Colonialism as Anti-Queer

Lie: Queer relationships and identities are only present in Euro-Western society. Non-Western cultures do not have queerness and are homophobic.

 

Before colonialism, fluid forms of sexuality and gender were acceptable in many non-western cultures. Through the violence and oppression of colonialism, these practices were suppressed and erased from history to spread Christianity and stifle Indigenous culture. This systemic oppression over hundreds of years resulted in anti-queer ideologies and laws in colonized areas. While Euro-Western countries experienced the gay rights movement, colonialized peoples continued to be denied their queer practices and histories. Queer erasure continues and upholds white supremacy and Western norms of gender and sexuality. It is impossible to look at queerness without considering how colonialism has affected oppressed people and their cultures and practices.

Wooden/Bamboo Flute

Sambia

Papua New Guinea, 19th/20th century

Logan Museum of Anthropology

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Boys Instructed to Suck Flute During Initiation Ceremony

Papua New Guinea, 1974-1988

Taken by Gilbert Herbt during fieldwork

Ritual flutes like these (left) were used in many cultures in Papua New Guinea. The Sambia used them in male initiation ceremonies which involved sexual relations between a younger man and boy. During the rite of passage (above), flutes are played by the older men and initiates are guided to suck the flutes, symbolizing oral sex. In order to become a man, boys must ingest semen by performing oral sex to consume jerungdu, or male essence, that exists in the bodies of older men. 

 

This practice is understood as necessary for boys to develop into men, but is expected to stop when they marry a woman. The Sambia view sexuality as fluid and inherently tied to age and the formation of gender identity. Germany and the United Kingdom colonized Papua New Guinea in the 19th century, forcing their perceptions of same-sex relationships onto the Indigenous people. Due to the introduction of Christianity and the projection of Euro-Western ideas of gender and sexuality, these practices and others became less common until they stopped completely and are now considered inappropriate. 

Erotic Ceramic Depicting Anal Sex Between Man and Woman with Breastfeeding Baby

Moche 

Peru, 100-700 AD

Logan Museum of Anthropology

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Erotic Ceramic Depicting Oral Sex Between Two Men

Moche

Peru, 100-700 AD

From Digital Collections of Larco Museum

Many Indigenous Andean cultures created erotic ceramics but the Moche are the most well known. Erotic Moche ceramics (above) are found in tombs and were probably associated with death as well as reproduction, desire, and power. The ceramics depict a wide range of sexual practices, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex between all sexes (some androgynous). Representations of diverse sexual acts suggest same-sex practices were common and accepted.

 

Moche pots depicting same-sex relationships were first studied in the 1960s even though they were excavated much earlier. Scholars imposed homophobic biases onto them through harmful language in their studies and trying to distance the ceramics from queerness by claiming they are 'only ritualistic.' Many erotic ceramics were destroyed to hide practices seen as inappropriate and shameful, particularly queer sex; this was done both by Spanish colonial rulers to oppress Indigenous culture and the Peruvian government to protect their national identity. Even now, erotic ceramics representing queer sex are not readily accessible or visible to the public, denying queer Indigenous people their history