I recently engaged in an online argument on one Indian queer Facebook group where a bisexual man had written a post criticising how some gay men dress up “effeminately” at Pride marches. When asked to elaborate, he claimed that men dressing up in “girlish clothes” could be mistaken as hijras (a term given to intersex people and transgender people in South Asia) which according to him would alienate straight people from the movement.
Indeed, there is blatant discrimination, a sense of hierarchy, and a common sentiment within the queer community with regards to how one must present themselves in front of straight people in order to be accepted. One of the most notable examples being the 2017 Pune Pride controversy where the organisers had laid down strict guidelines for members of the LGBTQ+ community such as “no dance, no Dhol-Tasha and no wearing eccentric and flamboyant clothes” all of which have always been the ethos of queer pride parades in India.
there is blatant discrimination, a sense of hierarchy, and a common sentiment within the queer community.
Growing up in a cis-heteronormative society, it is undeniably difficult to escape the shackles of the gender norms and strict rules of masculinity and femininity that had been set for us; in which the failure to comply or conform warrants an uncompromising hostility. Learning to unlearn our own internalised queerphobia is consequently a crucial and long process but we simply must not and should not police each other on how members within the community choose to express their queerness. Our personal experiences with marginalisation does not justify our bigotry towards people who are ‘othered’ in the community.
The queer movement from Stonewall to the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan movement has always been spearheaded by the ‘social misfits’ who have been outcasted by mainstream society. A man or a trans person wearing heels and makeup should not offend you when politicians wearing suits are supporting legislations that deprive you of your due rights. People who choose to express their queerness by showing up in outlandish or quirky outfits should not ruffle your feathers when more than 40 hate crimes against queer folks has been reported since January of this year.
Eccentricity, flamboyance, theatrics, in essence, have been pivotal aspects of the queer movement since its very inception and serve as a revolutionary reclamation and radical response to the years of ostracisation and marginalisation that the community has been subjected to. Projecting our insecurities and enforcing our prejudices only yokes us together with our oppressors and does nothing to help us in our quest for liberation from systemic oppression and heteronormativity.
In these pride parades, we see people coming from a variety of contrasting backgrounds overcoming their self doubts, embracing their identities, challenging the strict Indian heteropatriarchal structure and ultimately uniting for the same cause – queer assertion. Pride month and Pride parades are a time for celebration not a time to be apologetic or exhibit intolerance to our very own community members in order to accommodate cis-heterosexual people and make them more ‘comfortable’.
The queer movement ceases to be ‘queer’ if it is adjusted to be palatable for the consumption of anti-LGBTQ people whose intolerance and violence has caused us our lives.
In the pursuit of overcoming oppression, let us not forget to prioritise our own community first. Let us provide a stage for those whose voices have been silenced due to the hegemonization of the movement by upper caste, upper class, cis-men. Instead of focusing on how to “straight-pass” or “tone down” our queerness, let’s talk about and address how queer spaces remain inaccessible for disabled queers, the trans community, queer dalits (a term mostly used for the castes in India that have been subjected to untouchability), queer tribals, queer minorities and those who are economically underprivileged. Let’s accommodate our own people first. It is not a time to even consider what straight people might think in the fear of “alienating allies” when a majority of them are contributing to the repression of our rights.
Allyship should not come with conditions nor should it depend on the ‘niceness’ of the oppressed.
The queer movement is not about making compromises or limiting our struggle to just legislations and papers. The queer movement is about social justice, equity, and the freedom to explore our sexual identities and right to self-express. Those who “don’t want people to dress in a manner that embarrasses the community” are in actuality, an embarrassment to the community and are responsible for the shameless continuation of the very convention, social regression, and victim blaming culture that subjugates us, and tyrannize those who are pushed to the margins of the movement.
Featured Image Credit: SecretlyPrettyGay