Monday, October 19, 2009

Of Gender , Sexuality and other Disasters

One of my friends asked me to chair a session or two at the forthcoming one-day seminar on ` Gay and Lesbian Studies: The Indian Context' and she said that one of my colleagues had turned down the offer because he was ` straight' and ` still interested in women'. Not very funny perhaps.

I agreed to the idea even if it was not my area of academic research. The area of gender and sexuality is probably one of the most interesting area of research probably. If someone stupid would ask me why I am poking my straight nose into this queer area,I would reply by describing a scene from a very very funny and interesting film ` Love and Other Disasters' where Mathew Rhys who plays a gay room mate of Brittany Murphy  and Santiago Cabera go out for dinner as it is `set up' by Murphy  who thinks that Santiago is gay and sweet for Rhys. Rhys character is obviously shocked when Cabera's character tells him that he is straight and not gay. Funnily, Rhys' character asks him ` Straight? Since when?', to which Santiago says that he is straight since he was eight and however hard he tried to develop interest in men, he would end up with women. The humour is largely due to inversion of the usual situation where it is the `straight' who would ask such questions to the gay and it would be the gay person who would give such a reply. The point probably is that heterosexuality too is as much a construct as homosexuality is. So my answer would be same as that of Santiagos but at the same time it would betray an awareness that people are not born straight, they become one.

Some years back, I was not very enthusiastic about feminism and gender studies as I felt that the subject was exhausted and that there was hardly anything new in the area. But that simply was my ignorance and complacence. My reading and understanding of feminism and gender studies was limited to the French theorists I read during my post-graduation days. I had a faint idea of something like `the Third Wave' of Feminism.But only after joining the MS University, thanks to my colleagues like Dr Deeptha Achar, who is an outstanding researcher in this area,  and the DRS SAP programme which organized seminars,colloqiums and workshops on the questions of Identity,  I got interested in the area of gender. We had find scholars like Prof Nivedita Menon and Prof Jasbir Jain in our Dept.

Besides my renewed interest in Wittgenstein enabled me to appreciate the work of theorists like Judith Butler in a new light. Just like Wittgenstein challenged the idea of ` transcendental meaning' which exists independently of speech acts or specific language use, we can challenge the idea of any such transcendental notions of gender existing independently of the specific language-event. That is gender, like most of other things, can hardly exist outside of specific performances, outside of ` language games'. This is obviously not exactly what Butler is talking about, but my way of reading her is from a Wittgensteinien perspective.

I also protest the idea that someone should be punished and discriminated against just because they are  different. Difference is not a disease. There is a huge amount of variation even within the categories perceived as monoliths like ` heterosexual'. No two heterosexuals have same sexual expressions and at the same time even a single heterosexual can express herself or himself differently over a period of time or in different context. Consider what is a state termed euphemistically as `sexual dysfunction'. A person sexually dysfunctional with a particular person may function `adequately' with another. Sexual expression is inseparable from relationships ( which means it is always socially conditioned).It is in such a huge range of variation of sexual expressions, that one should locate the terms such as ` heterosexual' and ` the homosexual'. The binary terms are not really water tight compartments nor are they `homogeneous' or monolithic, There are homosexualities and there are heterosexualities.

In Indian context, homophobia most commonly manifests itself by equating homosexuality with anal penetration. People forget however, that anal sex is not limited to homosexuality but a part of common heterosexual practices too. Besides, patriarchal outlook delimits homosexuality to male sexuality and has no ways of understanding female homosexuality.
( more to come..)

1 comment:

June Nandy Chaudhuri said...

Ha ha, cracking up, with a straight face. I could've avoided the corporate world had I known Indian academia would eventually evolve. Too late now to sit for Net.Jokes apart, Fantastic write. I realize, I soon must find some contend. :)

The other day, I was reading Wittgenstein and Cioran on Poetic language and the strangeness of ordinary and I'm already in awe of that work.

Nice write. Thanks.