SIT alum collaborates on essay that explores queerphobic media and representations in a changing Mongolia

June 11th, 2024   |   Alumni, Research, SIT Study Abroad

In 2022, Nicholas Smaldone studied abroad in Mongolia with SIT while a student at the George Washington University. He is currently earning a master's in geography there, and his research interests include queer ecologies, agricultural transitions, and landscape management. He authored the essay "Screening Queerness at Beyond the Blue Sky Mongolian Queer Film Festival" in collaboration with Dorjjantsan Ganbaatar and Erdeneburen Dorjpurev. Ganbaatar is a queer rights activist, lecturer, researcher, and author. He received a medical degree in Mongolia and graduated from the University of Melbourne with a master's degree in public health. Dorjpurev is pursuing a master's degree in media and communications at Monash University in Melbourne and previously served as the legal program coordinator at the LGBT Centre Mongolia.

The essay was originally published in January by Duke University Press in the "Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies." SIT has been given permission to reprint the essay.

Beyond the Blue Sky

As the only queer film festival in Mongolia, the Beyond the Blue Sky Queer Film Festival is tasked with creating space for queerness in a shifting society. In this essay we situate this distinct film festival within and against the social, political, and economic currents of queerphobic media and representations in rapidly changing Mongolia. We also show how queer Mongolian filmmakers and their audiences respond, contest, and rework these currents, highlighting some of the local films that screened at the festival.

Despite its storied history, Mongolia, or Mongol Uls, is a relatively young country still in the process of constructing its national identity. After transitioning to democracy in the 1990s, Mongolia is now seeing a transformation of its entire society: “With the disappearance of the overarching communist ideology that had dictated the political landscape of the country for nearly seven decades ... symbols and markers of national community are constantly renegotiated and appropriated reflecting fluid relations of power and social order” (Myadar and Rae 2014: 562).

It is here in the center of change and transition, figured often as a contestation between “traditional” Mongolian society and the “modern” global movement for queer rights, that the Beyond the Blue Sky film festival finds its starting point.

“Tradition” has become particularly charged and a contradictory site of investments as the polity integrates with the global economic order. In the process, “different agents have promoted either nationalism or neoliberalism [as best suited for mediating tradition and globalization], but they could never completely eclipse the other” (Bumochir 2020: 3). Unsurprisingly, then, contemporary discourses pose “sexuality” as an element of traditional society, though not fundamentally incompatible with queerness (Ganbaatar et al. 2022; Nyamdorj 2006; Terbish 2013).

It is here in the center of change and transition, figured often as a contestation between “traditional” Mongolian society and the “modern” global movement for queer rights, that the Beyond the Blue Sky film festival finds its starting point. Ultimately, queerness as depicted by the festival and its films becomes just one of the many sources of contestation regarding the country’s transformation, which allows it a unique entryway into the creation of Mongolia’s national identity within a dynamic and fluid social order.

At Beyond the Blue Sky, queerness is claimed and circulated by two distinct formations: the LGBT Centre, which curates and creates the festival, and the often amateur and young filmmakers who enter it. In their book Queer Cinema in the World, Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt (2016: 81) look at queer film festivals across the globe. According to the pair, “the queer film festival not only reflects the world but actively makes and remakes worlds ... it responds to the institutions of world-building in which the festival’s survival is implicated.”

For them, worlding includes not just filmic content but “also the worlds imagined by the spaces and shapes of the event and the activities of its audiences. It ... extends to paratexts such as promotion, sponsorship, and the structure of the program (including categorizations, sidebars, juxtapositions, and even omissions)” (86).

In this sense the world created by Beyond the Blue Sky is nestled within the pride movement in Mongolia. That is, the film festival itself is one component of the country’s pride festivities each year, themselves the result of both local politics and global discourses. For example, the LGBT Centre’s Equality and Pride Days festival happens in late August every year instead of June when many western countries hold their celebrations. This is because the summer is a time when many people leave the city for the countryside to enjoy the warmer weather, especially during Naadam, the country’s national festival in July. August, on the other hand, was chosen as a time when people would be returning to school and work from vacation. However, the pressures of globalization are increasing. At the beginning of June, queer online space and social media in Mongolia are flooded with messages of “Happy Pride,” and the Centre is considering moving its pride celebrations to June in the coming years.

Schoonover and Galt (2016) propose three main models for how global queer film festivals create worlds of their own. The MIX NYC model is one of exclusion through its experimental use of aesthetics, political messaging, and advertising targeting a wholly queer audience. Conversely, the KASHISH Film Festival in Mumbai is a mainstreaming experience, bringing together industry professionals and queer creators. Finally, the Batho Ba Lorato Festival in Gaborone, Botswana, doubles as an activist event, demanding respect for Botswana’s queer community and even presenting legal challenges to advance queer rights. But what world is created in Ulaanbaatar by this festival?

In this sense the world created by Beyond the Blue Sky is nestled within the pride movement in Mongolia. That is, the film festival itself is one component of the country’s pride festivities each year, themselves the result of both local politics and global discourses.

Given the festival’s aim and the backdrop of homophobic media in Mongolia, the festival certainly has an activist component to it. In 2022 an interview with the winning film director and one of the judges was published on two of the biggest news websites in Mongolia. Unsurprisingly, the comments were mainly homophobic: “Please stop categorizing such absurd matters under the umbrella of ‘human rights.’. ... labeling what is clearly abnormal as normal is incorrect.” With such public pushback against the festival’s mere existence, activism becomes a key part of it, along with other parts of the LGBT Centre’s work.

Likewise, staying with the festival typologies described above, Beyond the Blue Sky might have “exclusionary” impulses. In past years, the festival’s prize money has attracted many straight cis filmmakers and even mainstream productions. Fearing that the festival might lose its core vision to empower queer artists and encourage them to create queer films, in 2022 the festival added a new rule stating that at least 30 percent of the film crew must identify as queer in some way. This was met with a harsh backlash from straight cis filmmakers who were angry and confused about the new rule, even calling it a form of discrimination. The festival, however, still targets a large general audience. Posters for it are put up at public bus stations, and the screenings in 2022 were held at Tengis Cinema, a popular theater in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city.

While the festival has become more “exclusionary” in terms of what media it shows, its broader goal to increase visibility and empower local filmmakers remains. Likewise, to say that there is no queer visibility in existing Mongolian cinema would be inaccurate. In fact, homophobic stereotypes are particularly severe in comedy films and short skits, making queer people the target of ridicule. These forms of queer caricatures are on the rise because of social media, where queer people are mocked in entertainment feeds that target a straight audience.

The pervasiveness of these queerphobic mediascapes within mainstream media makes Mongolia distinct from other East Asian media (Olonbayar 2021). One such example is the comedy skit “UK Visa’’ by the group Shine Uy, in which two straight Mongolian men pretend to be gay in order to get a UK visa. This skit exemplifies a harmful trope that has become widely accepted in Mongolian culture in the post-socialist era, that there are two types of gays: acquired (oldmol) and “congenital” or born (torolhiin). This concept of acquired homosexuality has become embedded in dominant mediascapes through these comedy skits and films and feeds homophobic arguments in Mongolian society (Olonbayar 2021).

Not surprisingly, the concept of oldmol gei (acquired gayness) is prominent in homophobic discourse that positions queerness in Mongolia as a foreign import and not compatible with certain visions of national identity. Baasanjav Terbish (2013: 264) situates this phenomenon in the local context where “the topic of homosexuality, which has never been associated with ‘spiritual creativity’ or other positive values, is discussed more in the context of human rights and compassion by using clinical language.” Even the word for homosexual itself in Mongolian is foreign, borrowed from the Russian gomoseksual. The word is commonly shortened as gomo, often combined with oldmol, and is considered a derogatory term by some.

While engaging these media feeds, it is important to note that the world of the festival extends beyond the spatial-temporal boundaries of screenings. The films are judged by a panel of judges, historically composed of the director of the LGBT Centre, a local film critic, and an international guest judge. In 2022 the guest judge was queer theorist and filmmaker Nguyen Tan Hoang (2014), who has written on queerness and film in Southeast Asia (LGBT Centre 2022b). While Southeast Asia is a defined geographic area, Mongolia does not really fit into any distinct world region. It is not one of the economically powerful “East Asian Tigers,” it is distinct in many ways from most Central Asian countries, and there is no real North Asia outside Russia. However, Nguyen’s inclusion provides opportunities for pan-Asian solidarity and class solidarity between lower-middle-income Asian countries and their queer communities.

Furthermore, the top three winners of the film festival are awarded sizable prize money, first place being 5,000,000 MNT, or roughly 1,500 USD. This money is awarded with the purpose of increasing the capacities of queer Mongolian filmmakers, which is also accomplished by trainings and equipment the Centre offers throughout the year for filmmaking by the public. The festival is not just an annual happening but also an ongoing project to empower the queer community. Since the films themselves come from the community, the lines between audience and actor become blurred. The festival is more than just entertainment; it’s a rare time for the community to come together openly to watch themselves on the big screen and admire their hard work. Oftentimes the films can be replays of lived experiences or utopian projections of what life could be like, starring the people themselves who live through or strive for such lives. This is a good example of how “cinema as an institution and a medium appears to open the queer local to the world .... the screen presents a world in which queers can live publicly which may be less possible to imagine beyond the theatre’s walls” (Schoonover and Galt 2016: 81). In that way, an “Ulaanbaatar” model is unique and valuable to understand how festival space operates in context.

Finally, we can also turn to Mongolian Pride’s official 2022 video to see how and what worlds are created by the festival (LGBT Centre 2022a). The video is a series of vignettes of community members sharing what pride means to them and what makes them proud. Featured are Enkhjin, a trans youth activist; Alungoo, a bisexual mother; Lanamunkh, a trans model and artist; Bignuut, creative designer and small business owner; Dorjjantsan (Jack), an employee at the LGBT Center (and co-author of this article); and Nyampurev, or Lady Vanity, a local drag performer.

Several of the speakers make appeals to the audience encouraging them to join in on the feeling of pride. Lady Vanity shares that “everyone has something to be proud of,” and Lanamunkh says that “everyone, not just LGBT people, should be proud of the life they’ve lived and the challenges they overcome” (LGBT Centre 2022a). While these statements may come off as mainstreaming, another nuance is understanding the word for pride in Mongolian, bakharkhal. While the term gay pride goes without question in English, bakharkhal has a much more limited connotation and is best translated as pride in the sense of glory, the nation, or the military. It is often used to describe a soldier who went to war and protected the country, or an Olympian who made the country a winner. The idea of self-pride is a rather novel and poorly understood concept in Mongolian society.

While the pride festival in Mongolia is officially known as Equality and Pride Days, Tegsh Erkh bakharkhliin odruud, the Centre will often just use Cyrillic characters to rewrite the English spelling of pride as прайд (praid) to connote the globalized meaning of the word when advertising or writing online. In this video, members of the community whom you might see out at the bar on the weekend, walking down the street, or at the LGBT Centre all push a new understanding of pride as self-love and acceptance, applicable to any member of society. These more mainstreaming statements, we argue, act in context as an invitation—an invitation of solidarity, intersectionality, and multidimensionality for all those who might not fit neatly into Mongolian society to see what alternatives might exist.

Queerness, the Post-Socialist Gaze, and Geographies of Inequality in Ulaanbaatar

Just a few minutes into the trailer for Mongolian Pride, Jack kisses his partner Erkhem in the main square of Ulaanbaatar (see fig. 1), Mongolia’s capital and really only city (LGBT Centre 2022a). Physically, Jack is positioned between two statues of Mongolia’s most infamous figures: Chinggis Khaan and Damdin Sukhbaatar, a former general who is credited with bringing communism to Mongolia in 1921 (whose legacy is complicated by the fact that he also restored Mongolian independence from Manchurian rule). Juxtaposed between these two figures, Jack and his partner interrupt and even unsettle historical views of sexuality in Mongolia. In this section, we will explore how socialism and post-socialism have been depicted at the festival through case studies of two key films. We will compare key pieces of post-socialist theory from queer and Mongolian authors to see how the films navigate, in the words of Schoonover and Galt (2016: 81), “a pressure to reconcile a globalizing mission with a local politics of being queer in the world.”

Queer theorists have often taken issue with normative discourses that follow neoliberal transitions from socialism to democratic capitalism as necessary for development and queer rights. In her article “Mediating Syndromes of Postcommunism: Disability, Sex, Race, and Labor,” Czech gender, queer, and disability theorist Katerˇina Kolárˇová (2019: 158) looks at how the work of filmmaker Wiktor Grodecki “destabilizes the dominant narratives of transition that picture Eastern Europe as (forever) overcoming the pathology of its socialist past.” Similarly, in his book Queer Marxism in Two Chinas, Petrus Liu (2015) argues against the incompatibility of Marxism and queerness as understood by the West.

However, more often than not discussions of Mongolia are absent in post-socialist studies, despite the impact of socialism on Mongolia being arguably more dramatic than on many other countries. In recent years, Mongolian scholars have used postcolonial frameworks to understand the impact of socialism in Mongolia (Myadar 2020; Buyandelger 2008). Preceding the infusion of Marxist ideology, Mongolia “could not have been more antithetical to classical capitalist and industrial societies. Mongolia did not have a clear bourgeois class to be eliminated or a proletariat class who would be the vehicle of revolution and of building socialism” (Myadar 2017: 16).

Queer theorists have often taken issue with normative discourses that follow neoliberal transitions from socialism to democratic capitalism as necessary for development and queer rights.

Indeed, the entire society had to be reworked to fit into the Soviet project. Buddhist institutions were completely destroyed, the alphabet was replaced, the countryside was divided into governable units and subunits, and nomadic pastoralism was reorganized into collectivities. While colonialism is often understood in part as the control of distant lands, Mongolia as a nomadic society was conceptually much more distant to its neighbor Russia than countries like the Czech Republic who shared similar agricultural and sedentary ways of being. Ultimately, “while symbolically sovereign, Mongolia lacked the power to take control over its own fate and became isolated under the new socialist regime as a geopolitically subservient subject of the Soviet Union” (9).

Only one film from the festival available on the LGBT Centre’s YouTube channel takes direct aim at the country’s socialist past: Beyond the Blue Sky (Devaney and Miller 2010). The film follows two male lovers who live a significantly typical Mongolian life, in constant transit between the city and the countryside. Throughout the film, they make out, make love, ride horses, and herd livestock. The setting switches back and forth between an urbanized apartment and a ger, a traditional Mongolian yurt. Toward the end of the film, the couple are caught together in bed, and one of them is forcibly taken away by the intruder.

While this is happening, stills of Zaisan Memorial in Ulaanbaatar, which commemorates the history of cooperation between Mongolia and the Soviet Union, are shown. The scene is evocative of the surveillance and judgment of homosexuality during the Soviet era and even today through lingering sentiments and loyalties. The scene is especially potent when considering that the Zaisan Memorial is situated on the top of a hill and is visible across almost all of Ulaanbaatar. It stands triumphantly over
the city and marks the city’s southern border against the steppe. In both physical and digital artifacts, the colonial shadow of socialism, as Orhon Myadar (2017) puts it, lives on for Mongolians.

However, the film addresses socialism in a more nuanced way as well. The very last scene, after the loud sound of the morin khuur, a traditional Mongolian bow instrument, dies out, features one of the characters walking off into the distance. As figure 2 shows, the character is notably walking in a ger district, an area in the north of Ulaanbaatar that is composed of informal settlements of migrants from the countryside who come with their yurts in search of a better life. Ger districts known to be among the poorest areas in all of Mongolia. The area suffers from lack of infrastructure and transportation, deadly air pollution, soil contamination, and other social, economic, and environmental problems (Terbish, Lietaert, and Roets 2020).

Ger districts are also a distinct post-socialist creation. Mongolia saw increased urbanization following the “shock therapy” of the 1990s, and the ger district provided an immediate refuge for those seeking to avoid extreme poverty (Byambadorj, Amati, and Ruming 2014). In the Mongolian case, shock therapy refers to the rapid switch from an economy reliant on the Soviet Council for Mutual Economic Assistance to a market economy. This transition was led not by Mongolian leaders but by international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank. As a result, “Mongolia’s social safety net began to crumble and commodity prices skyrocketed with the uncontrollable currency deflation. Unemployment soared, as did the overall poverty level and income gap, while a narrow segment of the population enriched itself by concentrating power over the few national industries” (Myadar and Rae 2014: 564).

Another film that features distinctly post-socialist geography is Suis ton coeur (2021). The film follows the self-absorbed Soko and her best friend Oyu. While Oyu crushes on Soko, Soko has her sights on another man. One night in the rain, Oyu asks Soko if she wants to go to Mongolian Pride. Soko is disgusted by the prospect, saying, “It just seems so selfish and gross to me ... their parents will be embarrassed” (Temuujin 2021). Later in the film, while heading to see her male lover, Soko comes to the realization that Oyu likes her as more than just a friend. She stops in her tracks for a dramatic panorama shot against the backdrop of the Zaisan neighborhood (see fig. 3). While also home to the Soviet monument of the same name, the Zaisan neighborhood is considered to be one of the richest parts of all Mongolia. It is home to luxury shops and homes and is located on the other side of the city from the ger district. Also a post-socialist creation, it has some of the newest developments in the city and exemplifies the inequality the country faces in the wake of neoliberalization.

Soko runs back to find Oyu, and they face off across a street downtown. But it is too late, as Oyu has decided to permanently move to the countryside with her mother. Soko, who has come to represent consumerism, vanity, and homophobia, is strongly associated with the Zaisan neighborhood, a stark departure from the queer alignment with the ger district in Beyond the Blue Sky. The transition from socialism to democracy was also one that was controlled by outsiders, this time mainly the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other neoliberal institutions (Myadar 2020). The argument can be made that if the socialist era were colonial, Mongolia continues to face outside controls and pressures to liberalize its new economy, resulting in the stark inequality shown in these films.

Kolárˇová (2019: 161) notes that “Grodecki’s films foster moral outrage at foreigners corrupting, using, and infecting Czech able-bodied men, which reflects a Czech self-understanding as always colonized. This outrage feeds existing moral panics over sexual, cultural, and religious difference.” As we have seen, the feeling of being constantly colonized can also be used to describe Mongolia. However, we would argue that in these queer films, this understanding does not lead to panic. Instead, these films use sexual difference to embrace the constant change often lamented in the case of Mongolia. They present complex interactions and disjunctions between sexual and economic difference, interactions that are “based on the exploration of the experiences of the peoples who accommodate, resist, interpret, and shape their lives in relation to, and despite, the failed transitions brought upon them” (Buyandelger 2008: 237). Queerness is on the move in these films, literally, as characters cross various boundaries, borders, and spaces. By locating these films in geographies that are symptoms of socialism, shock therapy, and neoliberalism, “the enduring nature of the experiences shows that there is no tangible line between the so-called transition and the so-called expected destination” (237). Instead, characters find themselves constantly under pressure. The films embrace the uncertainty, pain, and joy of such pressures and depict lives that are resilient in the face of them.

The Nonhuman and the Nomad

As demonstrated throughout this essay, it is impossible to discuss any aspect of life in Mongolia without discussing the countryside, or khödöö broadly in Mongolian. Even the opening shot of the trailer for Mongolian Pride in 2022 features Lady Vanity dressed in drag as a traditional Mongolian woman on a hill surrounded by the steppe (LGBT Centre 2022a). Rocky cliffs rise and fall behind her and give way to green pastureland. Rangeland makes up nearly the entire country outside Ulaanbaatar and is a defining characteristic of the country internationally. Yet the outside world often views the steppe in contradicting ways. Often it is seen as pure, pristine, and untouched by humans; other times, it is cold, barren, and an unforgiving wasteland. Despite widespread evidence of their existence, both visions of the steppe neglect the socio-ecological interactions and effectively posit the land as an empty place. Empty, on one hand, of human influence on the environment, and empty, on the other hand, of productive natural resources and biodiversity at large.

Caroline Humphrey and David Sneath (1999: 1) suggest that these misguided visions of the countryside neglect the socio-ecological relationship central to Mongolian history: “Far from being a practice associated with the most backward herders, highly mobile livestock herding is often the basis for the most efficient, wide-ranging, well-coordinated, and specialized production.” Sneath writes extensively on the social institutions that historically governed Mongolian pastoralism and how today their role is in transition as formal socialist politics and market capitalism have dramatically altered the way people organize and govern the steppe. In this section, we will explore how queer Mongolian films recenter traditional Mongolian socio-ecological views of the countryside that respect diversity and equality in the natural world.

As demonstrated throughout this essay, it is impossible to discuss any aspect of life in Mongolia without discussing the countryside

The countryside and natural environment of Mongolia is nearly omnipresent, running in the background of many films shown at the festival. One such film is Inside World (2021). In Inside World, a trans figure sits in a field of grass and recites a creation story, as footage of another character dancing on the steppe is interplayed. “There was a time when people lived on earth without any bodies. Only spirits,” the narrator begins, “the only thing that connected them was the feeling of love” (Batbold 2021). Eventually, love “was not enough for them,” so humans gained bodies, “but no one was the same” (Batbold 2021).

The narrator then describes the birth of jealousy, hatred, ridicule, judgment, and other feelings that overtook love. While the narrator mentions the positives of physical connection, the creation of bodies made some “not feel human among others” (Batbold 2021). As the mood changes, the dancer stands triumphantly and surrealistically falls into the grassland. After describing how humans evolved to change themselves to please those different from themselves, the speaker changes to be male presenting, and a female voice is overlaid. The film ends with the speaker triumphantly declaring, “There are two people that exist inside of us. One of them always has to fit other people. Another wants to fit yourself. But I am the third, and I love it” (Batbold 2021), before walking off into the steppe and disappearing in the grass.

While often viewed as an ancient practice holding out in a globalized world, the Mongolian pastoral system is also a site of change. The distinct steppe that has become synonymous with the country is being degraded at an alarming rate, owing to the rise in livestock populations following privatization and climate change (Sneath 2018). Furthermore, conservation in Mongolia has often relied on western perspectives and priorities when it comes to natural resource management: “Environmentalist agendas reflect a familiar western interest in promoting western conservationist ideology. ... Mongolian practices tend to be cast as traditions ... rather than seen as part of wider social and political institutions of land use” (Sneath 2003: 441).

Despite these external configurations, Inside World takes a noticeably Mongolian approach to environmental imaginations. The aesthetics and story at the center of the film deploy what Dulam Bumochir (2020: 124) coins the “Indigenous Environmental Cosmology” of the Mongolian malchin, or herder: “Traditional Mongolian cosmology and herding practice do not prioritize human rights and the
individual’s well-being, and do not pronounce human domination and triumphalism on earth ... human beings must follow the law of nature, rather than ignore it.”

The film mimics this idea of the Indigenous environmental cosmology by presenting the limits of humans as a sovereign entity outside the rest of nature. Humans lived in harmony when they were free spirits without a body, fully integrated with the natural nonhuman world, yet problems arise when humans become greedy for physical appearance in the film and, according to the Indigenous environmental cosmology, for money and control over the nonhuman environment. The queer view and critique of humanity in Inside World profoundly aligns with traditional Mongolian views of sustainability, which is especially potent when dealing with the almost-queered wasteland of the Mongolian steppe, whose socio-ecological complexity is often othered and misunderstood by outsiders. This traditional ideology serves as the main activist argument for the basic human rights of queer people in Mongolian society. It is a leveling force that respects the complexity of nature and culture in Mongolia, human and not, and even where they overlap.

Bumochir’s (2020) writing on the Indigenous environmental cosmology was mainly centered on Munkhbayar, an environmental activist in Mongolia who, despite gaining international attention for his work, maintained his identity as a malchin or herder. According to Munkhbayar, “Mongolians need to reclaim their ‘traditional’ cosmology of Mönkh Tenger. ... Contrary to ‘western’ opinion, the cosmology of the Mongols does not make human beings central, does not urge one to dominate and conquer earth, and does not consider the earth to be granted solely for the human being” (131). Mönkh Tenger, or the eternal sky, is an important concept in Mongolian society, encapsulating both literally and conceptually the malchin and the queer community. When it comes to the environment, queer depictions of liberation from physical boundaries and a desire to disintegrate back to some “original” state prove to be compatible with the original cosmology of Mönkh Tenger, pulling up a seat to the table for queerness in Mongolia’s rich socio-ecological heritage.

In the Mongolian language, Beyond the Blue Sky is known as Tsenkher Tengeriin Tsaana, with tenger deriving from the same cosmological concept of Mönkh Tenger mentioned above. However, this shamanistic tenger is not just an ancient custom but also a prominent idea in society that is even commonly referenced in modern pop songs (Uka 2013; Vandebo 2019). The name accurately exemplifies
how the film festival and queer community as a whole in Mongolia leverage both globalizing and nationalizing ideologies to advocate for a place in their country’s ever-changing national identity.

Navigating the line between domestic and global, traditional and modern, queer Mongolians make use of their country’s familiarity with change to enter the discourse at a time when national identity is being interrogated. Despite widespread misconceptions, the queer community in Mongolia rejects simplified understandings and visions of their situated and complex existence, corroborating Myadar’s (2011: 356) view that “Mongolia may not be able, and indeed may not wish, to turn back the tide of globalization. ... But it can seek to maintain a piece of itself by defining itself culturally in opposition to the global order, while at the same time being increasingly absorbed by it.”

While the film festival envisions many worlds of its own, the reality of ongoing queerphobic social forces in Mongolian society is important in shaping nearly all of them. Even more than just one group in the myriad of actors in Mongolia itself, queerness itself might be viewed as one of the globalizing or indigenizing forces being employed by such actors, each with their own agenda in defining a changing nation. The Mongolian brand of queerness born out of the Beyond the Blue Sky festival is one that is global, demanding rights and respect not only within Mongolia but also on a global stage, and also extremely local, born out of a changing society still in the process of shaping its national identity. These
multidimensional sources of both oppression and opportunity have allowed Mongolian queerness to be particularly resilient to issues facing Mongolians at large.

The Mongolian mode of queerness emerges as one that is particularly adept at responding to threats from outside forces, whether it be homophobia, globalization, neoliberalization, nationalism, climate change, or other topics discussed in this review. It is this compatibility with change that links queerness to the complex and ever-shifting Mongolia as we know it.