Queering Dalit | TQ Salon

Oct 2016

Conversation: Queerness and the Postcolony

TQ Salon is a series of conversations among activists and scholars of South Asia. This is the fourth essay in this conversation.

The first essay, Bhutto’s urgent call for indigenizing queer politics, can be found here. The second essay, Ismat’s lyrical contemplation of navigating the narratives of white saviordom and the religious right, is here. The third essay, Bhatt’s evocative piece on queer male love in Lahore, is here.

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As I slid inside a guy who I was in bed with a couple of months back, in the middle of changing positions, he suddenly blurted out that it felt good that he finally gets to see my ‘Dalit rawness’. Besides losing my erection, I lost something else that day as well. I lost my desire to be Dalit about my queerness.  

I think many of us are constantly lost between making decisions about visibility and invisibilities. The degrees to which we want to be ‘out’ about our identities are a constant negotiation:  whether in front of a family member or colleague, or flirting with someone on public transport. Similarly the degrees to which one negotiates with caste within queerness, and queerness within caste, also keeps defining moments of our lives in different ways.

There is so much to say about both visibility and invisibility of Dalit and queer in India. Neither needs any terminology, rally or demonstration to be seen or felt. Yet both have been known to be lost in undertones, mis-representations and under-representations in our collective as well as individual histories. One of the ways in which such visibilities materialize is through coming out of the closet. Coming out of the closet, or being visible transcends just sexuality. Most often when one’s surname is enough to identify one’s caste, coming out in terms of caste doesn’t just become about being identified as already publicly identifiable lower-caste but also being visible about silences and barriers that were incurred because of that identity.  

As I write this, I realize that the words such as queer, coming out, and closet carry the white-privilege baggage. Bhutto pointed out in Translating Queerness how many terms (such as queer) never have and possibly in some respect never will contain the multiple complexities that people live. Following which Ismat says in Queer Shuttling how queerness for them meant constant shuffling within spaces and constantly deliberating over its articulations and re-articulations. While both Bhutto and Ismat reveal different transactions with the ‘queer’, for many of us queer became the language to embrace the awkwardness, the shame and the humiliation. What does it mean then to detach queer from its ‘white’ meanings and make and un-make it in your own way?

The loss of discovering Dalit in my queerness wasn’t an imagination of clash of different identities but the way I imagined my very queerness to be Dalit. By this I mean that in many ways I found the language of my caste through queerness and displayed my queerness through my caste. My queerness was not just limited to joy, and my caste to anger. Both fuck each other at all times, both change positions with respect to each other at all times, and both celebrate and fight with each other’s ‘rawness’ at all times. The shuttling, in a way, lost its meaning in the queering Dalit process because there was no fence between the spaces in the first place. What made him see my ‘rawness’? I don’t think being queer or being Dalit is either passive or active in any sense of the terms. The dismissal of one’s politics by labeling it ‘oh-so-radical’ or ‘not-loud-enough’ has been far too common. And I certainly hope that I am not just one kind of behavioral person in bed!

Looking for ways in which queer languages get explored or seen in others, as I mentioned before, the assertion of one’s discomfort with caste oppression, patriarchy and hetero-normativity is not new. However, in the recent past, certain agitations and experiences of being Dalit have been seen to be articulated in ‘pride’. Ginni Mahi says how important it is to overcome the shame of her caste and be proud of being called a Chamar. The strength in that shame is quite telling of the ways in which one breaks norms ‘queerly’. Similarly the ways in which that shame translates into assertion, as we see in  the imagination of the Una rally (a protest demonstration in the state of Gujarat against the atrocious moral Hindutva policing of four men who were beaten up for skinning a dead cow), and in the march against caste oppression in the form of a pride march, evidently the articulation of this pride is clearly seen outside and away from mainstream recognizable visible queer spaces. One of the constant anxieties that Dalit queerness brings is how the question of queerness is always expected (within Dalit groups, persons, discourse) to come from some certain imagined queer bodies. That the very imagination of anti-caste struggle ought to be seen as inherently anti-patriarchy, anti-hetero-normativity. How queer would that be! The queer anti-caste project then not only exposes the dangers and evils of appropriation but also reveals the false masculine spaces that occupy many articulations of ‘pride’. So for instance if men in Punjab are celebrating their pride by putting up ‘Putt Chamara de’ (son of a Chamar), just like ‘Putt Jatta de’ (son of a Jatt) behind their motorbikes mirrors the display of obvious masculine aggression (which is not a monopoly of individuals but a product of patriarchy). At the same time the burden of correctness only falling on Dalit individuals time and again also makes one constantly suspicious of upper caste savarna spaces.   

Later, as I tried to think about that moment of lost erection (among other losses), I thought perhaps I don’t need to de-queer my Dalit-ness. Maybe I needed to do exactly that. Fuck my Dalit into my queerness. I needed to stop imagining queerness out of my caste where it needed some aha moment to be injected, or if injected, always needed to watch itself out for the limit at which queerness failed or queerness couldn’t reach. The shufflings then stopped holding me back and I did fuck the rawness (?) of queer into Dalit and Dalit into queer.

Akhil Kang is a human rights lawyer currently based out of New Delhi. He works/writes on caste-sexuality and is associated with Queering Dalit collective. He runs a blog where he explore queer sex and desires at desi-underground-gay.blogspot.in, and tweets at https://twitter.com/mujhe_baksh_do

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