Exploring Past and Present of British Sexual Governance Across the Commonwealth

This thesis offers a Queer Postcolonial analysis of past and present British sexual governance, deconstructing the violent and fragile nature of British Exceptionalism by studying the continued colonial power relations within and between the metropole and post-colony. The main argument is two-pronged: firstly, to critique the performativity and oppression behind portrayals of British nationhood as a global safe haven for sexual minorities, and secondly, to assert how LGBT rights are weaponised to mask the persistence of British colonial governance. By engaging with pre-colonial and postcolonial indigenous Queer identities, this thesis seeks to decolonise knowledge production by challenging the Whiteness of Queer studies and the Westernness of International Relations. To achieve this, I research historical and present events through the lens of coloniality, which comprehends colonial power modalities as deeply institutionalised beyond the formal dissolution of empires (Pereira, 2019, p. 407). Although existing Queer scholarship has gained increasing recognition in the International Relations discipline since the 1990s, there is substantial neglect towards the colonial history of anti-LGBT legislation and culture. This is problematic through its reproduction of a Whitewashed account of LGBT history, enabling essentialist and racist profiling of Black and Brown populations to be labelled as inherently homophobic without considering the culpability of the Heterocolonial legacy.

Andrew Delatolla’s (2020, p. 149) conceptions of Heterocolonialism and Homocolonialism comprise the foundational pillars of this thesis, the former describing an imperialist process of exporting heteronormative institutions to “liberate the homosexual from deviant tendencies” and the latter “to liberate the homosexual from legal and social oppression”. Tracing the development of the British Empire to the Commonwealth is not only deeply revealing of the current global condition of LGBT issues but envisions the process of imperialism reinventing itself, shapeshifting to mould with changing standards of sexual modernity. With 35 of the 54 Commonwealth nation-states criminalising homosexuality, not only do these countries account for over half of the worldwide bans on same-sex relations but still enforce British-imposed legislation like the Anti-Buggery Law (Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me, 2022) [hereafter, TD: ITBM]. I argue that British Exceptionalism survives upon either ignoring this history or wielding it to justify Homocolonial activities. Accordingly, my analysis deconstructs public displays of LGBT rights like the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Pride Parade to evidence how British national memory is constantly reframed to meet advantageous political ends, particularly to enhance Britain’s image as a pioneer of progress. By comparing these gestures to the harsh realities of LGBT experiences under British policy, whether that be in postcolonial Uganda or UK migrant detention centres, I unearth the violent practices behind performative discourses of Homocolonial British Exceptionalism.

The first chapter will address Heterocolonial to Homocolonial British sexual governance in Uganda, comparing 19th-century colonial literature and the past decade of Conservative Party policy. Both position British paternalism through contemporarily moral and modern constructions of sexual order. This colonial continuity will be articulated as indicative of British national identity as intrinsically imbricated with a sense of missionary purpose. I explore different racial attachments to masculinity and sexuality as situated upon a civilisational spectrum with Britishness at the pinnacle. While most Postcolonial literature navigates binary oppositions between Whiteness and Blackness or Occident and Orient, this chapter seeks to triangulate racial and cultural imaginaries of masculinity to differentiate Islamophobia from Negrophobia in their relation to heterosexual Anglo-Saxon Whiteness.

Chapter 2 more deeply dismantles the Orientalist approach towards the Indian subcontinent and highlights the transformative and resilient power of subaltern identities like Third Gender Hijras/Khwaja Siras. This community includes intersex, trans, non-binary, cross-dressing, and other sexual identities, constantly constructing and deconstructing gender (Munzahim, 2019, p. 224). I employ Foucault’s (Fausto-Sterling, 2000, p. 7) analysis of biopolitical management to exhibit how the colonial invention of the sex-gender binary continues to pose surveillance functions over Third Gender bodies through enfranchisement measures like ID cards. I also dissolve the hierarchy between a civilised British self and Queer Brown sexual other by illuminating Britain’s colonial fascination and engagement with homosexual activities in the colonies, highlighting the long-standing performativity and fragility of British sexual Exceptionalism.

Chapter 3 further collapses these self-other distinctions in a Homocolonial context, drawing similarities between Pakistani and British modes of sexual governance. Comparing the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK to Third Gender experiences under Pakistani laws, both scenarios speak to continuing colonial structures, fetishising Queer bodies, exchanging Queer visibility for surveillance, and entrenching heteronormativity. This chapter primarily critiques the BBC documentary Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me (2022), which I argue also wields the Heterocolonial history of the Commonwealth as an opportunity for Britain to monopolise global LGBT rights.

The thesis concludes by focusing on decolonial Queer voices as the hopeful future to breaking this cycle of coloniality. I acknowledge the power and momentum of subaltern and local activism to decimate the dominant assumption that British Intervention is indispensable.

Literature Review

This thesis undertakes an interdisciplinary lens, operating through Queer and Postcolonial theoretical frameworks that best decolonise LGBT liberation ontology away from the dominant Western Exceptionalism model. Highly regarded Postcolonial sexuality studies theorist Jasbir Puar (2020, p. 226) notes the absence of intersecting Queer and decolonial efforts within academia, highlighting that “scant attention to the relationship of Queer theory to empire” enables the preservation of imperial knowledge production of sexuality studies. Pereira’s (2019, p. 407) concept of Decolonial Queer scaffolds an analysis of this Queer-Empire relationship by focalising bodies rendered “lesser, abject, and disqualified” under colonial sexual governance, acknowledging the rich liberatory cosmologies these actors offer. A significant portion of these disenfranchised bodies is those ostracised under the colonial “sex-gender system” (Pereira, 2019, p. 408), a binary construction conflating social conceptions of gender with biological sex. Accordingly, my thesis highlights the radical resistance and visibility of Third Gender communities in South Asia against heteronormative oppression, building upon Pereira’s (2019) Decolonial Queer discourse and Reddy’s (2003, p. 171) study of Hijras as possessing “unrealised potentials for subaltern political activity”. By engaging with the subaltern as an empowered pioneer of LGBT liberation and anti-colonialism, this thesis develops the momentum in Queer decolonial studies established by existing literature, shifting knowledge production from the metropole to the periphery.

The “imperial knowledge production” Puar (2020, p. 226) refers to is entrenched by two interacting concepts, The Gay International and Homonationalism. Queer and Islamic studies specialist Munzahim (2019, pp. 220-2) denotes the former as “gay universal rights”, echoing “colonial feminist projects” seeking to liberate women in the Third World from patriarchal tyranny, shifting the object of White saviour from Brown women to Brown gays. Homonationalism originates from Puar’s (2020, p. 224) landmark book Terrorist Assemblages, theorising Queer liberation as “a marker of civilised status”, particularly amongst governments of the Global North. Delatolla (2021, p. 2) comments that Homonationalism on a domestic level proposes a mode of LGBT rights “trapped by the logics of statehood” whereby the nation-state is understood as a reconfigured “settler colonial nation” (Puar, 2020, p. 232), channelling the enfranchisement of sexual minority rights into a White, industrial body politic (Delatolla, 2020, p. 149). My thesis demonstrates the synchronicity between Gay International and Homonationalism; both operationalising LGBT rights as a method of “global governmentality” (Puar, 2020, p. 224), resting upon racist and Islamophobic imaginations of non-white bodies as threatening homophobic “sexual savagery” (Thomas, 2007, p. 23). As Munzahim (2019, p. 221) and Rao (2014, p. 15) articulate, these neo-colonial ontologies depend upon the historical erasure of indigenous same-sex desire and sexual diversity across pre-colonial Africa and South Asia. This paper seeks to connect existing examples of historically erased Queer indigeneity with present public gestures of the Gay International. Upon dissecting the progressive theatrics of the Commonwealth Games’ Pride display, I evidence how LGBT rights have been depicted as another Western discovery benevolently gifted to the less civilised Global South.

While the racial aspects of Homonationalism are comprehendible through settler colonial structures, Puar argues (2020, p. 225) the former colonial state governs upon reconstructed forms of “heteronormative nationalism”. Duggan (2004, p. 59) coined the term for this as Homonormativity, a politics of mainstreaming gay rights upon a “civil rights agenda” built upon patriarchal free market access, patriotic citizenship, and nuclear families – inserting Queer bodies into heteronormative machinery. As Puar (2020, p. 225) notes, “the Queer is inherently an outlaw to the nation-state”, a subaltern identity which Homonormative processes reproduce by neutralising the radical possibilities of Queer identity. While Homonormativity is more commonly understood as the “regulatory underside” (Redburn, 2022, p. 1516) of LGBT rights, I interpret it as a tool for maintaining colonial sexual governance through surveillance. My line of argument follows Miller and Miller’s (1987, p. 4) study of the Panopticon, configuring it as not simply a structure for institutions like prisons or asylums but a power relation between the “omnivoyeur” and the subject of surveillance. Chapter 3 thus explores British governance as inhabiting the omnivoyeur role, whereby Queer and racialised migrant subjects are coerced into self-surveillance, presenting themselves to fit heteronormative assumptions surrounding Queer visibility in order to graduate from subalternity to citizenship. By harnessing the literary infrastructure surrounding heteronormativity and coloniality, I dissect how British Exceptionalism continues to preserve both agendas through the surveillance qualities of Homonormativity.

This dichotomous relationship between British liberation ideology and British surveillance of LGBT subjects exemplifies Pinkwashing, a term describing how gay rights are frequently adopted as a ploy for other political purposes. Prolific Queer studies scholar Blackmer (2019, p. 171) defines Pinkwashing as deriving from Whitewashing: “to hide crimes and vices, or to exonerate through biased presentations of evidence”, an ontological focus adopted by Postcolonial theorists to denote the historical erasure of racial violence. Pinkwashing and Whitewashing converge through Queer Postcolonial International Relations academia, for instance, Rao’s (2014, p. 7) discussion of how Pinkwashing policies rely upon the constant reshaping of national memory to fit “political imperatives of the present”. Rao (2020, p. 109) exhibits this process materialising through the past decade of British Conservative Party discourse, unexpectedly expressing “Remorse for British Imperialism” surrounding Heterocolonial laws. Conservative peer Lord Black contended, “We caused this problem […] legal discrimination is one toxic legacy of Empire. It is our duty to help sort that out”, occurring synchronously with David Cameron’s foreign policy campaign to premise aid upon “respect for LGBT rights in recipient countries” (Rao, 2020, p. 108-111). This rhetoric paradoxically frames British intervention as the remedy for its own violence, repeating colonial sexual governance under the guise of redemption and concern for the welfare of LGBT people. As Rao critiques (2020, p. 129), this discourse was an attempt to appease an increasingly liberal electorate, “detoxifying” the Party image after its history of “egregiously homophobic” policies like Section 28, providing Conservative Politicians with the opportunity to “burnish their Queer credentials”.

Although Rao (2020) provides highly relevant evidence for my thesis, this follows a broader analytical trend of focusing on the elitist discourses of Pinkwashing, largely neglecting to connect this with the detrimental effects on racialised LGBT communities. Accordingly, I research the practical effects of David Cameron’s LGBT global policy propositions in Chapter 1, which exacerbated LGBT discrimination and marginalisation in Uganda. Puar (2020, p. 233) particularly applies Pinkwashing and Homonationalism to settler colonial nations like the United States and Canada, and Rao (2020; 2015; 2014) focuses on either metropole or post-colony in separate papers. Therefore, building upon this existing literature, I directly track and compare the course of sexual governance across one Empire, connecting past and present, metropole and colony, to locate and identify the continuation of colonial relationalities more specifically.

CHAPTER 1. Uganda: Situating Civilisational Progress through Heterosexual Masculinity

Before Britain established formal colonial governance of Uganda in 1894, King Mwanga’s reign over the Buganda Kingdom from 1884 was characterised by years of religious fracture and competition between Christian and Islamic imperial forces, a process framed by British missionaries as a conquest of heterosexual masculinity (Rao, 2014, p. 13). The Buganda Kingdom comprises the central region of Uganda, governed by kings (Kabakas) who ritually engaged in “the gay sex customs” accepted within the palace (Kivumbi, 2013). However, the “well-documented” history of indigenous sexual diversity in Africa (Cheney, 2012, p. 77) was largely stamped out by British colonisation, replaced by missionary literature suggesting that homosexual activities were imported from the Middle East. The imposition of a heteronormative society was prioritised within the preliminary years of British rule, enshrined formally through an Anti-Homosexuality Penal Code in 1950 (Rao, 2020, p. 3) and later intensifying beyond colonial control, most recently through the passing of a hard-line bill in March 2023, seeking to punish same-sex acts by death (Okiror, 2023). This chapter will delve into Heterocolonial British missionary literature surrounding the homosexuality of King Mwanga, comparing it to modern Conservative Party policies condemning Ugandan anti-LGBT governance. Interlinkages can be made between both methods of achieving British paternalistic foreign policy in Africa, the former being part of a strategy to secure British domination of Uganda against Islamic competition and the latter to Pinkwash the Conservative Party’s aid incentives as progressive rather than paternalistic.

Rao’s (2014) rendition of the Ugandan Martyr’s story provides an essential starting point for investigating the logic behind Britain’s crusade of Heterocolonialism. On the 3rd of June 1886, 31 of Mwanga’s Christian convert male servants were executed supposedly for refusing the King’s homosexual advances (Rao, 2014, p. 2). The story has enshrined itself in Ugandan education and culture as one of heterosexual heroism, with up to 800,000 pilgrims walking from all over Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania to commemorate the martyrs each June at their shrine in Namugongo (Rao, 2014, p. 4). I critically analyse the colonial discursive infrastructure surrounding the story to unpack how constructed racial and sexual identities catalysed British sexual governance over Uganda. Commencing with Christian theologian J. F. Faupel (1965), the author conducts a deviant illustration of King Mwanga as the foil to Christian morality and conflates his hedonistic and homosexual activities with an Islamic influence. Faupel’s (1965, p. 67) piece collates depictions from Royal Navy missionaries, reciting Mwanga as “nervous, suspicious, fickle, passionate – a man whose one desire and object was to live his own life to the full”. Firstly, such qualities are antithetical to the Victorian model of headstrong, rational, and modest masculinity that was credited as responsible for the successes of the British Empire. Secondly, this mentally fallible image infantilises Mwanga, conveying the impression that he was easily “encouraged by many of his Muslim companions” (Faupel, 1965, p. 68). This assumes Uganda’s demand for a civilised saviour from both the predatory Muslim sexual culture and from Mwanga’s incapacity to self-govern. Faupel (1965, p. 68-72) encourages this idea by alluding to an absence of order and morality, describing Mwanga’s vices, “heavy drinking […] hemp-smoking […] unnatural passions”, as the corrupting and predatorial influence of Muslim counsellors “taking full advantage of the Kabaka’s youth and gullibility”.

Mwanga’s supposed unwitting victimisation at the hands of his Muslim company provided Faupel (1965) an opportunity to vilify the Muslim other in action, imagining Islamic men as “barbaric and fanatical […] unable to submit himself to the standards of modernity” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 151). This juxtaposes the White Christian ‘self’, embodied as a civilised, measured, and moral figure, aptly positioned to save the helpless Black African from the predatory threat of Islamic imposition of its “wanton” (Rao, 2014, p. 9) sexual culture. Between this Occident-Orient “clash of civilisations discourse” (Rahman, 2010, p. 946) stands the uncivilised Black African, temporally projected “into the zone of pre-history” (Thomas, 2007, p. 3). Indigenous Africans were perceived as a homogenous blank canvas devoid of thought or culture, calling for “biopolitical management” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 154) through Anglo-Christian sexual governance, liberating them from primitive instincts and the threat of further barbarism from Islam. This mapping of sexuality and civilisational progress is compiled through Richard Burton’s The Sotadic Zone – “a geography of perversion” (Rao, 2014, p. 9) locating “sodomy” as a phenomenon in “decadent, hot surroundings” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 153) of the Middle East and West Asia. Africa was excluded as it was considered “too primitive, its people too close to nature” to engage in what was understood as a somewhat culturally advanced concept of homosexuality (Rao, 2014, p. 9). As Rao (2014), Cheney (2012) and the Ugandan Documentary Gay Love in Pre-colonial Africa (Kivumbi, 2013) concur, these assumptions of absolute heterosexuality are based on a history of pre-colonial Africa “attributed to colonisers” who eradicated records of same-sex traditions, like marriages among “Azande Warriors” in Sudan and the DRC, or the gay sex culture within the Kabaka courts.

The Sotadic Zone was coincidentally published the same year as the Uganda martyr executions, signifying a pivotal moment for the character of British Imperialism. Burton’s cartography here legitimises the “Arab import” (Rao, 2014, p. 10) theory of Mwanga’s homosexuality, enabling a British campaign against the spreading of Muslim sexual governance to take hold. This mode was two-pronged: to eradicate Muslim competition over potential colonial assets in Africa and to naturalise British political and economic expansion. This naturalisation was achieved by channelling colonial strategy through the scope of sexual governance, which I analyse as a forged alignment between British and Ugandan heterosexual masculinity.

This is where Muscular Christianity becomes relevant, an English gender philosophy of the late 19th century entailing the practice of sport to engage men with Christian values and physical fitness, connecting athleticism with religiosity to simultaneously express racial and moral advancement. Verkaik (2018, p. 36) records how British missionaries were educated on principles of Muscular Christianity for two purposes, firstly for “Winning wars, crushing cultures and converting pagans [w]as the best way a man could flex his Christian muscles” and secondly to prevent men from “exploring homosexual relationships”. This was deemed particularly important in the context of The Sotadic Zone as a method of fortifying young colonial administrators against the sexual lure of the Orient (Delatolla, 2020, p. 154). Delatolla’s (2020, p. 152) detailed historical account of sexual geographies draws upon literature from colonial writers like John Hindley (1800, p. 33), offering an interpretation of Persian poetry that warns of the “gross” and “disgusting” feminisation of the masculine gender, transforming men into “damsel” figures through same-sex acts. This corroborates with Charles Kingsley’s promotion of Muscular Christianity, a prominent Victorian priest calling for a to remedy the “effete” condition of modern British men (Wee, 1994, p. 68), which, in this context seeks to distinguish a more masculine British self from the femininity conflated with the Queer Muslim other. Kingsley’s proposed remodelling of British masculinity came in conjunction with Imperial policy shifts, prioritising The Scramble for Africa in the late 1800s, emphasising “territorial expansion” rather than just trading endeavours (Wee, 1994, p. 68). In response to a new geopolitics of land grabbing, refined British gentlemen would have to be transformed into “rugged warriors” (Wee, 1994, p. 68) capable of seizing new territories. The imagined anatomy of the metropole as the “thinking head” (Pereira, 2019, p. 405) of Britain’s Empire was thus renovated by incorporating a muscular body politic, denoting the racial advances of the Anglo-Saxon body and mind. This hypermasculine model aligned itself with discursive narratives echoing The Sotadic Zone, whereby “possibilities of black male effeminacy or same-sex desire were effaced” (Rao, 2014, p. 9). Kingsley positioned these geographies of “primitive” masculinity as ideal inspiration for British men, invigorating colonials to go out and engage with a manliness from “non-European lands […] where manly energy was unconstrained by modern life” (Wee, 1994, p. 68). In order to unite with desirable colonies like Uganda during the Scramble for Africa, the British Empire engineered its gender identity to fit this purpose. In doing so, Middle Eastern masculinity was vilified as a common adversary to foster stronger ties between the two cultures.

The process of aligning Britain and Uganda through Muscular Christianity is exemplified by Faupel’s (1965, p. 87) almost homoerotic depiction of the Christian martyrs as morally rounded and physically hypermasculine. For instance, Kiriwawanyu, “tall and powerful, long of limb”, and Tuzinde, “well-built, chestnut-brown […] obedient and truthful, and also good at sports”, both encompass the physical and moral archetype for Muscular Christianity. In this respect, the martyr resembles the “noble savage”, a romanticised figuration of the savage as “gentle, wise, uncorrupted by the vices of civilisation” (Ellingson, 2001, p. 1), reflecting the vision of pure, raw masculinity “unconstrained by modern life” posited by Kingsley (Wee, 1994, p. 68). Faupel (1965) here inadvertently eroticises the martyrs through this romanticised colonial gaze, inviting the modern British gentleman to engage with his primal masculinity by imagining the detailed sculpture of the Black man’s physique. This hints towards the underbelly of homoeroticism beneath the Heterocolonial project, a subject that will be addressed in Chapter 2. Juxtaposing the idealistic construction of the martyrs, Mwanga is described as “weak looking […] a frivolous sort of man, very weak […] easily frightened, and possessed of very little courage or self-control […] shorter […] more of the negro” (Faupel, 1965, p. 67). Mwanga’s stature and temperament are depicted as hypermasculine yet more infantile, illustrating him with undesirable features as punishment for consorting with “the Arabs, the bitterest enemies of the English missionaries” (Faupel, 1965, p. 71). Some renditions of the Martyr story describe Mwanga as “an anti-colonial patriot” (Rao, 2014, p. 11) through his reluctance toward British Christian influence. This may account for Faupel’s (1965) emasculation of the King, painting a hypersexual yet meagre caricature of his masculinity to vilify him as unworthy of authority in comparison to the more advanced Muscular Christian martyrs and missionaries.

Muscular Christianity thus enabled Britain to gender its new imperial character as not only the mind of the world but its muscles and religious spirit too; a new epoch in the development of British nation-building which supposedly harmonised perfectly with its evolutionary opposite, “black hyper-masculinity” (Rao, 2014, p. 9). A modernity-primitivity paradigm is thus established, posing British and Ugandan bodies on opposite ends of the temporal spectrum while marrying both societies as spaces inherently devoid of “same-sex desire” (Rao, 2014, p. 9). Consequently, Ugandan masculinity is presented as ripe for the obedience and physical strength required for entering a slave economy, naturalising Britain as its racially advanced counterpart of a slave master. By differentiating heterosexual masculinities across an evolutionary spectrum and pitting African and Islamic gender identities against one another, British missionary discourse aligns certain sexual characteristics of metropole and colony to emulate the sense of a fated bond. This serves to legitimise colonial economic policy like a social contract of masculinities.

Upon analysing Conservative Party policy, corresponding patterns of paternalistic rhetoric can be drawn between Faupel (1965) and David Cameron, both imposing British sexual order as the saviour of Uganda’s incompetent self-governance. As Rao articulates (2020), Pinkwashing became a significant aspect of Conservative foreign policy to invigorate a progressive narrative surrounding aid and clear the Party’s reputation of anti-LGBT history. Or, as Cameron’s policy recommendations suggest, these actions were vital to maintaining the “future relevance” (The Guardian, 2011) of the Commonwealth. In 2011, Cameron oversaw the founding of The Kaleidoscope Diversity Trust, an international LGBT rights charity lobbying for change across the Commonwealth from the former metropole of London, part of an overall geopolitical campaign to reassert Britain as a “global beacon for reform” (The Guardian, 2011). The charity’s Commonwealth Charter reads, “We emphasise the need to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, moderation and religious freedom which are essential to the development of free and democratic societies” (Kaleidoscope Trust, 2023). This resonates with the aforementioned neo-colonial rhetoric from Lord Black and semiotics of the Gay International: a Homocolonial mode of LGBT liberation exporting “a form of sexual governance that has become a standard of civilisation” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 149), a standard which is perpetually directed by Western powers. Although acknowledging the colonial history of British Heterocoloniality, The Trust fails to recognise how continuous Western involvement typically exacerbates the plight of LGBT people in post-colonies. This exhibits Puar’s (2020, p. 233) conception of “settler amnesia”, which situates colonialism as “a current condition” through tropes that entrench the Empire as a relic of the past by deflecting attention from its present forms, which here are packaged through progressive rhetoric of promoting “free and democratic societies” (Kaleidoscope Trust, 2023).

Similarly, Cameron’s proposition to cut aid to countries, including Uganda, for having poor LGBT rights profiles garners the surface appearance of social justice. However, in practicality, this further marginalises the Ugandan LGBT community while undermining the post-colony’s sovereignty. Like mainstream and missionary Ugandan renditions of King Mwanga’s homosexuality as the product of Muslim influence, moral interventionism from Britain enables the Ugandan government to demonise homosexuality again as a foreign imposition, evident with the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Bill being informed by a perception of Queerness as Western and “un-African” (Cheney, 2013, p. 77). Cameron’s threats were followed by punitive responses from other Western powerhouses, such as The World Bank, delaying a $90 million loan to Uganda upon the same pro-LGBT reasoning (Rao, 2015, p. 38). In practice, this provided the Ugandan government and media an ideal opportunity to scapegoat sexual minorities for ordinary citizens, seeking “explanations and solutions” for the nation’s economic problems (Rao, 2014, p. 8). Consequentially, the number of hate crimes increased in the “direct aftermath” of the Bill, overseeing an exodus of at least 400 LGBT+ migrants seeking safety in Kenya within the first 13 months of legislation (Strand and Svensson, 2022, p. 4). Cameron’s efforts to gauge political support from the British LGBT electorate come at the expense of African LGBT livelihood, rendering Queer Black bodies disposable for rebranding a new British Exceptionalism, demonstrating how Western institutions weaponise LGBT rights to “advance its own agendas” (Blackmer, 2019, p. 172). The reaction from Ugandan government officials particularly signifies the neo-colonial character of Cameron’s threats, as Presidential Advisor Mr Nagenda expressed Uganda is “a sovereign state and we are tired of being given these lectures”, describing the move as “ex-colonial” and “being treated like children” (BBC News, 2011). Reminiscent of Faupel’s (1965) infantilisation of King Mwanga for the challenge he posed to British sexual and religious governance, Cameron imposes British moral superiority by demeaning the integrity of Ugandan officials, deposing them into temporal pre-modernity for their unwillingness to enforce a ‘modern’ standard of governance.

Whether through Heterocolonial or Homocolonial lines of argument, both procedures are contingent upon the construction of oppositional racial identities to maintain the relevance of British Exceptionalism. Comparing past and present approaches towards Uganda infers the continuity of Enlightenment-era imaginations of Africa as an unchanging state of pre-modernity (Mbembe, 2001, p. 3). Africa is consequently crystallised within the static temporality of failed governance in perpetual need of a more civilised patron, a role assumed by Britain. Each instance serves to facilitate foreign British policy and the remodelling of the British Imperial state by setting the standard for sexual modernity, disguising exploitative political and economic models as humanitarian missions.

CHAPTER 2. India & Pakistan: The Plight and the Fight of the Third Gender

Moving closer into the geographies of The Sotadic Zone, I track the rich pre-colonial history to postcolonial oppression of the Third Gender in the Indian Subcontinent. Their existence provides a deeper analysis of the fragile and violent nature of British Exceptionalism and heralds a more radical route to Queer liberation than the dominant state-centric ideology. Postcolonial feminist Maria Lugones (2016, p. 26) explains the Third Gender does not suggest three genders but rather “breaking with the sex and gender bipolarity”, offering more possibilities than the “dimorphic” restriction to binaries. Third Gender people in India and Pakistan are named “Khwaja Siras” or “Hijras”, comprising a structured community “of feminine-identified gender-variant persons” whose recorded existence extends over thousands of years across Muslim, Hindu, Sufi, and pagan religions (Pamment, 2019, p. 297). The predominant distinction between Hijra and Khwaja Sira is that the former is considered offensive in some contexts; nonetheless, I will continue to use the term given how many Third Gender people self-identify as Hijra (Ahmed et al., 2014, p. 2278).

British Colonial Laws particularly victimised Third Gender individuals due to the perceived threat of their powerful socio-political standing, their inability to serve reproduction functions within a traditional family structure, and their embodiment of “Indian sexual ‘perversity’” (Hinchy, 2019, p. 30). Section 377 of the 1860 Penal Code banning homosexual acts and non-heteronormative behaviours “against the order of nature” (Hinchy, 2019, p. 52) was repealed in 2018 in India. However, it remains intact in Pakistan, whereby same-sex acts warrant imprisonment (Munzahim et al., 2019, p. 217). Despite this, Pakistan enforced a series of legal recognition measures between 2009-2012 for the protection of Khwaja Siras (Khan, 2016, p. 159), later extended with the 2018 Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act (Fazi and Bibi, 2020, p. 347). That said, Khwaja Siras continue to face marginalisation and stigmatisation. As Alm and Martinsson’s (2016) research demonstrates, the public perception of Khwaja Siras is still vested in sexual objectification and Homonormative pigeonholing. I unpack how the “complexities of sexuality and gender” (Munzahim, 2019, p. 218) of Hijra/Khwaja Sira individuals were sexualised under colonialism and continue to be historically erased by the Gay International, which bulldozes over Queer indigenous epistemology in order to uphold Western Exceptionalism and binary structures. This chapter displays how Third Gender identity distinguishes an empowered subaltern pioneer of decolonial Queer liberation against oppressive past and present modes of sexual governance.

Hijras/Khwaja Siras served in politically prestigious positions within the Moghul court as “administrators, guards, caretakers, and even governors and army commanders” (Munzahim et al., 2019, p. 224) and held spiritually honourable roles, being consulted at significant milestones like “births or weddings” (Vakoch, 2022, p. 5). The divide-and-conquer strategy of British Colonialism led to the targeting of the Third Gender community as a means to decimate the cross-cultural prominence they possessed. Hijras were firstly the subject of moral panics in the 1850s, branding them “deviant” amongst accusations of “kidnapping, enslaving and castrating children” (Hinchy, 2019, p. 27) – a smear campaign aligning with Faupel’s (1965) vilification of Muslim sexuality as threatening an “evil purpose” to civilised society (Rao, 2014, p. 2). By 1853, Britain’s increasing legal influence led to the Bombay government criminalising Hijras’ “right of begging” (Hinchy, 2019, p. 32), a staple of their Gharana culture, a long-standing pre-colonial ritual entailing the collection of money for entertainment practices at “celebratory life cycle events” (Vakoch, 2022, p. 5). Following this, the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 prohibited Hijras from public activities altogether, effectively leaving them “thrown into the streets, stripped of their royal access and status” (Munzahim et al., 2019, p. 224), deposing those in entertainment roles as “Madame” of the brothel, often frequented for the pleasure of British soldiers (Vakoch, 2022, p. 4). Jessica Hinchy (2019) articulates this as an overall attempt to exterminate Hijras, which is viable for analysing the Empire as a violent form of heterosexual biopolitical management. However, I perceive the British approach to be more complex than this. After addressing the biopolitical aspect, I engage with secondary literature and Orientalist theory to assert that colonial rule would not simply seek to wipe out Third Gender and Queer individuals, as they were not only the object of romantic affection from British colonials but also played a crucial role in representing a sexually degenerate other to foil the civilised British Self.

To first expand upon the biopolitical argument, Hinchy (2019) crucially highlights the importance of the Foucauldian processes at play, exhibiting how indigenous society was organised by gender binaries to complement the machinery of capitalism. Anne Fausto-Sterling’s (2000) widely revered historical literature reveals how the social construction of the gender binary was necessary to enforce imperial capitalism. Fausto-Sterling (2000, pp. 7-8) cites Foucault’s theory of biopolitics as a method of population management when “growing capitalism needed new methods of control”, therefore all bodies were allocated “into one or the other cubbyhole”, birthing heteronormativity as a mode of organising native populations and labour forces dichotomously. Jamaican postcolonial scholar Carla Moore discusses how this facilitated the slave economy, discussing that “On the plantation, gay sex wasn’t allowed, and it wasn’t allowed specifically because it doesn’t make a baby. So, it was beneficial to the plantation owner for people to be having heterosexual sex because they could get a ‘free slave’ out of the union” (TD: ITBM, 2022). The same can be applied to Hijras and Khwaja Siras in two senses. On the one hand, they inhabited a style of femininity that did not serve the traditional reproductive benefits of imperial capital accumulation. On the other hand, their navigation of society “without the confines of traditional gender roles” (Munzahim et al., 2019, p. 224) threatened the naturalised legitimacy of heteronormative science, exhibiting freedoms and possibilities that would be detrimental to the British colonial economy.

To address the second facet of Heterocolonial rule as entailing the sexualisation of Third Gender bodies, I discuss how this method was not only a mode of relegating the group into subalternity within the colony but also to uphold the Orientalist imagination within the metropole. In accordance with the former point, Britain’s decimation of Third Gender entertainment rituals was achieved by appropriating their performance as a form of prostitution, linking “their identities to sex work and begging” (Vakoch, 2022, p. 5) to entrench Hijras/Khwaja Siras as “subaltern” figures, representing the social and economic marginalisation of indigeneity (Arnold et al., 2019, p. 39). This subaltern disposition traverses into postcolonial times, whereby over half of Pakistani Third Gender individuals live in slums and engage in sex work, lacking employment opportunities due to persisting sexual stigmatisation (Ahmed et al., 2014, p. 2280). Postcolonial feminist Oyěwùmí (1997, p. 1) explains the gendered and racialised creation of subaltern figures, a construction contingent upon the White cisgender heterosexual male as the universal-standardised bodily norm, displacing those outside of this model as “genetically inferior”, biologically legitimising their inferior social positioning within imperial capitalism.

Another implication of this othering process is the fetishisation of racial and sexual subalterns. Like Faupel’s (1965) description of Ugandan masculinity, Hijras/Khwaja Siras and young South Asian males belong to a history of erotic projections, imagined by the British colonial gaze as a supernatural fantasy of both excitement and repulsion. Orientalism, a term coined by Edward Said (1978), refers to Western cultural depictions of the East as “full of all that which is ‘not Europe’”, feminised as “a world of romance, sexuality, and sensuality”, whose European “not-ness” acts to comparatively define the British character as a masculine, rational self (Ahmed, 2006, p. 114). Gregory (1995, p. 455) perceives Orientalism as the Western construction of othered geographies, enabling Europe to cast itself as “puppet-master to the Orient’s marionette”. I interpret this as an imagined geographical embodiment of European cultural anxieties surrounding homosexuality, which Boone’s (2014, p. 5) study supports, stating, “The essence of any Orientalising erotics lies in the projection of desires deemed unacceptable or forbidden at home onto a foreign terrain” enabling these desires to be encountered “at a safe distance”. McClintock’s Imperial Leather (1995, p. 22) reinforces this view with her description of colonies as “porno-tropic” climates, embodying “forbidden sexual desires”. McClintock (1995, p. 22) investigates how colonial travel writing illustrates a “monstrous sexuality of far-off lands, where, as legend had it, men sported gigantic penises and women consorted with apes, feminised men’s breasts flowed with milk and militarised women lopped theirs off”, alluding to the non-conformist qualities of Third Gender bodies. We can apply this colonial fascination to the Hijra body as evident through their displacement to brothels frequented by British soldiers (Vakoch, 2022, p. 4) and colonial administrators’ rumouring of their “addiction” to sex (Hinchy, 2019, p. 58).

In terms of sexual relationships, a more substantial infrastructure of evidence surrounds homosexual affairs between British Colonials and young native males than with Hijras/Khwaja Siras. From profound political figures like Cecil Rhodes, who “kept company with a series of young assistants”, to British authors like T. E. Lawrence, who dedicated his writing to a “young Bedouin who had captured his heart” (Aldrich, 2002, p. 1), these relations were symptomatic of what Boone denotes as a Western cultural “fascination” with the “homoeroticism” of the Middle East, a preoccupation mapped earlier by The Sotadic Zone (Delatolla, 2020, p. 152). Heterocolonial governance in the Commonwealth thus rested upon fragile illusions of alpha male heterosexuality, such as Muscular Christianity, upholding British Exceptionalism by outwardly having “reviled and rejected” Queer and Third Gender bodies of the Global South (Delatolla, 2020, p. 154) yet fetishising their sexual “extravagance, [and] eccentricity” in private (Cheng, 2021).

The plight of the Third Gender in South Asia is evidently attributable to Britain’s colonially imposed heteronormative legislation and sexualisation of gender minorities; however, these are continued by postcolonial governments perpetuating imperial frameworks of biopolitical management. The biopolitics aspect can be observed by analysing transgender rights in Pakistan and India as following a Panopticon model. The Panopticon is both a prison design and theory, which Miller (1987, p. 3) denotes as “the polyvalent apparatus of surveillance, the universal optical machine of human groupings”. Similar to Foucault’s comprehension of heteronormativity as biopolitics, the Panopticon organises “the cells in uniform size and shape” (Miller and Miller, 1987, p. 4). These aspects of surveillance and control are evident in Lisa Duggan’s (2004) conception of Homonormativity. Duggan (2004, p. 59) accounts for Homonormativity as a style of enfranchising LGBT rights through mediums that uphold “heteronormative assumptions and institutions”, like marriage, passports, nuclear families, consumption, militaries, and voting. This liberal approach arranges LGBT freedoms in equal, uniform measure to heterosexual freedoms, coordinating with Lugones’ (2016, p. 17) discussion of colonial biopolitics as “measurement, quantification, externalisation […] to control the relations among people”. These institutionalised power relations comprise Alm and Martinsson’s (2016, p. 222) description of affective community formation, involving the provision of Homonormative rights as granting the LGBT community a sense of national belonging, instilling a dichotomy of “emotional attachment, feeling at home” and “feelings of being trapped”. Enfranchisement is thus somewhat carceral as it requires LGBT persons to relinquish agency over their own liberation to the hands of the postcolonial state.

The subalternity of Khwaja Siras and Hijras is consequently reinforced, displacing their “indigenous Queer politics” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 149) and coercing them into binary, quantifiable models. This is visible through the conditionalities of national identity card eligibility for Third Gender citizens of Pakistan. Having been reduced to three options, “male (khwaja sira), female (khwaja sira), and khunsa-e-mushkil [intersex]”, this system pigeonholes the Third Gender into binary transgenders, only recognising “gender ambiguity” on grounds of “indeterminable genitalia” (Khan, 2016, p. 158-9). Khan (2016, p. 163) denotes this process as “corporeal disciplining, sexual surveillance, biopolitical categorisation, and heteronormalization”; however, Khwaja Siras proactively resist such governance, remaining empowered within their subalternity. Khan (2016, p. 160) documents their defiance through an intrusive TV interview with two Khwaja Siras, Noor and Payal, exemplifying staunch radicalism in the face of Homonormative pigeonholing. When asked, “So who are Khwaja Siras attracted to more? Men or women?” Noor responded: “Our love is for men, for women, for everyone.”; the host then replied, “This is a very confusing situation” (Khan, 2016, p. 160-1). Furthermore, when asked, “Explain to me the difference between male Khwaja Sira, female Khwaja Sira, and Khunsa Khwaja Sira?” Payal’s response began with, “See, our relationship is with our soul” (Khan, 2016, p. 160). The fascination with Khwaja Sira’s romantic interests and corporeal categorisation here reduces their multifaceted existence to sexual objectification and sexed binaries, demonstrating how the British colonial gaze has been internalised within the post-colony. Gayatri Reddy’s (2003, p. 171) study on Hijras refers to Judith Butler’s social constructivist gender studies as relevant to this process, arguing that those expressing gender with “dis-identification” of the regulatory norms” pioneer the reconfiguration of democracy and dismantling of dominant political structures. Accordingly, we can appreciate Third Gender resistance as an invaluable force of decolonial Queer Liberation, refusing to succumb to the Panopticon. This serves two purposes: firstly, challenging modern Homocolonial assumptions surrounding Muslim and Eastern “resistance to diversity politics” (Langlois et al., 2018, p. 378), and secondly, to shed light on the power of Third Gender “subaltern politics” (Arnold et al., 2019, p. 39) as an alternative mode of liberation to the state-centric model influenced by British colonialism.

To compare the past and present of British sexual governance in Uganda and South Asia, these post-colonies all exhibit a style of self-governance shaped by Britain, reliant on the violent othering of certain sexual identities as part of a state-making process. For Uganda, the continued marginalisation of the LGBT community is framed as an anti-colonial movement towards sovereignty from Britain’s moral interventionism. In Pakistan and India, the adoption of restrictive, binary modes of sexual governance facilitates the expansion of state control, framed as a progression in human rights.

CHAPTER 3. Dismantling Homocolonialism: The Gay International at the Commonwealth Games, the Dark Reality of LGBT Migration, and the Decolonial Resolution

This Chapter will undertake a three-part discussion, with each section deconstructing Homocolonialism. The first is the documentary film Tom Daley: Illegal to Be Me (2022), which follows British diver Tom Daley as he travels to Commonwealth countries with anti-LGBT laws, proposing to ban them from hosting the Games. I interpret the film as what Munzahim (2019, p. 222) denotes as “The white saviour complex of the empire”, repositioning the metropole as once again a benevolent patron. Like the self-other nation-making process of Heterocolonialism, the documentary situates Britain against “the racialised figure of the Muslim enemy” (Edwards, 2021, p. 10) by reimagining the East with Orientalist depictions of barbaric sexual order. The second section responds to this British Exceptionalism by exposing the harsh realities of detention, violence, and deportation endured by LGBT migrants seeking refuge on UK soil from Commonwealth member states, unsettling Daley’s Homocolonial assertion of the UK as a global beacon of “hope” (TD: ITBM, 2022). The final critique of Homocolonialism takes a resolutory tone. I acknowledge how LGBT movements within post-colonies are capable of achieving their own liberation without the “indispensability of Western intervention” (Rao, 2020, p. 115), which is crucial to challenging the continuation of White knowledge production surrounding Queer International Relations.

Tom Daley’s documentary presents highly relevant research material in two respects. Firstly, the film demonstrates where on the national “barometer” of modernity Britain perceives itself in comparison to its former colonies, this barometer being measured by “acceptance” and “tolerance” for “gay and lesbian subjects” (Puar, 2020, p. 227). Secondly, as a representation of how Queer studies “was (is?) too exhaustingly white” (Arondekar, 2022, p. 464), alluding to conflicting stances between past or present white dominance within the discipline. I argue that, on the one hand, the documentary exposes historical White British violence against racialised Queer bodies, yet, on the other hand, reiterates a Queer liberation discourse reliant on the White Supremacist constructions of the Black and Muslim Other (Arondekar, 2022, p. 464).

This is first played out through Daley’s figuration as a Homonationalist and Homonormative figure. As a “husband and a father to Robbie” (TD: ITBM, 2022) and a national sporting ambassador with a home proliferated with Union Jacks, Daley embodies “gay patriotism” and upholds “family life that mimics the structure of the ‘traditional’ family” (Delatolla, 2021, p. 1). After interviewing a Gay Pakistani athlete about the attacks and marginalisation faced throughout her same-sex relationship, Daley responded, “I just want to go home to my husband and my son and hug them”, explaining his “appreciation and gratitude of being able to be safe every day” (TD: ITBM, 2022). This affective formation of ‘home’ as safe and warm is contingent upon the foil of hostility and violence associated with Pakistan, transcending Ahmed’s (2006, p. 114) notion of the East as the “not-ness” of Europe through to a contemporary context. The idea that “Islam and Western modernity are incompatible” (Rahman, 2010, p. 947) is reinforced through Western criteria of civilised sexual governance.

Like Faupel’s (1965) vilification of the Muslim enemy to advance British Heterocolonial governance, the threat to civil sexual order is reinvented through a Homocolonial context, becoming the racialised, hypermasculine heterosexual male. Accordingly, the Black Gay African and Gay Muslims become the objects of White saviour, framed as requiring rescue from tyrannical straight Black and Brown men (Munzahim, 2019, p. 222). When comparing this to the Uganda Martyrs story, we here have the cycle of Heterocolonialism to Homocolonialism encapsulated through a perpetual defacement of Muslim masculinity – deemed perverted threats during the 19th century for non-conformity to heterosexuality, and now viewed as the barbaric perpetrators of heterosexual authoritarianism.

This discursive infrastructure connotes Shah’s (2018, p. 54) critique of Islamophobia as taking the form of pro-Gay concerns in Western media, typifying Muslim stories into exclusively “anti-homosexual atrocities […] terrorism and extremism”. The imagery and messaging surrounding Pakistani and Nigerian vigilante violence against Gay men is described by Tom Daley as “something out of a horror film, a really dark horror film” (TD: ITBM, 2022). These semiotics rehash the “barbaric” and “uncivilised” qualities attached to Muslim masculinity (Puar, 2020, p. 177) while also associating Nigerian vigilantes with the same trope of hypermasculinity once wielded to justify Uganda’s colonisation. This epitomises the racist imbrications of Homonationalism articulated by Jasbir Puar (2020, p. 224), who discusses how homophobia is wielded to “laud populations with certain attributes” and “vilify other (racialised) populations for these same attributes”.   

After delving into the history of the British Penal Code and Section 377 and interviewing several decolonial scholars like Carla Moore and Nigerian LGBT+ rights advocate Bisi Alimi, Daley is educated on the horrors of Britain’s interventionism; however, he suggests a second British campaign of exporting LGBT rights. This is what Rao (2020, p. 115) terms the second civilising mission of Homocolonialism, “an attempt to mitigate the damage wrought by earlier civilising missions” (Rao, 2020, p. 115). Daley’s initial approach seeks to ban the 50% of Commonwealth countries with anti-LGBT laws from hosting the Games, an ignorance which corresponds with David Cameron’s (BBC News, 2011) punitive strategy of threatening aid withdrawal from former colonies. Pakistani Gay rights activist and singer Zulfi Mannan critiques Daley’s proposition, responding that it “might only make things worse; like ‘Oh it’s because of you Gay people that we can’t host the Games” (TD: ITBM, 2022). This denotes the importance of decolonising the Western-dominant approach away from viewing post-colonies as “passive” and simply “in need of a ‘helping hand’” (Rao, 2020, p. 118), as this overlooks the local voices that provide great value to representing LGBT interests beyond Britain’s ignorant superiority complex. After learning that LGBT representation at the Commonwealth Games is “far more complex” than the “quick-fix” of disciplinary action, Daley shifted his approach towards LGBT visibility (TD: ITBM, 2022).

Although this moment depicts a sense of hope and recognition for the struggles of the LGBT communities across the Commonwealth, it is difficult to ignore the blatant endorsement of Gay International. Alm and Martinsson’s (2016, p. 218) debate surrounding the Pride Flag as a conflicted symbol fits this interpretation. The authors articulate the Pride Flag as imagining a “transnational community of belonging”, holding the problematic assumption that LGBT people everywhere have the same experiences and demands, often discarding those like Third Gender peoples as “traditional” for representing nuanced and indigenous modes of Queerness (Alm and Martinsson, 2018, p. 218). Furthermore, a flag resembles the Homonationalist process of granting sexual minorities freedoms through the confines of state apparatus, the apparatus here located within the former imperial metropole. This leads me to my following point, whereby the location of Birmingham encompasses tension between multiculturalism and postcolonial “metropolis”, attempting to melt the entrenched power relations between “imperial metropole” and “colonial periphery” to construct the illusion of a universal and egalitarian struggle (Henry et al., 2002, p. 120). Birmingham became wealthy in large respect to slave plantations in the West Indies (Henry et al., 2002, p. 120), which, as Carla Moore noted in the film, “whippings” and “lynchings” were deployed against labourers engaging in “same-sex sex” (TD: ITBM, 2022). Although the film dismantles British Exceptionalism by exploring the violence of Heterocolonialism, no direct geopolitical link is made between Birmingham and the LGBT violence behind its wealth. This enables the city’s global nature to be revered as a symbol of multicultural progress without historical accountability. This emulates the same Whitewashing tactics of the Gay International that erased pre-colonial sexual diversity in South Asia, upholding the notion that LGBT rights originate from the West. Accordingly, when global stories are animated within imperial metropoles like Birmingham and are told by White cisgender male voices like Tom Daley, the Whiteness of Queer knowledge production is reinforced and the city itself engineers “an extension and reconfiguration of the domestic space of empire” (Danewid, 2019, p. 289).

The documentary portrays Britain as “championing” LGBT rights and catalysing a “good society” globally (Rao, 2014, p. 203). However, by designating the post-colony as a space of homophobic violence, there is no culpability for the brutality endured by LGBT migrants under the British state. The UK Home Office states, “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and doesn’t deport anyone at risk of inhumane or degrading treatment because of their sexuality” (Channel 4 News, 2014); however, the reality suggests otherwise. According to a Stonewall report (Bachmann, 2016, p. 5-7), 98-99% of the gay and lesbian asylum seekers interviewed were told to “go back” to their home country, and 100% had been detained at some point in the past three years, kept under hostile and discriminatory conditions. The report’s critical findings across 22 in-depth interviews and nine detention centres noted frequent bullying by staff, a failure from staff to protect LGBT migrants from abuse, and ignorance toward the medical needs of LGBT detainees, all disproportionately impacting Trans asylum seekers (Bachmann, 2016, p. 7-8). These data evidence the performativity of British concerns for the well-being of LGBT individuals across the Commonwealth, brandishing its rainbow-coated activism on the global stage while actively mistreating sexual minorities in the carceral shadows beyond public view.

The most striking dimension of the abuse experienced at the hands of the UK Home Office is the abject Homonormative stereotyping and sexual objectification of LGBT lives, emulating similarities between asylum seekers in Britain and Third Gender groups in Pakistan. Like the intrusive interview surrounding Khwaja Sira’s sexual preferences and biological differentiation (Khan, 2016, p. 160), LGBT migrants in the UK are often coerced into pigeonholing their gender expressions and forced to sexualise themselves to advance their asylum applications. For instance, a lesbian Zimbabwean asylum seeker interviewed by Stonewall protested the pressure on visibility; “Now everything I do I have to prove something. If I don’t put pictures of myself or my new haircut up on my Facebook, they will be saying I’m not open enough. That’s how it is: ‘How much of a lesbian are you? Do you go to gay clubs?” (Bachmann, 2016, p. 25). Due to this, LGBT people are forced into “embracing Western coming out culture” (Munzahim, 2019, p. 216), which renders Queer visibility necessary for Queer citizenship, meanwhile endangering migrant safety from online homophobic prejudice from communities back home.

Moreover, Queer visibility is often imbricated with corporeal and sexual projections of LGBT identities in order to legitimise their Queerness, whereby submitting “pornographic evidence” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 155) is frequently resorted to as the ultimate and undisputed act of visibility. This encompasses the process of Pornotroping, which Haley (2016, p. 86) articulates as the systematic association between racialised women and corporeality as a method of stripping their identities down to bare life. The same is thus observable through the sexualisation of LGBT asylum seekers, with one bisexual migrant being asked over 220 questions in an unsupervised setting, including “Did you put your penis into x’s backside?” and “How does that display you are bisexual?” (Yeo, 2014). Like the Panopticon, we here have the Queer “Visibility Trap” (Redburn, 2022, p. 1516), whereby the process of being seen and therefore legitimated within the nation-state requires the Queer object of surveillance to inhabit dominant truths surrounding “Queer social and sexual practices”. The assumed truths here are first that Queer bodies are inherently sexual, leading to LGBT asylum seekers complying with and partaking in their own Pornotroping. The second assumption is that visibility is the “clarion call of LGBT politics” (Redburn, 2022, p. 1516), imposing the ‘coming out’ process upon those who may desire to express their sexual identity through alternative or obscure realms. Visibility through sexual expression can be compared with Third Gender subjection to the quantifiable uniformity of male, female, or intersex categories in order to be recognised by the Pakistani state. Both examples operationalise the surveillance of LGBT bodies, coercing them to present in ways comprehendible to the Homonormative body politic, rendering them more easily insertable into the mechanics of the postcolonial nation-state without disrupting its binary and heteronormative foundations. Conclusively, the Homonationalist dichotomy between “the civilised and the uncivilised” (Delatolla, 2020, p. 150) illustrated by the documentary’s juxtaposition between British Exceptionalism and Pakistani backwardness is thus dissolved through corresponding these country’s similar modes of sexualisation and surveillance of LGBT bodies.

To effectively delegitimise Homocolonial discourse and policy, we must recognise the existing work of grassroots LGBT movements and decolonial voices within post-colonies, which is highlighted by the activists and scholars interviewed by Daley (TD: ITBM, 2022). Upon discussing the history and presence of anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica, a vital dialogue between Daley and Carla Moore occurs; after Daley expresses, “It makes me feel sick to be British”, Moore responds, “That is level one. Level two is ‘Now what? […] Stop coming down here to make us feel like we’re the worst people in the world […] LGBT Jamaican advocates have been working for years […] and it’s very disrespectful to the work the advocates are doing” (TD: ITBM, 2022). Moore alludes to the “Manic Reparation” approach toward post-colonies in British politics, which seeks to obsessively fix the ex-colony to sustain its subordinated dependence while circumventing any “acknowledgement of guilt” within the metropole (Rao, 2020, p. 117). Moore’s critique resonates with anti-colonial reactions from Ugandan politicians against Cameron’s moral interventionism, with Mr Nagenda stating, “I believe it [homophobia] will die a natural death” (BBC News, 2011) without the artificial imposition of cultural change from British policies or organisations like Kaleidoscope Trust. Despite Nagenda being a proponent of the 2014 Anti-Homosexual Bill, his point concerning organic cultural change is reflected through the arguments of Ugandan Gay Rights activist Andrew Mwenda. Mwenda opposes the missionary approach to spreading LGBT rights, claiming “the solution is not to dictate that everybody should like it […] you cannot force change, you can only achieve it over a period of time” (Kivumbi, 2013). Mwenda negates the simplistic approach to anti-homosexual laws as indisputably awful but appreciates how these bills generate public debate surrounding LGBT issues, promoting multisided discussions which ensue “greater knowledge about homosexuality […] will create tolerance over a period of time” (Kivumbi, 2013). The differentiation here between Homocolonialism and Queer decoloniality is the former assumes a universal agenda imposed through expansionary mediums (Pereira, 2019, p. 404), while the latter represents local, personal, flexible, and complex models of liberation without the presumption of Exceptionalism. It is thus intrinsic for the Decolonisation of International Queer Studies to be mindful of peripheral voices, respecting that democracies in post-colonies do not simply make contemptibly immoral choices, but are both recovering from the legacies of Heterocolonialism and capable of achieving liberation along an autonomous temporal path.

Not only is it important to acknowledge the existence of LGBT voices in post-colonies but to shed light on these “dissident bodies” (Pereira, 2019, p. 403) as the pioneers of decolonisation and Queer Liberation. For instance, Daley asks Zulfi if there is any hope for LGBT people in Pakistan, and Zulfi responds, “Queer people have the hope of in fact heralding a new Pakistan; that is free, that is respectful, not out of fear, but out of love” (TD: ITBM, 2022). Interestingly, when Queer actors themselves engineer change, this can potentially subvert the state-centric narrative from oppressive to revolutionary, envisioning Pakistan beyond the shackles of post-Heterocolonial statehood. In the movie, a photoshoot is displayed whereby Zulfi combines semiotics of ‘FAITH’ and a Third Gender style of feminine dress, demonstrating the existence of “alternative and often progressive expressions of Islam” (Shah, 2018, p. 54). His vibrant and theatrical gender expression emulates “diva citizenship”, entailing spontaneous public performances of “hijrahood” (Munzahim, 2019, p. 227) as firstly a statement of the triumphant “sexual subaltern who disturbs the normative order” (Reddy, 2003, p. 172) and secondly a reclamation of Third Gender pre-colonial rituals surrounding public entertainment. This corroborates the values of The Queer African Manifesto (Anon, 2021), calling for “an African revolution” based upon “reclaiming” queer identities and stories beyond “neo-colonial categories”. Although my thesis has designated Queer visibility and state-centricity as surveillance structures of coloniality, these concepts are being translated and reclaimed by “a rich Queer imaginary” (Xiang, 2018, p. 20) when narrated by peripheral identities, hijacking and dismantling the machinery used for their oppression.

To reflect on this discussion, it is evident that the differentiation between coercive and liberatory notions of Queer visibility and statehood is conditional upon who is speaking and where the agency resides. In the case of British Homonationalism, the discourses of White and patriotic figures like Tom Daley and David Cameron centre the global plight of LGBT people as opportunities for British resolve. Whether knowingly or inadvertently, this portrays the Queer visibility of formerly colonised peoples as accessories to British Exceptionalism. However, for radical voices like Zulfi, Queer visibility presents a chance to reconnect with pre-colonial culture and redefine the nation by harnessing the power of subaltern resistance. Acknowledging the latter is crucial in unravelling the Islamophobic and racist epistemologies of dominant LGBT liberation, ultimately shifting the locus of “Queer theoretical production” (Puar, 2020, p. 226) away from the metropole.


This dissertation has argued the performative and neo-colonial nature of British discourse concerning global LGBT rights, framing it as a continuation of the Empire by adapting the missionary purpose through the appeal of a progressive and benevolent agenda. By digging into the fragility of Heterocolonialism and Homocolonialism, I have evidenced how sexual governance is merely a guise for facilitating British foreign policy and enhancing national reputation.

While revered Queer Postcolonial theorists like Rao and Puar offer profound analyses of Western Homonationalist powerhouses, this thesis more directly accounts for the cycle of sexual coloniality by following the world’s most prominent Empire of Heterocolonialism. I have articulated this ongoing colonial violence in three senses. Firstly, the dialectical relationship between homophobia in Uganda and British liberal interventionism both hinder the decolonisation process and the capacity for grassroots LGBT activism to thrive. Secondly, I have asserted how other post-colonies like Pakistan are not at direct odds with Britain’s Homonationalist gestures but have somewhat internalised these structures, standing at a crossroads between the Heterocolonial legacy of Section 377 and enfranchising Hijras/Khwaja Siras through Homonormative surveillance policies. The complexity of both circumstances poses a challenge to the essentialist assumptions of Islamic and African nations as fundamentally incapable of enforcing civilised sexual governance. Thirdly and finally, by deconstructing Gay International as a process of exporting the Homonormative surveillance state, I have argued how this reduces Queer liberation to two options: either gaining Queer visibility through the carceral prisms of heteronormativity and sex-gender binaries or enduring societal and economic marginalisation in exchange for the freedom to express the limitless possibilities of Queer and Decolonial identity.

By approaching Queer indigenous bodies through both the biopolitical and fetishist elements of colonialism, I uncovered how the capitalist preoccupation with binaries and cultural obsession with the mystery beyond binaries collaboratively worked to dehumanise Queer subjects. An interesting contradiction within the economic and cultural elements of the British Empire has thus been argued, whereby the homoerotic underbelly of Heterocolonialism has highlighted the complexity and fragility behind Britain’s strict hetero-masculinist image. Accordingly, I have demonstrated how sexual diversity in pre-colonial societies was simultaneously fetishised in private and Pornotroped in public, reducing Queer bodies to units of monstrous corporeality. I have tracked these colonial vestiges into the contemporary workings of the British Home Office and the Pakistani media alike, both degrading Queer existence as a highly sexual entity requiring securitisation through state apparatus.

By disintegrating the boundaries between the post-colony and the metropole, I have dismantled the illusion of British Exceptionalism, demonstrating how Britain’s Homocolonial prestige is simply a window-dressed adaptation of Heterocolonialism. I have displayed the potential for oppressive constructs to hijack Queer liberation and vice versa, all conditional upon who is speaking and to what political end. Although this research has focused on the violent cyclical nature of sexual coloniality, I have illuminated a hopeful future guided by peripheral voices inciting radical change. I hope this dissertation can encourage Queer and International Relations studies to re-evaluate the dominant narratives and interventionist policies surrounding global LGBT issues.


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Further Reading on E-International Relations

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