Posted by Sohini Chatterjee
Growing up in a queerphobic/queer invisibilising culture makes us search for unique ways of escaping from ourselves that frequently entail the performance of denial as our lived reality, figuring among the most potent but wearying survival strategies we employ to get through the days. Denying our desires, from platonic to romantic to sexual, is often the price we pay for rebelling against compulsory heterosexuality – quietly and in private. At family gatherings and at home, in hostile, unaccommodating workspaces, in the company of indifferent heterosexual friends and acquaintances, our denial, our silence, our depoliticized presence, ensures our acceptance, determines our acceptability.
Ruptures in this routine are initiated and sustained by those who are familiar with our struggles, are struggling with us, and often with themselves, as our shared situation in the margins and our precarity demand it. Queer friendships lead us by the hand to freer ways of living and loving, talking and listening, healing and becoming, learning and un-learning. They ensure the beginning of the end of our sustenance drawn solely from silence, ambiguity and invisibility.
Queer friendships allow us to come into our own by allowing and encouraging us to verbalise desire and articulate the language of resistance, helping us nuance and practice our politics of, and in, the everyday, empowering us to critique and pushing us to think through such critique, against institutions and modes of oppression that alienate us from ourselves, our rights and the access to violence free living.
Queer friendships are transformative experiences built on strength and subversion – that we think, feel, experience, share, resist together lead to the emergence of queer sociality that are disproved by heteropatriarchy and yet we persist. Our coming together in solidarity and in friendship – and forging solidarities through friendship – is resistance. We resist by supporting each other live non-normatively, counter shame privately and collectively, and share grief emphatically, helping each other navigate queerness while inhabiting and traversing inflexible structures of violence.
Together, we envisioned a queer(er) future.
In my late teens when I came to terms with my queerness, I did not actively seek community. One of the reasons why I did not was because I was unaware of what it would mean to me, how strong and accepted queer friendships would make me feel. While in college, I was auditing lectures on gender and sexuality, reading queer feminist texts, beginning to explore intersectional feminisms, allowing myself to recognise my identity as best as I could.
However, I felt something was amiss – my effort seemed inadequate. Being femme and straight passing meant that not only was I invisible as a queer person, I was also invisible to queer individuals and communities as one. Even though my privilege of being able to pass protected me from experiencing queerphobic violence, it came at a cost – I found myself getting lonelier by the day.
When I came out to one of my heterosexual friends for the first time, they struggled to grasp the significance of the revelation I was making, the importance of what it meant to me and how much courage it took to do it. This contributed to a sense of estrangement I experienced in that friendship, making me realise the importance of becoming familiar with people who could recognize their struggles and joys in mine.
As my emotional investment in queer friendships grew stronger, I found people, for the first time in my life, celebrating my queerness with me through laughs, hugs and care. Their disarming warmth communicated recognition and validation of my queer existence that I had desperately needed but lacked. Their easy acceptance paved the way for a lot of my queer becoming.
I also experienced the power of queer friendship intensely in 2015, while participating in a residential workshop on gender and sexuality facilitated by Sappho for Equality (SFE), the LBT activist forum in Kolkata. It was the year that SFE invited an LBT group from Bangladesh to interact and engage with community members and allies from Kolkata and to collectively think through the challenges of queer political organising. I met trans and queer people from across the border from whom I heard, and with whom I shared, in the span of only a few days, stories of survival, desire, surveillance, fear and courage, all of which flowed naturally, without the need of nudging and without serious or subtle provocation.
Our coming together in solidarity and in friendship – and forging solidarities through friendship – is resistance.
Members of SFE along with participants of the workshop, and our trans and queer friends from Bangladesh, joined hands in the building of transnational knowledge about various forms of oppression, the scourge of invisibility and how to effectively organise against them. The valuable resource that we had at our disposal was our narratives and the organic friendship that allowed their excavation. Together, we envisioned a queer(er) future.
I became friends with some of my Bangladeshi queer friends almost immediately. We bonded over shared stories of love, loss, pain, the joy we were experiencing in that moment of being seen and heard. We reveled in our new found, valued freedom to talk about our identities and ourselves without the fear of violence and overt or covert censorship. Some of them told me, like only queer friends can, “Remember you have a home in Bangladesh now.”
I started university a few months after this workshop and found myself in an unfamiliar space where nobody mentioned the word queer. The first queer friend I made was in the final year of university. She and I were the only two queer women we knew in campus. Her presence made me feel a lot less lonely especially at a time when I was beginning to realise how inauthentic passing as straight made me feel.
Coming out to her made me feel honest in a way that seemed crucial to the person I was and wanted to become. I drew strength from the fact that she was braving the odds harder as someone who did not pass as straight as easily as I did and was wronged on account of it several times. Yet, she conducted herself with grace and went through the motions of university life with a smile on her face on most days. Another queer friend of ours, whose flamboyance was enviable, carried traumas that would be revealed occasionally when humor dried up. Yet, he was the life of every party.
In hindsight, I think their strength made me stronger. Getting through graduate school with them helped me embrace my queerness and drove away much of the fear I had of being an Out queer person in the world. I owe them my becoming in various ways. Ours has now evolved into a friendship I deeply cherish.
I do not think I can do justice to the importance of queer friendships if I do not write about the queer connections I have found and developed on social media. I am acquainted with individuals with unique stories and perspectives full of depth and nuance, who demonstrate commitment towards living their politics intensely, and therefore lead by example. These are virtual friendships I draw inspiration and strength from in my everyday.
Even though there are unwritten rules about acceptable social media conduct that are expected to be adhered to, when it comes to seeking queer friendships, I have often noticed that those rules are routinely flouted. This helps vital exchanges happen and opens up the floodgates of queer narratives which we otherwise would not have had access to, which would otherwise have remain buried and unheard.
Sometimes what drives us to share intimate knowledge about our queer selves is the comforting awareness that our message will resonate with some of our queer friends and provide them the will to carry on. We are learning to be and be better because of each other. We talk about our trials and we talk about our triumphs. We are inspired by one another’s determination, creativity, and are learning to live politically, queerly, subversively from each other. Queer friendships complete us in a world that threatens to take away parts of ourselves we hold dear.
Featured Image Source: Portland State University