Malaysia used to be a home for genderqueer shamans. Now it is illegal to be gay there

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Joseph Goh, a gender studies lecturer and researcher at Monash University Malaysia with a PhD in gender, sexuality and theology, wrote a piece for the Malaysian site Queer Lapis revealing that the past of this country before the colonization has not been as cis-normative and heteronormative as its current period, affected by colonial-era anti-LGBT law and the impact of Islam in certain regions. The manang bali, a group of gender non-conforming shamans from the indigenous Iban tribe, lived in Malaysian Borneo for hundreds of years before the UK colonizers arrived on that land and forced them into Christianity or expelled if they disagreed. A manang, a shaman or traditional healer, was responsible for ritual healing. There were many types of manang, and Goh said that the gender non-conforming manang bali were a “minority group of shamans”. They are also referred to as “‘transformed shamans”, and Goh said: “While there were female-bodied manang bali who lived as men, the majority were biological males who lived as women.” Some researchers say that they identified with either two genders at once or no gender at all. He said that the part of Malaysian history is often overlooked, and added: “The reality that the manang bali existed, and were once lauded for their spiritual roles, challenges and disrupts today’s state-sanctioned transphobic and homophobic rhetoric.”

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