Out in (APID) History
Summary: In the United States, APIDA youth are the least likely demographic within the
LGBTQIA+ community to come out to their parents and family members, both in regards to
sexuality and gender identity. However, this has not always been the case for Asian, Pacific
Island, and Desi cultures, and a few of the best documented cases of APID cultures that
historically accepted LGBT individuals showed not only tolerance, but also respect for such
Out in (APID) History
In the United States, APIDA youth are the least likely demographic within the LGBTQIA+ community to come out to their parents and family members, both in regards to sexuality and gender identity. This is unsurprising, as Asian American households are commonly closed off with discussions of mental health and social issues. However, in many ways our elders’ more conservative outlook toward topics such as gender and sexuality is more a reflection of Western/colonial influence than the history of our own cultures. A few of the best documented cases of Asian, Pacific Island, and Desi cultures that historically accepted LGBT individuals showed not only tolerance, but also respect for such diversity.
The Han Dynasty of China is well-known for having one ruler, Emperor Ai, who was so
deeply in love with his male companion that he gave rise to the phrase “passion of the cut
sleeve” after an incident where his consort had fallen asleep on his sleeve and instead of waking him, the Emperor cut away that portion of his sleeve. While a romantic and famous (there are a number of pieces of art and writing documenting it) relationship, it was hardly irregular. Especially among the nobility, it was common for men to have both wives as well as male companions. Some historians have suggested that every emperor from the Han Dynasty had had at least one male consort during their rule, cementing the idea that at least among the upper classes, bisexuality was a completely normal and even expected occurrence.
For a large portion of their history, India has had not two acknowledged genders, but three: male, female, and hijra. Present in, and thought to originate from, Hindu tradition, hijras are similar to what we call non-binary, but the term isn’t a perfect translation and can also encompass other identities. For example, intersex or asexual individuals might also be placed into this gender.
Historically, hijras have been important as religious figureheads within Hindu
communities. They are usually relegated to a separate sect of the community, where they are
taught correct behavior and practices by a mentor. Typically isolated from the rest of the non-
hijra community, they do re-join the community for ceremonies and celebrations, specifically those surrounding marriage or fertility and prosperity. While British colonization has had a strong negative impact on the current treatment of hijras, they have historically been a highly respected group within India.
Before Hawaii’s colonization and annexation by the United States, the kingdom had a fairly fluid approach to gender and sexuality. Much like the Han Dynasty in China, it was common for same-sex relationships to take place among the higher-ranking members of society. These formations of relationships were known as aikane, and seen as a regular custom associated with nobility. While aikane was relegated to the highest ranks of society, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t diversity among the people as a whole, most notably in the realm of gender. Māhū is the term that was used for individuals fell outside the categorization of cisgender man or woman. Transgender people as well as intersex individuals were understood to be māhū, and these people were respected as religious and cultural practitioners, taking vital roles in cultural performances and acting as teachers in cultural matters.