A Personal Narrative on Queer Dissent

I identify as queer. And I feel a profound pride for all of us when other individuals tell me they are queer. I believe that by working together, we bravely challenge preconceived notions of who and what a person could be. I was certain that we were the next generation of young radicals pushing humanity forward.

For months, I struggled with the question of my queer identity, eventually accepting that I was queer because I had a larger vision of love and human embodiment than those mandated by the gender roles we have all been assigned. I started using gender-neutral pronouns, and got annoyed when folks assumed I was a woman. My androgyny assumed queerness because I felt myself as more complete and complex than a woman, both feminine and masculine.

Was it, however, I? What does it mean to be queer existentially? Queer love is revolutionary – it redefines family, and opposes assimilation into hetero-patriarchy. Perhaps the most common feature of queerness is that it cannot be stated succinctly or concretely.

Queer movements are about more than just educating and reaching out to possible allies — they’re also about standing up to those who are clear foes. And, boy, do we have a lot of opponents! There are enemies who are more than just homophobic or transphobic individuals. Complex webs of systems and societal bigotries support these adversaries.

As a closeted teen, I always felt a sense of apprehension and dismissiveness amongst my batchmates as well as the larger context that we call ‘society’. The rise of right-wing ultranationalism and intolerance in the current geopolitical scenario scares me even more. Moreover, the very idea that ‘queerness’ exists and is nurtured exclusively through the help of a shared community is a hope that I cling to.

Does that indicate that there is no safe space and that our existence is at threat? Well, it is partially true – there exists a semblance of a safe space for close-knit individuals who are free to express, dissent  harmoniously and challenge the status quo.

That said, radicalism is the only way queer movements have ever advanced. Pretending otherwise is to deny the past. It makes no difference whether we believe our existence is truly radical — or whether we desire to be recognised as radical in the first place. To those who desire to oppress us, our queerness (as distinct from our individual personalities and instead linked to hundreds of years of history, abuse, and protests) will always be radical. Rather than attempting to assimilate and de-radicalise it, we must embrace it. Queerness has always been anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and associated with the larger struggle against repressive institutions.

In India, queer dissent has been very visible in the recent past and it gives me a sense of kinship, familiarity and resonance during difficult times where the road ahead looks too dark. I know it will never sputter away.

History of queer dissent in India

Over the past few decades, certain events have had a significant impact on the evolution of queer dissent in India. In August 1992, the first recorded LGBT protest took place outside the police headquarters in the ITO region of New Delhi in response to increased right-wing hooliganism.

In 2009, the Delhi high court ruled that Section 377 of the Indian constitution, which refers to “unnatural offenses,” was unconstitutional. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the high court decision, making homosexual relationships illegal once more. The Supreme Court then issued a landmark ruling in the matter of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) versus the Union of India in 2014. The court deemed transgender people to be a third gender and upheld their fundamental rights under Indian law. It also affirmed the right of transgender people to self-identify.

Finally, in 2018, the Supreme Court found that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional, decriminalising homosexuality in India. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, was also introduced the next year. By decriminalising begging and eliminating a screening process, this measure improved on the previous version significantly. The queer solidarity during CAA-NRC protestations is another indication of the movements’ strength and support for morally exercising the right to freedom of speech despite being under surveillance and threat.

While the majority of these are reasons to rejoice, there is still a long way to go.

Queer dissent has always been one of the most integral parts of my personality and politics. The resistance aimed at the self and the regime gives me enough hope to stay just a day more to see it topple down. The resistance march and fundamental get-together of identities which stand together against the oppressor makes my soul rejoice while helping us reclaim space that has been historically denied to us.

Queer dissent assisted me in acknowledging my privilege and extending it to my queer friends who are deprived of their autonomy. I feel privileged to be able to have a support group, and realising that “nolite te bastardes carborundorum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down)”.

Kaushiki Ishwar is currently pursuing History and Philosophy at Miranda House, Delhi University. They take special interest in Marxist literature, feminist discourse and queer theory. They are avid theorygrammer at @kaush.ikii

Featured image: Reuters