23. Januar 2006. Analysen: Wirtschaft & Soziales - Indien Am I 'queer' enough?

A disruptive interrogation

Bin ich 'queer' genug? Eine zerreißende (Selbst-) Befragung. Getreu dem Motto, dass es häufig viel hilfreicher ist, Fragen zu formulieren, denn vermeintliche Antworten unkritisch zu übernehmen, unterzieht Oishik Sircar den Begriff queer einer kritischen (Selbst-) Reflektion. Sich selbst - neben anderen Kategorien – u.a. als Inder, als Mann, & als sexuell (mit bewusster Auslassung aller Präfixe) identifizierend, empfand er dabei weder eine der üblichen Schablonen wie etwa "bisexuell" als für sich passend, noch fühlte er sich je marginalisiert oder sah eine Notwendigkeit, sich zu "outen". Trotz vermeintlicher Vorzüge einer umfassenden Kategorie queer in der Bedeutung "to fuck with gender" (wie der Autor eine Londoner Broschüre von 1991 zitiert) und einer attestierten Notwendigkeit einer Sichtbarmachung nicht-heteronormativer Sexualitäten bleibt Sircar skeptisch gegenüber dieser kategorischen Neuschöpfung und sieht Gefahren neuer Ausschlüsse vermeintlich "Anderer". Seine Kritik bezieht sich dabei auf fehlende Visionen einer queeren Bewegung jenseits der Entkriminalisierung des 'privaten' Sex im gegenseitigen Einverständnis, das Verhältnis zur feministischen Bewegung und den generellen Umgang mit Differenz, um nicht neue Hierarchien hinsichtlich der Sexualität aufzubauen. Ziel kann daher nach Sircar nur ein Label sein, dass auf Pluralität der Identitäten basiert, ein Verständnis von queer in der leicht gewandelten Bedeutung "to fuck with sexuality", die ein Zugehörigkeitsgefühl ermöglicht, ohne in eine Kategorie hineingezwängt zu werden und vor allem Platz lässt für individualistische Identitäten entsprechend der alten Hymne von Gloria Gaynor, die Sircak schon zu Beginn zitiert: "I am what I am". (Uwe Skoda)

"I am what I am / and what I am needs no excuses / I deal my own deck / sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces / and there's no return and no deposit / so it's time to open up your closet! / Life's not worth a damn / till you can say, "Hey world, I am what I am!" (Gloria Gaynor, Singer)

I am a human rights lawyer and researcher. That is my professional identity and shapes my politics. I identify as an Indian (though not as a nationalist), as a man (not a patriarch), as a Bengali (not as a bourgeoisie babu), and well… umm… as … sexual (no prefixes attached). And yes, I am very, very sexual. I enjoy watching porn. I enjoy doing sex talk. I feel like being monogamous. I feel like being a swinger. Though I'm in a 'heterosexual' relationship now, I do drool over hot men. Nah, nah… I don't identify myself as bisexual though. Yet, I love fantasizing about orgies, like they are a form of community celebrations. I love women's asses and men's abs. I love sex. Period.

This set me onto a process of self-discovery. Through human rights work I came to know about Stonewall, the LGBT movement, about sexual 'minorities', about discrimination on the ground of sexuality. About 'coming out'. Though I work on issues of sexual rights, personally, given my 'multisexual' identity (?), I have never been able to categorize myself and belong to any sexually marginalized 'community'. A reason for that could be that I've never felt marginalized and I've never had any reason to 'come out'. Then I came to know about being 'queer', an identity that is all encompassing of non-heteronormative sexualities. I was highly inspired by a quote in an anonymous leaflet called 'Queer Power Now' distributed on the streets of London in 1991, which robustly called out:

"Queer means to fuck with gender. There are straight queers, bi-queers, tranny queers, lez queers, fag queers, S/M queers, fisting queers in every single street in this apathetic country of ours."

Queer politics questions the unity, stability and political utility of sexual and gender identities. It reminds us that labels and categories can easily become part of oppression. I immediately could think of… well, a 'category' I could identify with and work towards claiming 'our' rights. But the question that has been lurking in my mind since my own discovery of 'queerness' is how queer am I to join the freedom dance of sexually marginalized groups? Do I have to be crazy about visiting drag parties? I've always wondered, how important is it to 'feel' like 'others' to join their liberation movement? What does this 'feeling' entail? And who are these 'others'? Why am I calling them 'others' if I 'feel' like them? Is my feeling deep enough? How deep is deep enough?

Can I get married, have kids, build a family, and feel 'queer' at the same time? Do the actions I've talked about earlier, the ones that I love doing, 'belong' to the 'queer' category, and however all encompassing it might be? Is being 'queer' about 'behaving' in a certain fashion, living a 'queer' life, or is it about believing in an identity, a position from where you challenge the oppressive nature of dominant hetero-normativity? But then, can I be part of a 'heterosexual' relationship and claim to be 'queer'? My reading of the 'Queer Power Now' leaflet suggested that this is possible. But my work with 'queer' communities doesn't suggest the same.

I understand the reasons for that. While in the process of building a movement, a campaign to claim human rights, there is a need to come together, feel togetherness, share a common ground, and of course a common dream. What is otherwise called solidarity. But what can also be called assimilation. Does that 'queer' identity subsume other identities under its all-encompassing weight? Is inclusivity a process of creating sameness? Well, not completely, though tendencies exist. The 'queer' identity does provide an opportunity for sexually marginalized groups, beyond the peripheries of the LGBT to be come onto the rights claiming platform, get visibility.

But the cardinal questions still remain in my mind: I don't feel like a 'minority', but I don't form part of the 'dominant' majority either. So if I'm not one, can I become an integral part of claiming 'queer' rights? I'm sure of my 'queerness', but do I identify with the 'queer' identity necessary to be part of the movement? So I ask myself: Am I 'queer' enough, or do I have to be the 'genuine queer' to be able to celebrate my 'queerness'? Which means, am I fake? Is there nothing genuine about my 'queer' feelings? Or is 'queer' itself, a misnomer? With the promise of a 'common' struggle, 'queerness' has actually constructed an identity that is based on standards that you must meet. If you don't, then you still remain on the periphery, or even outside it.

Take for example, the case of a very dear friend. He's biologically a man, and also dresses and 'behaves' like one. But he feels that there's a woman trapped deep within him, and this woman inside him has same-sex preferences. So when he makes love, he's actually having 'lesbian' sex. But you step back and see what's happening: what appears is a heterosexual act. He obviously is labeled heterosexual. But according to me he's as 'queer' as one can be.

Also, for instance, take the case of the film Fire, which ran into infamous controversies. Did Sita and Radha, the two women protagonists, 'become' lesbians? Or is it that they 'developed' same sex attraction? Were they lesbians in a marital fix? Or were they 'frustrated bitches' satiating their own suppressed desires because their husbands won't/couldn't? The film created controversy; it also created visibility for non-heteronormative sexualities. But the debates around it seldom questioned the 'representation' of the relationship.

Same was the case with the film Girlfriend where sexual 'minority' groups did question the problematic representation of 'lesbian love' as depicted in the film, but didn't engage closely with issues regarding whether the depiction of two women almost having sex, for whatever reason, should be considered as 'lesbian'. The emergence of MSM then can be completely attributed to medical interventions and not about accepting a different kind of sexual practice. It still remains as a 'target group' for HIV/AIDS work. Is it possible to think of a WSW (Women who have Sex with Women) category, who are not lesbians? Or is it because they do not pose health threats, they don't exist at all?

The problem lies in the fact that in the process of creating and challenging the politics of categories, the 'queer' movement has progressed on the assumption of 'behavior being equal to meaning'. What you see is what you make of the 'other'. Though the very genesis of the movement was based on the principle of celebrating difference, the multiplicity and discursive nature of human sexuality has become difficult for the movement to handle. They were talking of 'differences of the same kind', so that there exists some kind of ownership towards the campaigns. But over time, it has become difficult to deal with difference, to be really plural. 'Queer' itself has become a labeled category/identity. We kept adding letters to LGBT: K for Kothi, H for Hijra … but then what happens to me? Where do I fit in? What happens to my friend? And why do I have to think of joining a movement where I'll have to 'fit in'… meaning, get assimilated? Movements are definitely built on commonality of experiences, that of discrimination and oppression. But aren't movements also built with the dream, the goal of liberation for all? What's at the core of the 'queer' movement? I ask, 'queer' freedom or sexual freedom? Or does there exist an understanding that 'queer' freedom will automatically result in sexual freedom?

I don't have answers, but I can see how this actually gets manifested in the campaigns to claim rights in India. For one, the Naz Foundation case in the Delhi High Court asked for the reading down of Sec. 377 of the Indian Penal Code to decriminalize consensual, adult, private sex. Why private? An organization that works with Hijras, Kothis and Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), ostensibly representative of the entire 'queer' community, files a petition which continues to be based on patriarchal notions of the private being non political, thus outside the reach of the law. What happens to those who do not enjoy a private space? What happens to those who wish to get sexually intimate in the public, in parks and cruising places? Are public places supposed to be sexually sanitized? How do you then propose to do HIV/AIDS work with male sex workers, truck drivers and other 'high risk' groups? The PIL, with all due regard to the petitioners, did have a class bias.

I'm being critical of the movement's strategies because there exists a need for self-questioning. At the same time there is a need to understand and be critical of the political environment in which these claims are being made. The women's movement, for one, has been an extremely disappointing ally. Though the 'queer' movement owes a lot to the women's movement in terms of its ideological bases, yet there've appeared gaping fissures between the two. There seems to be a non-engagement of the women's movement with regard to Sec. 377 as apparently the section invisibilizes lesbian sex. But then Sec. 377 is about non-penovaginal penetration between two people, irrespective of their genders. And lesbians can have penetrative 'carnal' sex.

Voices Against 377 and Sappho for Equality, groups based in Delhi and Kolkata have attempted to bring on board women's groups and child rights groups in the campaign against this Victorian law, but the coming together again seems to be based on the 'need' for the sexually marginalized solely. That is one reason why Sec. 377 has always been considered as a gay rights issue, and not really an issue of broader human rights claims. Feminism in India deserves some blame for that reason. The women's movement's singular focus on issues of sexual violence and the 'victim' subject has not allowed a powerful articulation of female desire and pleasure, thus not giving the movement an opportunity to engage with questions of sexual rights as human rights. Sexual rights have always appeared in claims for reproductive rights: again based on patriarchal binaries, HIV/AIDS: a window which got people talking about sex and sexuality, but lack of constant interrogation has completely pathologized issues as healthy/unhealthy, disease/diagnosis etc.

Further the women's movement's present engagement with issues of sexual violence and representation seem to be dangerously similar to that of the political right. In spite of symbolic victories in the courts, the feminist engagements with law has not been able to dislodge the dominant, conservative sexual morality which defines women's identities as sexually passive and ignorant. Thus, you have the 'innocent victim' subject who receives the protection of the law because she is chaste, a virgin or pure. Any deviation from this standard will not afford her protection. So you have the sex worker being treated either as a victim in need of 'rescue' and 'moral rehabilitation' or a criminal to be punished or incarcerated, specifically because of the sexual nature of her work.

Feminist interventions, though unintentionally, still perpetuate the 'good woman'/'bad woman' dichotomy. So you had the bar-dancers protesting with placards saying, "we are not prostitutes", an open articulation of we are sexually less tainted than sex workers are and thus deserve protection. An articulation which attempts to claim legitimacy through creating hierarchies of sexual behavior, or invisibilizing the 'sexual' to make things look 'good' and 'respectable'.

Though the lesbian question has been a part of the women's movement's agenda, it existed only in terms of violence faced by lesbian women and not as a process of articulation of lesbian pleasure and desire. And the excrescent, the Hijra, the Kothi, the tranny, has somehow not been a part of feminist rights claims as they didn't fit the binaries of male/female. Yet, feminism remained the privileged site for theory and thought on sex and sexuality.

The emergence of 'queer' identities has actually challenged that, and feminism has had to respond, though not satisfactorily. Most women's groups engaging with issues of sexuality, for example, still conflate sexual and reproductive rights. The conflation of sexual rights with reproductive rights has cause sexual rights to be viewed as a subset of reproductive rights claims. This subset status has actually invisibilized an array of people of non-conforming sexual identities, as well as non-reproductive sexual practices, thus leaving many already marginalized people outside the framework of human rights protection in the context of sexual behavior.

But given the fact that the 'queer' movement has posed a cerebral challenge to the ideological groundings of the feminist movement, it doesn't seem to have learnt lessons from the troubled engagement of feminism with law reform. It doesn't seem likely that the 'queer' movement's engagement with law will yield desired results. This engagement again is based on the assumption that more rights equals more empowerment. But the assumption ignores a lot of those who don't seem to fit the 'queer' construct, as was evident in the Naz case. Though law does remain a significant site of struggle, one needs to locate legal change as a necessary part of a wider socio-political change. The premise of change with respect to sexuality is as much a change in societal mores as it is about legal change. The legal outcome should not be looked at as an end in itself, but rather the process of questioning, interrogating and challenging the movement's strategy and ideology.

Do I need to be the oppressed victim to be able to claim 'queer' rights? Are violations a necessary prerequisite for 'queer' rights campaigns? Can you not be happy, never having faced discrimination, never having had to feel the need to 'come out' and make a political statement about my 'queerness', and yet feel that you are a part; that you belong? Is there a space like that within the 'queer' universe?

What we as 'queer' people need to challenge is not just dominant heteronormativity, but also our discomfort with difference. Differences not just about questions of sexual variation, but ones that include all way ways in which we can obtain pleasure. We cannot privilege 'sexual orientation' as the most significant sexual difference among us. We cannot create hierarchies of our own that only prefer private sex to be decriminalized, and justify that on the grounds that 'others will follow'. That very moment we would've created our own sexual 'lower orders'.

Queer is here to stay. And I've taken the quotation marks off to signify that it cannot afford to remain an identity constructed on the basis of inbuilt 'sexual hierarchies'. Just to slightly rephrase the 'Queer Power Now' quote: "Queer means to fuck with sexuality," where identities don't get subsumed under the 'bigger' banner, yet the existence of the 'bigger' banner depends completely on the multiplicities and plurality of identities. Where you can protest against oppression, as well as powerfully and fearlessly articulate the beauty of pleasure and desire. Where you don't have to 'fit it'; where you'll 'belong'.

Can we again reclaim Queer out of the clutches of identity politics and single unified theories of rights claims? I await answers.

I remain what I am.

Dieser Beitrag gehört zum Schwerpunkt: Queer South Asia .


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