The Queer Take is a fortnightly column by poet-writer Joshua Muyiwa. Read more from the series here.
From the early acts of figuring, fixing and finding others like ourselves, the queer body makes messy mistakes. Hindsight allows for most of us to look back at these steps to our present selves and be kinder to those missteps. (Or so I tell myself on the daily.) One of these choices — at least in dinner conversations among straight contemporaries — always boils down to the answers to these questions: Are you a city person? Do you like to travel? My quick answers: Yes and No.
However, I’m always left feeling like I’ve haven’t told them the complete truth. Or at least, I haven’t taken them on the journey to arriving at those answers. Or at least, I haven’t cleared up that my answers weren’t motivated by a desire to identify with either of their camps on these questions. In being a queer femme man, an outsider — I’ve trained myself to see, scan and scout the room for social cues and codes that carry these conversations along. (A skill that I’ve been forced to learn to even find an equal seat at these tables.) But while I might be able to pass on certain parameters, my position is quite different to them. In the words of N, my lesbian bestie who has the best posture in the entire world and also an uncanny ability to give that slightly crazy gift you’ll love, “[being] queer is a lifestyle problem too”.
Honestly, I’m not a city person only because I love the conveniences and comforts that cities engender. In looking at the large numbers of queer people running away to the metros to make a life for themselves, it is clear that it isn’t any easier elsewhere. The hold of family bonds and societal boundaries seem more brutal out there. And I don’t have to relay (again) the violence that each of them endures everyday but still they’d rather be here than there. So, who am I to complain? But I will. Mostly for them... a little for me... to you. Because we — you and us — must do something to allow for the answers to these questions uttered by queer bodies to be as ridiculous as yours.
And of course, I want to travel and see the wide, wonderful world. But it isn’t that I don’t have the resources alone to accomplish these aspirations, it is that travelling is an arduous experience for me.
While everyone’s experience of interacting with the hurdles — airport security, immigration desk, fellow passengers — is equally exasperating, it stings slightly different for me, for us. I always feel humiliated even before the adventure has begun. The last time I flew out of the city, the airport security guard at my gate loudly called to the others in Hindi saying, “Who wants to check this one? Is it a girl or a boy, you think? All kinds of strange creatures come through here, no?” The other guards laughed enthusiastically in response. Everyone else in the line behind me were a mix of annoyed that I was taking so long, waiting for the answers, or just angry that they didn’t hedge their bets on the quickest line. On the podium, I stood still, staying above it — pretending like I didn’t understand their hurtful words, like I wasn’t upset by them. (Honestly, I think they’d mock me even if I did know the language.) Just waiting for this step in the process to be done; not that I’ll feel better after but it’ll be done at the very least. This has been my experience every single time that I’ve had to fly. On bus and train journeys, I’ve found the barbs are easier to handle because they’re wielded by ordinary people (like every other day); it isn’t uniformed with particular power and authority. So I’d rather stay, not move.
We would love to get away from the city, from our lives; but being queer — or rather being queer in a way that’s telling — doesn’t always let us do what we want to do.
Or in the words of the great Gia Gunn, “Well, what you wanna do isn’t necessarily what you’re going to do.” And this is one of those difficult choices with having a queer body, it is knowing that the world could be so much easier to negotiate and navigate if we let go of this something so essential to us, and still wanting to hold on to it. If it was really a choice, it would be a much easier one to make.
Cities aren’t perfect. Yet cities allow for an imagination that everyone has a fair shot within its limits. Cities are a product of messy mistakes too. And much like the bodies, minds and spirits of the queer subject, a city is constantly in flux, always making daily deals between its dirtiness, its divinity and dullness. Cities seem to want to name everything, not always a good name or a good thing, but eventually space is carved out even by the nameless. As always, to add some fun and frills to my answers, I always say: I don’t know if I’m a city person but I always want to live within walking distance from a bar. And also, I don’t have the clothes to weather the phoren.
As a queer femme man, I’m only partly joking.
Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer
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Updated Date: May 30, 2019 09:20:23 IST