A digital magazine on sexuality in the Global South: We are working towards cultivating safe, inclusive, and self-affirming spaces in which all individuals can express themselves without fear, judgement or shame
CategoriesLabour and SexualityThe I Column

If you want safety, you must toil for it.

‘Take charge; build safe spaces for yourself.’

‘Be the change you want to see.’

‘Inclusion starts with I.’

 

My Instagram DMs are full of many such unironical Instagram quotes sitting as eggs of entitlement. These eggs wait for the heat of ‘yaas kween’ responses and pride-themed logos to hatch into ‘ally’ pin badges for all the oh-so-supportive folks who seem to love me ‘despite my queerness.’

Thirty words in, and I feel the need to tone down the salt to be taken seriously. Tone policing by others, but especially by oneself, is a constant for marginalised folks trying to hold space. We can’t afford to err.

But I did. I erred in my attempt to take charge and gift myself a dream on my 26th birthday last month. The dream of a queer-affirmative friends circle that sees and respects me for who I am – in all my gay angst and repetitive rants. After being out as pansexual for over three years, I was now dancing my disclosure of identifying as non-binary with 43 friends over a Zoom call.

Disclosure is usually characterised by a fear of rejection along with an underlying hope for acceptance. Acceptance not ‘despite who I am’, but for exactly who I am. The process of acceptance – seeking it, desiring it, and receiving it – involves a broad spectrum of tumultuous emotions which requires queer folk, especially from marginalised backgrounds, to invest enormous amounts of emotional, intellectual, and social labour.

Being very cognizant of the stakes, I took charge and made a last-ditch attempt at ‘educating’ my friends about who I am and calling for their social media displayed allyship to actualise and support me. My previous coming out was a prolonged exhausting period of me doing the labour of explaining to folks why using homophobic slurs like ‘meetha’ or asking me to not carve my entire identity out of being gay was a problem. I felt so spent through this time that no actual healing happened. The idea was to not put in the same kind of labour again. I spoke about why I wanted to be pardoned from the boys’ trip or the couples’ dance at their sibling’s wedding. I explained what queer vocabulary meant to me, how they could educate themselves, and how my pronouns could be respected. But most of all, I made it clear that this is the first and last time I would be doing their part of the labour.

Apart from some folks who felt targeted by my subtle call-outs and got defensive instead of taking accountability, I thought we did well.

One week in, and I’ve been proven wrong. I’m subjected to constant unapologetic misgendering, blatant refusal to see how they benefit from cis-heteronormative patriarchy, and the sheer entitlement in comments like “Why were you trying to educate us?”, “It would be difficult for me to use ‘they’ because it’s plural”, and “So you want us to be sorry for being straight?”.

Please don’t mistake my rage for impatience. It took me a while to get here, so it won’t be fair to expect immediate reflection and accountability. My intention here isn’t to shame anyone, but I demand you hold space for my rage. Space that I feel entitled to because of the labour I put in. All that attempt at ‘education’ came at the cost of immense emotional and creative labour. Emotional because, well, I relived the suicidal thoughts, the dysphoria, and everything else that amounts to the trauma of queerphobia that I’ve accumulated over the years. Creative labour because the entire thing was a carefully curated performance. Spoken words – that I worked on for a week with my therapist – by yours truly, debuting in heels, dancing to Britney.

The onus of looking within and wanting to do better lies with each one of us. But, we don’t exist in a vacuum. Some of us here hold more power over others. In the Indian context, we must look at power from the intersectionalities of oppressed castes, minority religions, and gender-diverse folks. The same applies to our cocooned virtual spaces as well. Our social media machinery runs on fuel that is nothing but a sum of our cultural, social, and financial capital. Access to this capital is directly determined by our intersectional positions in the power structures mentioned above. It is important to acknowledge that as a savarna queer, I will always have easier access to resources to help deal with the transphobic violence I might be subjected to on social media.

All wokes today are mindful of their privileges – or so they say – and claim not to intend any harm. While proving to be a great starting point, intention does not guarantee any labour done by those holding power. You must compliment the well-intentioned memorising of pronouns with the labour of actively changing how you view gender-diverse people and their expression. Without the labour, your position in the power structure would inevitably lead you to conveniently ignore the active harm you might be causing. With the labour, you might be able to look at the concept of allyship from beyond the myopic lens of your self-actualisation.

Today, free queer labour on social media is primarily spent in two areas: building allyship and demanding accountability. In doing so, queer people are hardly ever supported by the very platforms that would otherwise exploit them for advertising money.

An interesting case to look at here would be the non-apology from comedian Vir Das for his transphobic jokes on his Ten on Ten show about Cancel Culture. Queer folk on social media ended up having to do the labour of breaking down why the jokes were problematic, thereby revisiting personal traumas and inviting more trolling. An apology doesn’t mean anything if you’re still profiting off a piece that normalises transphobia. Say sorry, delete the damned video, and use your platform to amplify trans* fundraisers.

A quick analysis would reveal that the said jokes came from a bruised ego because “They said ‘You cannot joke about pronouns’ and I was like ‘Okay. But now I really want to.'”. Vir Das’ statement on an earlier show about his anti-government – punching up – comedy goes as, “The scariest sound that this establishment can hear is not the wording of my jokes. It’s the energy in your laughs. It is not the statement I make. It’s the agreement in your lungs”. When applied to transphobic comedy from a cis-gender man – punching down – the same enthusiastic audience agreement can prove to be scary reminders of invalidation and violence. Hundreds applauded Vir Das when he talked about trans* people “discarding organs that don’t work for them”. The mass agreement in the lungs of your audience is a reminder to us that most people have a very warped understanding of gender diversity and don’t view trans* experiences as valid.

Vir Das repeatedly joked about the very vocabulary that took years of academic and intellectual labour to develop, potentially disempowering queer folks in conversations to come. Brands that platform the likes of Vir Das, Carry Minati, and other queerphobic creators throughout the year are quick to jump on the rainbow wagon during Pride month. There is apathy in this pattern of refusal to do any reflective labour whatsoever. And when marginalised folks do that labour on your behalf, give you constructive criticism, you circumvent the required labour by screaming ‘cancel culture’ – knowing how centuries of systematic oppression has cancelled out certain castes and genders from the list of people worthy of dignity. The anger and disruptive tactics that we embody while educating you don’t suddenly make you the victim. The anger is valid because it comes from a place of systematic injustice and only asks for accountability in return. A good place to plug in a reminder that there is only one direction that systematic oppression flows – from the oppressor to the oppressed.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Article written by:

Samarth, a non-Binary queer person, is a movement artist and a film-maker. They constantly seek to explore the intersections of art and identity politics through community led culture production. Also, they’re scared of writing. You can find them on instagram @samarth95khanna or write to them at samarth.khanna95@gmail.com

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