By Rahul Sen:
The gay identity (and I consciously limit myself to gays here) in the Indian subcontinent has witnessed and experienced a curious and variable subject position in the teleology of claiming sexual citizenship; for a period of prolonged criminalization (since 1860) to a decriminalisation (in 2009) to a re-criminalisation (in 2013). With the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Delhi High Court judgment in 2009, the gay subject has become more vulnerable than ever, before the law. The recent booking of the Infosys techie under IPC 377 has reinvigorated the issue of the State entering into the bedroom with its long arm regulating the most private parts of the body! This should not be seen in isolation; the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 reveals a deeper phenomenon; of the former colonial states regressing towards a bleaker yet authoritarian regime that manifests zero tolerance towards plurality.
In such a stifling sexual ambience the news of Tim Cook’s coming out seemed rapturous to many of us. Almost instantly, all the media houses (both print and electronic) aired the news with a great zeal and vigour, with endorsing bytes from celebrity gay-rights activists and feminists. India, too, witnessed a flooding support and jubilation with scholars, activists and celebrities lauding Tim Cook and welcoming him into the rainbow coterie. While I was quite happy for his public announcement of his sexual orientation, I was vexed and troubled by the statement that he made and the subsequent endorsement, affirmation and jubilation of ‘queer scholars’ and activists from India who in my opinion overlooked the larger implications of this ‘coming out’ theatricality. Tim Cook has come out as ‘gay’ but has failed to emerge as ‘queer’.
‘Coming out’ has been a very problematic and contested space within queer politics itself. If on one hand ‘coming out’ implies an open assertion of one’s deviant sexual orientation; on the other hand, it marks out a space of obligation and comes across as extremely reductionist, limited to LGBT populace only. Do heterosexuals ever ‘come out’ as ‘straight’? Even if one does, would it still be considered as ‘radical’ or ‘transgressive’? This seeming valorisation and celebration of ‘coming out’ makes absolutely no sense to me; laced with an element of sensuality and melodrama, creating a spectacle of the LGBT populace. While Tim has publicly declared his sexual identity, he has made himself available to a myriad gazes that has subtly and consciously ‘otherized’ him.
In the Bloomberg Businessweek, Tim Cook has made a few very disturbing observations: “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy” and “we pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.” These remarks taken together with Tim’s sexual and nationalistic subject position as a ‘gay’ and an ‘American’ respectively, mark a dangerous homonationalistic propaganda that reinforces US exceptionalism in a remarkable fashion. Whose ‘struggle’ is he referring to? What is the nature of ‘comfort’ that he is talking about and who are likely to get it? What is this sense of loneliness or ‘alienation’ that Tim refers to? Who are these people who would be ‘inspired’ or benefit from his coming out? Questions such as these and more crowd my mind as I read through his remarks and statements.
The fact, that, Cook speaks from a privileged position of power who has the social, economic and cultural capital in his disposition sets him aside from those myriad marginalized (social, sexual, economic) population who strive hard to make ends meet; who are yet to acquire a language of articulation of their marginalization; who are yet to elevate themselves to the status of full citizens and ‘inspire’ people through their deeds; whose margins of oppression get pushed every step with regard to the dominant registers of class, race, caste, economy and gender; whose subjectivities get effaced by homonationalist voices such as Tim’s. In an article published by the BBC on 19th June, 2014 it was declared that “the White House is … cutting funds to a number of programmes it is running with the Ugandan authorities, and cancelling a military exercise . . . The US will also discontinue or redirect funds for certain programmes involving the Ugandan Police Force, National Public Health Institute and Ministry of Health, and has cancelled plans to conduct a US military-sponsored aviation exercise in the African nation.” Such cultural hegemony is born directly from a sense of US exceptionalism manifested and embodied by figures like Tim Cook whose company has been a major propagator of ‘human rights’ in America and the world.
This is not to say that Tim Cook’s coming out would not have an impact, but his white, upper class, capitalistic positioning would not create ripples against the third world shores. He is indubitably capitalist and status-quoist in this neo-liberal economy where the Left is becoming more and more ‘mainstream’ and globalized while the Right ascending with all its collective might! If we are to remain ‘queer’ (non-normative desire combined with a sense of the political) and emerge as resistant and transgressive forces, we must learn to critique and challenge the status-quo, such capitalistic enterprise that try to assert its gay-friendliness under the garb of other forms of oppression! The queer must maintain a continuum of resistance against dominant structures and forces; queer politics entails a transgressive potential that engages with the intersectionality of marginalization — social, sexual, economic, cultural and others. Let us raise our dissenting desiring voices and build rainbow solidarities of affective communities! Let us be angry, political and queer and not merely contained, complacent, co-opted gay or sexual citizens!