Authors: Olga Andreyevskikh and misha ireklekh yakovlev

We write as the organiser of and one of the speakers at ‘Queer’ Asia’s special Zoom Roundtable ‘Queer’ + Decoloniality in Post-Socialist States.

The last annual ‘Queer’ Asia Conference was held in June 2018, alongside the Film and Art Festival. In summer 2019, the Festival was accompanied by an immersive summer programme, with around 28 participants meeting for four days. Not intended as a permanent replacement for the conference format, the summer programme was conceived in response to the Conference growing bigger and, therefore, more anonymous with every year of the ‘Queer’ Asia festival. As two of ‘Queer’ Asia’s original founders and current organisers, Jenny and Danny explain in their introduction to last year’s blog series ‘Rethniking Radical Now’, “it was important to create more of a community for the sharing of ideas, the building of relationships of trust with one another, and to refresh anew our activities”. 

Unfortunately, the global spread of COVID-19 prevented ‘Queer’ Asia from reviving the Conference in 2020, as Danny and Jenny had hoped in recognition of “the importance of creating an ‘academic’ space for scholars and researchers — of whatever academic persuasion”.

Planned for late June, the whole of 2020’s Festival programme had to be abandoned with little notice after the UK Government brought in stringent lockdown measures in March that year. All over the world, spring 2020 was defined by incredulity and breakdown of social ‘norms’. With so little clarity and insight about what the future holds and in light of ‘Queer’ Asia’s limited human resources, which consist of grassroots organising on a volunteer basis, rescheduling that year’s Conference and Festival just did not seem feasible. 

The isolation and confinement of this period prompted all of us in the Collelctive to question how can we continue to fulfill our shared hopes for ‘Queer’ Asia. Started by a group of commited early-career academics in 2016, ‘Queer’ Asia was conceived as a radical space for for queer activists, artists, and academics worldwide to to challenge dominant ideas, forms, and representations of gender and sexuality. Solidarity, care and efforts to foster connections and a sense of transcultural belonging are key aspects of the ‘Queer’ Asia praxis. 

But, how could these be practiced at a time when most of us were confined to our rooms/flats/houses and borders became impenetrable for all, but the hyper-privileged minority. In an effort to connect with our queer siblings, when many of us were feeling at our most lonely, isolate and vulnerable, ‘Queer’ Asia curated an online screening of six queer  films from around Asia, in support of community charities, and published the ‘Rethniking Radical Now’ blog series. Personally, Misha thinks about these as a small digital plug for the gaping hole, which opened when ‘Queer’ Asia was forced to suspend its usual organising, indifenitily.

While we hoped for a return to calmer times and face-to-face organising, our activities remained online for most of 2020 and 2021. On 9th July this year, a special roundtable ‘Queer’ + Decoloniality in Post-Socialist States was held via Zoom.

Seeking to think through some of the overwhelming number of issues facing the world at this complicated moment, the roundtable’s call for papers asked: 

  • Does the radical potentiality of ‘queer’ and decolonial translate to these contexts? What spaces and practices shape and inflect their radical charge? 
  • Does ‘queer’ rely on forms of knowledge that are exclusionary (class, race)? 
  • What happens when ‘queer’ is co-opted into nationalist and colonial cultural forms? 
  • Do de/postcolonial structures clash with ‘queer’ and how? 
  • What is the relevance of translation and contestation with local forms for radical ‘queer’ and decolonial practice? Finally, what hope is there for activist, artistic and cinematic movements rooted in radical practice in these contexts?

Addressing the above questions, the participants of the roundtable explored the multiple dimensions of  ‘queerness’ and decoloniality, whilst also rethinking the category of  ‘post-socialist.’ Employing a broad understanding of ‘post-socialism,’ we looked beyond the countries of the so-called ‘Eastern block’ to (semi-)authoritarian states, such as China and Bangladesh. At the same time, we positioned Russia outside of the commonly used and outdated ‘Russia vs. West’ dichotomy and approached it as a (post-)colonial Eurasian space belonging to the spatial contexts of Europe and Asia alike.

Decolonising hegemonic western LGBT discourses, we ventured to question gender and sexuality identities introduced to and imposed on non-Western spaces through new and digital media, and  attempted to demonstrate that western identity categories are potentially ineffective or counter-productive when applied to those spaces. ‘Queering’ western queer discourses further, we suggested that the notion of ‘queer’ as a power and means of deconstructing heteronormativity, identity politics, and binary dichotomies is to be conceptualised not through top-down of ‘West vs. East’ or ‘North vs. South’ frameworks but as a multi-spatial, multi-dimensional category perpetually redefined, challenged, transgressed, and (re-)created by communities and people previously marginalised in or excluded from the discourses on ‘transnational queer.’

In the blog entries that follow, three of the roundtable’s participants reflect on their contributions to the roundtable.