The Queer Take: The awful hollowness of being asked 'How’s life post-Section 377?'

The Queer Take is a fortnightly column by poet-writer Joshua Muyiwa. Read more from the series here.

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A question that I’ve found myself ignoring lately has been some version of: How’s life post-Section 377? Many of my fellow journos are convinced that picking at this same scab will make my community show its wounds. And at social gatherings, it seems that people have forgotten that a smoke can be shared in stony silence too.

It isn’t simply skipping over basic Emily Post etiquette that gets my goat with this line of interrogation — I’m an onion and I’ve got layers to my avoidance and annoyance. At the core of it, this question niggles me because it implies that something is different about my life now. And since I can’t seem to put my finger on it, I want to ask them what they’re convinced that this difference is?

Once — you can blame it on potent cocktails — I decided to actually ask this question out loud to one of my well-meaning interrogators, and they replied, ‘You aren’t a criminal anymore, you’re free’. I’ve been brought up to keep down everything, otherwise I might have spray-painted their shirt with spirits.

Did I hear you say, such arrogance? Or was it, such ignorance? Congratulations! You are correct on both counts. It seems like these people are meeting LGBTQ+ people for the first time in their lives, or they’ve never actually lived in India. When has the promise of the law had anything to do with the way reality plays out in this nation?

 The Queer Take: The awful hollowness of being asked How’s life post-Section 377?

Post-377, how do we even recognise, read and respond to the otherness of others to constantly chip at this idea of the mainstream? Illustration courtesy Satwik Gade

But I think that isn’t even my problem with this question; it is the quiver that it is released from — this question sits alongside similar others that are aimlessly released to make the asker look good. It makes them look like they’ve read a newspaper. Another one that sits in this question quiver is: ‘What gender pronouns would you prefer?’ In reply, I’ve usually silently withdrawn from the sightline of that person and blanketed myself in the warm glow of my friends in another faraway corner.

Don’t get me wrong, the problem isn’t the question per se, it is that it is used to gain brownie points among yourselves rather than to perform care to us. Maybe it is not, you say? Well, I’ll be the judge of that, thanks for your help. I’ll take it from here. Let me answer the question for you: Post-377, you are allowed to feel cool about having friends from the queer community. And now, you can even introduce us to your other friends. It’s like leaving the tag on your luggage, so people ask about your holidays. We’re that interesting bit — that proper kick of grated ginger in a great mojito. (That’s the secret to the sauce, ladies!)

But if you want some kind of response: Not much at all. And depending on if I wanted to upset you or make you feel better: I would perform a swift shrug or laugh loudly as an accompaniment to my answer.

You want a real response? Some things have changed. But only within my community — and not in a way that’s palpable to you. In following this road of rights, we have swapped the confusion of community for individual identity. We have completely bought into the lie that was rooted in this archaic law that we were supposedly fighting against: that sexual presentation, position and pleasure alone define us in this world. In finding this community in my teens, I had imagined that every avatar of mine — if not completely celebrated — would never be chastised, censored or censured at least. But that isn’t the case at all. The road of rights usually leads to the resort of respectability. And the freaks, queers and weirdos aren’t ever invited onto these manicured grounds. Apparently the gathered hijras were told to stop clapping after the reading down of Section 377 in the Delhi High Court, the first time around, by a famous, formerly Delhi-based gay photographer because they should look respectable. Even if this is just a rumour, the fact that it found legs to reach the outpost of my city, Bengaluru, goes to show that this expectation exists even in the LGBTQ+ community.

Aretha Franklin said it best: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Find out what it means to me”. But you know, doing this is hard work. Work that no one actually wants to do. Those questions thrown at us in interviews and interactions are meant to act as place-holders for any actual action. Shortcuts don’t always save time.

And after this happiness, hungama and hullabaloo over this law business, and this rights nonsense, we’ve now truly gone bat-shit crazy. Did you know? There was something called Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association, which was at least far away in the proverbial West, but now, there’s the Queer Hindu Alliance in Mumbai — too close for comfort, no? It feels like we’re maniacally marching towards becoming the mainstream and we don’t care who is left out in the margins. We don’t care even if our own are out there.

The real question: Post-377, how do we even recognise, read and respond to the otherness of others to constantly chip at this idea of the mainstream? We might have to find the answer to this one together. We might have to ask it first in our fractured communities, so you can follow our lead.

Hey — you asked. This is the answer.

Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer

Updated Date: Jul 21, 2019 11:35:49 IST