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Straightening the queer pitch

July 10, 2009 10:19 IST

During a childhood spread across six Indian cities and distinguished by sexuallyrepressed schooling in the first couple of decades of the new Republic, there were ample instances of same-sex intimacies, bonding and a concomitant homophobia that one has encountered.

Outside of the family, I don't remember any social occasion in cities as diverse as Bilaspur, Pune, Delhi, Bombay, Bhopal, Thrissur and Chennai where adolescent or teenage groups comprised mixed genders. Sports or classroom or entertainment, the gender segregation was an unspoken law. From early adolescence, middle-class boys and girls were locked in a suffocating ambience of fear, surreptitiousness and the kind of sleazy voyeurism that accompanies suppressed libidos. A large percentage of boys from this background went through same-sex encounters though, I must say, few of them grew up to be of 'gay' orientation.

What I am trying to say here is that almost every one of these pimple- and acne-marked youngsters who were drawn into fleeting and temporary same-sex dalliances also converted their subliminal guilt into a virulent and vocal form of homophobia. The guilt, to some extent, was due to what might have been perceived by the young minds as 'forbidden love', but it was also a reaction against the incomprehension of sexual arousal and the absence of anyone to discuss it with or any social process that could make you comfortable with it. So even as one indulged in sexual risqué, one justified it to oneself through extreme moralistic posturing. And between the ages of 12 and 16, this posturing can be most aggressive and vituperative.

And make no mistake, everyone in your small towns and urban middle class colonies is seething with this repressed energy. Indian periodical journalism loves to sound off on the new 'sexual revolution' sweeping our nation. But they look only at the one-third of the iceberg that is visible above, where the pajama-strings are, no doubt, loosening. But the submerged two-thirds is an embarrassingly huge congealed bundle of reaction and regressive thinking which is forever on the brink of erupting into social and political violence. It is this segment that populates our police force, army, bureaucracy, political cadres and the education and religious sectors.

It is this sector that constantly hectors any demonstration of sexual 'deviance'. They coin phrases like 'against the order of nature', without conceding that there is nothing normative in nature. Without being a naturalist, you just have to sit and watch half-a-dozen 'nature films' to realise the profusion of kinky ways in which the business of sex and procreation is conducted in nature. I saw one recently where, in just one bio-reserve in Kerala, 28 different kinds of dragonflies had 28 different sexual capers. Even if 2 per cent of these were to be translated on to humankind in the name of being 'within the order of nature', Section 377 of the IPC would have had a hard time formulating a prissy enough language to define itself. The stuffed shirts just don't seem to realise how diverse and accommodating and creative nature is in its journey to self-fulfilment.

The most repressive instruments are the moral codes of religions which, then, extend and expand into jurisprudence. Enough damage has already been done by the narrow and punitive application of moral precepts within religions which freeze human behavior in some immutable past with no reference to the physical, emotional and spiritual advancement of human beings over millennia.

The recent reading down of Sec 377 by the Delhi High Court is historic. Even more historic is the spirit and wording of the judgment — as historic as the one last year by Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul, also of the Delhi High Court, on the M F Husain case. These are remarkable documents that permit vexed debates on personal freedoms to be taken to a plane from where a new vision and outlook is possible. They help us rethink the frames of reference and move beyond the smirk-wink-joke mode of parlour room discussions.

One of the biggest impediments to the social acceptance of the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders (LGBT) is not so much laws and moral codes, but socio-cultural attitudes as institutionalised within language and jokes, which become the currency of the daily transaction of violence against them. If Kipling perpetuated colonial imperialism with verses like The poor benighted Hindoo / Who makes his skin do, the LGBT have to deal with limericks like:

There was a homo from Khartoum, 
Who took a lesbian 
up to his room, 
And they argued all night 
Over who had the right, 
To do what and with which and to whom.

If there is humour here, it is self-conscious, troubled, replete with the incipient insecurity of those who think of themselves and are proud of being 'straight'. There will have to be as much of a struggle and battle in the interstices of language as of law for a level playing field to emerge. But, for now, this progressive judgment will help to straighten the queer pitch.

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Sadanand Menon