Somewhere Over The Rainbow(s)
Last year, I was cooped up at home because of chicken pox, which is what made this year all the more special. Yes, I finally got my chance to go the Bombay Queer Azadi March this time around! And it elicited a range of emotions, thoughts and reflections. I and a group of very close and diversely queer identified friends went to the parade, full of excitement and anticipation. Dressed in colors, bows, and turbans, flaunting our tattoos and unconventional bodies, bald and excessively accessorized, we reached our destination at August Kranti Maidan on Saturday, 2nd of February. After the opening ceremony in which representatives of various organizations spoke about the relevance of the event, we began the march. There were a large number of people- few with posters speaking of important issues of beating the gender binaries, few with their partners, holding their hands, few in solidarity with their friends who experience marginalization for not being acceptable to a society based on systems of heterosexual marriage and family, few in drag, daring to present themselves in their most comfortable attire. All in solidarity with one another.
I and my friends had the option of going to the front of the march. It had a lot of colorful flags, balloons and gleeful music. I wouldn’t be entirely honest if I say that I wasn’t a tad bit tempted to join the festivities. After all, this is the one space, one day, one march, which celebrated my existence as an individual who makes choices against the mainstream on a day-to-day basis. But is it just about the celebrations? Can we separate our anger, frustrations and protest from our need for pride? Can we assert our identities without speaking about structures which oppress not only people marginalized on the basis of their genders and sexualities, but other communities as well?
So, instead of joining in the “fun”, we decided to stay back. We decided to march with the older people who didn’t necessarily carry witty placards with them, but wanted to talk about various issues which often go unaddressed in the queer movement. These individuals, much like us, situate themselves in the feminist as well as the queer movements. This specific location made our slogans, posters and intent for the march different from many others. We saw more sense in talking about various constituencies which contribute to the internally diverse term queer rather than concentrating on a few dominant identities. For instance, instead of paying excessive attention to the term gay, as is done in popular discourses around queer rights, we attempted to visibilize the following categories of lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, trans-person, Hijra and Kothi. We shouted out our slogans in Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, instead of utilizing English as the sole medium of communication.
Most importantly, we didn’t speak of queer rights as being disconnected from other social hierarchies and oppressions. We had many banners and slogans dedicated to pointing to the inter-connections between patriarchy, casteism and queer-phobia. The basic argument that one wanted to put across was that bigotry and discrimination arise from individuals being socialized into certain social values and attitudes which are embedded in unequal structures and all these thought processes and perceptions need to be changed in order to cause any social transformation. One cannot possibly be speaking of queer rights while simultaneously passing sexist remarks at women. One cannot possibly be speaking of queer rights while being completely unaware of the privileges that are associated with being born into a supposed upper caste. One cannot devalue the importance of intersectionalities while understanding any social injustice as well as the movement against it.
This being our political position, we marched in the parade and proudly screamed out slogans about the Justice Verma Committee, sexual violence and oppression, rather than making problematic rhymes about how closet doors need to be opened up, without actually considering whether or not people want their closets to be opened and what is the situation which gives rise to the closeted situation. Our ideological bent definitely gives us lesser glory. Making simplistic statements about being “Born this way” always seem to arrest more attention than talking about concepts of compulsory heterosexuality and matters of choice regarding sexual orientation. But that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t try harder and harder to bring nuances into their activism. And not just into activism, but also everyday conversation, something we got an opportunity to do right after the parade.
Soon after the parade, I and my friends, with pride flags in our hands and intense hunger in our stomachs, went to a local restaurant. While paying the bill, a very polite and slightly apprehensive man asked me whether I attended the congregation that took place a while back. When I replied affirmatively, he went on to explain to me how heterosexual marriage is important to keep a balance in this world and how sexual intercourse without the prospect of reproduction is unnatural. I went on to ask him whether he would discriminate against heterosexual couples who decide not to reproduce. We spoke about marriage being an exclusionary institution which disallows many people from attaining their legal rights. And finally, the most logical, enduring, frustratingly simple argument of them all- If others are not doing anything to actively hurt you by leading their lives according to their wishes and desires, why should you have a problem with that? I don’t know if he transformed because of our discussion. Maybe, maybe not. But, I do hope that he thought about this conversation, mulled over it, reflected and tried to articulate his own opinion different from the one mainstream society has offered to him.
I choose to look at that conversation as the high point of the day of the march. It definitely did feel a lot like meaningful communication, something which is the need of the day, for queer as well as other inter-linked movements for social justice.
We came back home, exhausted yet supremely happy to have walked a few miles with others who resonate our thoughts and experiences. I came back and met my partner. While I was speaking to her, my mother called and asked me about my day. I felt a very familiar sense of guilt overcoming me. One I feel every single time I talk to her as I am reminded of the fact that she doesn’t know about my relationship, which happens to be one of the most important aspects of my personal life. The situation would have been very different had I been dating a cis-man. Knowing this fact, in that moment, after having shared a secure and safe space with strangers with whom I shared my life experiences made my cry. These were tears of anger. It angered me that we still had to walk, with police protection, in a large group just to make our mere presence felt.
But I moved on. I moved on from the anger without having forgotten it. I recognized the fact that I have an amazing partner who respects and understands my differences. I recognized the fact that I have wonderful friends who have been there by my side through all my conflicts regarding my sexuality and never once judged me. I recognized the fact that though I felt a sense of solidarity with everyone at the march, though I felt that we shared a lot of our stories, we also have a lot of differences. Our class, caste, religion, ability, educational background and various other structures affect and shape our queer identities, which are multiple and heterogeneous. My anger was valid. It hasn’t disappeared. But I wish to communicate my anger across identity categories, speak to people outside my comfort zone and understand the nuances of being queer. This is the spirit with which I attended the march and I will take this understanding whichever space, place or institution I attempt to negotiate, for the dialogue has only just begun.
The featured image is a creative commons image, source. Other pictures are by the author and her friends.