizing Queer Wellness

Impact on Palestine

In the context of Palestine, the emergence of queer groups began following the Second Intifada, with discussions about homosexuality initiated in the mid-1990s, primarily as a political issue. Just before the signing of the Oslo accords, Israeli LGBT organisations actively campaigned to repeal anti-sodomy laws, which led to its repeal in 1988. Once this law was repealed, it allowed Israel (and countries allied to its institution) to assume the onus of being the saviour of Palestinian queer people. This in turn affirmed Israel’s occupation by presenting Israel as integral to the livelihood of Palestinian queer people.

(Editor’s Note: In the past, this has been justified in Rudyard Kipling’s poem as the “white man’s burden” wherein he equates imperial empire-building by white supremacist states as a mission to ‘civilise’ these places.)

This posed a significant threat to queer individuals in Palestine, particularly those residing in the Occupied territories. The coloniser established the standard for gay rights, which served as a measure of the “queerness” of the colonised queer community, ultimately leading to the objectification of Palestinian queer people.

AlQaws, a civil society organisation dedicated to Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestine, focuses on two primary objectives: challenging prevailing discourse and dismantling the colonial mindset by resisting the modes of objectification and self-perception. Zionist pinkwashing narratives exploit the struggles of Palestinian queer individuals and promote the notion that queer individuals from Palestine lack agency by unfairly portraying Islam as inherently conservative, despite the existence of people of other faiths, such as Mizrahi Jews and Christians among Palestinians.

Israel employs pinkwashing strategies, including enlisting Israeli queer individuals to endorse their LGBTQIA-friendly image. They promote Tel Aviv as a gay-friendly tourist destination while concealing its history as sites of ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages. Israeli Occupation Forces recruit gay individuals, but the Palestinian experience remains the same under the colonial regime. The Israeli government and its LGBTQIA community pressure Palestinian queer individuals to come out under the guise of being a liberal state. Many receive Grindr requests from fake profiles managed by the Israeli cyber unit for potential blackmail. Israeli queer individuals criticise Palestinian queerness and depict Palestinians as conservative and homophobic.

Also read: Valentine’s Day – Queer Online Dating

Impact in India

In the Indian context, a colonial culture known as Brahmanism continues to marginalise Dalits and Adivasis through demonisation, enslavement, exploitation, and the pursuit of the state’s imperialistic objectives (as discussed in “How Upper Castes Invented a Hindu Majority” by Divya Dwivedi, Shah Mohan, J Reghu). Meanwhile, Hindutva, an ethno-nationalist project inspired by figures like Mussolini and Hitler, is erasing indigenous cultures for capitalist interests, perpetrating caste-based atrocities to maintain hegemony, and engaging in ethnic cleansing of the Muslim community in pursuit of establishing a Hindu State or Hindu Rashtra.

Also read: The Digital War Between Pakistani Queers and their Government

Various forms of pinkwashing tactics are observed in India, including the dehumanisation of queer individuals in movies, portraying them as the butt of jokes, or employing assimilation strategies by liberal savarnas. This includes the promotion of conservative representations such as Ardhanareshwar, which, if examined in puranas like Skanda, Kalika, Matsya, adheres to gender binary and stereotypes, contrary to euphoric expressions of genderqueerness. Furthermore, the focus on issues like same-sex marriage is being used as a benchmark for providing basic human rights to queer people, while sidelining the crucial human rights demands of the transgender community, particularly horizontal reservation.

Also read: Don’t Saffronise my Rainbow – Opinion on the Recognition of Same-sex Marriage

Privileged Savarna individuals often control access to the queer community spaces, promoting specific gender aesthetics that seem influenced by eurocentric, ableist, racist and white supremacist ideals. This exclusionary focus marginalises the Hijra community and erases them from the queer discourse. We should prioritise moving away from Western-influenced perspectives on gender and sexuality, aiming to create an inclusive, diverse community that is anti-oppression of all kinds while being cognizant of intersectionality.

Fun fact: Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar championed queer rights, citing Havelock Ellis. He defended Dr. Karve, who faced charges for advocating sexual agency, bodily autonomy, abortion rights, and the normalisation of homosexuality, challenging Brahmanical doctrines (Source: Samaj Swasthya – A play on Dr. Karve).

Also read: Caste(ing) Bodies and Desires of the Oppressed

While numerous examples exist, including queers folks from other colonized countries, this serves as a solid starting point for critical reflection on our internalised influences and biases. Above all, it’s essential to remember that being queer inherently resists oppressive systems, whether it’s the Savanna-dominant discourse in India or West-sponsored settler colonialism in Palestine, South Asia and Northern America. In the words of a Palestinian queer individual:

“Growing up in Palestine my sexual identity was the least of my concerns, our liberation as queer Palestinians isn’t possible before all Palestinians are free – from occupation, from apartheid”.  – Read the entire Instagram post here.

Decolonization means Liberation for all

“Queer is a territory of tension, defined against the dominant narrative of white hetero monogamous patriarchy, but also by an affinity with all who are marginalised, otherized and oppressed.”  – Toward the Queer Insurrection by Mary Nardini Gang

Decolonization means shedding Western Eurocentric lenses, such as white supremacy, which regard non-Western aspects as inferior. In a patriarchal system, these standards are based on a limited, exclusionary template of a white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied man. This single identity influences aspects like mental health, beauty ideals, and meritocracy, despite our diverse world of identities – organised within hierarchies determined by the extent of oppression they face due to factors like caste, class, race, gender, disability, and religion, which can vary across regions.

Diversity requires both inclusivity and intersectionality, extending beyond identity. In Angela Davis’ “Freedom is a Constant Struggle,” she emphasises the importance of “intersectionality of struggles” and “transnational solidarities.” For instance, an Instagram story led to providing e-SIMs to Gaza journalists facing an internet blockade, showcasing the potential of such connections. These efforts help build an empathy-based collective to combat the State’s imperialistic tactics, including pinkwashing.

We’re coerced into a capitalistic, individualistic system that fosters apathy toward the liberation of the oppressed. Capitalism aims to deter us from forming solidarity communities, which pose a direct threat to its profit-driven structure. Communities provide a secure space for learning, growth, organising, sharing experiences, and resisting the State. They foster accountability and support, in contrast to the punitive call-out or cancel culture driven by capitalism.

Community care is inherently creative & innovative— because we are opposing the status quo & finding new ways or reconnecting with old traditional ways of being & caring for the collective. When we find ways to show up for our communities in any capacity- we are flowing into our creative purpose. – Dr Ayesha Khan aka Wokescientist (Read article here)

Here’s to the future!

I’ll conclude with the hope that it encourages critical thinking. Queer individuals exist worldwide, and we should unite as a transnational support network, not a capitalist scheme. Liberation should encompass all oppressed, including men. This article is a call for community building, particularly when our queer siblings face ethnic erasure in their homelands. We must not just express solidarity but act. While you don’t have to be in Palestine to challenge the system, you can boycott and sever ties with capitalism. The BDS movement, initiated by Palestinians, targets the source of funding for the IDF. So, if we can call out brands for tokenizing during Pride month, we should certainly boycott brands that enable genocide, affecting the lives of indigenous people in Palestine, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Let’s be an ally for each other and build a community that is founded on the basis of love and nurturance, which pushes us towards the liberation of all. 

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I'm Sukoon (he/they) from Bombay. I firmly believe personal is political and that for every anti-oppression movement to succeed, there is a need for rationalism, social reform, understanding material reality and importantly, community building.

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