The radical potential of ‘queer’
As India probably got its first matrimonial ad where a groom sought another groom (See here), and the advertisement generated heated discussion for its announcement of a caste preference in parenthesis, it’s a good time to remember a few things that give the queer rainbow its political heft.
For one, the term ‘queer’ can never be fully owned and this is its radical potential. There is no one ‘queer’ community, but several. There is no one ‘face’ of the movement, but several often-invisibilized faces. There is no one significant act of defiance, but many that draw from minority rights movements of gender, labour, and caste issues. The problem with a presentist view (the idea that what is happening now is unique and has never happened before) is that it denies historicity. That the matrimonial ad was placed, accepted and published is no doubt a first—yet it is not the first time hetero-patriarchal marriage has been challenged in India. When it comes to love, a million mutinies take place in India every day; attempts to challenge are as old as the love story itself. Inter-caste love marriage is one of the more obvious examples. Gender equitable live-in relations (whether opposite or same-sex) with just distribution of property and wealth, is another.
Queerness is a site of collective contestation, “the point of departure for a set of historical reflections and future imaginings”, in the words of Judith Butler. Butler further writes in Bodies That Matter, “The genealogical critique of the queer subject will be central to queer politics to the extent that it constitutes a self-critical dimension within activism (…)” This sort of critique acknowledges that social and sexual relations have no exclusive owners or origins, but are “acts of repetition”. It’s also a reminder of the exclusionary force of activism’s demands.
The demand for marriage equality—a matter of great debate in the US currently, which has witnessed several significant rights-based wins—is thus, both a critical ask, and one that must be submitted to a genealogical critique. One of the ways to do this is to recognize the relations that exist outside the paradigm of hetero-normative marriage. Queer relationships signal myriad structures of support, often reconstituting what one traditionally understands of family, as something that is only biologically assigned, or through legally sanctioned actions like marriage.
Queer families are non-blood relations of support that form the lifeline of several same-sex and opposite-sex relations: a hijra gharana is one such structure, romantic friendships and polyamorous communes are others, where multiple love relationships co-exist. A queer family is also often a mix of biological and chosen family members (Read ).
At the same time, several queer persons are also fighting against forced marriages and this issue is terribly important to address, as the recent suicide of a young woman doctor at AIIMS indicated. This is a demand that intersects with the women’s rights movement, which recognizes that the socio-economic structure of marriage is premised on controlling women’s bodies and sexualities. This fight for recognition also opens up the space for women to demand recognition of singlehood as a valid socio-cultural identity.
The Sex Talk is a fortnightly blog on gender, sexuality and blind spots.