“Most women and men born in the fifties or earlier were socialised to believe that marriages and/or committed romantic bonds of any kind should take precedence over all other relationships “, wrote bell hooks in her book ‘All About Love’. hooks observation stands true for the heteronormative community norms in India till date. Take for example, we all must have heard the term ‘friend zone’ in our friend circles, on social media, within informal interaction groups a lot of times. A dialogue in the Hindi film ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ talks about a species of men who are the ‘kandha’. Zishan Aayub’s character in the film, characterises ‘kandha’ as,’ when a girl is sad in love’ the ‘kandha'(man)comes ‘to give them a shoulder to cry on’. It is clear that he is looking for an opportunity (wooing the woman)in distress(woman’s sadness).
I am not here to argue if ‘kandha’ is an imaginary man rather to argue that a ‘kandha’ is driven by heteronormative ideas and motivations of friendship. The question is what does a queer friendship is like? Friendships in the queer space don’t rest on the pillars of feeling limited, narrowed or constricted and are certainly outside of the heteronormal society’s obsession with “a boy and a girl can never be friends ”. The space of queer friendship becomes a place for many people to understand themselves,their feelings and their sexualities.
A personal anecdote, from the times when I still did not know the terminologies and theories of queeress, living in the hostel of a city in Bihar. Like most of the lower middle class teenagers around me I consumed the songs, the love stories, the commercials that were building up aspirations of a biological, heteronormative family/romance. While dating a (brahmin)boy, totally unprepared rather unaware of what a queer friendship could be like, I was a part of such a space.
The sense of love, honesty and spontaneity we (we, the two OBC girls) had towards each other was either mocked by our fellow hostel mates, invisibilized somewhere by calling it ‘sisterhood’ or (pure) love of friends’. This is a conspirating tool that dismisses love ( romance and/or physical attractions) that can possibly brew within queer friendships, it constrains the idea of Love or any emotional situations, diminishes and throttles anything that can evoke a departure from the hetero-normative ecology.
Before someone brags in with fallacies of necessarily connecting queer friendship dynamics with ‘So everyone has sex with everyone!’,’orgies’,’group sex’ and finally it being a western thing, let’s understand how queer friendship spaces can be like!
Aakriti (name changed) feels that maintaining a sense of curiosity in love is the definition of queer love or queer friendship. Aakriti was my friend’s friend whom I used to text on Instagram.
I checked the chat window for this article and realised that we have known each other since March 2019. Even digitally, our conversations over text have been about art, cinema, some academic theory, things of our mutual interest. There has been a sense of encouragement regarding each other’s work, understanding, journeys, our conversations would not be delusional of our caste-class vis-a-vis social backgrounds. While discussing academia we would end up with our personal life rants. Now I have my own familiarity with her, it doesn’t seem right to call her a ‘friend of a friend’. In 2021 when she came to Delhi, we met a few times which we liked to call ‘taking out on a date’.
During a long conversation on queer friendships we both agreed that when we like a woman, we hesitate to express, especially if she is a friend. It is not because we are not comfortable or under illusions of heteronormativity but because society has not prepared us for it. While we are exposed to a lot of hetero coupledom archetypes through media as well as social institutions, we never had the likewise for queer relationships, so, we mostly land in a situation to be navigated on our own amidst a culture already heteronormative.
A joke that goes around within the queer community (by Ankur Tagade on 2nd June, at Happy High) says queer women are so friendly and loving to each other that it gets difficult to understand that it’s ‘friendship’ or ‘interested in you’ cues!
“It’s not easy!” However, Aakriti expresses her desires and wants to get over the fear of uncertainty and officially date a woman someday.
Whereas, Sinjini (name changed) imagines a world where all her friends, especially women, could live together as a polyamorous family. Whatever relationship they have with each other would depend on their mutual consent. Sinjini advocates for an ethical polyamory which provides space for conversations, mutual support system and healing as against restricting expressions and unprocessed emotions.
The two ways of viewing queer friendship are completely different from each other. Then, how does one understand the space of queer friendship?
The word ‘queer’ in ‘queer friendship’ underlines the basic nature and notion of friendship, rather than sexuality. Author and activist Shawn Faye says, “Queer means removing all labels and replacing them with a question. It is a sneak peek, a challenge to mainstream society and politics.” Socrates once said: The only thing I say I understand is “ta erotika” or ‘the art or craft of love’. Socrates might have meant that to love and to seek answers are not very different.
A queer relationship is about being able to introspect, accept, and talk about and work together outside of the built-in prejudiced structures of the society. It is not queer unless it doesn’t annihilate caste-class in its conception. Caste-class being reproduced by social and moral institutions reflect the prejudicial attitudes of people in India, queer friendships (as an intimate space) in what it aspires to be can have no place to accommodate such norms.
The definition of queer friendship is different for everyone but it must find a common ground.It cannot be limited to being a mere lifestyle/relationship choice.
India is still not very safe for the queer community, especially for the young queers or those from marginalised sections. Even after the removal of Section 377 in the year 2018, the central government is arguing against same sex marriages under the garb of ‘Indian values’. Queer friendships stand opposed to such ‘values’. In a country where many times people are ready to kill in order to save ‘honour’ after discovering one’s (non hetero) sexuality, caste or religion – the space of queer friendship seems like a relief. Queer friendships can also become a form of chosen family.
Coming back to the former anecdote, that friend of mine was married off in an arranged marriage setting. After 5 years we have re-connected, nowadays we do talk on the phone occasionally. She thinks that her husband is supportive of her career and enthusiasm to study. Even fights against the pressure to birth a child as put upon her by the in-laws. “I told my husband that if I go to another city, I will go on dates with someone, travel around, and watch movies. He asked with whom? Don’t know why your name came to mind.” She told me in that same conversation. “What did he say”, I asked, ” he nodded”, she said. This is the ‘soul’ of the queer friendship, it doesn’t need a heteronormative validation or label or a rule book to abide by. It desires against compromise, for more…