Steering towards new directions: after Sec377

QA Blog: Steering towards new directions: after Sec377

Posted on 20/02/2019
By RJ Yogi, Mirchi Love

Decriminalisation of homosexuality in India will always be an important milestone in LGBTQI history but what’s even more important is acceptance of homosexuality in our society. The onus is on us, content creators to do this in a way that reaches out to a larger audience.

I plan to normalise this conversation by creating content which is easy to understand by people who don’t identify as queer. As I have said in the video, this conversation has to now move to being a conversation one have more freely and widely. Once that begins, Love will be love in true sense.

This video is not just about me, it’s about all of us. Anyone who can relate to that anger, that pain, that helplessness which came along with that archaic law that made us criminals, the crime being love.

Sardiyon ki baarish
aur garmiyon ki dhoop tha woh,
Mere sach ko jhootha karde ,
Waise wala jhooth tha woh,

Aadhar pe likha galat naam tha woh,
90`s ki Filmon mein jo villain karta,
Waisa ganda kaam tha woh,

Kaafi Unfair tha,
Bina sar pair tha,
Par Innocent ko criminal bana de,
Aisa usmein dare tha.

Thankfully ab woh nahin raha,
Lekin uska bhoot, woh aaj bhi aas paas hai,
Raj Rahul se ya Tina Anjali se kare pyaar,
To janta aaj bhi naraaz hai.

News channel se ab is pyaar ko saas bahu tak laana hai,
Love is Love kehna kaafi simple hai,
Lekin abhi is baat ko, bohot door tak jaana hai…

Translation by Brut.:

It was like the winter rain
And the summer heat.
It was a lie that could falsify my truth.

Like an error in my Aadhaar name.
something a 90s’ villain would do…
it was such an ugly act.

It was very unfair.
It had no meaning.
It dared to make a criminal out of an innocent person.

Thankfully, it’s not around anymore.
But its ghost continues to haunt us.
If Raj loves Rahul, and Tina loves Anjali,
then the people still get angry.

From news channel, we need to bring it to our daily soaps.
It’s easy to say, “Love is love.”
But this issue has a lot of ground to cover.

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”

Silence That Breaks the Boundary: Voicelessness as a Queer Asian Art Expression

QA Blog Series: QA18 Bodies X Borders: Reflections on the conference and film festival

Posted on 17/08/2018
Ping-Hsuan Wang participated in ‘Queer’ Asia Conference 2018.

Film Trailer: Sisak (Dir. Faraz Ansari, 2017).

The shots alternate between two men, with close-ups zooming in on their facial expressions as they exchange eye contact across a Mumbai train, building up the emotional intensity and establishing a subtle tacit connection for the audience to grasp. After several encounters on the train, they become aware of each other’s presence but they always keep their distance. No verbal or physical interaction is initiated; not even when the suited man waits by the door right behind the other man in traditional clothes, or when they stand face to face holding onto a pole to support themselves on the moving train. Emerging is a boundary between them that cannot be crossed. Not a word is uttered. Sisak is an Indian film narrating a love story between two men that is not only unspoken, but one that is unspeakable. The short film ends with a powerful message: homosexuality is a crime in India, dedicating itself to the voiceless romance. Screened at ‘Queer’ Asia 2018 Film Festival (screened at The British Museum), Sisak captivates me in many ways: the cinematic tensions carefully constructed from frame to frame, and the ambience of desire surrounding the two men. Most importantly, it’s a thought-provoking viewing experience for me after I spent three years in Washington, D.C., having gotten used to the LGBTQ advocacy as well as media representation in the U.S.

Coming from Taiwan, where being gay is acceptable as long as you don’t bring it up, I was struck by what I perceived as the “gay agenda” when I first arrived in D.C. in 2015, shortly after the historic Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S. As a gay migrant, I quickly noticed this difference and came to adopt the idea of being outspoken with respect to one’s queerness, with, for example, newsflash of celebrities coming out on social media. This trend observably reached a peak when two gay-themed Hollywood films caught the public’s attention: Call Me by Your Name (2017) and Love, Simon (2018), celebrating the visibility of gay romance in mainstream productions and speaking to viewers who are taking a firmer stance on the issue of being seen and heard. With a keen introspection of this aspect of queer life, my exploration of being gay in D.C. culminated in my master’s thesis on gay Indian immigrants’ coming-out stories in the U.S. Sisak, in this regard, turned out to be a fateful revisit of the concept pertaining to border-crossing: out of the country, out of the closet.

In my study, I take the theoretical proposal that coming out should be reconceptualized as “describing one’s social location in the changing social context,” (Rust, 1993) to consider how transnational migration can complicate coming out as a personal and impactful process. For my study participants, the changing social context is two-fold: leaving their home country for a foreign destination, and denying the heterosexual assumptions for realizing their gay identity. Sisak, in a similar vein, encourages us to reconceptualize homosexuality as situated in a different social context unlike that in the U.S., using riveting storytelling. It does so exactly through its voicelessness that allows us to engage with same-sex romance in a non-Western society.

For one, it vividly showcases the narrative of being gay in India that I found in interviews. While participants in the U.S. live openly in local communities, their counterparts in India are positioned as succumbing to the societal pressure of arranged marriage while their gay identity remain muted. This quietly echoes the appearance of the wedding rings we see in Sisak on the two men’s fingers that flash from time to time when they move about their hands over the handrails on the train. For another, it challenges my mind that has been primed to expect gay romance dealing with the typical conundrums: family and friends, sexual relations, and accepting oneself. Sisak, by contrast, is less about having a happy or sad ending that we’re used to seeing than about silent and despairing inaction. It can be read as anti-climactic; it’s a rising action that leads to no final resolution under inauspicious circumstances.

To this end, being “India’s first silent LGBTQ story,” Sisak leverages the lack of dialogue, contradictory as it sounds, as the strongest voicing strategy. Voicelessness, contrary to the outspokenness that I have experienced in the U.S., serves to tell a compelling story of gay men’s life in India.

Menstruation Alqumit Alhamad
Menstruation by Alqumit Alhamad

Similarly, at the ‘Queer’ Asia Art Exhibition this year, Syrian artist Alqumit Alhamad introduces paintings that are powerfully imaginative. Menstruation, for instance, shows a luna moth resting on a pomegranate branch, on the top of which are a blooming flower and a plump fruit, its side unfolding as labia with ruby-red pulps bursting from within. The surreal juxtaposition of elements in his works viscerally transposes viewers to an eerie spatio-temporal dimension of marginalization as a gay refugee

Ping 1
Image of Alqumit’s art at the Bodies X Borders Art Exhibition
Menstruation, for instance, shows a luna moth resting on a pomegranate branch, on the top of which are a blooming flower and a plump fruit, its side unfolding as labia with ruby-red pulps bursting from within.

However, the artist, along with several other panelists, couldn’t be present at the venue because his application for a visa entering the U.K. was denied. This highlights the political implication of national borders as a social construct that segregates people. Whereas the paintings aim to obscure the divisions of reality to represent the experience of disorientation and displacement, Alquimit’s absence from the exhibition carves a line that accentuates the separation of different social contexts. The action operates on a parallel level of voicelessness in protest of exclusion.

Alqumit's Petition Image

Part of ‘Queer’ Asia’s petition protesting the denial of visas despite full support from the university donors supporting ‘Queer’ Asia. Read more here.

Like the rhythmic rumbling of the night train on which the two Indian men silently ache to break the social boundary, voicelessness as a statement reverberates around the theme this year: body as a site of contestation that brings the very concept of borders into question. While one social context isn’t necessarily more oppressive than another, the imposing borders definitely are. For the third year, artists, scholars, and filmmakers alike gathered at ‘Queer’ Asia, the event continuing to provide a platform for generating ideas that dare us to reflect on, if not imagining the disruption of, the categorical borders through political actions, academic discussions, and artistic expressions.

Works Cited

Rust, Paula C. “‘Coming out’ in the Age of Social Constructionism: Sexual Identity Formation among Lesbian and Bisexual Women.” Gender and Society, vol. 7, no. 1, 1993, pp. 50–77. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Ping-Hsuan Wang received his M.A. in Language and Communication (MLC), Linguistics, from Georgetown University. His research interests include gay immigrants’ coming-out narratives, framing in family food talk, epistemic positioning in therapeutic discourse, and stance-taking in computer-mediated communication. He tweets @hoganindc2015.

Read More:

Alqumit Alhamad Interview as part of the ‘Queer’ Asia Bodies X Borders blog series


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.       

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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.

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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!


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Written by Allan C Simpson aka Queer Hinny

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