While stuck in traffic jams at busy intersections, I have often wondered where all the people who are similarly stuck are headed to. I like to imagine their professions; their homes and what impulses propel them to where they might be going. I think about their lives and desires and wonder if they are someone by day and someone else by night. I think about the places they could have visited, the gatherings they might have held, their laughter and the silences that may have ensued when they held their breath in wonder or passion or love or in a combination of all of these. Sometimes, they notice and look quizzically at me. And I look away. It has never grown old, this guessing game. But for a lot of people, the Gaze has become a way of life. Something to contend with, to deal with, like natural calamities, hunger or diphtheria.
Queer is a term that is used for anything strange or out of the ordinary and what can be stranger than the cravings of love? But apparently, some queerings are queerer than others. And so, today, the word queer has come to predominantly mean desires that do not conform to heteronormative codes of social presentation and sexual behaviour. It is interesting that non-binary, gender non confirming, self-determined individuals are called Queer in a world that has for eons asked people to change existing suffocating systems, overthrow unjust regimes, choose mercy over crucifixion, spill blood for liberty, equality and fraternity, break chains because there is nothing else to lose, make salt, unsee skin colour. It is ironic that real change has always come from queering the ‘norms’, leading to nations being formed and men becoming founding fathers while there are these other queers who lose their livelihood, their nation, their human rights. Apparently, some queerings are indeed queerer than others.
Inevitably, the term queer leads one to sexuality, that most private yet most public aspect of one’s identity. I often feel, that the secrecy surrounding sexuality must be dispelled so as to help people lead better lives. The people from the LGBTQIA+ communities I have spoken to have told me about the sense of claustrophobia and disgust they have felt at themselves as they led a life of lies. The truth, the coming out has set them free. I suppose it is this freedom, this happiness that radiates out of them that often ‘people’ set out to extinguish.
It was one such act of violence that led to the birth of Pride marches the world over. On 28 June, 1969, the New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar that was the meeting point of the city’s LGBT community. Soon the rallying cries from New York were echoed all over America, leading to the first Pride March in 1970. Soon queer communities the world over held Pride marches and today, a Pride March is as much a personal validation as it is a political and economic one. The Rainbow Flag, designed by Gilbert Baker debuted at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on 25 June, 1979. The first Pride march in India was held at Kolkata on 2 July, 1999, with 15 members of the queer community participating. It was called ‘Friendship Walk’. Well, they were friends walking together, and also it was the safest thing to do too. Call it something innocuous and also find strength in numbers.
This sense of community, apart from the political need for solidarity, is also indicative of the absence of a strong support system from families and social agencies. There are generations of gender non confirming individuals who have lost their life chances and led precarious existences because they wanted to live as who they really were. There are also those people who were too frightened to admit their realities and lived out their lives in dingy closets. There were hardly any happy stories. The draconian regulations of the Article 377 stifled any reasonable aspirations of being accorded dignity.
While the striking down of the law has helped the communities gain greater traction in the politico-social spectrum, the acts of violence have not seen a radical decline. For example, there are hardly any convictions in crimes against Transpeople. The new Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 is as confused as it is confusing. While homosexuality has been decriminalized, the practical applications of these judgements, such as right to marry or to pass on property have not been discussed.
It is rude to have to pass legislations to ‘grant’ someone’s fundamental rights and cruel to dictate who should love or marry whom. Yet, people do that, day after day. And think nothing of it. Or think they are doing the fabric of society a favour. All the while, they stomp on names, erase smiles, block glances, break embraces, interrupt quiet cups of coffee and feel good about protecting the rich culture of this great nation- or some nation.
It is from this toxic environment that poems of remarkable beauty have emerged. All this month, we will be featuring poets who are queer or allies. We have some of the best names in contemporary queer poetry and some others who are sure to make a name for themselves. Do join us as we bring you some of the most exciting poets all this month. Breaking with tradition (also note the colour of our logo), we have decided to have ten posts (if not more).
A note on the illustration accompanying this post that has been conceptualized by the editor and designed by Ms. Sarah Saju Kallungal, a Business Skills Trainer at TCS. There is more of her work on Instagram at toons_of_sarah. She responded to our call and created a wonderful work of art. Obviously inspired by The Game of Thrones, the picture is an attempt to depicts the infinite range of sexualities and the fact that heterosexuals are just one among the spectrum. It also points to the ‘wearability’ of gender. The never-ending, carnivalesque possibilities of sexualities and genders and the sheer time saved due to no more moral policing might help make the world a more livable place. Imagine a planet where you would be able to wake up and decide who you want to be for the day. And later returning and placing your identity back on the shelf, only to become someone else the next day. Or don’t. The power lies in the beauty of choice. That choice is a fundamental right above all and everything else. Don’t listen to those that say this merry go round of genders and sexualities will render society unstable. It’s as bad as getting married for the sake of family honour!
All this month, we will be talking of issues of particular relevance to the queer communities. Apart from poetry, we will also be showcasing queer cinema, music and art. We think it important to interrogate the politics of space, to discuss the need for affirmative spaces along with the implications of legislations and the ethics of regulatory practices in self-determination. And of course, we will talk of love.
This blog is curated and edited by Sonya J. Nair. While not curating or editing, she serves as the Head of the Department of English, All Saints’ College, Thiruvananthapuram. Her area of expertise is Gender Studies and she holds a Ph.D in the subject. Her research into the transgender festivals of South India with particular reference to Kerala and Tamil Nadu has earned her many friends among the community and she is currently working on a biography of a celebrated transperson.
For the team at SamyuktaPoetry, the Queer Pride Month is a celebration of all that is different, powerful and resilient. By that definition, we celebrate poetry. The colours await.
We start with Gaurav Deka on 03 June, 2020. Here is a sneak peek!