By Shambhavi Saxena:
There is an assumption that the marginalized are not capable of practicing the same hierarchies of power that exclude them. And as a question, it becomes particularly relevant when interrogating the contemporary queer movement. People of alternative sexualities themselves need to examine the ways in which the movement is growing. All too often, queer people of dominant groups are silent on the narratives of queer people of colour, the underclass, or the neuro-divergent and differently-abled. The contemporary queer movement also suffers from issues of not seeing or being seen. Not wanting to be outed is a perfectly valid expectation when you’re queer, but a jarring lack of visibility can be equally frustrating. Even more worrisome is the transphobic and biphobic attitude that many gay and lesbian people have, because they think trans and bi folks are just confused. As a relatively young movement, LGBT+ struggles have quite a way to go yet.
It may be futile to pin point the root of the queer movement when separate cultures have produced their own histories, but certainly the Stonewall riots of 1969 were a watershed moment in America’s queer politics. But this politics, which does not even prominently feature native-American, black, Hispanic or Asian figures, is often lauded as the front-runner of the queer movement worldwide. There seems to be little or no recognition of the lives of queer people in other parts of the world without the scholarship Afsaneh Najmabadi, Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwai, Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas, Nivedita Menon and countless others. Even within America, queer black women’s lives have been well documented by the likes of Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. And yet, after all this, the idea of the queer is reduced to a stock photo of vanilla dudes in briefs and coloured boas at the San Francisco pride parade.
In her novel, ‘Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive’, Julia Serano highlights the various ways in which infighting and un-solidarity destabilizes the queer movement:
“More mainstream gays decry the presence of drag queens and leather daddies in their pride parades and there is a long history of lesbians and gay men who outright dismiss bisexual, asexual and transgender identities. Within the transgender and bisexual umbrellas, there are constant accusations that certain individuals do not qualify as “real” members of the group or that their identities or actions somehow reinforce ‘the gender binary’.”
Serano also points out that sexism-based exclusion is not a phenomenon queer circles are unfamiliar with. Many a time, queer spaces mimic the patriarchal bent of mind.
Among other important intersections in the queer movement is that of race. You may remember Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupting American President Barrack Obama at a white house dinner to talk about the exclusion of immigrant trans people from mainstream queer politics. Gutiérrez was immediately shut down because the only idea of queer that is palatable and even fashionable is the “wealthy, white, gay” variety. In this light, anyone can appreciate the justified anger at the whitewashed Stonewall movie that’s set to release on 25th September.
Why is marriage-equality the end-goal for a human rights fight? The queer movement has allowed itself to be defined by one narrow objective, to which many queer people, who recognize it as an oppressive institution, do not aspire. Married gay couples look cute to the heteropatriarchy. It minimizes much of the “threat” they pose to society when they are co-opted into, rather than subverting the institution. There has been a reluctance to acknowledge that the queer struggle as tied to varying economic, racial, colonial, caste-based considerations. We know this. What we are finding it so hard to swallow is that a lot of this reluctance is coming from within queer circles themselves. The question then becomes who is being allowed to have sex with who, as opposed to who is losing out on opportunities because of their sexual orientation.
Queer pride parades, which are literally a source of pride for a community that is constantly shot down and belittled, can lose all their significance when they are popularly termed “Gay Pride” events, as if ‘gay’ is the only non-hetero identity there is! We might expect this warped terminology from people outside queer circles, but from within? That people do not yet use the acronyms “MOGAI” or “LGBTQIA+” and settle for just “LGBT” is also an indication of how this hierarchy to play out. Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, Polysexual, and various other identities not only become subsumed under the broad category of LGBT, but they disappear entirely. In the 2011 movie, ‘(A)sexual’, activist David Jay’s attempts to rally for support for the underrepresented at a pride event was met with laughs, disdain and disbelief.
Queer circles must agree upon this one thing: a single identity cannot stand as the identifier for the whole community. How many gay people are actually aware of the other letters of the acronym? If the lack of visibility can fracture the movement, its active presence will strengthen it. Without a stronger sense of community, based on acceptance, understanding and openness, Pride events will remain flashy carnivals instead of solidarity marches.