Anthropologists are aware that there are a plethora of genders around the world. Whether we are talking about gender identity or cultural gender, which are two distinctly different concepts, this remains true. Refusal to accept the reality of the existence of more than 2 genders is refusal to acknowledge the validity of many of the world’s cultures. This is therefore a form of racism or cultural supremacy rising up under the mask of transphobia and/or binarism.
Modern Western imperialism has its roots in the 15th century when various European nations began colonizing other people’s countries, glorifying it as “discovery” and justifying it by insisting that the people who already lived there were animals, not people. This likely played in to their immediate dismissal of cultural differences as “wrong” or “inferior.” Several cultures around the globe enjoyed the freedom of multiple recognized genders before their lands, societies, and resources were taken over by European colonizers, missionaries, and so on. These freedoms often also extended to general acceptance of various relationships that we might call LGBQ through our modern, Western lens. These were among the other freedoms European colonizers squashed during their whitewashing of the cultures of other nations.
Examples for further reading of case studies include:
- North America, where a robust diversity of gender and orientation across several cultures was squashed by European settlers, who brought rigid ideas of gender with them. The European conquerors destroyed many indigenous cultural aspects as part of the ongoing genocide of indigenous people which is still happening today. Also, here is further reading about the modern term Two-Spirit.
- King Mwanga II of Uganda, whose harem of men began to refuse to sleep with him due to the new influence of Christian interlopers who believed that one’s gender determines the allowable gender of one’s sexual partners.
- A comprehensive overview of the relevant history of the entire African continent.
Decolonization began in some continents in 1945, five centuries after colonization began, and never happened in North America. While many countries regained their independence, it wasn’t until after devastating impacts on their cultures were enacted by the withdrawing conquerors and entrenched over periods of time that were sometimes hundreds of years and multiple generations long. For example, 34 countries in Africa now outlaw homosexuality as of this writing. This isn’t surprising, when we consider that the colonizers came from Europe and 17 European countries still require sterilization of transgender people to this day. Sexual orientation and gender aren’t the same thing, but European rigid requirements around gender include rigid requirements around sexual orientation because their concept of sexual orientation is based upon gender. Thus, many of the world’s nations that are currently very hostile to LGBT people weren’t always that way, and only became that way because of the influence of missionaries and conquering nations from European (and later, American) origin. Nations beginning to relax their death grip on LGBT existence and behavior as transgender and queer rights are slowly won back is thus an aspect of modern decolonization.
North America was never decolonized. Canada and the United States continue to engage in genocide towards indigenous peoples. The fact that most of the states in the United States only recognize two genders legally despite the existence of several indigenous genders is part of this. Our societal and legal refusal to recognize that genitals do not necessarily define gender, and that there are more than two genders, is an extension of the same racism and cultural supremacy that fuels ongoing genocide of various indigenous peoples, that brought anti-gay laws to multiple continents that did not previously have them, and which we must actively combat both within our own minds and at all levels of government if we wish to undo the ongoing evils of those who came before us, and which are still enacted by many of the people around us.
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