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A long war for queer lives

Joshua Muyiwa | Updated on December 27, 2019 Published on December 27, 2019

Uncertain ground: The Transgender Persons ( Protection of Rights) Act 2019 places a premium on medical interventions rather than self-determination   -  SUPREET SAPKAL

For the LGBTQ community, 2019 was a year of celebration — and of concern

I was texting my friend Gee, who is currently pursuing a PhD programme somewhere in the UK. He’d fallen ill and I wanted to check on him. At some point in our flurry of exchanges, I felt like I wanted to confess something to him. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling — I think of Gee as a fierce, articulate, brilliant and political transman, who has this uncanny ability to be exacting in his utterances. At times, this capacity to hold himself and the world to a demanding standard does play out as a curse; it can be perceived as cruel and often read as rabid. I’ll admit that I often turn to him to be chastised, cajoled and convinced to look beyond my privileges. While he doesn’t miss an opportunity to strike, he’s generous enough to heal, to act as nurse in these moments.

Here’s the subtext of my confession to him over WhatsApp: I’m not going out to the protests because I feel too vulnerable, too visible. And even though it was decked out in dry humour, Gee grasped at the intention of those words. First, he laughed at the engineering of flippancy in the text I had sent him, and then I took the rest of his words — “You’re protesting everyday by staying alive” — as absolvement for my fuzzy feelings in this situation.

In the little over three decades that I’ve been alive, I’ve come to see each of my achievements as slightly more meaningful than those of my heterosexual peers. And this isn’t to throw shade at their struggles; it is just to say that circumstances engendered by being a queer person are far more trying in our shared world. The cards just aren’t stacked the same for us. And I know, I’m not supposed to say these things; rather it is important that I’m gracious about any leeway. I’m expected to find the joke to cut the tension.

Like earlier this year, a lot of straight people told me that I should be happy that Section 377 got read down through a review of curative petition in the Supreme Court. They asked: Why aren’t you celebrating? I know, I could’ve shut them up by putting up one of those rainbow-filter display pictures on my social media profiles but I couldn’t get myself to do it. Instead, I told them this cosmetic change in the law doesn’t affect me. I told them, it never has; it is simply symbolic but rather it has been their socialised, learned ostracising of others like myself that hurts, and that must change. I told them, they’ve not even taken the first steps to reparation with this reading down. (You’re thinking: Ah! What a pleasant person to be around?)

And then, there was the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, which, on the surface, comes across as progressive — a chance for the government to step up and rectify societal obstacles for this community. Instead it adds more troubles to their lives — one of the worst requirements of this bill is that to be certified as transgender, one needs to present before a committee that includes the district magistrate and a health officer, among others, who are free to examine you to see if you are actually trans as opposed to lying about it. It places a premium on surgery and medical interventions rather than self-determination. And if one isn’t able to convince this committee, there is no recourse for review or appeal. It has also criminalised sex-work and begging without providing reservations in education or employment for this community — so how are they expected to live? And, well, as always, we were expected to be thrilled — and our protests against this bill weren’t just ignored but read as another sign that we were an ungrateful lot.

In looking back at this year, I don’t just see the injustices that the government and society have done to us. I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to sift through the sands for other signs too. I’m heartened by the ways we have still managed to find, hold and keep community in these trying times. I’m endlessly impressed by the ways we mine ourselves for the strength to keep carrying on. But I’m most thrilled that a lot of us have made our peace with being ungrateful. We won’t be happy with scraps, with adjustments and compromises in our own lives, or in our dealings with the State and its apparatuses. In that text interaction with Gee, across the waters, across time, it was reassuring. It was a reminder that you might always reach for the funny line, but if they’ve walked in your shoes then they hear the truth.

If 2019 was a lesson for my community it is that: We need each other the most — now more than ever before. It is simple: We need community because the war will be long.

Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet

Published on December 27, 2019
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