Building Blocks: Laks Mann and Gaysians

QA Blog Series: Building Blocks 1 – Building a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community in the UK.

Posted on 18/02/2019 Written by Laks Mann for the QA Blog Series “Building Blocks – Building a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community in the UK curated by QA Co-founder J. Daniel Luther.

Join QA and Queer@King’s for a panel on Building a LGBT Community in the UK on 22nd Feb 2019 at KCL, Strand Campus (7-8pm) – Free Tickets here.

The founding of Gaysians and the motivation behind forming this collective.

I’d been out as a gay desi guy for several years and had volunteered with various BAME/POC LGBTIQ+ community initiatives.  However, I always felt a slight disconnect with the South Asian queer scene and community. I just hadn’t met many folx who felt comfortable fully embracing their desi queer identities.

That all changed in 2013, when I went along to a workshop as part of the Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre.  It was organised by Bobby Tiwana entitled ‘Beneath The Surface‘. It told theatrical stories inspired by British Asian lesbian, gay and bisexual lives so as to increase visibility and move away from stereotypical cultural portrayals, which all too often were mostly limited to stereotypes. For the first time I felt like I’d connected with a like minded soul on multiple levels. Bobby and I went on to become good friends and kept in touch with various projects, constantly bouncing around new ideas and concepts for future events.

Bagri LIFF
Closing Night Panel. Credit: Laks Mann, Bagri Foundation LIFF

In 2014, Bobby Tiwana returned to the Alchemy Festival with a panel discussion called ‘The Love That Knows Much Shame – can you be both LGBT and South Asian in Britain today?’ By now, the discussions between Bobby and I had begun to revolve around creating a movement, pushing for greater visibility, marching in pride parades, and celebrating our desi queer identities more boldly.  Later that year, Bobby registered a marching group for the Pride in London parade called ‘Proud Asian LGBTQ & Allies’ which I fully mobilised behind.

Marching group in Pride in London, 2015. Credits: Bobby Tiwana

Then in 2015 and again at the Alchemy Festival, Bobby Tiwana took it up a notch with a cafe style interactive event entitled ‘Making Progress or Losing Ground: LGBT Asia‘ which took the discussions further and wider.  Soon after I co-signed the second outing of the marching group ‘Proud Asian LGBTQ & Allies’ in the Pride in London parade.  After that summer I decided that my own personal project would be bigger, bolder and something that had not been done in the UK before.  I was going to create Gaysians, a platform to mainstream South Asian LGBT+ visibility.
So later in 2015, I met with some of the then Board Directors of Pride in London and discussed my plans – to form a collective of artists, activists, charities, and organisations, united under a new concept called Gaysians.

I vowed this new platform would be ready for launch at Pride in London 2017.  I then spent the next 2 years contacting desi queer community groups and individuals, following up leads, arranging meetings and phonecalls, and reaching out to as many people as I could in my spare time building on the framework and consolidating the network I had pulled together.


Of particular note, I was always determined to launch Gaysians at Pride in 2017. On a personal level, it marked the 70th anniversary of India’s partition and independence which also resulted in the colonial penal code including the oppressive S377 (now decriminalised) continuing into the newly formed democracy. 2017 was also the same year when the UK would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England & Wales.  This juxtaposition of anniversaries galvanised something within me, a British born gay guy of Indian heritage who enjoyed legal protections and social freedoms in the country of my birth, yet who would be a deemed a criminal if in my motherland, all because of laws inherited by my birth country!

Gaysians at Pride in London, 2017. Credit: Yanika Chauhan

The work of Gaysians in the the queer British Asian community.

A lot of people in the queer British Asian community had some links with others, but to me it was largely a word of mouth thing. The community never fully transcended beyond regions and the visibility of desi queers just wasn’t cutting through to the stagnant narratives taking place within our wider South Asian communities.

Around the same time, I had sensed that desi queers were starting to become more confident, vocal and visible with some really great work being done by many pioneers.  Though to me it still felt that some of these efforts were niche, underground and simply weren’t getting the recognition from the wider LGBT+ community that they deserved.

Gaysians was to be the platform that connected all these islands together.  Not only in physical settings such as pride parades and social events, but also online and across various social media platforms.  That sense of building a community was key, the sum of the parts being greater than each separate island.


I wanted as many people as possible to connect with each other so that collectively we could visibly demonstrate how united, important, and influential the queer British Asian community were becoming.  It was all about creating a movement.

My journey though this process.

I was lucky to meet so many amazing and talented people on this journey – some of whom I asked to come on board and become part of the core team as I knew they had skills which the movement needed.

I’ve also grown so much over the past few years, and have truly learned loads while being made aware of so many other people’s inspiring stories along the way.  Through these discussions and more, I’ve come to learn and acknowledge the privileges that I have, being male, gay, cisgendered, and having an open and accommodating family who have been accepting towards my sexuality.



There have also been so many personal highlights on my journey with Gaysians:

  • leading the marching group at Pride in London 2017
  • deciding to launch a woman’s platform for our first event in 2018 which we branded ‘Desi Lesbians – where are you?‘, which got picked up by WOW Festival
  • being a panelist at Too Desi Too Queer events discussing mental health and well-being
  • forging a partnership with BFI Flare for ‘Brown Is The Warmest Colour’ screenings
  • building a mainstream partnership with The Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival and hosting their closing gala film Q&A discussing ‘transgender and sexuality’ narratives
  • being a flag bearer for the giant rainbow flag at Pride in London 2018 and subsequently being invited to speak on the main stage in Trafalgar Square to thousands of people
  • speaking as a panelist about S377 and desi queer narratives at a charity launch attended by 150 influential business and community leaders from London’s South Asian community
  • conducting 3 live radio interviews with BBC Asian Network regional shows from within the grounds of UK Black Pride 2018
  • being invited in as the opening speaker at the inaugural South Asian LGBTI Conference 2018
  • appearing as a speaker at Stonewall’s BAME Showcase 2018 event, which coincided with the day when the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised S377 of the Indian Penal Code
  • to numerous other radio phone-ins, interviews and appearances.
Laks Pride in London 2017.jpg
Laks Mann addressing the crowd at Pride in London, 2018. Credit: Sasha McCarthy

Imagining the future of Asian queer communities in the UK.

I truly do believe that there has been a ground shift over the past few years and that narratives are starting to cut through with Gaysians playing a central role in mobilising those efforts.  Whilst some within our community are expecting there to be earthquakes of change, my personal belief is that the movement has firmly taken hold, it’s not about any one individual, organisation or particular group, and that younger generations will be bolder, braver and more vocal in their visibility.  I think the combined power of Asian queers in the UK still has some way to go.

I think we will also see more narratives from underrepresented Asian queer voices such as bisexuals, trans and non-binary individuals, much like in the wider global movement of queer narratives.


One area that I’m intrigued about is whether we will see more UK desi queer individuals coming out later in life, perhaps those who had previously entered into heterosexual marriages, had children and maybe even grandchildren.

‘Queer’ Asia’s influence/motivation. 

I’m inspired by the name alone — ‘Queer’ Asia —I love it!

QA 18
Getting a tour of QA’s first ever art exhibition at the Paul Webley Wing in SOAS during QA2018. Credit: ‘Queer’ Asia. Artwork: Jay Cabalu, Curator: Rhea Tuli (featured)

I discovered QA in the Pride in London Festival 2016 programme and was fascinated by the concept. I simply had to know more so attended the inaugural conference and was blown away by the sheer breadth of speakers, countries and queer topics being discussed.  A few weeks later I reached out to QA for an after work chat over chai, where I was keen to learn more about their work, and to see if I could bring them on board into the Gaysians partner network I was building. It was such a refreshing conversation and I was truly inspired by  their commitment. I knew that QA were going to make big waves and I was so pleased to gain QA’s support for my parade application when I registered Gaysians as a marching group for Pride in London 2017. On the day itself, having QA volunqueers in the marching group was extra special and like everyone else, they had a blast.

I continue to be motivated by QA and have attended all 3 conferences, both film festivals, numerous satellite events, and art exhibitions.  I’ve watched the QA collective grow stronger and seen their unique star(s) shine bigger and brighter, such a talented and committed team. I’ve also really enjoyed collaborating with QA on events, including the Gaysians partnerships for the ‘Queer’ Asia Film Festival 2018, alongside Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival, and both Too Desi Too Queer events.

I can truly say I’ve made many new friends and connections along the way and I will continue to support QA where I can.


Continue reading “Building Blocks: Laks Mann and Gaysians”

QA2018 Report

by Kavana Ramaswamy, Lawyer and Academic

Kavana Ramaswamy is an Assistant Professor at Jindal Global Law School. She has worked as a Research Associate at the Azim Premji University. She has co-authored a book (The President of India and the Governance of Higher Education Institutions) in 2015, a paper on critical analyses of family law cases at the UK Supreme Court in the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law in 2014 and was involved with the publication of a legal handbook entitled ‘Know Your Rights’ published by School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, India in collaboration with Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Germany in 2011. Her areas of interest and specialisation include public international law, legal theory, human rights, queer theory and international humanitarian law.

Our report covers a few of the sessions on some days at QA2018: Bodies X Borders. The report is not an exhaustive overview of everything at the conference and film festival.

QA Art

QA 2018: Bodies X Borders took forward ‘Queer’ Asia’s engagement to questions of migration, class, race, and their effects on queer bodies. While the theme directly speaks to issues relating to the migration of queer and Asian people, the conference explored other associated ideas. The conference opened with the keynote panel on 26 June 2018. The panel included Vanja Hamzić, Geeta Patel and Suen Yiu-Tung. Hamzić began the panel discussion with querying the role of the state in minding and monitoring borders: its own and the borders within which people are expected to operate. Arguing that gender non-conforming bodies subvert border regulations and confront the state by crossing them. Suen addressed the issue of immigration control and the lack of recognition of queer relationships by many states. Suen specifically referred to the Hong Kong judiciary’s recent ruling stating that same-sex couples must be granted the same visa rights as heterosexual ones. Suen argued that the loss of family and state support for one’s relationships destroys the sense of belongingness that is essential to most people. Patel’s opening points moved the discussion into an entirely different area of inquiry: biological and microbial boundaries that we regimentally maintain in our everyday lives. Tying this to narratives of colonisation, she highlighted that our everyday language of extermination of germs and bacteria reinforces the narratives of nationalisms that strive to keep populations ‘clean’ and to eradicate contaminations from the ‘other’. Covering several issues , the keynote panel set the pace for the rest of ‘Queer’ Asia 2018 in exploring different boundaries and their impact on queer bodies in Asia and its diasporas.

Keynote 2
From right to left, Prof. Suen, Dr. Hamzić, Prof. Patel and keynote chair Dr. Abu-Assab

Day 2 of the conference involved several interesting panels and talks. In ‘Sexing the Interstices’, the panelists explored issues of queer existences in highly localised contexts. Preetika (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali) spoke about the everyday lives of the Kothis in Chandigarh. She highlighted the nature of the interstices as essential for queer lives: urbanisation tended to impose new borders on morality and queer existence, while urban villages tended to be more permissive of queer existences, albeit nowhere near co-existence. Yuchen Yang (University of Chicago) spoke about cosplay as one of the sites in which gender is necessarily bent and defied. Cosplayers regularly take on characters of different genders, and their portrayal is strictly scrutinised for fidelity regardless of gender. They are expected to perform with fidelity to the character that they are cosplaying, including taking on behavioural traits of such characters. Jaray Singhakowinta (National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand) added to the discussion by presenting a paper on gay television series in Thailand that reinforce masculinities in the community. Xinlei Sha (University of Cambridge) brought in the question of borders with the issue of immigrant women and sex work in Hong Kong. Sabiha Allouche (SOAS) concluded the panel with a presentation on the rise of homonationalistic islamophobia in the First World. Through all three days of the conference, the art exhibition displayed thought provoking pieces from different Asian artists both from the continent and from the diaspora.

Still from the Korean performance artist Nayoung Jeong’s performance piece ‘Tracing Body’

The conference also featured talks and lectures such as ‘Mourning in Diaspora and Narrating Queer Asian Melancholia’ a talk by Dr Wen Liu. Liu spoke of queerness as a way of mourning the traumas of racial colonization. Using the solidarity work with the black lives matter movement that Asian queer diasporas had engaged in to demonstrate the importance of intersectionality in mass movements, Liu described the use of visibility as one of the primary and most successful ways of doing politics in queer communities.

‘Queer’ Asia exceeded last year’s mandate to also host a workshop and feature two plays. Pragati Singh from the group Indian Aces conducted a workshop on the nature of sexuality, the asexuality spectrum, the disconnect of asexuality from sex, and understanding the asexuality movement. The workshop facilitated an understanding of the differences between orientation and behavior, identity and preference, and attitudes and politics. Deftly with the use of questions and cross-questions, the workshop involved active participation by the audience to challenge notions of identity and orientation that are largely prevalent even within queer communities.

One of the plays performed at QA, ‘Contempt’ written by Danish Sheikh, ended the packed day. Written from experiences of arguing the case to the Supreme Court bench which re-criminalized same-sex acts in 2013, the play captures the viewers and forces them to feel the agony and the frustration of having to explain things to who are adamant about not wanting to understand. Placing the stubborn judge (played by Dr. Rahul Rao) in the audience, the play subtly criticizes the masses for being complicit in the continued marginalization and ostracism of queer people in India. Watching the lawyer (played by xx) trying to explain the harassment faced by LGBT+ people to an uninterested judge gave one a taste of the exhaustion of the everyday lives of queer people trying to negotiate their lives in hostile communities.

Still from ‘Contempt’ at UCL

The final day of the conference did not fall short of the enlightening talks and papers that were presented. In ‘Crossing Public Domains: Space, Affect, Othering’, panelists ventured into issues relating to not just the othering of queer people in society, but the othering of classes within queer spaces as a problem that needed to be considered. Queer theory is intended to assert a lack of consistency in identity, rather than reaffirm permanent identities. Ping Hsuan Wang (Georgetown University) spoke about the shock-associated visibility that is generated by the increasing presence of male nudity in Taiwan’s Pride Parade. While the visibility and the rejection of social mores is desirable, these images gain recognizability in the public sphere and can popularize stereotypes of what it means to be queer, or the one notion of how to be gay, which is less desirable. TH Jason Chao (University of Warwick) gave a demonstration of the lack of security in many gay dating apps and urged people in the queer community to be aware of these issues and remain safe in an increasingly porous world. Nour Almazidi, in her presentation, criticized the neo-colonial narrative of western cultural hegemony as the means of saving the brown queer. The glorification of coming out stories reinforces the oppression of the closet. The conclusion of this panel was that there is a need for queer spaces to be more aware of the different oppressions that are invariably perpetuated in popular queer narratives and be more inclusive of those perceived as ‘others’, even within the community.

FF Closing panel
Closing panel at the Film Festival, from right to left Ghiwa Sayegh, Kit Hung, Dr. Rahul Rao.

At the film festival, Rama Luksiato’s ‘Crossing Bridges’ continued this engagement with inclusion and othering. The film is a wonderful biopic focusing on Rama’s life as a gay man in Indonesia and Canada. The film highlights the fact that while there is marked homophobia in Indonesia, this problem is also existent in western countries, contrary to popular narratives. Parallels are drawn between the treatment of men’s effeminacy in Indonesia with the treatment of Asians as effeminate in the west. For more reviews on the film festival running from 24th June – 29th June.

Later, towards the end of the conference, several representatives of philanthropic organizations held a roundtable on the funding of LGBT activism in Asia. The panelists emphasized the need for accountability in philanthropic projects and the need to involve the youth in these projects in order to ensure sustainable leadership in LGBT movements and communities.



What do queers want? QA17 Summary

The Queer Asia 2017 conference and film festival was a queertastic, ephemeral event spread over three days, covering queer aspects of and from 25 Asian countries and regions. This was the second run for QA, hosted at SOAS, University of London, yet because the first time was such a hit we added a third day – the Queer Asian Film Festival – allowing more scope for queer Asian explorations. Over the course of those exciting three days, we took interest in Desire – one of our core themes at QA17 – and tried to keep in mind the question: What do queers want?

           Of course many of our presenters and other guests wanted to show important activist work, to illustrate queer Asian identities within various fields and dimensions – but what were the overarching desires under which participants connected? 

keynote panel pic
(L to R) Dr. Ben Murtagh, SOAS; Dr. Rahul Rao, SOAS and Dr. Nour Abou-Assab, CTDC

The opening keynote panel of QA17 on Day 1 – “Decolonising Queer Theory” – featured Dr. Nour Abou-Assab, Professor Nikita Dhawan, Dr. Ben Murtagh, and Dr. Rahul Rao, who came together to kick off a discussion on how queer Asian identities in a west-originated and west-dominated academia can be navigated. Dr. Dhawan expressed desire for us to not be distracted by the inadequate term ‘queer’ or categories and label-making, but to maintain the gaze on the post-colonial state, and especially pay attention to subjects who do not have access to the state. Dr. Dhawan spoke of “desubordination” and Decriminalisation (also one of QA17’s core themes) as being extremely important aspects that transcend mere legality. We should want, Dr. Dhawan urged, to support the “sexual subaltern” who do not have the privilege of turning their backs on the state. We should desire thus a “radical politics [that] is located in the realm of civil society.” Dr. Murtagh, in a similar vein, expressed an interest in destabilising categories and viewing queer as a verb – hence we should do rather than categorise. Dr. Murtagh stressed that we should also want to beg the question: Do we even have a right to act as the white western medium? Dr. Abou-Assab presented a desire to unravel the “social fabric” that “has been colonised,” working both within and without academia. Dr. Abou-Assab stated that there was much to learn from both activist and academic communities, acknowledging that sometimes categories are to be rejected but are also useful for mobilising communities.

massimo modesti
Gabriel Semerene

Due to the concurrent nature of the QA17 panel lineup, it was not possible to view every presentation. Though there was much to observe about what so many queers gathering might want. In Panel 1 (“Beyond the Box – Identity Politics”) Gabriel Semerene’s presentation, titled “Mithlī, mithlak? Language and LGBTQ Activism in the Mašriq,” expressed a desire to pursue a non-west trajectory wherein English was not utilised as an excluder of local political resistances, as well as to reclaim the word ‘shaz’ as ‘queer’ has been in the west. Dushant Patel presented on Club Kali in London, urging that we bypass the conventions of mainstream LGBT clubs and resist disidentification. Patel’s presentation was one of serious utopian aspiration, of world-making without the state. Ahmad Ibrahim’s presentation, “Between Empire and the Modern State – Queer (In)visibility and (In)translatability in Contemporary Bangladesh,” called for a resistance to white western expansionism, addressing the reality of ongoing, contemporary colonialisms. Ibrahim desired a refusal to adopt such narratives as that of medical MTF transitional language, and to imagine an indigenous futurity. This desire also spills into the Queer Archive Bangladesh project, which seeks to archive queer Bangladeshi histories and thoughts for the present, including Hijras and other queer unwanted subjects.  

           Other presenters expressed a desire for us all to confront racism within queer communities and spaces. For example on Panel 3 (“Appstract Love – New Media/Apps”) Paul Atienza presented “Intimacies and Horizons on the Move: Dating Apps and Ecologies of Desire in Translocal Manila,” demonstrating the idea of “ecologies of desire.” For Atienza the desire was to overcome class obstacles and sexual racisms within gay virtualities, but to also overcome a metro Manila geography of obstacles which hinder intimacies. The overriding drive seemed to be to endeavour to make connections of intimacy. In Chaturawit Thongmuang’s presentation, “Queering Sexuality of Thai Gay Men on the Internet: A Digital Ethnographic Approach,” there was an apparent desire to pursue an identity politics that goes beyond LGBT. Thongmuang reflected an effort to represent the sexuality of Thai gay men within social media space, and the making of histories through forum sex story production.

sexing authority
Panel 5: Sexing Authority – Governance

On Panel 5 (“Sexing Authority – Governance”) Rajorshi Das gave a presentation titled “Nationalism and Queer Intersectionality in Aubrey Menen,” wherein there was a desire put forward to include not only queer Asian communities in Asia but also to queer the Asian diaspora. Ismail Shogo’s “Resistance from the Closet: Queer Politics in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” desired more agency for Saudi oppressed LGBTs and desired resistance to the Saudi dynasty’s demonisation of homosexuality. For Shogo, linguistic desires revolve more around change that departs from slurs and which includes a closer translation of the English language ‘homosexual’.

           Panel 6 (“Normalising Tendencies – Post/Colonialism”) featured Tamara L. Megaw & Firdhan A Wijaya’s “The challenge of being normal, mapping colonially in psychological academia,” which was particularly poignant when considering what it is that queers want. Megaw and Wijaya expressed desire for safe counselling and educational spaces in Indonesia for queers, adding also that queers and queer discourses needed to disrupt normative and fixed categories of sexuality. Similarly on Panel 8 of Day 2 (“(S)expats and (s)expectations – Migration/Diaspora”) the desires were often more immediate and pragmatic. In Dr. Gerard Coll-Planas’ ““We can’t live together like those German faggots” – Cinematic representation of queer migrants from Muslim-majority countries living in Europe,” the desire expressed was to combat assimilation and, especially for queer migrants, seek protection from racism and “structural xenophobia.” In Tianqi Zhang aka Panda’s “Queer Intersections: Voices from Expatriates and Immigrants Living in Japan,” we were presented with the want to raise visibility for queers in Japan especially through the media of LGBT shows and events, such as the Tokyo Rainbow Pride. Panda showed us how English-speaking queer community groups adapted to globalisation by building queer networks of foreigners and migrant groups in Japan. Massimo Modesti’s “Asian males challenging sexual racism: coping strategies to subvert and reinvent desirability in gay dating” urged us to resist naturalisations of “racial aesthetic hierarchies” and the “it’s just a preference” rationale of gay racism within dating contexts. Again, Modesti posits that the more urgent desire is to decolonise (Decolonisation another of the core QA17 themes) the mind and to resist the trends of “muscle” which cause Filipino suicides. In Ping-Hsuan Wang’s “Coming out of the Country: Migration in gay immigrants’ coming-out stories,” we are encouraged to ask what coming out means to gay immigrants. In particular, how gay immigrants cope with coming out within a place wherein there is no perception of a coming out discourse. The desire herein is to bridge the disconnect for migrants who are gay.       

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And of course queers just wanna have fun, exponential and experimental! Day 1 saw a range of performance and social events. First off was Loo Zihan’s performance lecture “Proscription of Queer Bodies in Singapore,” which most certainly engaged the audience what with Zihan’s charismatic presence as well as the collective guessing of what particular queer objects might be. Following this were drag queen and king performances at our Drag Asia event, followed later by a Queer Asia/Club Kali drag collaboration in the SOAS Junior Common Room. South Korean artivist Heezy Yang aka Hurricane Kimchi provided extravagant song, dance, and humoured information about his activist work, while Chinese Whiskey Chow entertained with an extraordinary performance art piece. 

Panel on Decriminalisation and Colonial Legacies

The Day 2 keynote panel, “Decriminalisation and Activism”, included Paul Dillane (Kaleidoscope Trust), Arvind Narrain (ARC International), Yasmin Purba (Arus Pelangi), and Li Maizi (Feminist Activist). Dillane provided extensive information on the UK and other western nations’ efforts to address the effects of colonial-era laws on parts of Asia. Dillane stressed the need to work with (and sometimes take a back seat to) international partners and organisations in advocating for LGBTQ rights. Purba talked about how the situation in Indonesia is worsening, stating: “We used to be under an authoritarian regime, but it was pretty safe for LGBT people.” Narrain spoke positively about losses in South Asian courts experienced by those attempting to repeal colonial law, telling us that “sometimes legal defeats can also be ways that you can change the conversation in society.” Li Maizi explained how the “UN mechanism just doesn’t work in China, [that] international bodies can’t monitor,” instead stressing that “We need to educate our general public. We need to educate the general LGBT community” and that “I need to base [my strategies] on the domestic situation.”         

As with in QA16, QA17 also had a “QueerGlossia” event on Day 2 (“QueerGlossia – Perspectives from Vietnam / Vagina Monologues & China”). While Amazin LeThi in “Perspectives from Vietnam” pointed out that the colonial experience for Vietnam was different to many parts of Asia colonised by the British, LeThi told us of Vietnam’s not-so-rosy “Department of Social Evils.” The desire expressed, for LeThi, is for Vietnam to utilise gay tourism, make more use of company power, and to focus on the community. LeThi demonstrated the pioneering potential of Vietnam which has promoted youth- and lesbian-led LGBT movements and film festivals, advocating also for fitting “more comfortably” into ‘queer’ as identity for Asians over ‘LGBT’. Also illustrated was a sense of coming home rather than coming out, and desire to make positive use of a neutral Vietnamese media that is actively interested in publishing on LGBT topics. Esse-Yao Chen, presenting on the Vaginalogues, expressed a desire to evoke mutual understanding via artistic projects, and to ask who we in/exclude when making this art. Chen desires that we ask: “What are we meaning by Chinese women?” and: “Do we exclude those without vaginas?” We were also reminded to be aware that our activism can be co-opted for art purposes.

amazin lethi
Amazin LeThi (Left) with Shantanu Singh, QA Committee Member

          As with in QA16, QA17 also had a “QueerGlossia” event on Day 2 (“QueerGlossia – Perspectives from Vietnam / Vagina Monologues & China”). While Amazin LeThi in “Perspectives from Vietnam” pointed out that the colonial experience for Vietnam was different to many parts of Asia colonised by the British, LeThi told us of Vietnam’s not-so-rosy “Department of Social Evils.” The desire expressed, for LeThi, is for Vietnam to utilise gay tourism, make more use of company power, and to focus on the community. LeThi demonstrated the pioneering potential of Vietnam which has promoted youth- and lesbian-led LGBT movements and film festivals, advocating also for fitting “more comfortably” into ‘queer’ as identity for Asians over ‘LGBT’.

Also illustrated was a sense of coming home rather than coming out, and desire to make positive use of a neutral Vietnamese media that is actively interested in publishing on LGBT topics. Esse-Yao Chen, presenting on the Vaginalogues, expressed a desire to evoke mutual understanding via artistic projects, and to ask who we in/exclude when making this art. Chen desires that we ask: “What are we meaning by Chinese women?” and: “Do we exclude those without vaginas?” We were also reminded to be aware that our activism can be co-opted for art purposes.

          In the Day 2 talk “Feminist and Queer Perspectives in West Asia: Tensions and Complicities” by SOAS’ Prof. Nadje Al Ali, a desire was expressed to pay attention to the lower classes and challenge normativity. We were urged to break out of bracketed sexuality, avoid purist activism, and be clever about money-raising. Similar to what Dr. Abou-Assab discussed about activism and academia, Al Ali also cautioned against discrediting people for producing knowledge outright (academics), but demonstrated a will for more intra-Asian encounters that are key to raising more funds and allowing a greater sense of integrity.

qaff panel
Panel discussion on imagining queer worlds through cinema and countering censorship in Asia

The final day – Day 3 – of QA17 was the Queer Asia Film Festival. The festival featured films from India, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Myanmar, Singapore, Brunei, China, and films which explored the diaspora and desire outside of Asia in British and Canadian-Filipino contexts. Our closing panel, “Imagining Queer Worlds Through Cinema”, addressed the conference themes of Desire, Decolonisation, and Decriminalization. The panel featured director Susan Thompson, director He Xiaopei, Not Only Voices co-founder and director Gabriel Alves de Faria, director Selim Mourad, documentary filmmaker Joella Cabalu, actor and writer Abdul, and screenwriter and editor Apurva Asrani. Dr. He Xiaopei proposed that we use film to express an understanding of queer versus a normalisation of LGBT movements, while Asrani desired that through film-making we might find our own words and terms to facilitate “self-worth” and queer festival-type events. Cabalu expressed a desire that we do not impose western ideals through film, and it was also suggested that we use our stories as a basis for artistic gesture and not necessarily for pushing or promoting ‘queer’. Cabalu also stated that we might use film to understand how devout Filipino Catholics reconcile with queerness, providing us with the perspective of a cishet-identifying position. The important function of such tools as YouTube was also discussed, with which film makers should shine light on human rights offences and a platform via which viewers could watch queer film safely online. Mourad advocated for a film for a “global everybody,” one that held no particular aim such as festival organising or academic idea, to which it was also added by Zainidi that we advocate for the reactionary, for affect and personal as the political, for progressive art. Particularly poignant was Dr. He Xiaopei’s statement that, through film, we must reignite the class/poverty divide to redress mainstream LGBT discourse and queer elitisms and essentialisms, which in many contexts have hitherto abandoned certain others in the exchange for or pursuit of specific rights.

          As with in QA16, QA17 also had a “QueerGlossia” event on Day 2 (“QueerGlossia – Perspectives from Vietnam / Vagina Monologues & China”). While Amazin LeThi in “Perspectives from Vietnam” pointed out that the colonial experience for Vietnam was different to many parts of Asia colonised by the British, LeThi told us of Vietnam’s not-so-rosy “Department of Social Evils.” The desire expressed, for LeThi, is for Vietnam to utilise gay tourism, make more use of company power, and to focus on the community. LeThi demonstrated the pioneering potential of Vietnam which has promoted youth- and lesbian-led LGBT movements and film festivals, advocating also for fitting “more comfortably” into ‘queer’ as identity for Asians over ‘LGBT’.

         Queer Asia also featured a special event on legal complexities regarding intersex persons. This Day 2 event “Intersex in the Law: Perspectives” with Hong Kong activist Geoffrey Yeung and Indian Supreme Court lawyer Geeta Luthra demonstrated desires to reeducate activists on the LGBTI acronym and to prevent trans/intersex confusions, willing us to go and witness the work and hear the voices of intersex people rather than rely on second-hand reports. Also desired was an effort to avoid insensitivity to androgyny – especially in the Indian context – and to raise awareness around “pure prejudice at work” and “congenital abnormality” – real grounds for job denial. This related to a desire for qualified doctors who are experienced in dealing with intersex persons in India so as to protect them from the paramilitary forces’ judgements of what – and who – is fit/unfit to serve. We were told that negotiating with the law is to be desired, since it does encourage discourse even when it is backwards, being both that which oppresses and that which empowers. The will should be, we are told, a reversal of oppressive bills and a taking back of bills to parliament for improvement.

qaff consluding pic
Selfie Time!


allan pic

Written by Allan C Simpson aka Queer Hinny

Allan is a co-founder and committee member of Queer Asia