The Queer Take: When 'passing' is the accepted mode, at stake is a hard-earned, hard-fought culture, aesthetic
While a part of me has always understood that queer people come in all shapes, sizes and star status, most of me has always imagined that we were super special and anyone with any sense could tell | Joshua Muyiwa writes in this week's #QueerTake
Just a couple of days ago, a friend and I were discussing our growing inability to suss out queer men in public anymore.
More and more lately, it has seemed the most unlikely man in our sightline was most likely the sorority sister though they did not have any of the long-established markers, or even that touch of extra that I have come to discern and have always gravitated towards.
While a part of me has always understood that queer people come in all shapes, sizes and star status, most of me has always imagined that we were super special and anyone with any sense could tell.
The Queer Take is a fortnightly column by poet-writer Joshua Muyiwa. Read more from the series here.
Is it particularly important that one can be recognised, regarded and ratified as something by others around? Or is it the ability to perfectly pass between these several worlds the eventual aim of this existence? I don’t have the answers to these questions, they’ve been rattling around in my head for quite some time now.
But if my queer femme life has taught me anything, it is that the source of the questions supersedes the coming to the answers in most cases. And therefore, maybe I’ll take you back to the various stresses that settled themselves into the format of these queries.
Just a couple of days ago, a friend and I were discussing our growing inability to suss out queer men in public anymore. More and more lately, it has seemed the most unlikely man in our sightline was most likely the sorority sister though they didn’t have any of the long-established markers, or even that touch of extra that I’ve come to discern and have always gravitated towards.
While a part of me has always understood that queer people come in all shapes, sizes and star status — most of me has always imagined that we were super special and anyone with any sense could tell.
And in the tragic-comic-melodramatic telling of my life, I’d like to imagine that I entered this field of queerness mostly for the potential, the promise of play. And not for something base like love, sex or relationships though I might transact in the world through these frameworks too. I’ve been telling myself for a long time now, and so it is cemented truth that being queer for me means I get to call bullshit on the world all the time.
In figuring this out, I’ve come to see that the field can be anywhere I want it to be, and the players can be whoever I want them to be. And in some strange screw-up in my system, I don’t ever want to play with anyone who goes to the playground only. And so, it has been even more important for me to develop my reading skills, my ability to discern the ones that will play even outside of their teams and to make safe choices that don’t result in physical or emotional violence to myself. And now, with the lack of showing among queer people, I’ve been thrown off loop with my own ability to divine. And in having these conversations with my friends, I’ve come to see everyone’s radar is receiving mixed signals. We can no longer tell if the rains are coming, if we will be swimming in the deluge.
I can hear the frontbenchers saying, ‘This is great!’. I can see them giving each other a polite pat on the back. And well, I could go on with painting a sensory picture of this group’s interaction but I digress: yes, yes, it is great. It is super that everyone can be themselves. But what happens to hard-earned, hard-fought culture, aesthetic, language and oomph? Does it just get amplified by pop-culture and dissipate into the everydayness of the mainstream forever?
And I’m good with this, if it wasn’t our continual, constant custodial responsibility to create newer and newer things to call our own at the same time.
I’m also good with it, if subscribing to this culture didn’t get us shamed, abused or beaten up. I’d be good with it if so many of us weren’t killing ourselves on the daily. Though, it seems more and more that the erasure of these markers of difference is the accepted mode among my people. Or rather it is the amputation of these accouterments, these accents that is cache, it is the thing that gives you access to the frameworks of love, sex and relationships. And bully for the rest of us.
But perhaps the rest of us didn’t want to take the same entrance way to these domains of desire. And we deserve our lot? Again, I would be happy with that status quo if the same bunch didn’t have to be the bodies that wage the battle, push the line forward and are left to carry its scars. It is this same lot — their thirst is denied quenching too.
Every time I see an extremely visible person from my community, I always ask myself: What’s their love, sex and relationship life like? And it isn’t just morbid curiosity, and it isn’t just the hint of voyeuristic interest. It is truly to seek confirmation that this reckless way in which I want to shift, slide and shimmy between the public and the private does allow for some kind of happiness too. It isn’t that pain doesn’t have pleasure, doesn’t have play but for who, or even for what will we put back the scales on our eyes, I wonder?
It feels like there’s only a few of us left bemoaning the loss of these gestures. The others seem to be marching into the light of the accepted, the accommodated, the acknowledged. And to join them, we must shed this swish, this sizzle. How can one refuse and still have all the things being granted to the others in their private while we want to shine bright in the public? In these times, the LGBTQ+ stance seems to be changing, somewhere along the way the victories in battles satisfied and we’ve stopped waging war against systemic brutalities and violence.
In being recognisable, one does have tribulations — one is trying to make it through the everyday unharmed. But if passing doesn’t come with a wink — I don’t want any part of that either, thanks.
Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer
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