A Response to the Fading Queerness

Gay Matrimonial Ad

Gay Matrimonial Ad

It has been a few days since the first gay-matrimonial ad of the country has been out, and as expected, it has gathered a great deal of attention both from gay and straight people. Lack of available information would keep me from commenting on the reactions among the straight crowd. But being a part of the gay community, I have witnessed two different arguments emerging:

  1. It is a great progressive step from a loving mother for her gay son and is also a potentially visible statement of the gay community in mainstream society.
  2. While appreciating the aforementioned, a section of people in the community are extremely agitated about how the matrimonial ad mentions a preference of caste. This has lead to the debate of contesting the regressive part of the ad (where, of course, I find my place).

Through the days of debate in this context, there has been an article titled Mr. & Mr.Iyer, in another publication, and with the strong urge of responding specifically to this article I attempt this writing. I was curious and excited to see a summed up opinion on the debate and dialogue. Having started with much hope, it didn’t take me two lines of reading to see the one-sided tone of the writing, which dismisses all the widely differing opinions of this debate to be brouhaha – noisy, overexcited reaction, and just not that, they are also vitriolic: filled with bitter criticism and malice (rest of the words like ‘nasty’ and ‘personal’, I wouldn’t deny because I have seen things getting there from all the sides). I am baffled to see how a whole opinion/critique of a bunch of people in the community, who, in reality do not have any personal enmity with the people related to the ad, but share a different opinion and are critiquing only a part of the ad, has simply been called brouhaha and vitriolic

What surprised me more is this deciding attitude of who is morally eligible to have an opinion and who is not. Ashley Tellis, for instance, might have expressed a not-so-popular opinion on Pedophilia in the past, but how does that disallow Ashley to talk about anything else? How is a person confined and judged to just one of his opinions or acts? Is he nothing beyond it? The author should have instead tried to counter Tellis’ points, not point out his past work and judge the article in question. This is not about the people, it is a debate of ideas. Now I am keen to know what would it be in case of Dhamini Ratnam. Is there also a supreme moral stand to even overthrow her say in this matter?

And of course how can the argument of ‘preference not being prejudice’ be ignored – that’s the center of attraction of the whole piece. This is such a romantic idea of choice and preference.

Where does one’s choice start and where does it end? How absolute and independent an identity can this choice and preference claim? Is this choice/preference free from conditioning? Is it just an individual’s sole conscious choice/preference or product of the society he is part of? Do personal choices and preferences have no social and political connotations? Do they not have any historical and cultural context?

  • So many people prefer male child (of course one who grows up to be straight), Let it be so!
  • Firms around the world may prefer to hire straight people, let it be so! (They might indeed display a similar board saying – All are welcome, though heterosexuals are preferred)
  • Justices Singhvi and Mukopadhyaya preferred to uphold Sec 377, let it be so!!
  • A father preferred to disown his son because he is gay, let it be so.
  • Heterosexuals prefer heterosexuals to teach their children, let it be so!
  • The bakery owner prefers not to bake cakes for gay weddings, let it be so.
  • Heterosexual people prefer to befriend only heterosexuals, let it be so!
  • Cisgenders prefer to be Transphobic, let it be so.
  • Heterosexuals prefer to be Homophobic, let them be so!

After all, these are all personal choices and preferences, how can we question their prerogative! Do help me understand if it is otherwise, tell me how these things are not preferences and personal choices? Or is it that gay men’s preferences are sane and divine while all others preferences are not?

If personal preference and choice are so immune to political and social context and scope, how did a personal desire of who fucks whom become a social and political movement?

There can be nothing more bizarre than simply looking at this whole issue as a mere one individual’s personal choice (as everyone wants to portray it). Our choices and preferences are products of society’s ages of collective action, thinking and conditioning, of which we are part of and which can be reflected in any individual who is a product of the same society. Hence it is important for people to come together as a collective/community to think and have a dialogue and act upon, looking at the historical, cultural, social & political contexts of this ‘preference’.

Have a look below:

Upper caste people from centuries consider all this as their preference on the lines of caste. Let this preference also prevail and excel !! (After all it’s a preference – of individuals and also the collective of individuals)

How did the author of Mr. and Mr. Iyer fail to see how marriage as a patriarchal institution is the basis of producing caste/race in the same blood line and letting that happen by marriages being guarded to happen only in the same caste/race to protect the so called caste/race purity? A recent example in U.P where a Dalit boy eloped with a girl from an upper caste, the girl’s family went to strip 5 women of the boy’s community naked and paraded them on streets till marketplace, all the while whipping them.

In such a condition, to what extent is the preference of people wanting to marry in same caste and race, be considered as their own independent freely chosen conscious one? And if the idea of comfort with same caste people comes from a belief that people from same caste are of similar culture, similar eating habits, similar language and so on, I wonder to what extent this can be true, which assumes people of a same caste to be all similar. Is diversity such a shallow idea?

Belongingness: What belongingness is it, if it doesn’t come just from the desire of companionship, but also from the belief of having that companionship from the same race and caste?

Of course, there is no second thought about the intention of the ad and the people related with the ad and it cannot be questioned. It’s absurd to do so. But isn’t the whole debate about the connotations that the caste preference mentioned in the ad would bring on, rather than the intention? How can one overlook the fact that the world and many things in it are operated irrespective and independent of the people’s intention.

People with all the good hearted intention can be non-discriminatory, non-misogynistic, non-racist, non-sexist and non-casteist, but irrespective of that one might very unconsciously and unintentionally contribute to any of this.

The insight that author has brought on the term queer is wonderful, though I fail to understand how it belongs to far left. But as per my knowledge, Queer is also the term owned by LGBT movement for a good time now, for various reasons- one being the creation of an inclusive identity for various sexualities and non-conforming gender identities (of course as the author said, Queer can’t be solely owned by LGBT community).

The fact is that Gay people are part of the broader and larger Queer movement (it is not necessary they are queer). Only if Gay people want to have a separate sole Gay movement not to be associated with the queer movement, they are entitled to have it so and by default of which they can also disassociate themselves from the greater queer agenda and can work towards joining the existing heterosexual space (of course as their equals).

Another argument of the author I failed to understand is to have marriage equality and then debate about gay people having to reject marriage or not. This is like the 2013 Supreme court judgement of IPC Sec 377 a part of which says: As there are not many filed and executed cases of Sec 377 as of now, let us talk about the discrimination of this when there are many discriminated at hand.

Would it be such a bad idea to debate about what we are asking for and then have it, so that we know it, understand it and are familiar with it so that our engagement after having it is not a debate of how rightful it is to have it, but would be an engagement of joy and pride.

Another interesting point mentioned in the article is that social issues in the society do not exist in isolation, but it is also said that they need to stay in isolation in this case because of LGBT movement being unable to take the burden at the moment. Wouldn’t it be a better option to grow as an inclusive movement from the very nascent stage by building intersectionality and allies with other marginalized movements? Also, I fail to understand the claim of a greater victimhood as a movement than rest of the others. In LGBT movement one’s sexuality and gender is a problem, where both of them become issues in a later stage of life as the individual grows, but in case of caste your birth in certain community itself is a cause of discrimination. I hate to make such comparisons, but it is to say how such kinds of comparisons are bizarre and unnecessary.

At another note it looks like the author has overlooked the difference between combating, and extending solidarity and trying to understand another movement. Every community needs to have its own fight, it cannot be fought by any other community, the only idea is to extend the solidarity and try to understand various other marginalizations being a fellow marginalized community. This is not just for the idea of supporting other marginalized communities but also because all marginalisations are intermixed and are part of certain amount of common social space and also personal space.

Lets not assume that LGBT people will come with just their identities of sexuality and gender. As every other individual they will also have various other identities such as caste, class, race, gender, region, nationality and so on. What if there is a Dalit person who is part of LGBT community, how would he place himself in general in LGBT community and also in the movement if this space remains to be a space with no understanding and connection with Dalit identity, politics and movement?

When the author raises the question of not questioning Dalit activists who do not share stage with LGBT Indians, I believe that he is talking from his space and did not look at the larger world out there. Hence I would like to throw light on how things at the geographical place (Hyderabad) I come from are different:

This year a Dalit feminist author , Gogu Shyamla inaugurated the Queer Carnival organised in the city and out loud expressed the solidarity to the community and soon after that an internationally renowned Dalit intellectual, activist and writer Kancha Illaiha inaugurated the 2015 Hyderabad Queer Kavathu (Pride Walk) and extended solidarity to the LGBT community. Sometime before this in the history of Ninety Seven years old Osmania University, for the first time ever, the Transgender Hijra community was cordially invited for the book release of Telugu translation of A. Revathi’s book “Truth about me : A Hijra’s life story” which was fully organised by a Dalit student leader in collaboration with various other Dalit groups in the university, and publicly declared solidarity.

Kancha Ilaiah at Hyderabad Pride 2015

Kancha Ilaiah at Hyderabad Pride 2015

I am not trying to say all Dalit activists are on the same line, but I am also sure that all heterosexuals are not our allies, does that mean we reject the others who are our allies and not engage with them? The reality is that a person or community marginalised in one way will not understand the marginalisation of all other means by default, it requires some effort, dialogue, engagement and above all an initiation, so let us not get stuck at the petty thing of who approaches first!!

Revathi's book release in Osamania University

Revathi’s book release in Osmania University

I didn’t much understand the reference of “Political Dogma” by the author. It indeed cannot be ignored or overlooked that the person who placed this ad is a mother, who is an amazingly loving soul not only for her son but also for many lives that she touches. That brave step by her is amazingly wonderful and should be welcomed and applauded.

Saying this, I wish to ask, can there be a space where empathy and critique, solidarity and questioning, respect and difference of opinion exist, live and happen together? This helps to see how appreciation to one section of the ad will not leave other section of it immune to critique (or) critically looking at one section of the Ad will not demean the whole Ad.

Can there be inclusiveness of this critical engagement, which would help us introspect, grow, evolve and emerge as a better community and movement as we move on.

One final thing that my limited intelligence failed to get is the title the author has chosen for the article, Mr.&Mr.Iyer, is it out of the assumption or reinforcement that the marriage will be or should be certainly only between the same caste or even if it is otherwise the spouse who would get into the marriage will be supposed to have the in-laws surname getting rid of his own(as per patriarchal marriage institution)??

With such a one-sided opinion tone it would have been apt to name it “Why I support the first gay matrimonial ad”.

Of course yes, not only gay people but everyone should Love and Let Love (with no preferences).