Ashley Tellis asks us to engage with shit

chennaiWhere is the active participation of the queer movement in the general Chennai relief activities on the ground, apart from some work on transgender relief by Orinam? Too busy having a panel on coming out instead? Where was and is the ‘queer movement’ during the UGC Occupy movement in Delhi for some months now? Too busy having a Pride march? Where was the ‘queer movement’ in Pune during the FTII protests? Too busy on Grindr? These questions multiply. Despite its much vaunted, intersectional definition of ‘queer,’ where are the moments that show any of it in action?

Other minorities, like the Maharashtrian sex workers who sacrificed part of their earnings to send relief to Chennai, might shame us into some sense if we had any shame. But we don’t. Linking up with other movements, minorities and issues sounds sexy in manifestos but the hard work and giving up of privilege it involves is just not sexy enough. Dalits in Delhi Pride were sniggered at. They were destroying the celebratory images that the ‘queer movement’ wanted to have in the media the next day. Dalits are a dampener on those images just like publicity shots and posts about Chennai relievers are great but Dalits cleaning the shit on the streets of Chennai as we speak just isn’t cool.

The politics of the ‘queer movement’ in this country is skin deep. It is all about shallow visibility in the mindless media. It cannot be about failure, shit, sweat and the difficulties of doing what one has to do day in and day out in our lives. And yet we turn away from that to our own peril. The super light images of our super light selves cannot cover the mess that resides in us just like the super cool images of ‘Spirit of Chennai’ can’t cover the shit floating in the streets.

What we need as sexual minorities is an engagement with shit. Not just the shit on the roads of Chennai, which we must get down and clean as well, but with the shit that forms us and that we had better deal with. We are sad, twisted fucked up people because this society has made us sad, twisted and fucked up. No amount of gloss can cover that. It is time we dealt with it.

An engagement with Dalit politics might help us do that. To see that if Dalits are discriminated against, so are homosexuals; if Dalits get the relief last, so do homosexuals; if Dalits have to clean the shit the world leaves behind, so do homosexuals. If the world is hegemonically upper caste, it is also hegemonically heterosexual. Indeed, it is also often the case that Dalit heterosexuals might hate us as much as other heterosexuals do. We have to deal with that as well. Just like Dalits deal with being hated by upper caste homosexuals.

That engagement cannot be easy and it will reveal some uncomfortable truths about minorities of different kinds, their attitudes to each other, their attitudes to themselves. It is from this that a politics worth its name will be born.

Most of those sex workers in Maharashtra who sent money to Chennai are lower caste. Most of the sex workers who were jailed and who fought to build awareness around AIDS in Chennai and Bombay and other parts of the country in the 80s and 90s were lower caste. How many of us see ourselves in sex workers even as most hijras/aravanis/jogappas in the country are sex workers? Being a minority in India is often being a minority several times over. It is difficult to keep your shit straight when you are being fucked over in more than one way. Yet these people did it.

The ‘queer movement’ is a privileged section of sexual minorities even if some of us are multiply minoritised too. When will we step out of our Pride marches and coming out panels, get off our sex date apps to smell the shit in us and around us? Shit is the great leveller, not death. Some people have wonderful deaths. But we all shit and all our shit smells. What we need is a political movement of shit. Only then will we face our own abjection, our damaged formation, the violence that is visited upon us and that we visit upon others and only then will be able to fight it all and build a better world.

The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author.


Editor’s Note: Orinam, Nirangal, Sahodaran, Thozi and individuals not affiliated to any group have been carrying out relief work for transgender people affected by Chennai Floods. You can donate money and help in their efforts. For more information, please click here
Ashley Tellis