Dear straight ally,
Last week, you laughed at a homophobic joke.
“It’s not a big deal,” you said when I called you out on it, brushing it off. I am equal parts puzzled and made uncomfortable by this logic, because this seems unlike you. You have always been a good ally – being sensitive to LGBTQ issues, attending Pride Parades and protests against Section 377 – and I don’t doubt your allegiance to our cause, but if you still think that homophobic jokes are “not a big deal,” something is going wrong.
In a country where homosexuality is still criminalized, the support of straight allies like you is essential for the LGBTQ movement to gain more momentum and visibility. When you stand alongside us in our struggle for equal rights, it drives home the fact that we may be diverse, but we aren’t different; that we aren’t the deviant, demonized ‘other‘ just because our sexuality or gender identity isn’t normative – and that kind of solidarity goes a long way in making our lives easier. But even when you have the best of intentions, instances like these emerge – you end up using problematic language or use homophobic microaggressions,and even though you might not realize it, it ends up being harmful to the queer community. Being a successful ally might come with its challenges because after all, there are a lot of nuances to grasp and understand, but I know that you have the potential to be one, because I know you care.
Because you have mostly seen cis gay men at the forefront of the Indian queer movement, you have the tendency to think that sexuality functions in binaries of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, but look at me – I’m the biggest contradiction to this common misconception. You accepted me when I came out to you as pansexual, but you still seem to be confused what that means, unsure that it can be a legitimate queer identity. Don’t worry, that’s not really your fault – our heteronormative social conditioning has forced us to always put gender and sexuality into rigid boxes, and identities that go beyond those markers often confuse us, but it’s time to reject these boxes, don’t you think?
I remember us discussing reality show contestant Gauri Arora’s coming out as trans, and how you constantly kept using her former name. How you kept tripping over her pronouns, and how the language you used to talk about her betrayed your lack of understanding of trans issues. None of this sat well with me. The queer spectrum is vast and beautiful, and within it, every identity is diverse and has its own nuances (whether it be in terms of pronouns or otherwise), and I am confident that if you become a little more aware of it, the shackles of your transphobic conditioning will slowly come loose. And while we’re acknowledging the diversity of the spectrum, let’s not also forget to recognize the diversity of class, caste and various cultural identities within the movement. I know that we are often blinded by our own privilege and, because of the dominance of middle and upper middle class savarna voices within mainstream Indian queer movements, we fail to recognize that the movement extends to others too.
A few months ago, you saw “Aligarh” and came to me, disturbed by the real-life incident that the film was based on. You couldn’t fathom how people could be so perverse and voyeuristic about queer sex lives that they invaded Professor Siras’ privacy, humiliated him and ultimately led him to commit suicide. However, in your haste to pledge support to LGBTQ people, you often end up sensationalizing the sex lives of queer people too, albeit not with as malicious an intent as was the case with the Aligarh Muslim University professor. Your curiosity is sometimes endearing, but more often than not it moves into the territory of an unnecessary fixation of fetishization, and that’s what’s unsettling. Are you so intrigued because you still see us as ‘the other’? These are questions allies should repeatedly ask themselves.
I know that you genuinely want to stand up for us, to speak out against the injustices that the community faces, but in doing so, many a times you (and other allies) take the focus away from us. Just think of the public meeting our University’s Gender and Sexuality Cell had organized last semester – it was you and a few other allies dominating the microphones, when in reality, it should have been about our voices. This is particularly tricky, I know, because the line between advocating for queer narratives and co-opting them is thin indeed. But a little more sensitivity, a little more empathy, and a little more awareness, maybe, you’ll learn to pass the mic to us too.
You can help us in so many ways, and doing so isn’t difficult at all. Whether it’s having our back in legal matters (which are indeed a murky territory for queer people in India), or helping us in a personal capacity – your contribution and solidarity is vital. Your love for us is evident, but let’s turn our relationship into something more inclusive, more nuanced, and more full of mutual respect. Queer lives matter, and we can have it matter even more if you are on board with us, in every possible way.
Your queer friend.