“There was so such thing as gay in Ethiopia” – a common argument that we encounter in our communities. According to this argument, homosexuality (and all other sexual identities) are a Western invention. But is this based on actual history?
Today, the West presents itself as the defender of LGBTQ rights, but until less than 150 years ago, the same West, through colonial conquest, was responsible for massive gendered oppression. In every place they colonized, they were quick to establish laws against homosexuality. Any deviation from their constructed male-female binary was grounds for punishment and incarceration.
In books from this period, Eastern and African cultures were presented as perverted and inferior, since such cultures recognized the existence of more than two genders. Alongside formal legislation, the Christian religious conquest also promoted belief in the heteronormative institution of marriage (existing only between a man and a woman), and constructed sex between people of the same gender as sodomy. This means that the West imported institutionalized homophobia – not homosexuality – into colonized countries.
Diverse gender identities have always been a natural part of humanity. There are many ancient cultures that recognize the existence of a third gender (neither man nor woman), and sometimes even fourth and fifth ones. Discourse in those cultures focused on masculine/feminine energy, both together, or something different. Each person’s identity relies solely on their inner sense of self, and there’s much for us to learn from that.
Ethiopia, the Maale People
This term refers to a gender role filled by people assigned male at birth who identified as women. The Ashtime worked in the king’s court, and performed housekeeping tasks around the palace, such as cooking, care, cleaning, etc. Women were considered impure, and were therefore not allowed to enter the king’s court. This practice stopped in the 60s, and currently this term denotes a transgender identity.
This term has existed for over 1500 years in the Hausa language. It refers to people assigned male at birth, who feel their feminine energy is more dominant, or are attracted to men. The yan-daudu created communities where they lived with “karuwai,” a derogatory term against divorced women who refused to remarry or return to their nuclear families, and who were therefore expelled from society. These communities formed a religion named “bori,” which included religious rituals that could only be performed by those whose feminine energy was dominant.
South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh)
This term refers to a third gender, which is neither man nor woman. This term usually refers to people assigned male at birth who adopted a female gender identity. In the past, this term referred to people assigned intersex at birth (having mixed genitals, google it). Kinnar usually live in their own communities. The Hindu culture has recognized the existence of a third gender for thousands of years now (since before the 8th century BCC). According to Hindu religion, members of the third gender are considered blessed, and therefore receiving their blessing leads to many benefits.
North American, the Diné People
Nadleehi and dilbaa
These are Native terms referring to a third and fourth gender. A nadleehi is a person assigned male at birth who has dominant feminine energy, while dilbaa is a person assigned female at birth who has dominant masculine energy. These genders have no fixed boundaries, but are rather fluid and dependent on the individual’s sense of self.
The examples featured above are only a small taste of dozens, and even hundreds, of examples for queerness from around the world, and from the very dawn of human history.
What thoughts/feelings/questions does this raise for you?