Saturday, July 16, 2005

Subalternity, separatism, subsumption

How can subaltern identities struggling for recognition, tolerance, affirmation, equality, mediate between the risks of separatism and subsumption? How can they be different but equal? David Leavitt welcomes the demise of gay bookshops and the transition from gay to post-gay fiction, as signs of the success of the movement. Makes sense, perhaps, in a context where many victories for gay rights have been won – or, at the very least, a space for debate has been carved out (no matter how vicious the terms of discourse on occasion). But what about contexts in which gay identities continue to be virtually invisible? Do we still need our queer bookshops and queer fiction sections, our narratives in which sexual orientation is a Very Big Deal?

But why look at the struggle for rights teleologically – as if separatism were an inevitable way-station en route to liberation. Why even conceive of ‘liberation’ in the same ways? It’s entirely possible that even, or especially, where the struggle for rights feels less advanced, we might leap-frog over stages that movements elsewhere have had to pass through (South Africa emerges from apartheid – boom! – and gives itself one of the most progressive constitutions in the world).

Indian post-gay fiction? Think of the masti of Maan and Firoz buried more than a thousand pages into A Suitable Boy, the irrelevance of Piers’ homosexuality in An Equal Music, the centrality but absolute matter-of-factness of gayness in Golden Gate. As Mr. Seth puts it somewhere, ‘In the strict ranks / of Gay and Straight / what is my status? / Stray? Or Great?’

Today is Oxford Pride.

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