As I sit down to write this, portions Section 377 – the draconian colonial-era law that criminalised same-sex relationships – have just been repealed. There are widespread celebrations on my Facebook feed, from queer people who are jubilant at this victory and also by liberals, progressives and leftists of various stripes. There is indeed much to be celebrated. Any judgement that reduces the carceral power of the State is something to be happy about. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel cautious. For one, legislation alone is not enough to prevent violence from being meted out to queer people. It’s not like a queerphobe will think, “Oops, gay sex is now legal so I must stop hating on the gays.” In a country where lynching has become almost a weekly spectacle, things are hardly as simple.
As a queer person myself, I’ve been ruminating over what the repealing of this law means in practical terms. It’s not going to make it any easier to be visibly trans. It’s not going to affect the number of trans people who are rendered homeless because they are disowned by their families. It’s not going to affect the psychiatric gatekeeping many trans people are subjected to. It’s not going to make the lives of queer sex workers any easier. There is no mechanism in our country to keep track of the violence meted out to queer people who are poor and live on the margins. There are some who are celebrating that they are no longer going to be seen as “criminals” in the eyes of the state but should we, as queers, set the state’s recognition and approval as our political horizon?
Personally, I have nothing but disdain for the State and its values. I see it has homogenising differences, as offering “freedom” but only when that freedom is defined according to the State’s own terms and conditions. Gender and sexuality are those biopolitical pillars of our heteronormative society which need to be regulated and made to conform to a certain model so as to make sure that the same society, with its laws, mores and customs, is eternally reproduced – such a society may be heterogeneous in terms of content (gay marriage instead of straight marriage) but it retains the exact same form (the legitimacy of marriage itself is not questioned).
Thus, it is not surprising today to see right-wing hacks whose political masters were only yesterday denouncing homosexuality as “unnatural” and a “mental illness” suddenly championing this judgement as something that has been secured by the present government. Anybody with common sense would see through this bullshit façade but one shouldn’t underestimate the assimilating power of the state and capital which helps produce specimen like Milo Yiannopoulos. If you think that Milo is an exception and there aren’t queers who are sympathetic to fascism, think again. Take the case of Ashok Row Kavi, one of India’s oldest gay rights activist who also happens to be an ardent supporter of Modi and also harbours Islamophobic views.
Undoubtedly, there are many upper class and upper caste LGBT people who would like to have the politics of queerness separated from their identity. These would be the same people who look down upon sex workers, who do not want to associate themselves with Hijras, who want society’s acceptance on heteronormative terms, who want to prove that they are just as “normal” as the average cisgender heterosexual person and not weird like those really bad queers who are castigated to live on society’s margins.
Today’s victory does not belong to these people. Today’s victory belongs to activists who have agitated for years sacrificing their blood, sweat and grit. Today’s victory belongs to all those people whose already precarious existence was made much more difficult by the existence of this law – queer people living outside of cities and trans sex workers. Today’s victory also belongs to those who made alternatives modes of living possible for poor and homeless trans people who had been rejected by the state and the society.
So let us celebrate but at the same time, let us also make a sober assessment and take stock of the situation. Let us not take this victory for granted – let us not see it as something granted to us by the State’s “benevolence” but remember the long and hard fight that went into achieving it. And let us also realise that the fight is far from over for many, many queer people in the country who still need to have their voices heard. Let our political horizons not be limited to only seeking the rights of the most privileged among us. So let us celebrate while remembering that our political horizon must be queer liberation and not rainbow capitalism.