Decoloniality, Queerness, Indigeneity: Thinking through the indigenous queer and the queerly indigenous in Nepal
The mainstream LGBTI+ movement has not engaged seriously with the issue of queer indigeneity, instead relying on a largely Hinduised narrative of the third gender. Even though many of the activists within the movement are from janajati and Madhesi groups, and the movement as led by NGOs make use of ‘queer’ terms and cultural references from within different indigenous groups (for instance, natuwa, maugiya, pholo-molo, maibabu), there has been little concerted engagement with these references and what they mean. Instead, class, caste, ethnic and language hierarchies are deeply implicated in the use of these terms whereby the vernacular terms and people who use them are placed lower in the hierarchy than those who have access to terms and discourses in the English language. This reflects trends reported in other countries like India and Bangladesh in South Asia, including in the colonised territories of the US, Canada, New Zealand or Australia.
In this paper, I aim to begin the process of inquiring into queer indigeneity while simultaneously reflecting on how the indigenous is made queer within the dominant Hindu state of Nepal. By queer indigeneity, I mean to refer to the myriad ways in which the ‘queer’ figures within indigenous cultural practices that defy and simultaneously reify normative understandings of gender/sexuality. I will particularly draw from the example of men who perform the Tharu jhumra nach as well as other instances of gender crossing within different indigenous contexts to see what we might learn about how modernity and coloniality might operate to marginalise the indigenous and the queer simultaneously. Doing so would help us see how such narratives might be subsumed under not just hegemonic cisgender, heteronormative frameworks but also under more cosmopolitan articulations of what it means to be queer.