Social distancing, self-isolation aren't just coronavirus-related terms, they've long marked everyday lives of queer, marginalised
'I know what you are thinking: Yet again, the — queer, femme, Black person — speaks of dirty things like desire at a time of disease and death. Well, it is difficult only for those who have made a division between the three.' | Joshua Muyiwa writes in #QueerTake
The Queer Take is a fortnightly column by poet-writer Joshua Muyiwa. Read more from the series here.
I can’t think straight at all. I’ve never been able to. But in these extraordinary times of the Coronavirus outbreak, my mind is swimming with firm answers and floating with questions. And so here goes: a mixed bag of them for you — and for us.
* Like so many other queer people I know, I’ve been able to squeeze all of my frustrations, fears and food cravings into a quip that sounds something like: I’ve been in self-isolation forever. (Remember to drag out the word “forever” forever for a solid punch to the jaw.) Or in my case, I prefer to mop these iconic lines from Fergie: “I’m so three-thousand-eight / You so two thousand and late” to express my faux shocked sentiments at the recent global acceptance of this new status.
While queer people have been using quick wit to hide their hurt for a long, long, long, long, long time, it seemed like no one had heard about this till Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special Nanette two years ago. (Shut up, yougaiz! I’m not dragging her. I’m just saying, she wasn’t the first to say so. That’s all ya!) And like she said: under these fancy ways we have kindly conjured up to not give hurt back to you all, there is truth.
So, here’s some truth: we’ve been in self-isolation forever. (Remember to spit out a fierce full stop after “forever” for the complete slapped-with-a-velvet-glove effect.) And we have come to cloak being shoved, sent and secreted away into isolation by the world with the word “self”, as if there was really a choice presented to us. And so: we must not forget the active agency the world continues to practice in pushing us further away. *
* Imagine: self-isolation seems like a silver lining for most of us in the queer community. It is no wonder, the kinds of questions that keep rattling around in my head during this lockdown are: Where do broken hearts go? / Can they find their way home / Back to the open arms / Of a love that's waiting there? / And if somebody loves you / Won't they always love you?
Okay: listen up – I’m going to get down into the mud with you. I’ve heard enough instances of us never having left home for fear of being beaten, broken and buried. I can assure you that for so many of us there isn’t anyone waiting, nevermind with open arms and all. And as for somebody to love: we might have managed one part of it, but finding someone to love us back has always been a slippery slope.
I mean if one has always had to be ashamed of one’s desire, how can one actually think of asking for anything? We’ve taught ourselves to be happy that we are getting something at all. *
* Allow me the following allegorical indulgence: much like right now in the time of this coronavirus, we’re all having to be conscious of how we dress to go out, we’re always seemingly suspicious of one another — hypervigilant, afraid that if we step out — it might be the one time that will kill us, super aware of our boundaries — physically, emotionally and spatially, and in a state of constant anxiety and fear. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I went as far as to say: this is the everyday rollercoaster that queer, marginalised persons ride on a daily basis. This is the uncertainty, unsureness and undertow that we’ve got to endure without even actually getting into the actual scuffles of navigating publicness. Can you believe? *
* If I’m ever asked to tell a joke: I’ve only got two (also borrowed from my friends). Okay, here’s the first one –
Question: What did one gay horse say to another? Pause for effect.
And the second one –
Question: Why do girls walk around in odd numbers?
Answer: Because: I can’t even!
* How will we have sex with each other in these times of the coronavirus ? And after these efforts at flattening the curve? (Or as a friend said before laughing out uncontrollably for the entire duration of our video call: fattening my curves!) What happens to rejection, relationships, revolution in these times? I mean without this new addition to the looming Damocles’ Swords dangling over our heads, it was already difficult, demoralising and dreadful — a tedious task. It was a series of being shamed for one’s desires, or being too ashamed to articulate them at all.
And if you managed to even jump over these hurdles, you’d have to wrestle with body fascism, right-wingers, obsession with being straight-passing, racism, casteism, classism, gesture politics and so on. Some similarities with the straight scene but a whole lot of problems that they’ve created for us too. And yes, we each take responsibility at the individual level (guilted by lessons learned during our own sexual encounters) but being queer is well...a community contact sport. *
* Flip through the blood-stained, glitter-strewn pages of our community’s history, and one will always spot the assorted, alternative and adamant ways we have managed to cross over blockades and banishments in our search to perform coitus, commingle and commune among our own. And in the times, we’ve not been able (or allowed) to make physical contact, touch each other and sex each other, we’ve flown into the portals of the virtual world to make these connections possible.
In her two essays, my friend Nadika Nadja so wonderfully tells us of the ways that living in her second life helped her offset the troubles of her first life. And I hope she’ll agree with me for saying, it helped her find her footing in the ‘real’ world too.
What will these new ways be after this virus has made us suspicious of everyone around us? Will prejudices survive the pandemic too? How will we ensure those spaces strive for inclusivity even if we fail to maintain it? *
I know what you are thinking: Yet again, the — queer, femme, Black person — speaks of dirty things like desire at a time of disease and death. Well, it is difficult only for those who have made a division between the three.
Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer
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