Queer Theory in India:
A Study of Gay Indian English Poetry
A dissertation submitted to the
University of Pune
in partial fulfillment of the degree of
Master of Philosophy in English
Under the Guidance of
Dr. R. Raj Rao
Department of English
University of Pune
Some months ago, I read a humour in a daily newspaper. It went like this: When you copy from one book it is plagiarism; when you copy from many it is research. Now, after finishing this dissertation, I have come to realise the irony of that statement. Unfortunately, for my part, I could not avail many books for references, as I wished I could. All the libraries I visited offered me fewer options. That may answer the reason why at times my thesis is rhapsodic, and at times repetitive. However, I acknowledge the support the Jayakar library of the University of Pune offered me. The place is a treasure of information; a place I would fondly remember for a long time.
To begin with, I must acknowledge gratitude to my guide Dr. R. Raj Rao, who suggested the topic, and had faith in me that I can do justice to it. I thank him for his inspiration, for lending me his valuable books, and for being on my side in my highs and lows. If this study has any quality, the credit goes to him, and its entire hitches are my own.
I acknowledge my gratitude to all my teachers at the Department of English, University of Pune, who taught me both at the Post Graduate level and the M. Phil. Course Work: Dr. Prasant Kumar Sinha, Dr. Shridhar Gokhale, Dr. Aniket Jawaare, Dr. Bajrang Korde, and Dr. V. M. Madge.
Though no word of gratitude can do justice to my indebtedness, I must thank Sandra Hestermann, who played a fairy godmother to me at a time when I was at the end of my means. I thank her for being more than just a friend and a benefactor, but a source of confidence in my life. I also thank Mr. Robert Terence Risk who graciously told me that my English is poor, and offered me help improving it. I owe my English to him.
At this point, I would like to use this platform just to say thanks to two important persons in my life, Annie Philip and R. Ramji, whose influence in my life is much more than I could ever measure. I hope they will forgive me.
Last, but not the least, I thank Mr. Pandurang Bhagwan Daphal for being a constant help and support, an epitome of friend in need.
Pilate went back to the palace and called Jesus. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
Jesus answered, “Does this question come from you or have others told you about me?”
Pilate replied, “Do you think I am a Jew? It was your own people and the chief priest who handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here”.
So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king, then?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and come here into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.’
“And what is truth?” Pilate asked.
Holly Bible: New Testament
My subject is ‘Queer Theory in India’. I stress upon the part in India as Queer Theory is a foreign concept, and this current research project is an attempt to find its Indian counterpart. The hypothesis here is that the history of Indian queer identity is different from that of the West. There are problems in applying queer theory as is in Indian context. In this study, I propose to find differences/similarities between the two by applying the theory to Indian literature. I have selected the gay Indian English poems in order to evade controversy as well as to keep my focus in constructing the Indian queer identity. I aim to formulate a theory for queer Indian literature, and more specifically, for gay Indian English poetry. As there is no such theory at present, especially in the context of Indian life, it makes my study at once difficult and complicated.
Within its theoretic framework, queer theory talks about alternative sexual identities other than heterosexuality. Influenced by post-structuralist idea of binary opposition, the self and the other, queer theory questions the normality of heterosexuality as the only acceptable and available sexual practice, attempts to unearth the reasons why heterosexuality came into practice as normal, and try to answer why and how all other sexual practices are banished to the level of stigmatization. This also concentrates on establishing a positive queer identity.
In the West, queer theory is already an established discourse within academic scholarship, with Universities introducing courses on the subject, with publications of numerous books and journals, and with the influences of critics like Michel Foucault and Eve Sedgwick.
In India, the subject is still taboo.
My immediate point of reference, which initiated this study, is the publication of two books on Indian alternative sexual identity, published in the year 1999 and 2000 respectively. Yaraana: Gay Writing from India, edited by Hoshang Merchant, and Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai.
Unlike the West, there is no theory of homosexuality in India. That is the reason why I am following Western Queer Theory as my theoretical base. From the vast realm of Western Queer Theory, from now famous Greek acceptability of homosexuality to Foucault, I am discussing two individual theories from two different critics: Jonathan Dollimore (the theory of perversion), and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (the theory of closet and coming out, and homophobia). My plan is to discuss these theories in Indian context and on the basis of these, seek to formulate a theory on Indian gay identity.
To achieve this end, I am discussing few selected gay Indian English poems. I call these Indian English poems as they are originally written in English. I call them gay poems, as they are part of an anthology, Yaraana that claims to be collection of gay writing from India.
I have divided my study into four chapters, which are further divided into several sub-chapters.
The first chapter is called Introduction to Queer Theory in India. In the first sub chapter, I have discussed the limitations and possibilities of this study, and research methodology. In the chapter 1.2, I have discussed in brief the origin and main theoretical stand of Western Queer Theory, how it began with the Stonewall riot in New York City in 1969, how it flourished in affinity with feminist movements, and how it split from feminist movement on ideological ground. I have also showed how the post structuralism influenced its theoretical idea of binaries. In chapter 1.3, I have discussed the scanty and limited existence of Queer Literature in India. Chapter 1.4 contains a critical appreciation of Yaraana, while in chapter 1.5 I have analyzed the theoretical and historical perspective of the book: Same-Sex Love in India.
The second chapter, which I call Sexual Perversion, contains 17 sub-chapters. In the chapter 2.1, I am trying to discuss the Western concept of perversion, which is essentially related to Christianity. In chapter 2.2, I am discussing the Western idea of sexual perversion, and how and why homosexuality was stigmatized in the West on the basis of its infertility. In the chapter 2.3, I am discussing Freud’s idea of sexual perversion and in the chapter 2.4 I am discussing homosexuality within the periphery of psychoanalysis. In chapter 2.5, I have discussed Michel Foucault as a critique to Freud, where he argues that heterosexuality is not the cause of sublimation of polymorphous perverse, as Freud would argue, but is the dominance of power that prevails in society. In chapter 2.6, discussing the Indian scenario, I have strived to point out how the Western concept of perversity does not fit into Indian context, because Indian material philosophy refuses to accept the entire notion of it. From sub-chapters 7 to sub-chapters 11, I have discussed selected Indian English poems by the following poets: Rakesh Ratti, Vikram Seth, Sultan Padamsee, R. Raj Rao, Dinyar Godrej, and Ian Iqbal Rashid. In the next six chapters, I have discussed different theories of binaries within sexual perversion. These are hetero/homo, good/evil, macho/effeminate, and man/hijra (phallus/less).
The third chapter is called The Concept of Closet and Coming Out. I have divided this chapter into ten sub-chapters. In the first sub-chapter, I have discussed how in the West, homosexuality has achieved an identity of its own. In the chapter 3.2, I have discussed the concept of homophobia. In the next chapter, I am trying to define the Indian context of homophobia, where homophobia is internalized. Unlike the West where homophobia is interpreted in terms of hetero-patriarchal attitude of the mainstream, in India, it is reflected upon the person concerned. The following chapters are devoted to the study of selected gay Indian English poems within this theoretical background.
I call my concluding chapter Indian Queer Theory: towards a Gay Paradigm. Within its structured invisibility, the gay issues have come into a position where one can freely talk about it. The Internet revolution has also turned to be innumerable help. But the main structure remains the same; it’s only getting sophisticated. But we may hope that in the near future the situation will change. To highlight my thesis, I have discussed the collection of poems by Hoshang Merchant, entitled, Hotel Golkonda as the high point of Indian queer identity, which is at once unique and different from its Western counterparts.
( Contents (
( Chapter One (
( Introduction to Queer Theory (in India) (
General Introduction: Research Methodology and Limitations of this Dissertation
Introduction to Queer Theory
The Emerging Indian Queer Theory/Literature
Yaraana: Heralding the ‘Gay’ Age in Indian Literature
Same Sex Love in India: Redefining the History
The Western Theory of Perversion
Sexual Perversion: Reproduction vs. Infertility
Freudian Theory of Perversion
Psychoanalysis and Homosexuality
Foucault and After: the Homosexual Species
The Indian Perversion: the Sex/less Generalization
Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta”: Searching for a Different Marriage
R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”: Public Space vs. Private Desire
Ian Rashid’s “An/other Country”: Ours vs. Theirs, and the Politics of Colour
Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine”: Not Mistress Nor Wife, But
Dinyar Godrej’s “Desire Brings Sorrow”: Pining for What is Not
Vikram Seth’s “from The Golden Gate”: Religion vs. Material Logic
Sexual Perversions in Binaries
The Theory of ‘Closet’ and ‘Coming Out’
From Homosexual to Gay: from Closet to the World
Homophobia and the Defense against Same-Sex Love
Trying to Hide the Truth: Homophobia in India
Homosocial and Anti-Homophobic Accounts in Selected Gay Indian English Poems
Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine”
Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium”
S. Anand’s “Poems From A Vacation”
R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”
Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta”: Desire vs. Duty
Hoshang Merchant’s “Hotel Golkonda”: Redefining ‘Closet’ and ‘Coming Out’
( Chapter Four (
( Conclusion (
Queer Theory in India: Towards a Gay Paradigm
A Study of Gay Indian English Poetry: Art vs. Propaganda: the Findings
Introduction to Queer Theory (in India)
1. 1. General Introduction:
Research Methodology and Limitations to the Study
This section can be termed as an apology for Indian queer identity. The topic is so diverse and abstract that one needs to explain one’s scope, and periphery. Today in the West, Queer Studies as a discourse, has found its place in academic circles, thanks to the theories put forward by prominent thinkers like Foucault and Sedgwick; in India, queer studies is still an unmentionable subject in the academic arena. There have been discussions on gay issues, but in most cases these have taken place at non-academic level. Otherwise, there have not been many discussions about the real issues regarding homosexuality in India. People hate to talk about it, lest society should question their moral propriety, and the subject is taboo among the academic intelligentsia. However it’s time we stopped pretending and confronted the issue head on. It is prevalent at every level of society. This has been proved by several studies conducted, which I will talk about in the following pages.
Homosexuality is a reality in India. The survival, popularity and circulation rates of Bombay Dost, India’s first and only gay magazine may be cited as evidence. The magazine is running in its twelfth year and is still going steady. Another proof of homosexuality in India is the reports published in newspapers and newsmagazines from time to time. The media caters to news as diverse as the marriage between two women in Madhya Pradesh, to the private lives of celebrities who are supposed to be gay. Their approach to a great extent is to generate scandal, and in most cases they fail to go beyond the superficial.
Most significantly, what is keeping the gay reality in India alive is the gay groups, gay liberation organizations, and various NGOs scattered all over India. The most prominent of these all is the Humsafar Trust that works for gay men, and HIV positive men and also deals with other health related issues.
Thus, my argument is that, though homosexuality in India is a reality, no serious study of it has been undertaken yet, at least at the academic level. There have been no attempts to discuss queer issues within Indian context. This makes the present study imperative.
The immediate point of reference in this dissertation is the publication of two important books on queer studies, published in the year 1999 and 2000 respectively: Yaraana: Gay Writing from India, edited by Hoshang Merchant; and Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai. Both the books attempt to unearth the root and reality of homosexuality in India. While Yaraana deals with the present-day writings by Indian authors covering the grey area of gay reality, Same-Sex Love in India travels back to remote historical past, and tries to establish the existence of homosexuality in ancient India by rereading the scriptures in a new light. It also tries to relate the past with present, and attempts to show how homosexuality was suppressed during the colonial rule, and how the present day writers are coming out to write about the subject in both positive and homophobic vein. In all, it traces homosexuality in India from past to present and argues that homosexuality was/is a part and parcel of Indian life. A detailed study of both the books is undertaken in sub-chapters 1.4 and 1.5 of the present chapter.
Speaking of Queer Theory in India, there is no such theory at present. In her introduction to Queering India , Ruth Vanita writes, giving the example of Deepa Mehta’s film Fire, how there is no word in Indian languages to describe same-sex love. This study is a humble attempt to find out if one can formulate a theory of Indian homosexuality within academic scholarship. As this is only an M. Phil. dissertation, it makes the scope of my study narrower. From the vast mass of material, ancient scriptures, narratives, pamphlets, stories, novels, and poems, both in English and other regional languages, I have selected only a few poems originally written in English as my primary source-material. Most of the poems I refer to are selected from Yaraana, but there are a few poems from other sources as well. These are: Ian Iqbal Rashid’s poem “An/other Country” from the collection Black Market, White Boyfriend and Other Acts of Elision , and Hotel Golkonda by Hoshang Merchant. Hence, the dissertation is called, Queer Theory in India: A Study of Gay Indian English Poetry.
My plan here is to study these poems in the light of Queer Theory; in the process try to conceptualize the reality of Indian homosexuality. The majority of the poems I have selected are part of the anthology Yaraana , which describes itself as a collection of gay writing from India. Thus, by selecting these poems, which are originally defined as gay, I am trying to bypass the debate as to whether these poems can be read as gay poems. Though there are many ways of describing English language literature in India, I prefer to call it Indian writing in English, as I find what K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar has to say, appropriate.
My endeavour is towards formulating a theory of homosexuality in India. However, I have to make this clear at this point, that I am discussing only Indian male homosexuality. I have left out the community of gay women (or Lesbians), which also deserves attention, as far as the topic of homosexuality is concerned (See, Facing the Mirror ). At the same time, I am also unable to discuss the complexities of the hijra community in India, except for some passing remarks. Again, I am not considering the issue of transvestism, which also forms an important component of queer identity.
As there is no existing theory of homosexuality in India, I am primarily referring to Western Queer Theory as my immediate source of theoretical reference. From the immeasurable and sundry realms of Western Queer Theory (from the now famous Greek acceptability of homosexuality, to Freud, Foucault, Oscar Wilde, Andre Gide, Jean Genet, Eve Sedgwick and host of other critics), I am studying only two theories of male homosexuality, borrowed from Jonathan Dollimore and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick respectively. The theories are: Sexual Perversion (Dollimore), and the concept of closet and coming out (Sedgwick).
In his book, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault , Dollimore talks about the existence and practice of homosexuality which is at once sustained and dominated by the mainstream in order to maintain its heterosexual facade. This is the main theme that forms the crux of my second chapter. After searching for different possibilities and reasons for this sustenance and dominance of homosexuality, I attempt to discuss the concept within the material socio-political context of India. I propose demonstrate how Indian culture caters to this concept of dominance, and ask, if it follows the same system of dominance as in the West, or it is different from the Western concept of perversion.
In the second chapter, I am discussing the concept of closet and coming out in the context of gay identity in India. In her celebrated book, Epistemology of the Closet , Sedgwick defines the meaning of closet, and shows how closet, which is supposed to have a strong homosexual base, is originally a heterosexual mainstream invention. Thus, Sedgwick theorizes on how closet is inseparably linked to an individual’s coming out. Sedgwick asks a very pertinent question: to how many people does a gay come out as gay? Sedgwick goes on to show how the number is limited, because of society’s innate homophobia, both outside and within. Giving examples from various incidents and case studies in America, she argues that it is not the people who identify themselves as gay who confine themselves willingly in closet, but it is society at large that creates closet. This makes the act of coming out an important step in establishing a queer identity. In my study, I am trying to show how coming out of the closet is all the more difficult in Indian context, as, in India the very existence of homosexuality is denied by the mainstream. In India, the talk about homosexuality in its present form begun under the colonial rule, which also imported the seed of homophobia from England. The talk about Wilde’s homosexuality went hand-in-hand with the talk of his being a pervert. Thus, it happens that in India, the experience of homosexuality is viewed by the mainstream with a homophobic eye.
This is an academic study to the core. My aim is to discuss the twin concepts of sexual perversion and homophobia, in the light of Indian gay experience. To achieve this, I am discussing selected gay Indian English poems, applying Dollimore’s theory of sexual perversion, and Sedgwick’s theory of homophobia. While discussing the poems as the manifestation of gay experience in India, I attempt to see as to what extent Western Queer Theory fits into Indian context. For, the socio-religious culture of the West is different. While in the West, the origin of homosexuality as sexual perversion is rooted in Christianity (note the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah), and the development of post-Christian society, in India, the concept is altogether different. Whereas in the West, homosexuality is spoken of as an instance of the negative other, in India, the concept itself is nonexistent. Here, I am trying to formulate the differences, and on the basis of these differences, I am trying to invent a theory of homosexuality in India. While doing so, I am not trying to unearth the reality of homosexual experience in India, except for references to the poems I have cited. Most of these poems deal with personal experiences, and while studying them I am trying to place them in a broader socio-cultural perspective. While doing so, I am not following the course of various gay liberation organizations and for that matter, gay literature in general. While most gay liberation organizations in India are trying to cope with the homophobic environment by politicising the issue, most Indian literature on the subject tries to put forward the view that homosexuality was always present in India and in different forms and guises. It then goes on to discuss the factors that led to the present situation. I am only referring to those poems, which fit my theoretical base.
Like feminism, Queer Theory is also based upon the center-periphery divide. The central binary here is hetero/homo; hetero as the positive self and homo as its negative other. I am using heterosexuality not only as a sexual practice, but also as a concept that defines homosexuality, and vice versa. I am using words like heteropatriarchy, patriarchy, heterosexism and mainstream to mean more or less the same idea, a mode of systemic oppression prevalent in society, which puts forward the norms and ensures that everybody follows them. Similarly, though in the Western Queer Theory the words homosexual and gay have two distinct meanings, in some occasions I am using both the terms synonymously.
Thus, this study follows a three-fold step:
explanation of the twin theories of sexual perversion, and closet and homophobia
attempt to find an Indian counterpart for these theories
analyze selected poems in the light of theories already discussed.
For the purpose of this study, I am using the word the West to mean the Western cultural force, the culture of America and Europe, with strong Christian base, and to mean everything other than Indian. By India, I mean the current Indian society with a strong Hindu cultural base.
2. Introduction to Queer Theory
In the West, Queer Theory as a discourse within academia emerged prominently only in the 1990s. This is proved by the fact that there was no reference to Queer Theory in Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983). But the growing significance and acceptance of this new field of learning in the West is indicated by the presence of a specialized lesbian and gay studies section in some mainstream bookshops and publishers’ academic catalogues; and by the establishment of relevant graduate and undergraduate courses.
The origin of Queer Theory is intermingled with Gender Studies and Gay/Lesbian Studies. Thus, according to Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan there are three broad areas of work in literary and cultural theory.
an assessment of the history of oppression of gays, lesbians and practitioners of sexualities other than those considered normal by mainstream heterosexuality.
an investigation of the countercultures of gay and lesbian writing that existed along with the dominant heterosexual discourse.
an analysis of the instability and indeterminacy of all gender identity, according to which, even normal heterosexuality appears as a kind of panicked closure forced on a variable, contingent, and multiple sexuality, whose mobility and potentiality is signalled by the worlds of possibility opened by gays and lesbians.
While writing on Gay/Lesbian Studies, (as it was called before came to be known as Queer Theory) Peter Barry argues that this theory is not of exclusive interest to gays and lesbians alone, and like feminist criticism, has wider significances. It is obvious that not all literary criticism written by women is feminist, not all books about women writers are feminist, feminist writing need not be only by women, and feminist criticism is not directed exclusively at a female readership. Same way, books about gay writers or by gay critics are not necessarily a part of lesbian and gay studies, nor are books that are part of this field, directed solely at a gay readership, or relevant only to gay sexuality.
Saying this, Peter Barry asks, what, then, is the purpose of Gay/Lesbian Theory? Accordingly, this theory does for sex and sexuality, what women’s studies does for gender. The defining feature of Queer Theory is that it makes sexual orientation a fundamental category of analysis and understanding. Like feminist criticism, it also has social and political objectives, particularly, as an oppositional design upon society, for it is informed by the resistance of homophobia, fear and hatred against homosexuality, and heterosexism, the ideological and institutional practice of heterosexual privilege.
To Peter Barry, Gay/Lesbian Theory starts with an attempt to fight the essentialism of heterosexist ideals. It contradicts the regime of, what Adrienne Rich called, compulsory heterosexuality. It correlates the banishment of alternative sexual practices and the violation of those who bear non-heterosexual gender identities. Thus, if men were to behave in accordance with the norms of compulsory heterosexuality and not engage in sexual practices that question their masculinity, friendship would be suspect and male homosexuality forbidden. People like Oscar Wilde, who is deemed guilty of challenging this socio-cultural dominance, would be an object of slander, if not violence. And all of this would be called normality while all of that would be stigmatized as perversion.
The path-breaking work of anthropologists like Gayle Rubin and historians like Alan Bray and Michel Foucault point out that gender is variable: in history and between societies, there is variation in the ways of practising sex. Sexual practices like anal intercourse, intercourse between women, fellatio, and cunnilingus are coded differently in different societies throughout history. Anal intercourse and fellatio between men were common in 5th century BC Greek society, and only later (in the late 19th century, according to Foucault ) would they be discovered to be signs of an identifiable perversion. Christianity stands between the two dates or sites and probably has a great deal to do with how non-reproductive sexual practices became stigmatized over time . Speaking of this, Gayle Rubin writes:
“The writings of 19th century sexology suggest the appearance of a kind of erotic speciation… (They) were witnessing the emergence of new kinds of erotic individuals and their aggression into rudimentary communities. The modern sexual system contains sets of these sexual populations, stratified by the operation of an ideological and social hierarchy… Homosexuality is the best example of this process of sexual speciation. Homosexual behaviour is always present among humans. But in different societies and epochs it may be rewarded and punished, required and forbidden, a temporary experience or a life long vocation”.
In Gay/Lesbian Theory, the main critical approach is borrowed from the post-structuralist works of 1980s. One of the main features of post-structuralism is to deconstruct the binary opposition, showing, firstly, that the distinction between paired opposites is not absolute, since each term in the pairing can only be understood and defined in terms of the other; and secondly, that, it is possible to reverse the hierarchy within such pairs, giving privilege to the second term rather than the first. Hence, in Queer Theory, the pair heterosexual/homosexual is deconstructed.
Thus, Barry points out that identity categories like gay and straight, tend to be devices of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for libaratory contestation of that very oppression. Hence, it might be argued that the concept of homosexuality is itself part of homophobic discourse. Indeed, the term homosexual is a medical one, first used in 1869 in Germany, preceding the invention of the corresponding term heterosexual by eleven years. Here, heterosexuality only comes into being as a consequence of the crystallization of the notion of homosexuality.
Proceeding further, Barry argues that all identities including gender identities are a kind of impersonation and approximation—a kind of imitation for which there is no original. What is called into question here is the distinction between the naturally given, normative self of heterosexuality and the rejected other of homosexuality. The other of this formulation is as much something within us, as beyond us, and, self and other are always implicated in each other in the root sense of the word, which means to be intertwined or folded into each other. As basic psychology shows, what is identified as the external other is usually a part of self, which is rejected and hence projected outwards.
According to Peter Barry, the following is the list of things that gay/lesbian critics do:
Identify and establish a canon of classic lesbian/gay writers whose work constitutes a distinct tradition.
Identify lesbian/gay episodes in mainstream work and discuss them as such, rather than reading same-sex pairing in non-specific ways, for instance, as symbolising two aspects of the same character.
Set up an extended metaphorical sense of lesbian/gay, so that it connotes a moment of crossing a boundary, or blurring a set of categories. All such liminal moments mirror the moment of self-identification as lesbian or gay, which is necessarily an act of conscious resistance to establish norms and boundaries.
Expose the homophobia of mainstream literature and criticism, as seen in the ignoring and denigrating of the homosexual aspect of the work of major canonical figures.
Foreground homosexual aspects of mainstream literature, which have previously been glossed over; for example, the representation of same-sex pairs in classics: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday, and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Foreground literary genres previously neglected, which significantly influenced ideals of masculinity or feminity, such as 19th century adventure stories with a British Empire setting, or Hollywood Western movies.
The stepping-stone in the realm of Queer Theory was a rebellion, against the harassment by New York police to people of alternative sexual preferences, now famously known as the Stonewall riot. This insurrection of 1968 unleashed a fresh excuse for the debate on homosexuality within both a political and theoretical framework, like the feminist movements.
This simply is one of the reasons why in the late 1960s and early 1970s, gay/lesbian movements sprouted in affinity with the feminists who were concerned with issues of sexuality and gender. In one sense, both the movements shared the same oppressor: the dominant male heterosexual. But there were grounds for differences too.
Things began to change at ideological level (differences within feminism between sexual identity and gender identity) and gay/lesbian movement emerged as independent movement. Gay/lesbian scholars during the 1970s and 1980s began to wipe away the veneer of chauvinism that had made it impossible, before the Stonewall riot, to read the history of queer literature, or to investigate how gay and lesbian life and experience were distorted in cultural history. Some of this early work includes, Guy Hocquengham’s research on the psychology of homophobia, Jeffrey Weeks’s history of coming out, Richard Dyer’s investigation of representations of gays and lesbians in film, Terry Castle’s study of things not fit to be mentioned in 18th century literature, Lillian Faderman’s work on love between women in the Renaissance, and most importantly, the first volume of Foucault’s History of sexuality , where Foucault has argued that homosexuality is a social, medical, and ontological category invented, and imposed on sexual practices in the late 19th century which, prior to this point, had enjoyed a scientific scrutiny. Thus, these works provide impetus to the idea that the modern heterocentric gender culture finds itself on the face of non-reproductive sexual alternatives that are in fact present everywhere in human society.
In the mid or late 1970s and in the early 1980s, a new field of gender studies constituted itself in conjunction with gay/lesbian studies. It put forward the theory that heterosexuality can be understood as forming a continuum with homosexuality, in that, such ideals as heterosexual masculinity seem inseparable from a panic component, a turn from a certain homosexuality that helps construct heterosexuality. In Between Men, Eve Sedgwick points out that male heterosexual desire is always modeled on another male’s desire and always has a homosocial base. The male bonding that covers patriarchy is necessarily homophilic and forms a continuum with homosexuality.
Somewhere around this time, a tendency of separatism entered gay/lesbian studies based on the logic that as women, lesbians suffer a double oppression (as women, and as homosexuals). This ideology was theorized mainly by Monique Witting and Luce Irigaray . Irigaray argues that lesbian women can only exist as such in a world of their own, apart form patrocentric culture.
In the year 1990, Eve Sedgwick published her celebrated work Epistemology of the Closet. Sedgwick contemplates that one cannot logically separate men-loving-men, within patriarchy, from homosexuality. This theory signifies that sexuality and gender are variable and indeterminate; they do not align with simple polarities and can take multiple, highly differentiated forms. In 1994, Lee Edelman’s Homographesis applied deconstructive theory to the question of gay identity and the issue of recognizability. The gay is a homograph, someone who stimulates the normality of masculinity or heterosexuality, only to displace them as grounding ontological categories.
The real brief of Queer Theory as an important branch of learning was formulated in the mid 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic emerged as a fatal blow, killing many people in the gay community. Queer Theory provided gays and lesbians with a common platform around which to unite, and it also became a more radical way of calling attention to the issues raised by them. Queer Theory adopted a term of stigmatization (queer being a derogatory word) and turned it against the perpetrator by transforming it into a token of pride. The shift in nomenclature also indicates a shift in the analytic strategy, for now, gay/lesbian theories have begun to explore the queerness of supposedly normal sexual culture.
1.3. The Emerging Indian Queer Theory/Literature
As I will be stressing throughout my study, Indian homosexuality sprouted at the same time as the recognition of homophobia in the colonial rule. Thus, writings on homosexuality in India have had to face the repercussions of homophobic discrimination. Another blow to homosexuality in India is the seriousness with which family life is viewed. Vanita and Kidwai write:
“(In…) India, the parental family remains a major locus of social and emotional interaction for adults. There are few public places where people can comfortably interact, so friends are entertained at home and absorbed into the family or turned into fictive kin. The family is also the only form of social security and old-age insurance available to most people. This means that heterosexual marriage and parenthood hold many attractions even for homosexually inclined people. Many deal with the dilemma by marrying and then leading a double life. But the double life that was more socially viable in earlier periods now has to be more hidden since the domestic space has become more fiercely contested.”
As a result, homosexuality remains an unexplored subject, and when there are references to homosexuality, they often wear a homophobic garb. Thus, in 1947, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s Malayalam novel Shabdangal (Voices) was condemned as immoral, because it depicted male homosexuality. It told the story of a soldier, and his love for a cross-dressed male. At the end, the soldier dies in a sexually transmitted disease. Likewise, Kamleshwar’s Hindi novel Ek Sadask Sattavan Galiyan created a tumult because it depicted a truck driver and a part time bandit keeping a young man. Here too, like the soldier in Basheer’s novel, the protagonist is not a part of the mainstream, but an outlaw. In Chandrakant Khote’s Marathi novel Ubhayan Vai Avyaya (1970), the protagonist’s addiction to anal sex is depicted as a bad habit similar to liquor and drugs. Of course, examples like these were few and far between. There was no pro-gay fiction, and most of the time the author/s failed to understand the complexities of queer issues. For them, homosexuality was just another form of evil. By depicting homosexuality in their fiction, they tried to teach their readers not to follow what their protagonist did and be doomed!
The studied silence maintained by the Indian academic intelligentsia on the subject of homosexuality can be cited as a reason for the homophobic attitudes represented in fiction. With a few notable exceptions, Indian academics always contributed to the myth that homosexuality is unknown in India, by ignoring it completely.
This leads us to conclude that original studies on the subject in India have been done outside academies. One important book in this respect is The World of Homosexuals by Shakuntala Devi. Apart from recounting personal narratives of what it means to be in closet in India, the book goes on to survey the scholarship on homosexuality in history, law, psychiatry, religion, and culture, with a detailed account of various surveys conducted in the West, including the Kinsey Reports. The book ends with a call for decriminalization as well as full and complete acceptance- - - - not tolerance and not sympathy by the heterosexual population, which will enable homosexuals to come out of hiding and lead dignified, secure lives.
In 1991, the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan, known as ABVA, conducted a study on homosexuality and published the findings in a booklet entitled Less than Gay. The report contains interviews with a number of homosexuals, most of them under assumed names; it also surveys the Indian legal, social, medical, and cultural context of homosexuality, and attempts to answer prevalent myths about homosexuality and AIDS. Furthermore, it also presents summaries of western scholarship on these subjects. After listing many problems faced by homosexuals in India, such as the pressure to marry, opposition to their living with their lovers, misinformation and prejudice, lack of spaces to meet and socially interact, and enforced silence and invisibility, the booklet concludes with a charter of demands including decriminalizing consensual homosexuality, inclusion of homosexual rape in the anti-rape laws, inclusion of sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination section of the Indian constitution, amending the special marriage act to allow same-sex marriage, non-coercive anonymous HIV testing facilities, non-heterosexual sex education and AIDS education.
The 1990s saw the publication of several anthologies, which concerned themselves with gay and lesbian experiences. These anthologies not only tried to make a case for homosexual experience in India by trying to locate its roots within our ancient socio-cultural framework, but they also encouraged personal narratives of queer experience. Rakesh Ratti’s A Lotus of Another Color , is an anthology made up of autobiographical accounts of diasporic South Asians. The book tries to highlight among other things, how being gay abroad amounts to becoming a minority within a minority within a minority, first being brown, then a foreigner, and then gay. The editor Ratti stresses how the politics of colour also plays an important role within the framework of gay identity. In 1996, Giti Thadani’s Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India appeared; here the author argues that same-sex love between women was a reality even in ancient India. Ashwini Sukthankar’s Facing the Mirror: Lesbian writing in India is a collection of fiction, poetry and autobiographical accounts by a wide range of lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender women. On the other hand, Yaraana: Gay Writing from India is a collection of contemporary writings on gay male experience, edited by Hoshang Merchant.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, English language newspapers in India printed gay-related stories mostly with reference to the West. These ranged from the report on Hollywood icon Rock Hudson’s homosexuality, to reports on gay liberation movements in Western countries, including rallies, changes in the law, and same-sex marriages were also published.
With regard to Indian society, the reports that appeared were mostly of sensational events, like attempted suicide by young women who left notes saying that they chose to die together because their families forbade them to live together. Though sympathetic and free of homophobia, these reports were sketchy and without a follow-up.
Another kind of writing was found in the so called agony aunt columns, published in women’s magazines as well as Sunday supplements of dailies, in which, usually, some unqualified counsellor or celebrity, such as a TV star, responded to readers seeking advice on personal problems. Here, the biases of pseudo-Freudian homophobia are much clearer, with the person who reported homosexual feelings and desires usually being advised to seek medical help or actively resist such desires by seeking out company of opposite sex!
After the mid-1980s, these accounts continued, but the scale and emphasis changed. New areas of writing also appeared. Reports of lesbian suicides were complemented by relatively in-depth reports of Indian lesbian weddings. The wedding of two policewomen, Leela and Urmila, in 1987, caught the public imagination and was widely reported, with front-page photographs. Even the agony aunt column achieved a face-lift. While some counsellors continued to assume a homophobic stance, others encouraged the questioners to explore their sexual identity and accept their homosexuality, arguing that it was no longer considered abnormal or sick.
Also new were the interviews with Indian celebrities who openly acknowledge their homosexuality. This included interviews with gay journalist Ashok Row Kavi, the founder of Bombay Dost, who was one of the earliest to make open statement about his sexual orientation (Savvy, April 1986), the famous painter Bhupen Khakhar (The Indian Express, March 10, 1996), and Delhi theatre personality Barry John.
In 1990s many reports on Indian sexual behaviour, including homosexuality were published. These reports attempted to portray the everyday lives of ordinary people, not just the sensational and extraordinary. Thus, some individuals as well as magazines have conducted sex surveys and reported the results. One of the earliest of these, conducted in Madras by the sexologist Narayana Reddy, was reported in India Today on December 31, 1982. Thirteen percent of men said they preferred sex with men. Outlook magazine conducted a survey among urban, English reading married couple in eight cities and reported that thirty percent thought homosexuality was normal; fifty-eight percent thought it was not, and sixteen percent did not answer.
While homophobic fiction continues to be produced in the 1990s, it is countered by a spate of new positive representations of homosexuality. Among these are Nisha da Cunha and Vikram Chandra’s English stories “La Loire Noire” and “Artha” respectively. While da Cunha’s story recounts the protagonist’s grief as his French lover is dying of AIDS, in Chandra’s story a Muslim software professional gets on a search for his long-term Hindu lover who, it turns out, has been murdered by the mafia in riot-torn Bombay.
A new genre of openly gay writing has emerged, including Mahesh Dattani’s plays, Hoshang Merchant’s poems (including, Hotel Golkonda ), and R. Raj Rao’s short story collection One Day I Locked My Flat in Soul City . Bhupen Khakhar’s Gujarati stories and plays depict the everyday lives of working and middle class homosexual males, mostly married. Leslie de Noronha’s novel, Dew Drop Inn depicts the successful lives of three young men in Bombay and Delhi, while P. Parivaraj’s novel, Shiva and Arun depicts two young men discovering their homosexuality in a small town in south India. Another example of this new wave of Indian writing in English is the openly gay Parsi writer Firdaus Kanga, whose autobiography Trying to Grow was made into the film, Sixth Happiness by Waris Hussein. Homosexual episodes occurred in novels by other writes such as Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. In Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh there is an episode where the character Aires De Gama escapes from his newly married bride to meet his male lover, wearing his wife’s wedding dress!
1.4. Yaraana: Heralding the ‘Gay’ Age in Indian Literature
What gives Yaraana a different standing among Indian queer literature, is the fact that for the first time the book is trying to formulate a concept of gay literature in India. The book is not a collection of autobiographical accounts or re-readings of history. Instead, Yaraana offers the fictional representation of gay reality in India. The pieces collected in the book are mostly short stories, plays, poems, and excerpts from novels. However, the book also contains Ashok Row Kavi’s memoir as a crusader of gay activism, and Hoshang Merchant’s first person account of his gay childhood; pieces which can be considered as autobiographies. Though most pieces are originally written in English, there are some translations too, collected from the gamut of Indian writing in regional languages: translation of Firaq Gorakhpuri’s Urdu Gazal “Public Meeting and Parting as Private Acts”, excerpts from Kamaleshwar, Vishnu Khandekar, Iqbal Mateen, Gyansingh Shatir, and Bupen Khakhar’s fiction, and translation of Namdeo Dhasal’s poem “Gandu Bagicha.”
About the purpose of the book, the editor Merchant is very sure. He writes:
“‘For whom will you write your book?’ the anti-intellectual working class American gays taunted me at a `70s rally. ‘For the gays,’ I’d then said. ‘But the gays already know it all’. (‘They are living in it’, was what was meant.) Then I said: ‘I’ll write for the straights’. I still think gays can use this book better than straights. Liberation, like charity, begins at home.”
However, book is for all, and it is about those people who willingly or unwillingly choose to follow an alternative sexual orientation. The editor of the book feels no qualms to note that the book heralds a historic moment in terms of coming into its own and bursting upon the world’s consciousness:
“I am humbled to have been entrusted with defining the historic moment for India’s homosexuals through their literature, old and new, heroic or pedestrian, lovely and lovelorn or rough and ironic. … What is remarkable is the number of genres homosexual writing encompasses and the easy transition from one genre to another in a single piece of work by taboo-breaking lives. Literatures have no sex and poems have no sex organs. There is only good writing or bad writing. India’s homosexuals have produced a lot of good writing, over the centuries a veritable feast. Here’s a sampling.”
In his autobiographical piece, Ashok Row Kavi writes about his personal journey in terms of identifying his sexual orientation, and demonstrates how it turned into a political cause for him, and how he found his support in unlikely places.
Mahesh Dattani’s play Night Queen is a bold attempt at fighting against internal homophobia, or what Hoshang Merchant calls, “a state of voluntary mental self-castration.” It denotes the fear of a homosexually inclined man who refuses to identify his own sexual orientation, lest society ostracize him. In the play, Ash’s is a case of dual existence: at once gay and homophobic. He is unable to follow his desires for fear of his brother, and this frustration turns into a sadistic homophobia. Being gay himself, Ash’s is a case of conflict between instinct and intellect. He meets a stranger, Raghu, at night and sadistically abuses him. All hell breaks loose when Raghu turns out to be the brother of the girl Ash is going to marry. In the play, the night queen and the snake under it, are symbols of forbidden desire. The symbol itself alludes to the biblical myth of the forbidden fruit. Ash confesses how he was fascinated by his brother, and how his brother forbade him to follow his desires:
“… The next evening he took me out. To the park. He showed me those guys, looking around, waiting for a sexual partner. A stranger. He told me how unhappy and miserable they were. They looked unhappy and miserable to me. And ugly. And I didn’t want to be a part of that. I didn’t want to be so ugly and repulsive! …”
Dattani plays with the word ugly, and in the end, Raghu makes Ash believe the fact that they (gays) were not ugly, but people like his brother, who after all could not help him in dealing with his psychosexual trauma.
The book is complete with editor Merchant’s vocal argument that Indian queer identity is different from the bourgeois West.
1. 5. Same Sex Love in India: Redefining History
The editors Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai has put forth a groundbreaking effort trying to relocate the roots of homosexual history in India. What is intriguing about the book, in the first place, is the use of the adjective same-sex love. The editors have a valid reason to do so:
“A primary and passionate attachment between two persons … may or may not be acted upon sexually. For this reason our title focuses on love, not sex… Nor does it seem particularly important to try to establish such facts, especially ideas of what is sexual and what is not change [sic] with place and time. We are more interested in how, at different times and places, primary passionate and romantic attachments between men and between women were viewed—whether they were accepted as an inevitable part of human experience, glorified as admirable and imitable, or vilified as strange and abnormal.”
The book is divided into three sections: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, with the ancient running from the Vedic Period (ca. 1500 B. C.) up to approximately the eight century A. D.; the medieval up to the establishment of British rule in the late 18th century; and the modern from then onwards.
Speaking about ancient Indian material on same-sex love, Ruth Vanita writes that The Rig Veda Samhita (ca. 1500 B. C.) presents an ideal of friendship as a very sacred relation. While it represents man-woman relations as oriented towards procreation, it depicts friendship not as reproductive but as creative. Vanita explains this by giving the example of Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahabharata. While they both had their respective wives, they were emotionally attached to each other. Quoting from the scripture, Vanita is trying to show that their love was more than just friendship; but this implication was shadowed later on by moral issues, like the war between Good and Evil, and the metaphysical question of Nara and Narayana, the divine and the human. The narrator of the Mahabharata, Sage Vyasa, explains that Narayana is the creator of the universe who produced his equal, the great sage Nara, by his austerities. If Krishna is Narayana, this logic easily explains the oneness between Krishna with Arjuna, who is Nara. Thus, Krishna informs:
“…. I shall not be able to cast my eyes, even for a single moment, on the earth bereft of Arjuna. … Know that Arjuna is half of my body”.
Though it celebrates filial, parental and marital love and fidelity, a persistent strain in the Mahabharata represents conjugality and parenthood as obstacles to the love of friends, which, for men, may symbolize the path to perfection. Though some stories represent salvation as unattainable without marriage and procreation, yet asceticism is often represented as the highest and most powerful state, conducive to true as opposed to illusory happiness.
Ruth Vanita argues that in the Mahabharata, friendship is always revered, in comparison to the love for offspring. In contrast to the selfless love of friends, the love of parents for children is often portrayed as self-seeking. Bhishma describes a man who goes to women for the sake only of offspring as one who overcomes all difficulties. In one of his accounts, Bhishma tells Yudhishthira that sex and marriage came into being only when the human race degenerated. In the earliest times people lived as long as they chose and:
“Sexual congress, … was then not necessary for perpetuating the species. In those days offspring were begotten by the fiat of the will. In the age that followed, Treta, children were begotten by touch alone. The people of that age, even ...were above the necessity of sexual congress. It was in the next age, Dwapara, that the practice of sexual congress originated, …to prevail among men. In the kali age, …men have come to marry and live in pairs”.
If late 19th century European sexologists invented terms such as invert, the third sex and homosexual, the Kama Sutra invented term the third nature which refers to a man who desires other men. The Sastras, the legal and medical texts of ancient times often ignore the complexities of same-sex love, and when the subject is broached, it is discussed non-judgementally. In the Arthasastra, there is a category called ayoni, or non-vaginal sex, which, whether with a man or a woman, is punishable with the first fine, which was the lowest of all fines (see, Vanita and Kidwai). While homosexuality was unsanctioned, it was treated as a minor offence. The Manusmriti appears even less judgemental in its famous prescription that a man who has sex with a man, or with a woman in a cart pulled by a cow, in water or by day, should bathe with his clothes on (see, Vanita and Kidwai). Again, a man who sheds his semen in non-human females, in a man, in a menstruating woman, in something other than a vagina, or in water, has to perform a minor penance, which is also prescribed for stealing articles of little value. (see, Vanita and Kidwai)
According to Ruth Vanita, the concept of rebirth is the single most significant factor in the understanding of same-sex love in ancient India. The concept of previous births serves to legitimize actions perceived as improper in the present life. Between social acceptance and outright social rejection is the grey area made possible by the concept of rebirth. Rebirth makes categories and boundaries fluid, even those that appear biologically fixed, such as species and gender categories. Further, the basic Hindu idea, variously expressed, that the universal pervades all things, means that in the ultimate analysis nothing is abnormal and unnatural. In this context, people inclined to alternative sexual behaviours are also expressions of divine play or leela. Invocations to a particular god and goddess, when he or she is being identified with ultimate reality, often take the form of saying that she or he is everything, including the apparent opposite. Oppositions get resolved and are revealed as illusory in the universality and allness of God. Thus Shiva is addressed as follows:
“Thou art male, thou art female, thou art neuter”.
The book, Same-sex Love in India, has divided the mediaeval period into two parts: the Sankrtic Tradition and the Perso-Urdu Tradition. It was the time Islamic culture was taking roots in India. At the same time other Sanskrit based regional languages were developing. Still, Sanskrit was the dominant form of writing. Two important genres of this period in the Sanskritic Tradition were the Puranas and a new type of devotional literature called Bhakti Literature. One major tendency of medieval texts is a commentary on and exegesis of ancient canonical texts. This kind of commentary is often found in the texts generated by Bhakti. The idea that there are several paths to salvation is found in major Brahminical texts; one is the path of knowledge (Jnana), another the path of love (Prema). Both are variants of Bhakti.
Medieval devotion was directed not to the Vedic deities, but to the pantheon of Puranic Gods and Goddesses. The most remarkable feature of the medieval stories of deities is their multiplicity and variability. Almost any variation that can be imagined exists somewhere. Capable of taking on any form, the divine is made available in multiple ways. The same is the case with the ideas of undoing gender, sex change, same-sex love, and miraculous birth. If Shiva frequently represents the union of male and female principles (the Ardhanarishwara image where the deity has body that is a half-male, half-female, or Shiva and Parvati in fusion), he also represents the union of two males (the image of Harihara, which is all male, half-Shiva and half-Vishnu). The legend of the birth of Ayyappa from Shiva and Vishnu is a variant of the same theme.
In the closing years of tenth century Mughal invaders from the Middle East began to move into India from west of the Hindukush Mountains. These raiding migrants started a process of invasion that culminated in the establishment of kingdoms ruled by Muslims in India. They carried the Perso-Turko-Arabic cultural tradition into India. At the same time, they were influenced by the culture of the ruling elite and the wandering Sufis.
Writing on the Perso-Urdu tradition, Saleem Kidwai notes that the information available of this period overwhelmingly concerns men. Homoerotically inclined men are continuously visible in Muslim medieval histories, and are generally described without prejudice. One of the most important reasons for this visibility is the cosmopolitanism of urban Islamic culture. The flourishing towns and markets created a culture of the streets based on interaction between men. In those bazaars, men from different classes, castes and communities mingled. Here homoerotically inclined men met and established relations. Thus, Abru writes:
“Because Majnu was crazy he headed for the jungle
Clever is he who enjoys his time in the city”.
The Shariah, the unwritten law of Islam, defines homosexuality as a crime. The prophet Muhammad is supposed to have said:
“No man should look at the private parts of another man, and no women should look at the private parts of another women, and no two men sleep under one cover, and no two women sleep under one cover”.
“Whoever has intercourse with a woman and penetrates her rectum or with a man, or with a boy, will appear on the Last Day stinking worse than a corpse; people will find him unbearable until he enters hell fire and God will cancel all his good deeds”.
Though there were several punishments prescribed for homosexuality, such as death by stoning and flagellation, the number of strokes varying from ten to one hundred, the legal provisions were rarely implemented, since guilt was very difficult to establish.
According to Kidwai, though orthodox Muslim theologians in India insisted that the prophet recommended the harshest of punishments for homosexual sodomy, there is enough support in the Quran to make position untenable. He cites passages from the Quran where beautiful boys and houris are promised to the virtuous in heaven (Holy Quran, LII: 24; LVI: 24; LXXV: 19).
Despite the relentless position taken by the orthodox clergy, homoerotically inclined Muslim males have been visible within the community from its inception. The role played by the Sufis, the Muslim mystics may be cited as one of the important reasons. Islamic mysticism had developed a full-fledged institutional structure and become a movement by the time it spread to India. Unlike the orthodox Muslims who believed that adherence to dogma and conformity with the Shariah ensured salvation, Sufis believed that personal experience of divine love was the true way. Love is the core of Sufi spiritualism, music and poetry. In Sufi literature, the relation between divine and human was often expressed in homoerotic metaphors. Many Sufi saints insisted that only same-gender love could transcend sex as it does not distract the seeker from his ultimate aim of salvation. Worldly love (ishq-i-majazi) is only a bridge to reach divine love (ishq-i-haqiqi); so the loving gaze of the worldly beloved (mashuq) is pure.
The Persian poetic tradition influenced Persian and, later, Urdu poetry in India. Most of this poetry was produced by writers influenced by the Sufis. In this poetry, the Shahid (beloved) is invariably male. The Pirs’ (Sufi masters) establishments are all male, for according to Chisti Saint Jamaluddin Hanswi (died 1260), He who seeks the Lord is male… Similarly in Amir Khusro’s Hindvi (early form of Urdu) poetry, his Pir, Aulia Nizamuddin, is named as his beloved.
The Gazal, when it first appeared, followed the indigenous tradition of using a female voice and addressing a male as the beloved. Urdu, which replaced Persian as the high literary language, came into existence towards the end of the 17th century. Early Urdu contains a large body of homoerotic poetry. Urdu poetry was franker in its expression and closer to life in the period before the Sipoy Mutiny of 1857.
Among those whose poetry represents homoeroticism, Abru (ca. 1683-1733) and Mir Taqi Mir (ca. 1723-1810) are the most important. These poets developed a discourse of erotic commentary on young men.
Saying this, Kidwai feels that, those same-sex relationships involving men of different ages seem to over-power all discussion of mediaeval same-sex love. Most scholars discuss the theme of homosexual love only in the context of pederasty. Pederasty gave the classical Persian Gazal its main theme of a painful, unrequited and suicidal love, and this tradition, along with boy-love was transplanted into India, and into Urdu poetry. The sexual roles assumed by the lover and beloved are very rarely stated explicitly here.
In Same-sex Love in India, Vanita and Kidwai ascribes the beginning of modern homosexuality in India to the arrival of the British. The circumstances and consequences of what happened in colonial India in relation to homosexuality, I have discussed in length in the third sub-section of chapter three.
The poems I have chosen for this discussion are all selected from the anthology, Yaraana: Gay Writing from India , edited by Hoshang Merchant. These are “O Pomponia Mine!” and “Epithalamium” by Sultan Padamsee; “Poems From a Vacation” by S. Anand; “Underground” and “Opinion” by R. Raj Rao; “Beta” by Rakesh Ratti; “from The Golden Gate” by Vikram Seth; “Desire Brings Sorrow” by Dinyar Godrej, “An/Other Country” by Ian Iqbal Rashid, and Hotel Golkonda by Hoshang Merchant. The most remarkable aspect of all these poems (with the exception of R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”) is that at the core, they are very personal statements. All the poems are an attempt to come in terms with the poet’s own personal trauma of being gay. Through these poems, the poets are trying to struggle with their desires pitted against social norms. While trying to analyze these poems, I have endeavoured to read them as individual desire versus oppressive social norms.
There can be various approaches with which a poem can be read. After marking the poems I have selected, I discuss them within the theories of sexual perversion, and homophobia, concepts borrowed from Western Queer Theory. My main endeavour here is to discover if there is any possibility of discussing Indian homosexual literature in terms of western concepts. If not, I am trying to locate the differences; what makes Indian queer literature unique and worthy of study!
Having said this, I would also like to make it clear that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the theories I have discussed and the individual poems. The style and motifs of the individual poems discussed are different and varied, making it impossible to apply a particular theory to each and every poem. While R. Raj Rao’s “Underground” speaks about a gay utopia very much in the line of Western Queer Theory, Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta” unfolds the yearning of a son to fulfill his parents’ wishes, and at the same time give into his desires. Ratti’s poem is rooted in Indian traditional milieu, which cannot be dissected by Western Queer Theory. On the other hand, the poet narrator of Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine!” is playing tricks to hide his real identity as homosexual in a public place, namely, a hotel. The poet narrator of Hoshang Merchant’s Hotel Golkonda on the other hand celebrates both his queerness and the queerness of the place where he meets his lover, apparently a hotel, making a bold statement like ‘home is where the heart is’.
Thus the research project has not followed any specific method in discussing these poems, apart from those mentioned above. The reason for this is that to the best of my knowledge such a study has not been carried out in India previously. This limits the researcher’s possibility of formulating a methodology. The uniqueness of this research project is the project itself, which speaks about a taboo subject and tries to give it a justifiable place within the literary and academic scene.
2.1. The Western Theory of Perversion
1. Turn (a person or a thing) aside from its proper use or nature,
2. Misapply (words etc.),
3. Lead astray from right conduct or (esp. religious) beliefs, corrupt,
4. (As perverted adj.) showing perversion, perverted person esp. sexuality.
For the discussion of sexual perversion with the realm of Queer Theory, I am taking Jonathan Dollimore as my starting point. Dollimore discusses perversion as a concept that takes us to the heart of a fierce dialectic working through repression, demonizing displacement and struggle . Thus, According to Dollimore, perversion as a concept involves the following things:
1. An erring; straying, deviation or being deviated from,
A path, destiny or object, which is,
Understood as natural or right- usually right because natural.
Perversion is always discussed in contrast to that which is natural. There is always something central, something legitimate, something acceptable in the socio- cultural and political structure of human civilization. If one individual or a group of individuals slide away from this legitimate centre and start practising something else, which is not acceptable and hence unnatural, then they are deviating from the legitimate centre, which is natural. This transgression from natural to unnatural, legitimate to illegitimate, centre to periphery, is what perversion is all about.
Perversion is a physical and psychological state, where an individual or a group of individuals set out to perform an act, which is contrary to what is believed to be normal and natural. A question may arise here, as to what natural is? A thing is natural when the majority of the population has faith in it, and practices it with the consent of socio political and religious leaders of society. When one individual or a group of individuals doesn’t comply with these beliefs they are perverts. Perverts are ones who deviate from the normal, natural.
In the most obvious sense perversion is a negative term. It is often linked with sorcery, black magic and other things, which are evil. Good can be seen everywhere. It is open, accessible to all, clear like daylight. Theoretically there is nothing beyond goodness. When one deviates from good, he/she is degrading himself/herself to evil, or so to say, darkness. This degradation is perversity.
Now, to dissect Dollimore’s definition, the concept of perversion lies in the contrast between domination and deviation, law and desire, and transgression and conformity. In the next section, I will be discussing these concepts in detail in relation to sexual perversion. In every civilization, in every social system there are certain customs, rituals and traditions, which are accepted as natural, and believed to be essential and divinely ordained. (It is interesting to note how anthropologists like Gayle Rubin showed that among certain tribes homosexuality among men was a ritual to be performed before their marriages.) These customs are to be observed by every single individual of that particular community. This is an obligation, not a spontaneous urge. These customs are mainly beliefs, not truth. Truth is a very philosophical concept and without going deep into it, we can conclude that beliefs may vary from person to person, community to community. But customs are things that do not allow an individual to speak contrary to accepted beliefs. An anthropology scholar can argue better how these beliefs and customs are/were established to sustain the greed for power and domination of certain individuals. This can be proved by the fact that these customs and traditions vary from community to community. While one custom is acceptable to one community, it may be termed as evil by the other. These customs are not natural laws like the law of gravitational force, and there are chances that these customs may be flawed. There might appear a person who can question these traditions, like Galileo.
The problem arises from the fact that these customs are projected as natural, unalterable and universal. These are guarded by the powers that govern society. Each and every individual has to accept them without raising a question. The domination starts here. To survive in a particular community, one has to undergo certain rituals. It is another question whether one believes in them, or not. These rituals are laws. If one deviates from them, he is to be punished. Beliefs can be changed; rituals can be thrust upon, or can be implemented by force or by preaching; they can be made into laws, which every sovereign society is bound to follow.
But what happens when an individual’s wish goes against social domination and conformity? Then the law would prosecute the individual and his stand would be labelled as perversion. He is perverted because he doesn’t follow the law of nature. He is evil because nature is always good.
Dollimore is perfectly right when he argues that theorists like Freud and Foucault believed that perversion is culturally central. Speaking about sexual perversion, Freud argues that the existence of perversion can be traced back to pre-cultural days, or days before civilization came into existence. He argues that the infant begins life in a state of polymorphous perversity. But polymorphous perversity is fundamentally incompatible with the demands of society, which is the central principal of social organization. So Freud concludes that growing into adulthood and positioned with sexual differences, masculine and feminine, each of which is governed by a perspective heterosexuality, perverse desire is not eliminated but transformed via repression and sublimation into other kinds of energy which civilization draws upon, and depends upon. Freud’s ideas of sublimation deal with the realization of one’s perverse desires. Since he cannot follow them because of socio-cultural obstacles, he transforms his desire to something positive to society.
Though Foucault did not subscribe to the theory of sublimity, he also believed that perversion is endemic to modern society. This was not because of a process of de-sublimation or some kind of break down in the mannerism of repression. The main argument of Foucault’s The History of Sexuality is that perversion is not repressed at all. Rather our culture actively produces it. Perversion is a product and a vehicle of power, a construction, which enable it to gain a purchase within the realms of the psychosexual. What Foucault meant was that perversion existed as a means to contrast it with what is proclaimed as natural. Good is good only when there is the existence of evil. So, the social authority was in need of the perverse. They sustained the pervert only to contrast it with the normal, to contrast good with evil, to construct hetero with homo. In the same vein one can explain the existence of Satan in Christian theology.
Thus, to Freud, society requires both repression of perversion and recognition of its energy in a sublimated form. To Foucault, on the other hand, perversion is not so much a repression, transformed and re-deployed energy, as a construct enabling social organization and control. Nevertheless, Freud and Foucault shared the same conviction that perversion is not only central to culture but indispensably is the crux of culture’s present organization.
The Western society is essentially a theocratic society, where it is much easier to run the system of dominance in the name of the reigning religion.
In Western culture perversion is essentially related to theology. Perversion is identified as sin and evil which are religious concepts. As Milton puts it in Paradise Lost, justifying the ways of God to Man, -- Satan created a perverted kingdom and Eve was his first convert or rather pervert since, “He, the serpent …perverted Eve’’ (Book X.3.) . In theological discourse perversion is the opposite of conversion, signifying the terrible deviation from true faith to the false. Milton, under the influence of St. Augustine, portrays sin in terms of perversion. Sin is not … properly an action. For in reality it implies defects … for every act is in itself good. It is only its irregularity or deviation from the line of right. In the case of St. Augustine, the idea of evil as deviation paradoxically connects it more thoroughly with good. We know good only by means of evil. Thus he wrote:
“…With the fall the flesh began to contend against the spirit and with this contention are we all born, drawing death from our origin, and bearing nature’s corruption and contention or victory of the first transgression in our members… For in Adam where we all, since we were all that in one man who through the woman who was made of himself before sin, fell into sin.”
If we are ready to incorporate sin with perversion then Augustine even believed that perversion is culturally central to a civilization and it exists. Thus he wrote:
“The law which forbids sin is itself a strength of sin … for the prohibition increases the desire to commit unlawful act when the love of righteousness is not strong enough to overcome the sinful desire.”
Thus perversion is a concept, which facilitates not just the displacement of evil from good in man, but also man’s inter-realization of evil. It further highlights another side of human nature, which suggests that we are created with desires, which are forbidden to us.
2.2. Sexual Perversion: Reproduction vs. Infertility
If perversion is culturally central, then sexual perversion is the centre of all perversions. The root of sexual perversion lies in the dichotomy between hetero/homo binaries. The civilizations, the social structure, the theology, the laws, all regard heterosexuality as the only natural sexual activity. So all other kinds of sexual activities are unnatural and thus they are perversions. So, judged against the touchstone of heterosexuality, homosexuality is perversion, a sin, and an act of evil desire.
If we are ready to accept that homosexuality was prevalent in society from its inception, or was practiced in some way or other by different groups in different phases of human civilization, then the question as to how heterosexuality was established as a norm is very intriguing. Anthropologists like Gayle Rubin and feminist theorists like Luce Irigaray point to the capitalist mode of production in society as the main factor. From the Marxist point of view, a family is the smallest base of a capitalist society and the foundation of capitalist exchange. There is another very peculiar reason, which I think is one of the main factors that helped heterosexuality to come to the fore. This is the need for reproduction. Reproduction is the basis of any given society and it is all the more true in case of capitalist mode of exchange.
Keeping in mind all these theories, in the following pages, I am trying to draw a possible picture of how sexual perversity came into existence. Unfortunately, I do not have any theory to support my ground. But I believe my explanation is based on logic.
In its infancy sexual practices among human beings were without taboo. Each individual was allowed to practice anything he/she wanted, if he/she had the power (the survival of the fittest). Then men started establishing villages. The idea of living in a community faded away gradually and every capable individual was the master of his own fortunes. He was the master of the land; the herds he kept and the women (See, Gayle Rubin) . It was an age where survival was a struggle and every individual had to work hard to get his share of things. Man was so preoccupied with the struggle for food, lodging and clothing that the idea of sex as recreation was not yet conceived. The master of land, herd and women was the patriarch. The patriarch or a group of patriarchs established the village community (this village community was different from what the pre- civilized hunting gathering communities were. In pre-civilized society, there was no system of ownership. Everything they gathered was to be shared by each member of the group. But these villages were run by ownership system.). The patriarch/s was/were in want of a social system for their benefit. And this benefit was computed in terms of good, in terms of economy. For this purpose, the patriarchs wanted labour. More labour meant more production. It was an age where birth rate was low and death rate was incredibly high. Demands for more population were increasing. The only way to solve the problem was copulation between men and women. Thus marriage between man and woman was legalized, institutionalized. It was the only way to legalize the ownership of reproduction, where the owner was always the male patriarch. This also explains why male patriarchs were permitted by the society or by the law, to marry as many women as they wanted. In such a scenario women, as Irigaray points out, were only commodities, a mode of exchange, baby-producing machines.
Religion arrived around this time. It helped the patriarchs to achieve their goal and vice-versa. For religion to survive heterosexuality was an important prerequisite. Heterosexuality established order in society and religion manipulated this order for its own benefit and projected heterosexuality as the law of God. Religion was thus another version of patriarchal dominance. Religion was used by patriarchy to maintain its dominance over women making marriage a rule, a law, and a divine decree. The family consisting of man, woman and their children, constitutes the smallest productive unit in a capitalist society. It was important for patriarchs to sustain this unit. So religion was invoked. Religion declared heterosexual marriage normal and natural because it was the only reproductive sexual act and all natural phenomenon are productive. Thus all other kinds of sexual activities were stigmatized on the basis of their non-productive quality, and they were termed as perversion, only to establish the heterosexual norm.
During this time the concept of family was already rooted in society. The majority of people were married for reasons of reproduction and social stability and conversion to particular religious faiths. But homosexuality was still prevalent. Not every individual in society regarded heterosexuality as a norm. There were still people who prescribed to homosexuality in a fairly open way (very much like Greek homosexuality). It was a threat to the existing system. After all, religion flourished because of the family, not because of those individuals who practiced sex without the consent of society. It was also against the wishes of the religious leaders. Now they were afraid that if homosexuality continued they would be in trouble. So, in the name of religion they began to propagate that homosexuality was evil, a perversion, and an unnatural act (very much like the punishment of Socrates). The concept of binary opposition works here. Homosexuality is evil because heterosexuality is good; homosexuality is perversion because heterosexuality is the order of God; and homosexuality is unnatural because heterosexuality is the norm. This explains why a religious text like the Bible has to be explicitly biased against homosexuality.
Thus in the Bible, Leviticus deciphers the laws of sexual practices as the decree of God, as divinely ordained. His categorization is essentially based on the binary of clean/unclean. Heterosexual union, that too, with social sanctity is the only clean sexual act. All other sexual practices are unclean and hence forbidden by God. After describing various unclean forms of hetero/sexual acts, Leviticus continues:
“No man is to have sexual relations with another man; God hates it. No man or woman is to have sexual relations with an animal; the perversion makes you ritually unclean.”
The may also answer the question why in every civilized communities, marriage is a public affair.
When Christianity was spreading in its initial stages, homosexuality was also a dominant sexual practice. All the scholars of ancient Greek and Roman culture subscribe to the fact that homosexuality was popular in those days; so much so, that some scholars point to homosexual practices as the reason for the downfall of Great Roman Empire. Heterosexuality was already a norm. It was a divinely ordained law. Every one had to follow it. On the other hand, homosexuality was an instinct. Most men were married, but they searched for the fulfillment of desire elsewhere. Heterosexuality was a necessity, while homosexuality was a need. In such a situation, socio political and religious stability was bound to loose its balance. Men neglected their families for the sake of their lovers. With the family religious interests were also neglected. It was time for religion to act. It instigated stigmatizing same-sex relations as perverse, because it did not lead to the birth of children.
The reason why this stigmatization achieved its effect was that homosexuality, though popular, lacked an identity, a name. It was part of an amusement, not a self-realization, not an individual identity. For people, then, same sex love was not a way of life. Now, when the religious leaders launched their campaign against it, there was not a single voice of protest. As a result, same sex love was thrown into closet and its practice was retreated to periphery. Thus, the religion, more than law and politics, managed to brainwash people into accepting homosexuality as sin.
The concept of sin is the basic of the Western religious thought and the Western approach to homosexuality, from St. Augustine to Oscar Wilde. St. Augustine declared that good can only be realized in terms of evil; similarly conversion can only be realized in terms of perversion. Thus, homosexualities become a scapegoat in the struggle for patriarchal dominance in the religio-political-social sphere.
2.3. Freudian Theory of Perversion
For Freud, homosexuality is the most important of all perversions, as well as the most repellent thing in the popular mind. For these reasons, it obsessively preoccupies many cultures, including Western culture. Freud defines perversion as, “sexual activities, which involves an extension or transgression to the limit of respect either of the body concerned or in the sexual object chosen.” The common factor of all perversion is a tendency to neglect the prominence of the reproductive function as the sole object of sexual activity and pursue the attainment of pleasure as an autonomous aim.
In Freud’s theory, the psychosexual development of an infant begins with a sexual disposition, which is polymorphously perverse and innately bisexual. It is a precondition for successful socializing and gendering of the individual, i.e., further production of the subject within hetero/sexual difference—that perversion is renounced typically through repression and/or sublimation. Repressed and sublimated perversions help to form, and are intrinsic to, normality.
If, as Freud says, one doesn’t become a pervert but is already one on account of his polymorphous perversity and innate bisexuality, then the real convert is actually a pervert. It is sexual perversion and not sexual normality, which is normal/natural to human nature. The fact remains that normality is precariously achieved and maintained (through repression and sublimation). It has to be enacted in case of each individual and is indeed a difficult task; a psychosexual development from the polymorphous perverse to normality, which is less a process of growth and more one of restriction. At times it doesn’t work, at other times it does, only to fail at a later date. Civilization, says Freud, remains precarious and unstable as a result.
To answer the question ‘what causes the failure of repression/sublimation?’ Freud argues in the article “Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness” (1908), that there is something counter-effective in the very mechanism of repression and in the entire civilizing process. Instead of transforming perverse desire into civilized achievement, it counterproductively delivers the subject into a perverse or neurotic existence. He further points out that the pain of normality is not just the consequence of a more or a less successful renunciation, but effect of a radical contradiction, an extreme dysfunction.
To Freud, the importance of perversion in the contradiction between civilization and instinct is more obviously manifested in the psyche. For example, all neurosis is related to perversion. In all neurotic people, says Freud, tendencies to perversity can be shown to exist as unconscious forces; their unconscious fantasies show precisely the same content as the recorded action of the perverts. Homosexuality is especially important: “…homosexual impulses are invariably discovered in every single neurotic.” The repression of perverse desire actually generates neurosis. This precisely led Freud to assert that neurosis is the negative side of perversion.
But Freud doesn’t always view perversion mainly as neurosis. His view of the relationship between the perverted and normal can be summarized in a three ways:
some perverse traits or other is seldom absent from the sexual life of normal people
rather than an absolute break, there is a continuum between the normal and the perverted
we can only understand normal sexuality by understanding its pathological forms. Again, homosexuality is particularly pervasive in this relationship.
Based on this thesis, one can argue that Freud considered homosexuality as an object choice in the unconscious. Thus, in addition to manifold heterosexuality, there are considerable amount of latent or unconscious homosexuality that can be detected in normal people.
Freud attributes to perversion an extraordinary disruptive power. First, they subvert the genial organization of sexuality, thereby sabotaging the whole process of normative psychosexual development or subjection upon which civilization depends. And second, they subvert sexual difference itself, along with the entire functional aspect of sexuality, whether it is biological (reproduction) or social (sublimation). Further, perversion also subverts many of the binary oppositions upon which social order rests. It crosses the boundary that separates food from excrement (coprophilia), human from animal (bestiality), life from death (necrophilia), adult from child (pederasty), and pleasure from pain (masochism).
According to Freud, perversion is ineliminable. It remains manifest in three principle ways: an active practice for some, the repressed constituent of neurosis in others, and the unstable basis of civilization itself.
Freud argues that civilized sexual morality, that is the sexual morality imposed by and within modern civilization to secure its survival, results in increased neurosis and deviation. He distinguishes three evolutionary stages of civilization. The first, in which the sexual instinct may be freely exercised without regard to any aims of reproduction; the second, in which all of the sexual instincts are suppressed except what serves the aims of reproduction; and the third, in which a legitimate reproduction is allowed as a sexual aim. This third stage is reflected in our present-day sexual morality.
The crux of Freud’s argument is that more than any other kinds, modern civilization demands higher levels of sexual repression, the energy of sexual instincts being displaced or sublimated into increased or higher cultural activity and development. But there is a limit to the extent to which this can work, and in practice, the result is that in avoiding the pressure to sublimate, the individual may turn to perverse and other forms of deviation, which in turn run counter to the requirement of civilized sexual morality. Most notably, such deviations undermine the institution of marriage, which is central to morality. Freud presents civilized sexual morality as immensely damaging, not only to the individual but also to the social order in which it is its rationale to protest and perpetuate.
2. 4. Psychoanalysis and Homosexuality
Though Freud is eloquent on the existence and importance of perversion in human civilization, his discussions on homosexuality within the framework of psychoanalysis are not always satisfactory. The truth is that, as Freud acknowledged, he needed homosexuality for his theory. But while concentrating upon the theory of psychoanalysis, Freud subsequently discovered that some of his theories did not fit in with others. There surfaces a doubt in his writings as to the adequacy of his theory in relation to the cultural diversity revealed by anthropology, and presumably his own experience, clinical and otherwise. For example, he remarks: “why some people become homosexual…We are frankly not able to explain, psychoanalysis has not yet produced a complete explanation of the origin of inversion…”
What emerges in Freud is a tension between recognition of actual homosexual diversity and a wish to organize it conceptually within a theory of desire, which duplicates the problem, and leads to inconsistency.
Freud discusses Oedipus Complex as a theory, which reflects how human beings become positioned within the existing system of social and sexual differences as a result of a critical and fraught relationship with his/her parents, as Laplanche and Pontalis quotes:
“In its so called positive form, the complex appears as in the theory of Oedipus Rex: a desire for the death of the rival–the parent of the same sex–and a sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex. In its negative form, we find the reverse picture: love for the parent of the same sex, and jealousy, hatred for the parent of the opposite sex. In fact, the two versions are to be found in varying degrees in what is known as the complete form of the complex.” (Italics mine)
In the resolution of the complex, the elements of psychic and sexual life of the child, which are incompatible with his social/sexual positioning within the polarities of sexual difference, are repressed and sublimated. The entire theory is thus built upon a disjunction between desire and identification.
As Dollimore suggests, the theory of Oedipus Complex doesn’t quite satisfactorily fit with the reasoning of homosexual perversion. Even within psychoanalysis, the complexity, which might save the complex, comes to undermine its normative function. Thus, it has to be conceded that the fully elaborated forms of the Oedipus Complex are extremely complex and ambiguous. Their mechanisms are not straightforward and unidirectional, and relevant component forces undergo a building variety of transformations, reparations, and conversions into their opposite. It is still from the normative point of view; the only way we can continue to maintain that heterosexuality is a natural resolution of Oedipus Complex is further to complicate its mechanism.
If, as Lewes argues, homosexuality becomes, within psychoanalysis, a victim of the normative regime inaugurated by Oedipus Complex, on the subsequent perverse reading of Freud, the Oedipus Complex increasingly becomes the casualty of homosexuality. Particularly intriguing is the way, that in the formulation explained earlier, homosexuality becomes a refusal of that polarity at the heart of the Oedipus injunction: “you can not be what you desire, you can not desire what you wish to be.”
Concluding the chapter, ‘Deconstructing Freud’, Dollimore states that the most ironic instance related to the Oedipus drama is that, at the heart of this Oedipus Complex lies a very peculiar homosexual encounter, borrowed from Greek mythology. That Oedipus killed his father and married his mother is well known. But the reason why this tragic sequence was initiated was that Oedipus’s father Laius loved a beautiful youth, Chrysippus. Hera, the guardian Goddess of marriage was enraged by this development and punished the Theban citizens for not preventing this love. So, the very myth which psychoanalysts appropriate in order to normalize heterosexuality already has homosexuality inscribed at its centre, where normatively sectioned heterosexuality is rooted in its perverse other. Mythologically speaking, the perversion was/is always the centre.
2. 5. Foucault and After: the Homosexual Species
After discussing various theories of homosexual perversion, one thing is certain that the most significant theory of perversion derives not from Freud’s successors, but from one of his most influential critics, Michel Foucault.
All the recent theories of perversion reject earlier concepts of deviation as something--
1. extraneous to the social order
2. a byproduct of it, and
3. intrinsic or essential to the deviant subject.
The inadequacy of such accounts becomes apparent with the realization that bad socialization helps produce deviation. From this realization, there emerged a certain liberal tolerance: perverts are the victims of circumstances, and even if not allowed to go Scott free, they need to be treated with understanding. A further stage in the cautious rehabilitation of perversion saw their behaviour as a kind of protest against an alienating social order.
As Robert A. Scott observes, perversion is so important that order itself may be impossible without it. Perversion “is a rejuvenating force …to contain and control deviance, thereby to master it, is to supply fresh and dramatic proof of the enormous power that are behind social order. The visible control of deviance (perversion) is one of the most effective mechanism by which a social order can tangibly display its potency.”
In such theories, we find, what might be described as a philosophically idealistic conception of perversion, society being conceived as totality or organic unity with an integral dynamic structure, which needs to be revitalized.
In Foucault’s scheme, perversion comes to occupy a revealing, dangerous double relationship with power, at once culturally margined and yet discursively central. Even as the sexual pervert is banished to the margins of society, he/she remains integral to it, not in spite of, but because of their marginality.
As a critic of psychoanalysis, Foucault is at once historical, anti-theological and anti-normative. He begins from the fundamental position that sexuality is not, as in Freud, a stubborn drive or a natural force which civilization seeks to sublimate, or otherwise regulate. It is rather a historical construct, which enables the operation of power relations, a result and an instrument of powers designs. The power that controls sexuality does not primarily work through prohibition, law, or taboos, thereby establishing the boundaries of the permissible. Indeed ‘we must …abandon the hypothesis that modern industrial society ushered in an age of increased sexual repression. On the contrary, we have witnessed a visible explosion of unorthodox sexuality.’ (Italics mine)
However, Foucault doesn’t deny that prohibition has existed as an aspect of power; rather power primarily works by producing, multiplying, dispersing, inciting and intensifying sexualities. He speaks of power’s polymorphous techniques; thereby attributing to power what Freud attributed to his scheme to perverse desire. In effect what Freud saw as an element of desire, which threatened power, Foucault attributes to power itself. Foucault presents us with a strong dialectic between power and pleasure, or what he would rather call the perpetual spirals of power and pleasure.’
In Freudian scheme of things, desire is considered to be a dangerous anarchic force, which might be suppressed or at least harnessed. But Foucault detects another answer as to why desire was of necessity repressed.
“What sustains our eagerness to speak of sex in terms of repression is doubtless this opportunity to speak out against the power that be, to utter truths and promise bliss, to link together enlightenment, liberation and manifold pleasures; to pronounce a discourse that combines the fervor of knowledge, the determination to change the laws, and longing for the garden of earthly delights.”
For Foucault, sexual perversion is a key instance of the forgoing theory, especially of how power creates and controls. Freud saw childhood as a battle between instincts or drives and the demands of civilization. Foucault sees it as just one of the domains in which power operates.
With the implantation of perversion, goes a new specification of individuals. Here Foucault offers his widely cited account of the emergence of the homosexual: whereas sodomy was a crime, the homosexual comes into being as a type of person:
… “the sodomite had been a temporary abortion, the homosexual was now a species” .
Arnold Davidson offers support to this argument when he reminds us that perversion as a noun had a conceptually derivative place in moral theology, whereas in nineteenth century medical discourses it become conceptually central. Theologically one was described as a pervert according to one’s ethical choice, not one’s identity.
Thus, as opposed to Freud’s account of sexual perversion, Foucault argues that perversion is not an innate desire which is socially repressed, but an identity and a category which is repressed to enable power to gain a stronghold within, and through, the realm of psychosexual.
2. 6. The Indian Perversion: the Sex/less Generalization
Unlike the Western concept of perversion, which is essentially related to Christian theology, and then to psychology and sociology, the spread of Indian perversion is diverse and manifold. In the complex structure of the Indian social system, Indian perversion has lost its perverse nature, and has merged into larger social order. (The word perversion cannot be strictly translated to Indian etymology; the concept is almost non-existence in Indian culture. For the purpose of this study, I am using the term Indian perversion loosely to mean something opposite to so-called normality.)
Sexual perversion doesn’t exist in India. The battle is in between sex and sexlessness (Sex here means the physical aspect, the functionalities of the body). Heterosexuality is the only imaginable sexual practice. According to this scheme of things, a man can have sex only with a woman, and vice versa. If otherwise, the concerned individuals are perverts. There are three categories: man, woman and hijra (that can be roughly translated as eunuch or hermaphrodite, but in the Indian context it implies a rather complex set of definitions.).
The hijra is a peculiar community that exists only in the Indian subcontinent, with ambivalent sexuality. Dressed in women’s clothes, they roam about begging for money and other accessories. When a male child is born in a household, they would visit to bless the newborn, and are offered handsome gifts. Most of them are not born eunuchs, but are castrated to appear before the local Goddess of fertility. Paradoxically, their sexuality is sacrificed in the name of fertility and their arrival in the household is always considered auspicious, as they are going to bless the male child. Physically a hijra is man and woman both together. In the anatomic scheme of heterosexuality, hijras are neither men nor women; they are a different category altogether.
As I stated earlier, there are no homosexuals in India. There are men, women and hijras. The hijra is considered to be a sexless being (?), but with desire. This desire is unacceptable and unnatural, because it does not lead to reproduction. So, they are labeled as perverts. They are born perverts; they cannot alter the reality. Nevertheless, with this perverseness, they create an identity and in turn become a minority group. As they do not fit into the mainstream, they remain in the margins. Now, if a certain individual starts desiring something contrary to the norms, the immediate reaction would be to label him as sexless (as heterosexuality is the only possible sexual act).
Here it would be useful to state that sex (as an act) is different from desire. Desire is a mental concept, while sex is physical. In the Western theory, the mind is where the perversion lies. In India, perversion exists at the anatomical level. One is perverse because one is sexless. As he/she is sexless, his/her desire is bound to turn perverse. After thus defining the pervert, the next step would be to place him/her within the rigid social structure. As the person is sexless, and as all hijras are sexless, the ultimate verdict is that he/she is a hijra. He/she is a sexless pervert. Thus he/she becomes victim of crude generalization.
From the Vedic Age onwards, Indian society is structured upon certain strict rules and manners. There are certain well-defined behaviour patterns for every individual. Nobody could ever defile them. The individual wish and desire is never counted. Society works as group and every individual has to obey the rules defined by society. There is no escape. The system of Indian patriarchy does not allow an individual to sustain his/her desire. There are certain social customs, which every individual has to follow. As Michael Edwards writes:
“As Aryan Society was divided into four classes, so the Aryan personal life was divided into four stages (Ashrams). The first was ‘Brahmacharya’ when he was invested with the sacred thread. At this point, childhood ended and the youth become a student. The second stage was ‘Grahastha’, when having mastered the Vedas; he married to become a householder. The third stage was ‘Vanaprashtha’, when having seen his grandchildren and assured himself that his line was established; he left to become a hermit. And lastly comes ‘Sanyyasin’, when he left his hermitage, after freeing his soul by meditation and penance from bonds of the material world, and become a homeless wanderer.”
Thus, it is evident that procreation and establishment of the family line are the most important aspects of Indian social life. To achieve this end, heterosexual union is necessary. In short, other sexual activities become perverse. When a man is of a certain age, his parents would choose a girl for him, and he has to get married. It is a rule, never a choice.
At the same time, the fact remains that homosexual desire was/is still prevalent in Indian society. The urge, the instinct was there. It was a secret practice. What it lacked was a name, an understanding of the instinct, and a space to talk about it.
Unlike the West, where every individual has his own identity, be it the perverse or normal, Indian society is seen in terms of groups. What is problematic about the Indian concept of homosexuality is that society doesn’t believe the very existence of it. If an individual proclaims his desire for same sex love, society would try its best to reclaim him and bring him back to the side of heterosexuality. If it fails to do so, it will place him in another category, the hijra. Mental desire is thus turned into physical deformity. The instinct is labeled as sexlessness. Thus, standing between heterosexuality and sexlessness, homosexuality in India suffers from an identity crisis.
The difference between the Western concept of perversity and its Indian counterpart is the difference between the existence and non-existence of a name, between monotheist and polytheist theocracy, and between body and mind.
The concept of perversity is very much present in Christian theocracy. Since the Western society is a monotheist society, it is very easy to convert people again perversity, or more precisely, to define the binaries between the normal self and its perverse other. The Christian theology talks about the concept of free will. Accordingly, perversity in the West is a choice, not a psychical deformity. Perversity is more an ideology, a concept of the mind, than anything else.
Indian society on the other hand is polytheistic. In Hindu theology, the concept of mind is fluid; the Atman (soul) is related to the Paramatman (God). Therefore mind cannot contain any perversity. There is no choice involved. Therefore, when society sees the instance of someone straying, the immediate conclusion is there’s something wrong with the body; therefore sexlessness.
The fact is that confirmation is the fundamental characteristic of the Indian mind, and there seems to be no wish to deviate from tradition, although it is at the expense of the truth. The classic example is Vatsyana’s Kamasutra. The book contains a chapter, which deals with the different aspects of how a hijra satisfies his male master, chiefly by the act of fellatio. If we substitute the hijra for another man, it would appear to be a picture of homosexual act. But the author is very particular not to fall into the trap. He never forgets to state that the male master, with whom the hijra is engaged in sex, is a married man, and completely heterosexual (as read in the English translation).
The family is the strongest unit in patriarchal system; in India, it is the living organism of social life. The great Indian family supports various kinds of relationships. Every individual is a part of these relationships, which, in a way, cause him to lose his individual identity. A man becomes son, grandson, husband, father, brother, uncle, nephew – but not an individual. The playing of these roles forces the individual to repress his perverse desire.
But desire is stronger than the social norm. Why, then, is/was the existence of homosexuality never talked about in India? In Western theory homosexual perversity was created in order to establish the normality of heterosexuality. Indian theology and the social system follow a unidirectional faith. There is only one universal truth and all accept it. There might be some inconsistencies. But in the greater plan, they create a little impact. There are the hijras. Again there are Sadhus, Sanyyasin, and homeless wanderers, who do not fall into the category of householders. In India religion is more important than desire and everything is possible in the name of religion.
Freud’s concept of sublimation occurs here in a very peculiar way. The desire is very much there, and the reasoning is that it might be very harmful to the existing norm. So, the process of reclamation starts, and leads to a new kind of sublimation. In Freud, sublimation occurs at unconscious level. But here, reclamation is thrust upon the individual by society. Whatever his desires might be, he should get married: a sign of compulsory heterosexuality. If he still remains unmoved, he is labelled as a sexless victim. There are two ways of doing it. First, to make him a sadhu. If he doesn’t fit into the category, make him a hijra.
In this context, Vanita and Kidwai write:
“Indian cultures tend to be more of the type anthropologists call shame cultures than guilt cultures. Reputation is familial rather than individual, and even harmless behaviour that causes others to gossip about one’s family is considered shameful.”
In this scenario, it is out of question that there would be any talk about sex. Marriage is an institution of reproduction, a duty rather than desire. Within this socio-cultural reality, same sex love in India is bound to shift to closet, to margins. Where talking about sex is itself taboo, homosexuality is in a double bind. Though there is considerable space for male bonding and friendship, the question of same sex does not occur within this space. For, here the truth is unidirectional. Being a male, a man is expected to marry a woman. But before he does that he must undergo Brahmacharya and earn knowledge. This he can do only in company of his male friends. To emphasize the binaries between marriage and friendship, it is argued that friendship between men is spiritual, whereas marriage with a woman is material. A friendship will lead to God, and a marriage will sustain the bloodline. But the question is, why this justification of friendship? This is to stress the sexlessness of the relationship, and thus push the conflict, the desire of same sex love into closet, without even justifying its existence. Ignorance is bliss; it is how power of heteropatriarchy works here. They refuse to talk about homosexuality, by denying the very existence of it.
After the rough picture of Indian counterpart of sexual perversity, the in following pages, I discuss the individual poems in the light of what we have just covered.
2. 7. Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta”: Searching for a Different Marriage
In his poignant poem, “Beta” , Rakesh Ratti urges for an all-inclusive norm, beyond the boundaries of binary opposition. His urge is simple. He wants to be a good son, providing support to his parents and performing his duties as a son, and yet wants to sustain his desire. The crux of his argument is that he wants the mainstream to accept his desire. The problem in question is marriage. The poetic persona is an eligible bachelor. He is a devoted son, and now his parents wish that he should get married (to a girl). But the problem arises because he is aware of his desires and knows that a traditional marriage is not for him. His desire is different from what society is ready to approve. The realization is there, as also a wish to change:
I want to feel their eyes with joy,
Yet let my desire run wild.
How can I find the love I seek?
And still remain their child? (Lines, 17-20)
The whole trauma unfolds due to the poet–narrator’s desire to enjoy the best of the both worlds. He wants to be in heteropatriarchal mainstream. Here he is prioritizing family values, the duties of a son towards his parents and other related issues. At the same time, he wants to fulfill his desire, which is on the periphery. He is not ready to denounce the social and moral responsibilities of his desire, and vice-versa. He knows that his instinct is something that cannot be changed, and yet something very much unacceptable to society. His struggle begins when he wishes normality for his desire, which is otherwise termed as abnormality, perversion:
Should I listen to my heart
And wrestle with this guilt?
Should I lock myself inside
The walls they would build? (Lines, 13-16)
One thing is certain. The poet narrator is gay. He is aware of his desire. His instincts are for a person of his sex. That is why he is averse to a heterosexual marriage. A marriage is essentially a tie between two sexes: man and woman. The poet narrator does not want it. He wants to live with his desire fulfilled. But this cannot happen because same sex desire is a perversion. It cannot be consummated in marriage.
In the Indian context marriage is the symbol of the sex act itself. Pre-marital sex as well as extra-marital sex is taboo. In this sense, same sex love is unimaginable. If one speaks for it, he is a pervert. There can be friendship between two men, but never love. The bonding between them is always spiritual, never physical. This is the logic on which society runs. If one acts contrary to this, he is a pervert.
This by no means suggests that male bonding does not exist in India. On the contrary, it is discussed in terms of spiritual enlightenment. The friendship between Krishna and Arjuna is a classic example. They came together and strengthen the bond of friendship to fight evil. Their friendship is never personal. It exists for socio-political spiritual reasons. Both of them are married family men, and it is their social responsibility, or rather their political ambitions that made them sign a bond of friendship. This relationship is always cited as an example of pure friendship, and it ends here. (See, Vanita and Kidwai for a redefinition of same-sex love between Krishna and Arjuna.).
The society, which decides the terms and conditions of social organism is essentially patriarchal. The man trades everything (See, Irigaray’s Commodities Among Women). For this to happen, male bonding is necessary. It takes root in various sectors, including commerce, education (women’s education is a much later phenomena), the harvest festivals, and even military. But these activities are allowed on the presumption that all men are married, or are soon going to get married. Sexual instincts are different from other socio-economic activities. The family is different from the world outside. The man would perform his intellectual and spiritual activities outside, and will return home only to satisfy his sexual needs and to perform his duties of procreation. This establishes a distinction between friendship and marriage.
Friendship is a sexless relationship. There can be spiritual unity between friends but not physical. A man may cohabit only with a woman. Yet one may ask why society on the one hand permits two men to be friends and on the other shies away at the issue of sex between them? The question takes root at the heart of Foucault’s theory of the power dominance that prevails in society, where marriage is not a personal act, nor is it a legalized means of enjoying sex. It is deeply rooted in other social interests; namely the exchange of capital both in the shape of bride price and dowry, and extension of the kinship system. Marriage is an institution through which patriarchy works. It becomes an instrument of dominance: the patriarch dominates over his subordinates: land, herds and women. Thus, he rules over them and sustains the socio-economic, religio-political system. If a man has to share his bed with another man, then the whole system will loose its balance. Unlike the man-woman relationship, where woman is naturally secondary to man, in male partnership both the men share power. This may also give women a chance to rethink their own dominated position in the household, as well as in society, and it may lead to their emancipation, which would be a fatal blow to patriarchy.
But at the same time male bonding is necessary to raise capital, an argument which even the basic economics will support. Thus, same sex love is stigmatized and in due course labelled as perversion.
The situation has not changed in India till now. After all these discussions about homosexuality as normal, and the emergence of queer theory, the situation in India is the same as it was thousand years back. In India, marriage is not a private affair but a social ritual. With marriage an individual enters into social sphere. He becomes a part of male patriarchy. A marriage involves not only the lives of individuals, but society as a whole. There is exchange of capital, and power relations are altered in the social structure. Within male patriarchy, marriage is a triumph in its own sake.
Marriage is also important for reasons of procreation. Patriarchy wants its values to be handed down from one generation to another. This implies the need for a male child. So marriage between a man and woman is necessary. As the four ashrams of the Vedic tradition imply, a man enters Vanaprashtha ashram when he gets his son married and sees his grandchildren, especially the male ones.
So, in the poem in question, the mother dreams of her son’s marriage. The father waits for the day when the son will ride a mare to get his bride. The problem occurs due to the fact that the poet-persona cannot identify with his parents’ wishes because his desire is different. But he is helpless to do anything about it either. The struggle between conformity and desire is expressed vividly in the following lines:
Every chapter of my life
Written by their hand,
If I now search for the pen
Will they understand? (Lines, 9-12)
The clash is between individuality and family authority. The individual is nowhere to be seen. Everything about the individual is actually about the family. He is brought into an environment full of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and others. All of them jointly decide the future of the concerned individual.
In the West, by the change of culture marriage has come to view as an individual choice. This explains why so many spinsters crowd in the 18th century English novels, the famous example being, Aunt Betsy Trotwood of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. In such social context, if an individual strays away from the mainstream norm of heterosexuality and opt for same-sex desire, it is easier to label that person as perverse. But in India where marriage is a given fact, society finds it difficult to explain why one should show aversion to marriage.
Here the perversion is the desire itself. And nature is something that is given and not a logical conclusion:
Should I listen to my heart
And wrestle with this guilt?
Should I lock myself inside
The walls they will build? (Lines, 13-16.)
What makes the poem at once commendable and complicated is the wish to dismiss the idea of perversion. The poet understands his surroundings and at the same time, his individual desire. Unlike society, which stigmatizes the other, homosexuality, for the sake of the self, heterosexuality, the poet accepts both. And he wishes that society would also do the same. Society has its own reasons not to do so, and the poet-persona is nothing but a sad victim of the large social structure. The striking fact, one discovers here, is that the poet-persona has failed to achieve a queer identity by refusing the mainstream. He is very much a part of the mainstream, a system which does not support his desires.
The poet’s wish to enter the mainstream is apparent in the structure of the poem. The poem contains five stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme in every stanza is ABAB. Rhymed verse is a mainstream concept, and when a poet with a different attitude meticulously uses rhyme, it certainly reflects his wish to merge into the mainstream.
In a study done by Dr. Vinay Kulkarni on MSM (Men-Having-Sex-With-Men) activities in and around the city of Pune , he points out how men desire same-sex love and yet cannot evade the issue of marriage. They have to get married sooner or later. But the fact remains that the instinct for same-sex love does not evaporate with their marriage. The desire is still there. One has to discover an underground to gratify his desires.
From this point of view the poem, “Beta”, sparkles with genuine honesty. When the question of marriage occurs, the poet tries very hard to oppose it. His problem arises from the duality of mind, where at once he wishes to make his parents happy and fulfill his desire too.
2. 8. R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”: Public Space vs. Private Desire
In Indian setup marriage is an act of obligation. Resistance is impossible without moving way from the mainstream. If you resist marriage, you are either a Sadhu or a hijra, categories which does not have any sexual base. As the study by Dr. Vinay Kulkarni shows, most of the people involved in the MSM (Men-Having-Sex-With-Men) activity are married, pretend to be married, and are ready to get married soon. The question may be asked as to why there is this lack of resistance? Why do these individuals, knowing fully well that heterosexuality is against their nature, subscribe to the marital bond? Dr. Kulkarni has an answer. He believes that most of these people do not consider themselves to be gay. He distinguishes the gays from people who just need an outlet for their sexual urge. These are the people who indulge in sexual activity outside the purview of society. They believe that they are as normal as heterosexuals, and try very hard to sustain their normality. They get married and start following social customs without any qualms and sometimes more rigidly than those who are heterosexual! Under these circumstances their sexuality is something that they prefer not to discuss. Their sexuality is practised in dark, in underworld: in public toilets, in parks and in other places outside the public gaze. Their public space is different from their private desire. Their unutterable desire is reduced to kind of evil practices. Once the act is over, they come out to become the part and parcel of society: the heteropatriarchal world.
Two distinct issues come to focus here. First is the lack of resistance. People do not resist marriage for fear of being ostracized from the society. Indian homosexuality has not yet achieved the identity to resist the mainstream. The other is the irony of the private space itself. These men who go to gratify their desires in private space are actually visiting public spaces like toilets and parks. In the diverse structure of Indian social life, public becomes private and vice versa.
R. Raj Rao’s “Underground” is at once a personal and political poem. The poem connects the private sphere to public sphere, the ground with underground, Bombay with London, caste minority with sexual minority:
As in the old days
the touch of some people polluted
today it’s yours viruses and all. (Lines, 3-5.)
To Rao, in the social hierarchy, the homosexual falls in the same category as the caste minority. The upper class male heterosexual subjugates both of these categories. The lower class is distinctly marked and is pushed to the lowest strata of the social system. Similarly when one individual dares to speak about his alternative sexual preferences, he is ostracized and made an outcaste at once. He remains an outsider, as one whose perversity is confirmed.
As Foucault explains, the concept of perversity is an important ingredient for heterosexuality to survive. Casteism is another aspect of this kind of perversity. Michael Edward argues that it is the colour concept that it is rooted in this kind of perversity:
“The Aryan’s who were light skinned described their enemies as dark and ugly, and it is here that can be found the origin of the caste system, for the Sanskrit word varna – which is often wrongly translated as caste- means colour. When the Aryans entered India, they already had class divisions, between the nobility and the ordinary tribesmen. Once they settled down, class division hardened to exclude the indigenous people whom the Aryans called the Dasa, or slave, and Aryans who intermarried with them. By about 500 B.C. which is the generally accepted date for the end of the Vedic period, society was divided into four great classes: the priest (Brahmins), warriors (Ksatriya), peasants (Vaisya), and surfs (Sudra)”.
The Sudras are considered perverts because they are scavengers. While equating homosexuals with outcastes, the poet is trying to prepare a case for sexual minorities. Earlier it was the lower castes and now it is the homosexuals. Once, lower caste people had to follow certain codes of conduct and remain outside the mainstream. They were untouchables and their whole existence was unholy. In the same way, homosexuals who, until now, had suppressed their desire, their will, their wishes and mingled with society following its norms, were in perfect harmony with society. But when they voiced their desire in public, it was unacceptable. The poet seem to be saying that with the caste system gradually fading away, thanks to government policies, the ire of the mainstream sexual majority have shifted to homosexuals. It is fact like goo: visible but consciously ignored (… ‘but goo has its uses’… line 6.). The comparison is apt here. Society views both homosexuals and lower castes in same manner. They are all pariah: untouchables. For, they spread AIDS and other sexual diseases (… ‘viruses and all’…line 5). It is beyond the scope of my discussion to contest the belief that homosexual activity is the root cause of AIDS. (see, Urvashi Vaid’s Virtual Equality ).
The poet’s thesis is that, though the so-called majority tends to ignore the minorities, both caste minorities and sexual minorities, their existence cannot be denied. They right here, in the middle of human civilization. And now it needs its dignity, in the context of mainstream heteropatriarchy:
And goo, strong on smell,
Has the power of ammunition… (Lines 10 - 11)
The outcastes, who make their living by cleaning the dirt of other people, are not dirty themselves. If they are, as it is believed to be so, it is only because of the higher-class majority, who branded these people as unclean and perverted. The poet is arguing for a universal acceptability of these people (including the homosexuals). They are also an important part of the social organism. We can ignore them, but cannot brush away their existence. They cannot be whisked away. Though we tend to label their calling as unclean and dirty, it has to do with the cleanliness of our own lives.
The same is the case with homosexuals. They have been robbed of their identity and dignity for ages. They have always been denied access to desire. They are always looking for ways to gratify their desire in closet. The crux of Rao’s argument is that homosexuality is as normal and natural as heterosexuality, and hence it is their right to live as dignified individuals in society:
“I would not use the word unnatural. I reject it completely. I feel homosexuality is natural and that too from very early childhood. Yet extra- marital sex between two people of different genders will have better acceptance than that between persons of the same sex. As far as normal/abnormal is concerned, I would not use these words either. Many people consider anything other than traditional marriage as abnormal, but I disagree. The problem is that the gays do not have any vocabulary to start with. The language is completely phallocentric. It needs to be changed.”
Thus, homosexuals in India are fighting against the phallocentric logic. This fight is against subordination, against minoritism. This fight is for acceptance, for rights. It is for the sense of belonging that the homosexual in India lacks.
This lack of a sense of belonging looms large in the conception of the poem “underground”. It starts with a confused existence:
You belong with the…
it can’t be said. (Lines, 1-2)
In this situation what should the gays in India do? Rao feels that this is the time to fight back. This is the time to realize that the society is stubborn and will not provide a space for same-sex love. The next step is to search for an alternative existence, a world of their own where they are no longer in the periphery but constitute a centre, which is different from the heteropatriarchal existence of the mainstream. And the realization is:
The Underground is where you belong,
while the city buzzes overhead,
Ghost-shit on your tongue.
You undress underground
and find your Garden of Eden
Eden Garden abounding in Adams and Serpents: (Lines, 26-31)
The idea of the underground is itself a perversion. The poet, to give an idea of the existence of Indian homosexuality, and the need for a utopia, has used the concept consciously. But the question is, why do we need a utopia? The simplest answer is that society is unfriendly and hostile. When visibility is denied altogether, the only way to fight is to search for an alternative space where the gays can find at once visibility and acceptance, self-identity and accessibility.
In the search for his utopia, the poet goes to extremes and recognizes a space different from the existing ones. The poet exploits the perversity of the underground only to foreground the suffering and oppression, shame and repression that homosexuals in India find in their pursuit of desire.
The underground, which lies beneath the natural world, has essentially a negative connotation. The poet uses the image only to emphasize the darker side of homosexual existence in India. Outside, the city dazzles with lights. And the underground inside is dark. Outside one can walk with his head high and inside it is the fear that lurks around. Outside it is suppression of desire. Inside it is the desire itself.
Here, the existence of the underground as a perverse ideal is itself paradoxical. It questions the concept of perversity itself. It is perversity for those who suppress homosexuality. For the others (the homosexuals themselves) it is natural. It is the outside world of heteropatriarchy, which is perverse. More than a question of perversion, it is the question of difference; the differences of space that help unleash one’s desires. For Rao, there are differences in perverse behaviour as there are differences in the concept of the underground. In London the underground is a cultured world, with poems on the walls. In India, in Bombay, it is the mafia activities, of death and murder, fear and subjugation.
Rao’s idea of perversion is suggestive. He is trying to make a case for the gays in India. They are outcasts of society. The mainstream refuses to accept them by labelling them as pervert. Rao refuses to accept this labelling by defying the whole concept of mainstream ideology. As homosexuals in India are marginalized, and as the centre is not ready to view their visibility, it is better to create another centre within the margin itself. Viewed from such perspectives, the underground is not a perversion, for perversion is simply a mainstream construct. Here the underground is a centre. The idea is strengthened by the use of Christian imagery of Adam and the Serpent.
You undress underground
and find your Garden of Eden,
Eden Garden abounding in Adams and Serpents: (Lines, 30-32)
This is a utopia where homosexuality will flourish outside the gaze of the phallocentric world. It is a flawless world, or a world without Eve. The use of Adam and the Serpent signify the utopian vision of a different space. As discussed earlier, according to Christianity it was Satan who in the disguise of a serpent perverted Eve. The poet plays upon this metaphor to give us an altogether different reading of utopia. There is no Eve here, and that’s why there is no question of perversion. Again perversion is a heteropatriarchal idea. So it has no place in gay utopia. Here everyone has the right to pursue his/her desire.
But reality is always different from utopia. Even the underground is not perfect. People go there to gratify their desire, but are stolen of their valuables and are beaten up:
You want to throw loo goo on his face.
but you give in meekly,
handing over cash and valuables.
the meek shan’t inherit.
you stand bereft,
the city your headload. (Lines, 44-49)
The political beginning of Raj Rao’s poem ends with a very personal defeat, culminating in the defeat of the whole political Utopia. It emphasizes the difference between Utopia and reality. The centre is always stronger than the homosexual margin. And the centre tries every means to dominate the peripheral existence of homosexuality, on the pretext that the whole idea of homosexual desire is a perversity. A person desires another person of his own sex. It is an instinct he is born with and he cannot do anything to subvert it. But his stifling surroundings do not allow him to fulfill his desire for the simple reason that the whole concept is a perversion. The idea is so rooted in the tradition, that after some time the person concerned starts believing himself that his desire is a form of perversity. But he still cannot resist his desire, which is stronger than social norms. So he visits an underground urinal in the vicinity of a railway station. It is a cruising place. It is a place where those people meet who cannot afford to speak out their desires in public. But this underground closet is also hostile to them. Men are beaten up for the sake of money.
The poem is graphic in description, rather than being metaphysical and psychological. The graphic descriptions endorse the reality of gay existence in India. The poem ends with a kind of anger and despair at the plight of man beaten up. The poet is not at all happy about the condition of the homosexuals, and about the fact that the gay minority in India is not strong enough to fight against back (…the meek shan’t inherit…line, 45).
2. 9. Ian Iqbal Rashid’s “An/other Country”: Ours and Theirs, and Politics of Colour
Like Rakesh Ratti, Iqbal Rashid is also an Indian poet settled abroad. His poems bring out graphically the conflicts of Diaspora, the post-colonial trauma, the colour politics of white and brown and above all the experience of being gay abroad. The fact is that being a diasporic gay is much more repressive than being gay in one’s the native land. They are twice oppressed. First they are uprooted from the country of their origin, their culture and tradition, which they try very hard to retain. Secondly, in the new country they have to live the life of second-class citizens. They can never merge with the mainstream in the new country where they have settled down. In these circumstances being gay increases one’s vulnerability. On one hand there is one’s culture and tradition, which appears alien in the new country, and on the other, there is the culture of the new country which one cannot penetrate for various reasons: colour, creed and language. This is truer in the case of a second-generation immigrant.
Though they are settled abroad, the poet’s parents are still rooted in India:
All this new love for my parent’s country
We have brought the videotapes together
Brought the magazines and books
All the advertisements
Each other’s responses
But for the poet the situation is different. For him the country of his parents lies beyond his reach. Again, the West is something that he is repeatedly reminded not to ape. He is brought in a conflicting environment, and is torn between an alien homeland and a foreign culture.
The poem depicts how, when a person in these circumstances finds himself to be gay, or identifies himself or herself as homosexual undergoes a crisis. First, it is that of the colonial history of ruled and ruler. The idea that India was once the colony of Britain still exists in the Indian mind. There is no escape from it. This becomes all the more true when one settles down in the ruling country itself, and with the acceptance of this fact comes another realization viz; that everything about England is great and everything about India is savage. Within this frame when a brown-skinned Indian boy makes love to a white skinned British boy, the former has to play a passive role always.
2. 10. Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine”: ‘Neither Mistress Nor Wife’ but…
For a long time same sex love was described as the love that dare not utter its name. Then things began to change in the West. Following the Stonewall riot, legalization of homosexuality and same-sex marriages, homosexuality in the West, both in Europe as well as in the U.S.A., has at least dared to utter its name. A homosexual may be characterized as a brute or a queen, from the closet of cross-dressing to the road. Gay rights are now a part of human rights as a whole. People with alternative sexual identity in the West have achieved their dignity and liberty to live their life as they choose to.
But, as stated above, in India things have not changed much. Under these circumstances, “O Pomponia Mine!” can be read as an authentic picture of how people are striving to make most of the situation. The poem can be read on different levels: as a graphic documentation of how same-sex couples have to face the world in spite of their alternative desire; as a plea for the acceptance of cross–dressing; and as a poetic triumph over the so-called taboo of perversity. The achievement of the poem lies in its magnificent and almost skeptical way of accepting the immediate world, and an almost unfaltering faith in the desire and love the poet is experiencing. The poem lacks the political realism of R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”. Instead, it is a simple account of an individual’s way of realizing his desire in a situation where the whole of society is hostile to him.
At the centre of the poem is a same-sex couple spending an evening out. They dress for the evening, dine at a restaurant, and behave in the public sphere in total compliance with the social norms. This contrast between private desire and social norm brings out the tension, which makes the poem a perfect study of queer life in India:
I shall touch my tie,
And lie that we are of different kind. (Lines, 15-17)
Here, different kind means being heterosexual, being a man as per the norms of the heterosexual world. Homosexual desire can be fulfilled only in the private sphere. When it is dragged to the public sphere, a problem occurs. For, the public space is one of pretension. This is the crux on which the poem is built: the tension between reality and appearance; the tension of projecting an unreal self, and hiding the truth.
The poem can be read as a brilliant treatise on anti-perversion, in the context of queer identity. The poet speaks about the so-called pervert’s idea of perversion.
You will smile back,
A small cry of laughter in your eyes,
Underneath the hair that loves disguise
You will smile back. (Lines, 18-21)
As we have seen earlier, the concept of perversion is a construct of dominance, a power device. It all begins with an identification of difference from a status quoits perspective, that holds that what one individual, or a group of individuals believe to be true, that is the only imaginable truth. All other alternatives are perversion. The poet does exactly the same. He sets out the rules for himself and goes on accordingly, without bothering about the binaries of perversion and the natural.
But things are not that easy in India. There is a tendency to fight back. But homosexuals in India are denied a space to do so. I have already discussed the household situation. Outside too, the homosexuals have to face the hurdle of status-quoism. When a homosexual couple is ready to live their life together, they are denied every possible space in both private and in public.
We shall play it bravely; only,
We shall never groan
Even if the rolls are hard,
And the prices on the card
Make us feel a little lonely. (Lines, 09-14)
The statement is remarkable in itself. One thing is certain: homosexuality in India has passed the phase of self-contained homophobia, where an individual with homosexual desire thinks of himself as a pervert, devoid of normalcy. Now, people with same sex desire have learned to accept their desire as something normal, unchangeable and central to their personality. Now is the time to fight back for their rights in society.
After this realization, the next step is resistance to heterosexist beliefs. The poem manifests this resistance in a confident and surprising way.
They shall never know,
This is the toxin that adds flavour to our life,
That you are not my mistress nor my wife. (Lines, 22-25)
The poet takes up the heterosexist metaphors only to distort them finally. Here the toxins are playing both roles: a heterosexual patriarch with tie and all, and a homosexual friend. This is where the triumph lies. The poet is sure about his same-sex desire and knows only too well how society functions. Thus he starts resisting society by playing tricks on it and making fun of it.
2. 11. Dinyar Godrej’s “Desire Brings Sorrow”: Pining for What is Not
As an Indian gay poem, “Desire Brings Sorrow” works on two different levels: resistance and acceptance. Like Sultan Padamsee, Dinyar Godrej is also confident of his alternative sexual orientation. He knows his desire is something real, and yet he is aware that the immediate surroundings present a hostile situation. This is where his resistance begins:
It is not
an easy question of preference
for us unlike you,
not a choice
of sweet over bitter,
but a concession
that love and lust
though terribly troublesome
are certainly not
without flavour. (Lines, 13-22)
Following his desire, the poet is content with whatever he has achieved. For him, it is better not to feel repressed and unable to follow his desire. His desire will definitely bring sorrow. The poet is aware of this. But he doesn’t have an option either. Desire is not a question of preference or comfort. It is not a choice of sweet over bitter. It is a reality unalterable and without folly. The poem makes a tremendous achievement by expressing the anti-perversion idea in a precise and eloquent manner. The poet doesn’t believe that his desire for same-sex love is a kind of perversity. On the contrary, it is the only reality for him. He has no option to trade his desire for something less bothersome. This realization leads to the acceptance of his desire. His desire may not be mainstream. It may not be a norm. However, its fulfillment is something to which the poet whole-heartedly aspires.
2. 12. Vikram Seth’s “The Golden Gate”: Religion vs. Material Logic
The poem (I shall call it a poem, as I have discussed only the extracts published in Yaraana) brings out the conflict of perversity at the levels of both spirituality/materialism, and good/evil (sin). Phil, a divorcee, father of a seven-year-old son, sleeps with his friend Ed, who is a bachelor, and they make love. Phil takes the incident as it is. He is calm, materialistic and focused. He is sure of what he wants. Ed, on the other hand, is as Phil remarks, confused, abstracted and vulnerable. He has his strong faith in Christianity and at the same time he accepts his desire passionately. The conflict occurs in Ed as a result of his dualism between desire and the norm: what he feels and what the scriptures preach. Ed confesses:
… ‘Phil, last night
I almost thought that I was dreaming.
But now -- I know it wasn’t right.
I have to trust my faith’s decisions.
Not the better on my own volitions.
The Bible says, if a man lie
With a man, he must surely die.
It’s in Leviticus, chapter 20,
Verse 13 -- which means it’s as true
For me, a Christian, as for you.’ (4.50, Lines, 2-11)
Ed’s confusion occurs on account of the conflict between theological preaching and material desire. The conflict gets its cue from Ed’s inability to dismiss both his desire and his faith. He desires what the faith forbids. Here, Ed’s confusion makes for a classic case of the age-old conflict between good and evil, body and soul. In theology, the body is a source of energy and the mind a source of reason. The body is always prone to commit evil. It is the duty of the soul to perform what God ordains. So a person should be in the good books of God so that he can ask for forgiveness for his sins. Ed confirms:
The point is that my body is
Not mine alone – I don’t disdain it –
But it’s God’s instrument – my bliss
It is his will – and it’s perfection
Recites in love, whose chief projection
Is to give life ---- (4.52, Lines, 2-7)
Ed’s point of view is largely based on the moral reasoning that all sexual acts should have a purpose, the purpose of procreation. The view of Ed is what Freud termed as the repression of perversion. The desire, the instinct, should be repressed and re-moulded for the sake of society, which is largely political and theological. In this sense Ed is only the victim of the social structure. Ed has surrendered his desire for power, which has nothing to do with his life.
The character of Phil stands at the opposite pole of Ed. It is the contrast between them that brings the conflict between perversion and repression to the fore. Phil dismisses Ed’s logic by stating that what the Bible has written was true maybe once. But it no longer remains so. Phil’s theory is simple, materialistic and to the point:
What is wrong with sex? The more the better
If you like someone… (4.51, Lines, 3-4)
The conflict between the points of view of Phil and Ed lies in the distinction between the material and the spiritual in matters of sex and sexuality. Ed’s point of view is orthodox. He believes in religion, which makes him at once pious, and God-fearing. For him, God is what the religious scriptures foreground. One can find God if he follows the religious scriptures rigorously. If one does otherwise, he is deviating from what is normal. Thus he would be a sinner and incur God’s wrath.
But Phil’s materialism doesn’t allow him to go into these complexities. He appears to be a tireless spokesman of love. If one loves another person, there can be no question of sin. For love conquers all, even God. He argues:
…But what was wrong or odd
With last night’s loveliness between us?
Given a God, if he had seen us
And he is just and loving-kind,
Why should you think that he would mind
My touch, your trembling, our caresses,
The loving smart in your clear eyes,
My hands ruffling your hair, our sighs?
If anything, I‘d say he blesses
The innocent bodies that express
So forthrightly such happiness. (4.53, Lines, 5-14)
2. 13. Sexual Perversions in Binaries
Dollimore borrows from Roland Barthes, and writes: “pervert nature and discover liberating discourses.” But it was and remains a utopian dream. In reality, if one wants to pervert nature, if only by straying, those in charge will pull him in. Dollimore concludes: “the error of perversion is never exactly innocent, since the truth it discovers is against nature and it will fall into knowledge incompatible with innocence.”
Thus, to put it in a simple way, the binary opposition between the natural and the unnatural is what makes perversion conceivable as “demonized categories and forms of cultural resistance.” (See, Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence)
Binary opposites, as Derrida has argued (See, Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence.) are violent hierarchies. The natural/unnatural opposition has been one of the most fundamental of all binaries and one of the most violent of all hierarchies. Then there are other binaries, which I am discussing in the following chapters.
2. 14. Hetero/Homo
I have discussed earlier why heterosexuality came to be constructed as the norm, and how and why homosexuality was pushed into periphery. Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine!” brings out these constructs of binaries in a more volatile way:
They shall never know,
This is the toxin that adds flavour to our life,
That you are not my mistress nor my wife. (Lines, 22-25)
A gay relationship is often considered or discussed in terms of heterosexuality. A homosexual relationship is condemned often on the ground that it lacks the advantages of a heterosexual union. The latter is fuelled by the age-old belief that women are to keep house and men are to go out to earn. But if two men come together, they will have to share both the duties, keeping house and earning a living. Here, the traditional role of man and woman is subverted and both the partners are given an equal status. Thus, the binary breaks and moves away from the norm.
2. 15. Good/Evil
Good is what sustains the power of dominance. The power of patriarchy confirms a particular thing as good because it sustains that power. And its antithesis is the concept of evil. The evil is important to enhance the value of good. To quote St. Augustine, the fact remains that good can only be realized in terms of evil. So, Foucault is apt to point out that power needs the concept of evil or perversion to campaign for its good.
Thus, in Vikram Seth’s “from The Golden Gate”, Ed quotes the Bible to suggest that homosexuality is a sin, and thus evil and perverse:
The Bible says, if a man lie
With a man, he must surely die. (4.50, Lines, 7-8)
However, his lover Phil answers:
…(T)hat old book, Ed, holds plenty
Of rules that may be made some sense once.. (4.50, Lines, 12-13)
Here lies the truth. Those rules once made sense. They were once necessary for those who were in power. But in the present situation, for an individual who can see through it, he has the right not to follow these rules, but pursue his own desire.
2. 16. Macho/ Effeminate
The concept of macho involves phallocentric logic. It is the patriarchal point of view that influences every other theory that is to follow. In the basic binaries of man and woman, man is always superior to woman, because man possesses the phallus and woman lacks it. If now a man desires another man, he reduces himself to the level of a woman, thus ignoring his phallus, which is the central to the power relations of male patriarchy. This is a deviation, a kind of transgression from the higher to the lower. In this context, the term effeminate is definitely a pejorative term, while the term macho is positive. Macho endorses patriarchal norms. A man, who is macho, is powerful enough to control women and others who are under his power.
Thus, Marius in Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium”, repeats endlessly that he is macho, for he is a lover of woman. In the end, after his spiritual and metaphysical encounter, he consciously tries to dismiss it all in favour of his machoness.
I will not remember those things
The white disease of the body of John.
The winds come down from
The mountains and Marius slept again
In the arm of a woman. (Lines, 56-60.)
2. 17. Man/ Hijra (Phallus/less)
The binaries of man/woman also work here. A man by nature must desire a woman. Man should desire a woman for reasons of procreation. It is this that explains reason why the physiology of man and woman are different. Man has been gifted with the phallus only to prove that he is superior to woman, and to all other inferior categories and to ensure that he dominates over them. When an individual transgresses these natural duties and desires a person of the same sex, he becomes a pervert. Being a pervert, he ceases to be normal. Instead he becomes a hijra. A hijra is a category that lacks the phallus of a man and the procreating ability of a woman. Thus, he becomes a third category, a pervert. While the binary macho/effeminate highlights the difference mostly in the outer behavioural level, the binaries of man/hijra bring out the difference at a physical level.
The Theory of ‘Closet’ and ‘Coming Out’
3.1. From Homosexuals to Gays: From the Closet to the World
When Michel Foucault acknowledged the emergence of homosexual species in The History of Sexuality, offering 1870 as the date of birth of modern homosexuality, in one sense, it was the beginning of a new development in the realm of Queer Theory. Foucault wrote:
“As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts, their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth century homosexual becomes a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being type of life, a life form, and morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy, and possibly a mysterious physiology…. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was a species”.
Thus the focus has been reallocated from outside to within. From the category of psychological perversion of the nineteenth century and earlier, homosexuality has become an identity in itself. The trauma, the anxiety of homosexuality as a psychological aberration is gone. It is now an established fact that homosexuality is natural. Homosexuality is an innate process of growth from childhood. There is no question of a cure at all, as it involves nothing unnatural. In another way, the whole concept of natural/unnatural is itself questioned. After the authenticity of the homosexuality is recognized, the next step is to fight against the phallocentric, heteropatriarchal social system that is still hostile, still homophobic.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick defines the terms homosexual and gay in her book, Epistemology of the Closet. She writes:
“I have used one (term) or the other interchangeably, most often in contrast to the immediate relevant usage (e.g., gay in turn of the century context for the homosexuals in the 1880’s context would mean to be suggest a categorization broad enough to include at least the other period as well.)”. She also adds, “I had not followed a convention used by some scholars, of differentiating between gay and homosexuals on the basis whether a given text or person was perceived as embodying (respectively) gay affirmation or internalised homophobia.”
The situation is problematic here. On the one hand, there is the visibility of same-sex love, and, on the other there are prejudices in the social system. Now the focus has been transferred, from society at large to the individual concerned. The onus is now on the person who identifies himself as homosexual. How with his inner- realization of his gayness, he is going to stand in the public, in society at large? How is he going to handle the existing homophobia? There lies the dualism of closet and coming out which forms the crux of Eve Sedgwick’s book, Epistemology of the Closet.
Sedgwick argues that closet is the defining structure for gay operations in the 20th century. Closet is not self-made, but precisely it is a mainstream construct. She cites the example of the 1973 Rowland vs. Mad River Local School district case of U.S.A. exemplifying the spreading homophobia in the mainstream. She writes:
“The Mad River Schools refusal to hear a woman coming out as an authentically public speech act is echoed in the frigid response in the many acts of coming out: ‘that’s fine, but why do you think I would want to hear it?’”
This intensifies the paradoxical situation of closet and coming out. It is the mainstream that builds the closet by refusing to accept the act of coming out.
Now a fundamental question is, who is in the closet and who needs to come out? The question is integrally related to the distinction between the two terms: homosexual and gay. Though Sedgwick uses the terms interchangeably, the two terms have obvious distinction in the present context. The homosexuals are what Foucault termed as sodomites. While being gay is a question of self-identity, homosexuality involves the mere act. This peculiarity is same as Vanita and Kidwai’s differentiation between same-sex love and same-sex sex. As love involves a broad perspective, the conscience of gayness involves a self-identification. It absorbs the pronouncement with alternative sexual orientation. The term gay entails a way of life, a life different from heteropatriarchal notions of sexuality.
It is with the gay that the concept of closet and coming out is necessitated. Homosexuality is a temporary action. Once the act is over, the homosexual can easily merge into society at large. But for a gay, his sexual orientation becomes his identity. When a gay wants to project his identity, when he wants to come out, the existence homophobia in the mainstream refuses to accept him, thus thrusting him into the closest. Thus, the concept of closet/coming out works in revolving circles where both acts are interrelated to each other.
Eve Sedgwick writes:
“To say—that the epistemology of the closet has given and overarching consistency to gay culture and identity through out the century not to deny that crucial possibilities around and outside the closet has been subject to …change for gay people. There are risk in making silent the community and centrality of the closet, in the historical narrative that does not have a saving vision—whether located in past or future—of its apocalyptic rupture a tradition that lacks that particular utopian organisation will risk glamorising the closet itself, if only by default will risk presenting as inevitable or somehow valuable its exactions, it deformation, its disempowerment and sheer pain. If these risk are worth running, it is partly because the non utopian tradition of gay writing, thorough, and culture have remained so inexhaustibly and gorgeously productive for letter gay thinkers, in the absence of a rationalising of often even away forgiving reading of their politics. The epistemology of the closet has also been, however, or a far vaster scale and with a less horrific inflection inexhaustibly productive of modern western culture and history at large.”
Sedgwick argues that, for any modern query of sexuality, knowledge/ignorance is more than just one in a metonymic chain of such binaries, as after late eighteenth century, ‘knowledge and sex’ in European culture become indissoluble to each other. Thus, knowledge means sexual knowledge and ignorance means sexual ignorance. This is what Foucault points out in The History of Sexuality; that epistemological weight of any sort seems a force increasingly drenched with sexual momentum. Its genesis lies in the Bible, where the fruit from the tree of knowledge implies sexuality. This is the reason why western culture is always ready to restrain cognition, sexuality and transgression from its roots.
The gradual reifying result of this denial meant that by the end of the nineteenth century, where it had become fully current—as obvious to Queen Victoria as to Freud—that knowledge meant sexual knowledge, and secrets sexual secrets. There had in fact developed a particular sexuality that was distinctively constituted as secrecy: the perfect object for the by now ‘insatiably exacerbated epistemological/ sexual anxiety of the turn of the century subject. Again it was a long chain of originally scriptural identifications of a sexuality of a particular cognitive positioning that culminated in Lord Alfred Douglas’ epochal public utterance, in 1894, “I am the love that dare not speak its name”.
Sedgwick argues that the epistemological distinctiveness of gay identity and gay situation in our culture is different from other modern oppressions, so far as it is related to the image of the closet, and for that matter homophobia. “Racism, for instance, is based on a stigma that is visible in all but in exceptional cases; so are the oppressions based on gender, age, size, physical handicap etc.”
3.2. Homophobia and the Defense against Same-Sex Love
Literally speaking, phobia means fear and hatred. Thus, homophobia means fear and hatred of homosexuals. Again in psychology, this phobia does not relate to any neat reason or incident. This is a psychological shortcoming in any individual. When an individual suffers from fear, which does not have any ontological meaning, it is called phobia. Going by these standards, homophobia is also a psychological shortcoming. It involves with heterosexual psychological fear about the person or persons who refuse/s to oblige to homosexual norms. Thus, homophobia is not an ontological fact, but a psychosexual disorder.
Jeffrey Weeks notes that popularisation of the concept of homophobia is generally attributed to George Weinberg , who according to Weeks argued that the real problem was not homosexuality but society’s reaction to it. Eve Sedgwick in the book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosexual Desire, commented on the term homophobia as pure etymological nonsense, presumably because it suggests fear of human beings rather than of homosexuals. She adds:
“A more serious problem is that the linking of fear and hatred in the phobia suffix and the words, usages tend to prejudge the question of the cause of homosexual oppression: it is attributed to fear as opposed to (for example) a desire for power, privilege, or material goods.”
Sedgwick notes that the term heterosexism offers a possible alternative, and since 1985, when her book was first published, the use of this term has become widespread. Giving examples of wide spread intelligibility of woman-to-woman bonding ‘at the particular historical moment’, Sedgwick observes that it is different in a man-to-man relationship, that apparent simplicity—the unity—of the continuum between women-loving-women, and women-promoting-the-interest-of-women extending over the exotic, social, familial, economic and political realms, would not be so striking if it were not in strong contrast to the arrangements among males.
If we have to believe Heidi Hartmann’s definition of patriarchy as a relation between men, which has a material base, and which, though hierarchically established, creates interdependence and solidarity among men that enables them to dominate women, then the continuum between men loving men and men promoting the interest of men should have the same force that it has for women.
Quite to the contrary, much of the more recent writings on patriarchal structure suggest that obligatory heterosexuality is built into the male dominated kinship system, or that homophobia is a necessary consequence of such patriarchal institutions as heterosexual marriage. From the vantage point of our own society, at any rate, it has apparently been impossible to imagine a form of patriarchy that was not homophobic. Gayle Rubin writes, for example, that “the suppression of the homosexual component of human sexuality, and by corollary, the oppression of homosexual is... a product of the same system whose rules and relation oppresses women.”
The historical manifestations of this patriarchal oppression of homosexuals have been savage and nearly endless. Louis Crompton makes a detailed case for describing the history as genocidal. Society is brutally homophobic; and the homophobia directed against both man and woman is not arbitrary or gratuitous, but tightly knit into the texture of family, gender, age, class, and race relations. Thus, Eve Sedgwick observes that society cannot cease to be homophobic without having its political and economic structure unchanged.
Dollimore observes a kind of reversal of proceedings in the recent development of homophobia. As Kenneth Plummer points out, whereas once it was the homosexual who was viewed as sick, now it is the heterosexuals who are charged with pathology. He adds:
“Whereas once the homosexual was identified by a long series of character traits, it is now possible to identify the traits of the homophobe: authoritarian, cognitively restricted, with gender anxieties”.
In a broad sense, Dollimore concentrates on homophobia as loosely descriptive of a manifest phenomenon: the hatred, fear, and persecution of homosexuality and homosexuals. Dollimore argues that in theory, misogyny and homophobia often go hand in hand. One reason is that both the binaries potentially express the violence of the other. Secondly, homophobia often incorporates other kinds of phobia and hatred, not only misogyny, but also racism and xenophobia.
Like the term homosexual, the term homophobia is also a new, somewhat modern invention. The homosexual is the creation of modern discourse, medical, sexological, and psychological, as evidenced by the fact that the term homosexual was coined in 1869. Dollimore argues that the nearest concepts to it in early modern England were probably sodomy and buggery. Michel Foucault argues that before the nineteenth century the sodomite was someone who performed a certain kind of act: no specific identity was established, or assumed by the sodomite. The attribution or assumption of this identity marks the creation of the homosexual.
Dollimore notes that if the trouble with the materialistic view of perversion is its tendency to functional reduction, the Freudian position faces an equally intractable problem, though of a different kind. Considered form a materialistic perspective it has at least three damaging limitations: first, it tends to construct sexuality in terms of an original pre-social plenitude, and initially unstructured natural energy; secondly, sexuality is conceived in certain Freud’s central text as a drive with hydraulic characteristics; third, a phenomenon like homophobia, when it is not being blatantly disregarded, is explained too much in terms of the subjective, psychic repression of its agents. The consequences of this last point can be pernicious, actually encouraging a way of thinking whereby the aggressor of homophobic violence is somehow identified with his or her victim: both are homosexual, the one repressed, the other overt. However, it is sometimes switched round in homophobic thought: the victim is somehow the same as the aggressor and hence in some vague sense complicit with aggression.
But psychoanalysis is not the only culprit for this slippage. It stems also from the inherent violence of sexual subordination and the (mis) representation, which (re) produces it, especially in and through the category of the sexual deviant. This exemplifies the cases of how homosexuals are being imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis.
A related problem with psychoanalysis is the implication that so many different kinds of close relationships between heterosexually identified men are really rooted in repressed homosexuality. However, the Freudian model stands as an indispensable starting point of identifying a certain kind of homophobia, namely the conjunction of hatred, paranoia and desire (repressed, ambivalent, or overt), which characterized some of those same heterosexuality identified men in their relation to gay men.
As for Freudian model, it is the repression and sublimation of homosexual desire that helps to secure the identity and social organization. Conversely, as for the materialist model, it is much more homophobia itself, as an aspect of the construction of homosexuality (independently of the question of the actual subjective repression of desire), which helps secure a coerced identity and social organization: homophobia enforced the heterosexual norms by policing its boundaries.
So, whereas in the psychoanalytic account homophobia might well signal the precariousness and instability of identity, even of sexual difference itself, in the materialistic socio-political account it typically signals the reverse, namely that sexual difference is being secured, homophobia being ‘a mechanism for regulating its behaviour of the many by the specific oppression of a few.’
3.3. Trying to Hide the Truth: Homophobia in India
Offering a materialistic, socio-political account of homophobia in the Indian context, Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai write:
“Although we are aware of the limitations of an analysis that blames all modern ills on colonialism, the evidence available to us forces us provisionally to conclude that a homophobia of virulent proportions came into being in India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and continues to flourish today. This is particularly evident in twentieth century Indian attitudes to male homosexuality and is best exemplified in the twentieth century heterosexualization of the Urdu gazals. The Britishers, as well as a certain amount of Hindu nationalists attacked the poetic tradition of Muslim culture as ‘abominable vice’”.
The homophobic invasion in India occurred at the same time as the establishment of the British Empire in India. In 1857, after the Sipoy Mutiny, the rule of the East India Company was replaced by the direct rule of the British Empire under Queen Victoria. This also marked the violent end of the medieval era, where same-sex love enjoyed a privileged position under the flourishing Muslim culture. Queen Victoria’s rule also marked the end of this privileged position further, by the implementation of the 1861 law that criminalizes homosexuality.
As we have said earlier, homosexuality in India was never talked about. Though homosexuality was widespread, it was invisible. It did not have a name. The visibility of homosexuality in India or rather the talk about homosexuality started with British imperialism. Macaulay’s Minute on Education in 1836 offered an accessible leap for the new generations of colonial India to pursue western knowledge. The old means and processes of learning were altogether destroyed. Instead, Western, especially British learning was insisted upon, which was by no means our cultural identity. Hoshang Merchant writes:
“In the British presidencies of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, the traditional family was under severe pressure for space – mental as well as physical. Women and children were crushed as men became schizophrenic culturally, wearing the veshti at home and the waistcoat at office”.
Thus, Indians were denied their own heritage and could only access that which their colonial masters chose to teach. Hoshang Merchant shares his experience of being a homosexual in a heterosexual, homophobic environment:
“With the Bible came the western narratives, Shakespeare, the novels of Dickens, Scott and Austin, the essays of Hazlitt and Lamb. My Parsi teacher of convent school told me that I should never be marooned on an island without these four. How more marooned could I be than at school among heterosexual boys was beyond me. Not that these books within civilization spoke to my condition. They come severely disinfected and sanitized. The Old Testament was Moses but not Lot or Sodom or David who danced naked before the Ark. The New Testament was the Sermon in the Mount but not the Temptation of Christ. Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet but not the Sonnets.”
Here, one has to understand the fact that the history of homosexuality in the West is different from India. Long before the psychoanalytic theory and material socio-political account on homosexuality, it was visible in the West, if nothing else, as a form of perversity. The case is different in India. Before the colonial period, there is no name for homosexuality in India. It was then a part of the social life as a whole, flourishing amicably within the socio-political, cultural and economic framework.
Already there were cases in the west where men found engaging in homosexual acts were vilified, tortured and legally persecuted (see Alan Bray ). With this spread a large amount of homophobia-- fear and hatred for homosexuals. These people were branded as perverts. They were socially ostracized, and laws were implemented to penalise them. Nothing of these kinds of incidents was ever recorded in India.
When with Macaulay’s Minute, the so-called legacy of British heritage travelled to India, they also carried with them, this fear and hatred for homosexuals, homophobia.
Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai write:
“In 1895, in Britain, poet Oscar Wilde was convicted under a new law that criminalizes indecency ‘between men (as distinct from sodomy)’ and his sufferings in prison led directly to his death. This widely reported case functioned to instill fear into homosexually inclined men in England and could not but has similar effects in India where newspapers in English and in other Indian languages picked up reports of the case.”
It is somewhat ironical to note that in India, homophobia spread before the realization of homosexuality itself. It is the homophobia—the hated for homosexuals that consequently led people to identify with actual homosexuality. This is the process, which can be termed as the progress from homophobia to homosexuality.
At this point it would be worth quoting Hoshang Merchant:
“It should be obvious ---- that ‘gay’ in India is not an ethic, not a religion, not a sub-culture, not a profession, not a sub caste. Yet it is all present, all pervasive, ever practiced and ever secret. …. It is shame, guilt, subversion, for some new fangled ones even their honour and pride. Homosexuals are largely unrecognized and blend with the crowd. Hence homosexuality is unspoken about, unaccepted, a danger to the homosexual and the non-homosexual alike”.
Speaking about the law that penalizes homosexuality, Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai write:
“The British anti-sodomy law of 1860 was progressive in Britain so far as it reduced the punishment for sodomy from execution to ten years imprisonment. However when introduced in India in 1861 as section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, it was a retrogressive step.”
This is a clear case of the British thrusting Western homophobia onto its colonies. Vanita and Kidwai also note that similar laws were introduced in other colonized countries in the same year.
This also testifies to the British way of viewing the world: that east is ethically wrong and morally ignorant. British educators and missionaries often denounced Indian marital, familial and sexual arrangements as primitive-- demeaning to women and permissive to men. Arranged marriage, child marriage, dowry, polygamy and matrilinary were treated as evidence of Indian culture’s degeneracy. Hindu Gods were seen as licentious, and Indian monarchs both Hindu and Muslim, as decadent hedonists, equally given to homosexual behaviour but indifferent to their subjects’ welfare. In contrast, British monarchs, especially Queen Victoria, were held up as models of familial propriety. This was what Indians were taught under the pretext of teaching them knowledge through Western education. This marked the birth of schizophrenic Indian culture as Merchant argues. Those who defended Indian culture did not altogether reject Victorian values but rather insisted that Indian culture was originally very similar to Victorian culture and had been corrupted during the medieval period.
In British India, trying to work on women’s education and against women’s oppression, social reformers tried to develop an ideal Indian man, woman, child and family, largely based on the model of the British Victorian nuclear family. Monogamous heterosexual marriage came to be idealized as the only acceptable form of sexual coupling, within which the woman was to be the educated companion of the male head of the household. Thus, same-sex love was banned violently both socially and legally.
The ‘rootless’ homophobia, which was planted under colonial rule in India, is still flourishing in its full prime.
3.4 Homosocial and Anti-Homophobic Accounts in Selected Gay Indian English Poems
In contrast to homophobia, Eve Sedgwick adopted and popularised the term homosocial, in order to demonstrate the possibilities of same-sex love. She writes:
“Homosocial is a word occasionally used in history and social sciences, where it described social bonds between persons of same-sex: it is a neologism, obviously formed by analogy with homosexual, and just as obviously meant to be distinguished from homosexual.”
Subsequently, the term is more generally used to describe social relationships- and the norms, habits, and ideologies engendered by them, which are overtly single sex (normally male) and heterosexual. The term contains weight as behind an overt homophobia, concealed homosexual or homoerotic impulses may often be found, and homosocial manages to suggest the possibility of such a combination.
In the following sub-chapters, I am trying to analyze homosocial and anti- homophobic accounts in selected gay Indian English poems.
3.5. Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine!”
This poem is an example of closetness in public space. The narrator is well aware of his identity, his preferences and his sexual orientation, but is unable to come out in public. The poem is essentially a love poem. The poet narrator and his young male friend go to dine in a hotel, in Astoria, which can be viewed as a high-society public space. The only thing that makes them uneasy is that they have very little time on their hand and soon they have to leave the place. Sultan Padamsee is successful in building up a tension in relation to the sexual duality, and it is at the last stanza that the homosexual undertone surfaces. The male friend of the poet-narrator wears Agatha’s hair loom laces, wears colours on the cheeks, and it is at the last line that readers get the clue that the poet narrator’s companion is not a member of opposite sex, but his own.
…you are not mistress nor my wife. (Line 31)
The poem has a very uneasy tone. The contrast between the public reality and private desire comes to surface in the third stanza.
We shall play it bravely; only,
We shall never groan
Even if the rolls are hard,
And the prices on the card
Make us feel a little lonely. (Lines 9-14)
The poet narrator is aware that because of public homophobia, they can’t behave in public the way they desire. This answers the expression the poet narrator uses, viz., you are not my mistress nor my wife. The poet narrator can’t project his love to his male lover as a heterosexual male could do to his lover of the opposite sex, be it his wife or his mistress. The heteropatriarchal society allows a man to commit adultery, or any kind of sexual practice involving a woman. But when it comes to relationships between men, it is supposed that there is no sex involved. As I have discussed earlier, the whole situation is Janus-faced. In India, friendship between two men is a kind of homosocial encounter. It is highly acceptable everywhere. The bond of love between Krishna and Sudama, and Krishna and Arjuna are popular myths. Here the presumption is that there is no sex entailed. That is the reason why the two lovers do not face any problem sitting in the restaurant. So, the poet narrator comments that they would play it bravely; they would practice what they desire, but alone, not in public. He has his strategies ready:
I shall touch my tie,
And lie that we are of a different kind. (Lines 15-17)
The poet narrator is well aware of the intricacies of the cultural notions. In spite of his desire, he cannot achieve this fulfilment. And he is not ready to voice a protest against it. He accepts things as they are. At the same time he also follows his desire, but alone.
The spread of homophobia is all-pervasive. It is not only prevalent in the mainstream but also in the psyche of the individuals concerned, the individual who is sure about his alternative sexual orientation. I call it internal homophobia, a situation where the fear of social prejudices prevents an individual from disclosing his sexual orientation openly. Where the question of sexuality is concerned, he plays a hide-and-seek game with himself, turning into a split personality, a kind of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. In private he is a free man, he can follow his instincts and fulfill his desires. But in public he has to project that he conforms to the norms and belongs to the mainstream. Here I am referring to the individual who is gay, who is sure about his alternative sexual orientation. But the spread of homophobia in society is so strong that an individual is afraid to raise his voice against conservative society for fear of being ostracized. Left with no choice, he plays the dual role of both being a heterosexual and a homosexual.
Another important factor that intensifies homophobia and the concept of closet and coming out is that physical love or love where the body is involved, is always viewed in terms of man-woman relationship. As heterosexuality is the only possibility, it remains at the centre of all sexual argument. Every other sexual exercise is scrutinized and judged in terms of heterosexual yardstick. Homosexuality cannot escape the clutches of this one-sided judgement.
What makes the poem a celebration of gay reality in India is that against all odds, the poet narrator, who is gay, is taking every possible opportunity to make the best use of what is in his hand. He goes to a public space, hangs out with his male friend (in a way a heterosexual would do with his wife or with his mistress), and feels no qualms about it. He feels sad only when the bill arrives because soon they have to part. And the poet narrator comments upon the homophobic mainstream:
They shall never know
This is the toxin that adds flavours to our life,
That you are not my mistress nor my wife. (Lines 28-31)
The poet narrator is thoroughly comfortable with his gayness. He enjoys the thrill of hide-and-seek game with society. He is well aware of the fact that society isn’t going to accept him as he is, and he has to put on a mask to mingle in the mainstream. He admits this predicament and is brilliantly carrying out his role.
The last line of the poem is at once important and difficult to interpret. The question is, if the addressee whom the poet narrator is addressing, is a male, why does the latter have to stress upon the fact that they (the mainstream) will never know if the former is ‘not … mistress nor … wife’? One interpretation can be that although the poet narrator identifies himself as gay, he is not able to escape the clutches of existing homophobia, or his own internal homophobia. He is still struggling with the patriarchal images of phallocentric norms and binary opposition. The binary of man/woman still haunts the periphery of same-sex love. With this another binary of superiority/inferiority surfaces. The poet narrator here assumes the role of a male patriarch and his partner remains his subordinate, like the woman in heterosexuality. (For another possible interpretation please refer to my discussion of the same poem in chapter two.)
3.6. Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium”
Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium” is a very complex poem to interpret. On the surface the poem recounts the experience of a certain Roman soldier called Marius at the sight of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the most intermediate level, the poem is about universal brotherhood with a mild religious overtone. It deals with how Marius was overwhelmed by the sight of the dying Jesus and experienced a metaphysical union with him. At a deeper level, it is singularly a homophobic poem where the speaker Marius tells prostitute Lenia, over and over again, how he is a lover of women:
Below the cross was a man of thirty,
A wasted face of much beauty,
He was made indifferently well –
But nothing to me,
A lover of women. (Lines 57-61)
But the same lover of women soon experiences an incredibly strange state of affairs: the metaphysics of same-sex love and the ecstasy and passion for the people of his own sex. The poem recounts the incidents how Marius goes to witness the crucifixion of Christ, and is besieged with pity. The emotion of pity soon turns into love, and though he tries his best to defy this odd sensation of his heart, mumbling now and then that he was a lover of women, he fails at last to resist his desire.
He died crying strange things,
The women jeered him and the men
Cried out strangely,
And as he died, my mind
And I gambled with the soldiers
For the garments and won.
I seized them and in that barren
Place which you Jews call Golgotha,
Behind a rock I buried my face
In the lice-ridden cloth. (Lines 121- 131)
The speaker’s desire to attain the clothes of the victim whom he had already injured, and towards whom he felt a kind pity, marks an important point of departure. It allows us to categorize it as a gay poem within its exceedingly homophobic circumference.
This paves the ground for the consequent metaphysically enlightening experience of love. I call it metaphysical because the whole experience is something Marius could not comprehend through his outer senses. He feels pity for the dying Christ, which turns into love, and he does not quite understand why he had to make love to John instead. The confusion is more apparent because he identifies himself as a lover of women, and feels that he has defiled himself by making love to John.
I went from the place
To the Jew whom we the Romans call John,
And desired him and I have
Come here defiled.
For the body of John stroked my body
And the full lips of John
Stroked my body—(Lines 140-146)
The homophobia in the poem is apparent. This is a strategy used by the poet Padamsee to highlight the internal homophobia in the individual himself who experiences same-sex love within him, but is not confident enough to accept the fact. The conflict here is in between instinct and intellect, between the feelings inside and the norms outside. The narrator confirms to himself again and again that he is a lover of women. This is only to hide his real feelings, lest society ostracize him for doing something that is both morally and ethically wrong. Thus he sees his fulfilment of same-sex love as a vile fad and defilement. He returns to his harlot lover and vows to forget what has happened.
I will not remember those things,
The white disease of the body of John.
The winds come down from
The mountains and Marius slept again
In the arms of a woman (Lines 156-160)
Society does not care whether it is a prostitute or a legally married woman with whom a man sleeps, as long as he sleeps with a woman! Padamsee at once confirms and critiques this practice. Destroying this veil of surface-homophobia, Padamsee’s metaphysics of same-sex love penetrates deeper. The way Marius is reassuring himself that he is a lover of women indicates that their lies within him another man who is a lover of men. For, if heterosexuality is the only reality, Marius need not stress again and again that he is a lover of women.
Though the poem ends with a happy heterosexual ending, it leaves the readers baffled. The question is, how to explain Marius’ desire (the transformation of pity into love) for the Christ? The allusion to the Old Testament story contrasts homophobia and same-sex love in the context of larger humanity. The pity, which Marius feels for Christ, substitutes love for hate.
I grew angered, and my love
And his pains and the dark sky
Grew together, and I knew
I must enter this man
In sensuous pain (Lines 106-110)
Here the words, enter this man have strong homosexual reverberation. It indicates that his love for Christ is not only cerebral but also physical.
The essence of Christianity is all pervasive; Love thy neighbour as you love yourself. Christians believe that Christ died for the sake of entire humanity. Here Marius, an ordinary Roman soldier inherits this pity of Christ with a sudden awakening of metaphysical enlightenment. His pity is transformed into love, love for a man, and love for humanity as a whole. He was already a lover of women, now he also becomes a lover of men. Thus, Marius enters the nucleus of the universal brotherhood.
The variation of the same theme has been depicted in the Hollywood movie, The Robe, starring Richard Burton. In the film, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Burton’s character becomes so overburdened with guilt that he collected dead Christ’s clothes and goes to a fit of insanity. Unlike the poem, in the film, the protagonist, who is betrothed before the incident fails to come in terms with his sense of guilt and finally flungs himself into the sea. There are possibilities to read the film from the point of view of queer identity.
3.7. S. Anand’s “Poem from a Vacation”
The poem, “Poem from a Vacation”, is a classic example of the conflict of closet and coming out culminating in the internal homophobia of the poet narrator. The duality of existence, as discussed earlier is also evident in the poem. The poet narrator has come out to himself about his sexual orientation. The problem lies in the fact that he cannot do the same in public.
The poem is ingeniously divided into two parts: Anand speaks and Anand writes. Here speaking is the real self and writing is his alibi for the things he cannot speak. The basic desire of the poet narrator is very simple:
I want to be true to my name: (Line 2)
In Sanskrit, and in other Indian languages, Anand(a) means happiness. That is, to be gay. The pun on the word gay is unmistakable. In both the senses of the term he wants to be true. He wants to be happy, and he wants to derive this happiness through his gayness. He wants to be both happy and homosexual. He wants that his identity of being gay should be a part of his real self, rather than a part of a personality, confined in closet.
The aspect of writing is more complicated. It involves relating the truth as it is, which he is unable to do. It involves committing the truth in black and white.
When letters arrives
Six at a time
I fear my father
But I say nothing to his jibes (Lines 13-16)
Accepting the truth within one’s self is one thing, and telling it to the whole world is another. The fear of society looms large within the identity of alternative sexual orientation. It is really the fear of the heteropatriarchy, which is symbolized by the poet narrator’s fear for his father.
Here it is interesting to note that the practical implications of homophobia in India are very different from those of the West. In western theory, homophobia implies fears and hatred of homosexuals. In India, this situation does not arise because according to Indian culture, there is no homosexuality in India. This is purely a foreign import. Now, under these circumstances, what is an individual, who identifies himself with the fringe of alternative sexual desire, supposed to do? He cannot declare his desire in public or even practice it in private. He is confronted with the norms that the patriarchy decides and is forced to follow them. This pain, this tension within the individual who cannot be open about his sexual preference, is what I call internal homophobia. This internal homophobia is the opposite of heterosexism. Heterosexism is a means to protect the homophobic mainstream, that is, a means to fight against the growing homosexuality. The concept of heterosexism is made popular by the gay movements, and gay rights activism. Internal homophobia is the opposite of heterosexism in that it does not relate to the mainstream, but concerns the individual who identifies himself as gay. It deals with an individual’s way of coming out to the world about his alternative sexual orientation, and dealing with the homophobic, heterosexist mainstream. Thus, closet-ness and internal homophobia are interrelated.
This is the same tortured experience about which Anand writes:
I’m no more the same. (Line 10)
He is sure of his identity. But he, by no means, can break free from the closet, for, as he writes, he… fear(s) (his) father. The father here is certainly an agent of the mainstream, and the mainstream has its own reasons to stigmatize homosexuality.
All said and done, the process of fighting against homophobia is still on. The battle starts when one has the realization of the evil. Here the evil in question is homophobia, and the closet it builds around homosexuals. When an individual is sure of his alternative sexual identity, the next step is to fight against the homophobic social existence. Anand writes:
But writing this
I’m already better. (Lines 21-22)
The battle has started. Here, the battle is synonymous with what is termed as internal homophobia. Here, writing works as an act of coming out since writing is viewed as public act while talking is private.
3.8. R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”
The picture of the world presented in Rao’s “Underground” is sadistically homophobic. In his plan to dig up the very character of homophobia in India, Rao confirms that homosexuals in India are compared to untouchables. Once, people from the very lowest strata of the society were untouchables. Now, this status has been transferred to the homosexuals: for in the new age, they are the carriers of viruses, including AIDS. But the fact remains that this notion itself is homophobic. It is not a proven fact, but a popular belief.
The homophobia in Rao’s “Underground” is violent to the core. Though the poet dreams of a gay utopia, discarding the heteropatriarchal world for an altogether different world in the underground, this world cannot escape the clutches of homophobia. Maltreatment of the people who go to satisfy their desire in the underground is disbelievingly frequent. The poem narrates, among other things, the plight of an individual who goes to a certain underground toilet to mitigate his desire and is outsmarted by hooligans, bashed up and looted of his valuables. And the poet reacts:
You want to throw loo goo on his face.
But you give in meekly,
handing over cash and valuables.
The meek shan’t inherit.
You stand bereft,
the city your headload. (Lines 42- 48)
For Rao, this is the reality of homosexuals in India.
In this context Rao’s poem “Opinions” is at once an ironic and humorous representation of homophobia in India. It reflects a conscious attempt to ignore the existence of homosexuality on the part of the mainstream. The Gujaratis of the neighbourhood ask the narrator why he is not married. Even his maidservant tries to make him aware of the horrors of living alone. Their thinking is very much in accordance with the traditional mainstream beliefs. According to the mainstream, a man when young should walk down the aisle. There can be no alternative. When the poet tries to talk about his partners and same-sex lovers, they fail to understand the poet. For them, the glory of sexuality is in begetting children and that is the true reason for getting married and having a spouse.
They don’t understand it when you tell them
You’re married three times over,
Divorced once. (Lines 4-6)
3.9. Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta”: Duty vs. Desire.
In Rakesh Ratti’s poem “Beta”, homophobia begins at home. The poem is a heart-rending account of how the poet struggles to fulfil his desire and at the same time tries to keep his parents happy. His own desire stands at the opposite pole from that of his parents. His parents wish that their son should get married to a girl of their choice. The poet does not mind getting married, but not to a person of opposite sex, but his own. The problem lies in the fact that this is not possible in the environment where he has been brought up. He cannot afford to come out to his parents, who have a say in every decision of his life. The poet narrator cannot dismiss their overpowering influence on his life. This is a fate shared by most young men in India. Though they identify themselves as gay, they have to remain in the closet, for their identity cannot be disclosed. Their opinion is never asked for. For their parents are there to decide what is good for them and what is not. Growing up under the shade of the huge Banyan tree of the patriarchal family, the young men have to accept what their parents decide for them, which obviously would be within the social code of norms.
In the poem, “Beta”, the son oscillates between two very important aspects of his life, his destiny and his duty. He is not ready to sacrifice the one for the other and this forcefully establishes the crux of the poem. In most cases, it happens that the young men have to sacrifice their desire for their duty. The poem achieves a tremendous feat in bringing out the pain and tension of living in the closet, when the poet narrator wishes that he should fulfil both his desire and his duty.
I want to fill their eyes with joy,
Yet let my spirit run wild.
How can I find the love I seek
And still remain their child? (Lines 17-20)
This way of thinking is the first step of gay emancipation, identity and coming out of the closet. The poet narrator is fully aware of his desire and he is not ready to sacrifice it for anything else in the world. I think this marks the first important move to come out of the closet.
3.10 Hoshang Merchant’s ‘Hotel Golkonda’: Redefining ‘Closet’ and ‘Coming Out’
Hoshang Merchant is a very peculiar case in the whole realm of gay poetry in India. His poetic universe stands at a different point from the real world. In his poetic world, there is no tension of coming out to the world as a gay. His is a self-satisfied world where things happen according to his whims. His world is at once romantic, and devoid of homophobia. Unlike the other poets I have discussed, in Merchant’s poetry there is no place for society. His poetry does not concern the question of the self and the other. Before going on to discuss Merchant’s poem as the culmination of new gay poetry in India, I should like to illustrate the point as to how he is different from the other poets I have discussed. To achieve this end, I am taking examples of two celebrated gay novels of the west, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room , and Jean Genet’s A Thief’s Journal . Both the narratives are in first person, where the narrators are aware of their sexual orientation. But the tone and the point of view through which the narrative unfolds, makes the difference.
In Giovanni’s Room, the narrator is an American in Paris, engaged to a woman, and in love with an Italian boy called Giovanni. The novel describes the trauma of the narrator: how he fails to accept his desire for his male lover and at the same time is unable to get over it. The protagonist here is a classic case of internal homophobia. He cannot continue with his male lover for fear of society, and so he goes to society by agreeing to marry his fiancé. But there too he cannot succeed, for, his desire is stronger than his will. Ultimately we see him as a failed personality; failed to achieve both his desire and society’s acceptance. Here, the tragic flaw of David, the narrator, lies in the fact that he cannot accept his own gayness.
On the other hand, Genet’s Journal is a brilliant example of how personal realization of the self could make a difference in seeing the world. Genet shows us the possibility of how, with the internal realization of the self, one can survive in society even if society is not ready to accept one. Here, the narrator is at once a thief, vagabond, a male prostitute and a homosexual. His is a world on the extreme periphery. But in the narration of the Journal this peripheral world of thieves and prostitutes becomes central to him; in other words, there exists no world beyond this. This is an extreme stand, proved by the fact that the narrator of the Journal rejects the very existence of the so-called mainstream. He knows only the world in which he lives, and where he is comfortable as he is. Here, the binaries of centre and periphery break, culminating into a monolithic world and monolithic point of view. The narrator’s world is by no means a happy utopia. But the important thing is that it is a world where he is comfortable, and where his preferences are the only reality. In other words, there is no heterosexuality in his world as he refuses to see it at all.
The same is the case with the poetic world of Hoshang Merchant, especially of the collection of the poems entitled Hotel Golkonda. In this poem sequence, the poet narrator goes to a restaurant and falls in love with the waiter, who serves him.
I went to a hotel to eat
But fell in the love with a waiter (“Prologue: food” lines 1-2)
It was a moment of revelation, where the poet narrator serves his own heart to the waiter. As the author writes in the preface, it was a situation which set up “many resonances and tensions, viz., guest versus host, the concept of service in a stratified society versus the democracy of love and a friendship, hotel versus home, loneliness versus camaraderie. Then, there were more mysterious question, like the search for solace.” Beyond this, the poem is essentially a love poem, love against all odds: with both the poet narrator, and Shrinu, his waiter-lover having their own prejudices. What is remarkable here is the tone and point of view by means of which the poet narrator offers various snapshots of his relationship with his lover. There are conflicts, tensions, but the recurrent binaries, which I have discussed in this dissertation, are absent here. There is never a reference to heterosexuality versus homosexuality. There is no question of home and family, and there is no question of social obligations. The poet is very much focused on his desires, and though he fails to achieve them he has no centre to blame. In other words, in his world and his point of view, there is no centre except himself, very much like Jean Genet.
It would also be apt to compare the poem to James’s Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room that symbolizes the protagonist David’s desire for same sex love. The tension of the novel is built around the fact that despite of his strong instinct, David fails to feel at ease in Giovanni’s room. He thus loses both his love and the heterosexual world around him. As a sharp contrast to it, the poet narrator of Hotel Golkonda is at ease with his desires and his surroundings. Thus he writes:
This is a hotel
Home is where the heart is (“The Second Meeting”, Lines 19-20)
is a same way, Merchant departs from the other poets I have discussed who are preoccupied with heter/homo binaries. In the case of Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium” and Vikram Seth’s “from The Golden Gate”, it is the pressure of family and society. In the case of Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta”, Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine!”, and R. Raj Rao's “Underground”, it is the conflict between the East and the West. In the case of Ian Iqbal Rashid’s “An/ other Country”, it is the oppression of heterosexual dominance. The world of Merchant on the other hand holds nothing of this dualism except for his own desire. In Merchant’s world, there is no question of heterosexual dominance as Merchant refuses to acknowledge the existence of it. At the same time other obvious concepts of Indian homosexuality like family pressure vis-à-vis an individual’s need to have a heterosexual family, and the tendency to discuss love between two men in terms of heterosexual union (see, Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine”) is also absent here.
What I am stressing here is that the point of view of Merchant is a fruitful way of fighting against the existence homophobia. If society pushes homosexuality to the periphery, and closes all its doors to the mainstream, it can be a valid reason to create a world, which is at once homosocial and devoid of homophobia within the periphery itself. Margin can turn into centre, and the importance of Merchant lies here. He is a brilliant example of the possibilities of fighting/resisting homophobia within society.
4.1. Indian Queer Theory: Towards a Gay Paradigm
To write a conclusion for this dissertation, or more particularly on Indian English gay poetry, is indeed a difficult task. There are much diversity, many contradictions, much biases working in every facet of homosexuality in India, that it is difficult, and at times dangerous to theorize Indian homosexuality within the limits of academia. In India, as I have pointed out in my thesis, homosexuality is at once accepted and ignored. First and foremost, the mainstream is still not ready to accept homosexuality as a natural phenomenon of body and mind. In Western philosophy, the concept of homosexuality is very much present, termed and discussed as perversion, and thus stigmatized. To the West, heterosexuality is the centre, the norm, the good, whereas homosexuality (and other sexual behaviours) are its perverted other, the root of all evil. The concept of perversion (in most senses, sexual) in Western philosophy is incorporated with evil. As Michel Foucault argues in History of Sexuality, in the West homosexual behaviour was at once sustained and dominated to emphasize the need for heterosexuality as the most natural and most desired sexual behaviour. What ever the reason may be, one thing that is certain is that homosexuality was/is visible in the West. Therefore, it was an easy task to theorize homosexuality and start gay rights movements.
The fundamental problem the process of theorization in India faces is that, in India, there is no name for homosexuality. However, the behaviour pervades, without an identity and without acceptance. The name, the alternative sexual identity is a foreign import. Thanks to the sweeping generalizations of religious and moral (mostly) Hindu philosophers, homosexuality in India is often presented in the garb of religious mysticism, for example the friendship between Krishna and Arjuna, and the cross-dressing of Vishnu as Mohini. Such representation of facts helps to shift the focus to different direction, from being a threat to the mainstream, to a more noble and higher human cause. Thus, friendship between Krishna and Arjuna is revered as the ultimate tool to demolish evil. As Hoshang Merchant writes in his Afterword to Yaraana :
“It should be obvious ---- that ‘gay’ in India is not an ethic, not a religion, not a sub-culture, not a profession, not a sub caste. Yet it is all present, all pervasive, ever practised and ever secret. It comes upon you in unexpected places, in unexpected faces. It is shame, guilt, subversion, for some new fangled ones even their honour and pride. Homosexuals are largely unrecognised and blend with the crowd. Hence homosexuality is unspoken about, unaccepted, a danger to the homosexual and the non-homosexual alike. Unlike ‘hijras’ the gays do not have a local habitation or even a name. No word exists yet for the homosexual in any of India’s languages. No one in any class wants to own up to it. It is a movement with a thousand colours. Yet it is distasteful to many and many consider it tasteless though it has its very pungent odours and colours.”
Thus, it took time in India for homosexuality to become visible. In India, homosexual identity emerged at the same time as the gay liberation movements in the West. Therefore, it would be a gross mistake to study Indian homosexuality, or for that matter, Indian queer writing entirely in the light of The Western Queer Theory. The differences of Indian queer theory owe to our different socio-cultural, political economic and religious background.
In the process of visibility, the first thing that Indian queer theory has had to fight with, is the basic misconception that homosexuality is a western import; i.e. it does not have any roots in the culture and tradition of India. Apart from the judgemental binaries of good/evil, right/wrong (and so on), the first allegation that Indian homosexuality had to face was sheer dismissal. As pointed out earlier, as a result of the spread of Western education, the talk of homosexuality (including Oscar Wilde) also found its place in the Indian cultural ethos of pre-independence India. But what made things problematic was that these discussions on homosexuality were invariably fused with homophobic elucidations. Thus, in India both the concept of homosexuality and homophobia arrived at the same time, and badly damaged the yet-to-bloom gay identity in the country.
With this came the Indian Renaissance led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in Bengal, and other nationalist movements spreading all over India. These movements, as a means to revive Indianness, stressed upon the purity of Indian culture and propagated the idea of going back to age-old Indian traditions with the Vedic Age as the starting point. In such a scheme of things, there was definitely no place for homosexuality. In the post-independence period, Indian homosexuality once again faced a kind of identity crisis when post-colonial theories marked homosexuality as (once again!) a foreign import.
Unlike the West, in India, homosexuality was never an identity, which may in time turn into a full-fledged liberation movement. In India, gay identity is scattered among the individuals who desire same-sex love but do not find an outlet to fulfill their desire. Again, such an individual’s connectivity to another individual of his kind is very limited. This restricts the possibility of founding a liberation movement, or for that matter building a space to voice out their desires. Though Indian social circumstances offer a fairly accessible space for observing homosocial activities, at the same time restricts the sustenance of same-sex desire. Vanita and Kidwai write:
“Indian cultures tend to be more of the type anthropologists call shame cultures than guilt cultures... Having a child outside marriage is heavily disapproved of, unmarried parenthood is almost unknown, and premarital pregnancies almost always end in abortion and giving away the child in adoption. In this social context, same-sex friendships and spaces are generally more approved by parents than cross-sex friendships and mixed-gender spaces. … However this invisibility also have a down side. A same-sex friendship is tolerated and approved only as long as it masquerades a nonsexual friendship and does not conflict with marriage and parenthood.”
This sums up how the whole question of sexual life in India is full of contradictions, full of paradoxes. This is all the more true in the case of same-sex love, where society is at once homosocial and homophobic. As a result of this, homosexuality is branded as a perversion and thus stigmatized. This oversimplification of perversion and overgeneralization of homophobia are what one can find as the early traces of queer Indian writing (See, Vanita and Kidwai, Same-Sex Love in India.).
In the process of theorizing, Indian queer theory is split in various individualised ways. First, there is an attempt to discover the roots of homosexuality within the traditional milieu. This includes books like Giti Thadani’s Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India , Ashwini Sukthankar’s Facing the Mirror: Lesbian Writing in India , and Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai’s Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History . The main focus of these books is to understand same-sex desire in India, from ancient times, and with references from sources like narrative discourse, religious scriptures, fiction and other modes of communication.
Secondly, there are emerging fictional writings on gay experiences, trying to establish the reality of gay life in India. Two important names in this respect include R. Raj Rao and Bhupen Khakhar. Another milestone in this field is the publication of the collection, Yaraana: Gay Writing from India edited by Hoshang Merchant.
Thirdly, there are vast amount of snippets, news and views, unfolded by the news media, both print and electronic, and mass media like television and film. These discourses are at once characterized by both homophobia and forbearance.
These are some of the complexities that make Indian queer theory at once a difficult, problematic, and multi-linear discourse. One thing is certain that Indian queer theory is essentially related to gay liberation movements, which itself is very limited. In the 1980’s, gay liberation movements’ sprouted in India, influenced by Western gay liberation, and it was these movements more than any literature and theory that triggered off the campaign against homophobia and heteropatriarchy. It is really at this point of time that India heralded the existence, or rather, coming out, of the most influential gay subculture. In 1990, Ashok Row Kavi published Bombay Dost, the first ever exclusively gay magazine in India. It was indeed the springboard, as far as Indian queer theory is concerned.
4. 2. A Study of Gay Indian English Poetry: Art vs. Propaganda: the Findings
Though, for the purpose of this research project, I have called the poems discussed in the study gay poems, the fact remains that they are above all poems, part of literature without the label of gay or straight. Anyone can enjoy these poems without any short hand label, by virtue of its sheer poetic brilliance. Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta” follows a systematic rhyme scheme of ABAB. The poem is divided into four stanzas comprising of four lines each. The poet’s use of the image of jewels kept in a box is at once very much in keeping with Indian tradition, and thematically appropriate. It symbolizes longings both of the mother and of the son for wish-fulfilment. The jewel kept in a box also signifies the fact that both the mother’s and the son’s aspirations would remain unfulfilled; for the son is unable to realize his mother’s wish and the mother can never allow her son’s desire to be satisfied.
There have been experiments with forms too. Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium” is a small verse play that develops through dialogues between the two characters, Marius and Lenia. S. Anand’s “Poems From a Vacation” is a modern poem in both form and content. The poem is split in a schizophrenic way between two parts, Anand speaks and Anand writes. Though apparently contradictory, it leads to a singular conclusion, viz. the poet narrator’s inner anxiety and his inability to come in terms with his immediate reality. The most brilliant example of this is Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. The verse is a sonnet sequence, with a full-fledged narrative structure ultimately giving it the status of a novel in the tradition of Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onein and Tennysons’s Enoch Arden. The book The Golden Gate received the Sahitya Academy Award for best fiction in English.
What makes the study of these poems complicated and what forms the basic crux of this project is that all the poems discussed are part of an anthology which itself claims to be a collection of gay writings from India. The book Yaraana: Gay Writing from India, edited by Hoshang Merchant claims to be the first anthology of its kind published in India. Though in the west anthologies like these are numerous, in India this is a first attempt at collecting gay writing in a single volume. This is a path-breaking venture much like Ashwini Suktankar’s Facing the Mirror. While the latter is a collection of personal narratives by women who identify themselves as lesbians, Yaraana is purely a literary venture. The pieces collected here are mostly published work, which have already created a stir. Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate is a famous novel in verse. Mahesh Dattani’s “Night Queen” has already won admirations from readers and audiences alike. R. Raj Rao’s poems are published in various journals, and so on. Coming under the umbrella of a single volume, these poems now acquire a new lease to life.
After being included in a specialized anthology of Indian gay writings, these poems also acquire a limited but focused point of view. Irrespective of their theme and content, the main theme of all these poems is the reality of gay experience in India. This conclusion makes the study of these poems at once easy and difficult. Easy, because now we can classify them under the generic theme of gay life in India and discuss each individual poem as such. Difficult, because while doing so, the individual poems tend to lose their personal flavour, which forms the crux of their art. With all its shortcomings, I have taken the easier way out in discussing these poems, including them under a generic heading and deconstructing each individual poem in the context of my study.
The thin line between art and propaganda ceases to exist here. By attaching the label of gay writing to these poems the perspective becomes even narrower. Now, we study these poems as an example of how the particular poet has depicted his experience of being gay in India. We tend to use the poetic persona to consider the suffering and oppression homosexuals face in India. And again, we tend to discuss the poems as a charter or a plea for change. This particularly happens in the case of poems like R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”, Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine!” and Rakesh Ratti’s “Beta”. This of course is a gross generalisation. It may be fruitful to begin with it, but it may cause us to ignore the individual identities of the poems.
What I am trying to justify here is that the poems I have discussed in the course of my study are poems in their own right and not propaganda. The theme of homosexuality in these poems is second to their poetic brilliance. Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium” is a heart rendering expression of an individual’s experience of the religio-mythical, signified here by the crucification of Jesus Christ. Hoshang Merchant’s Hotel Golkonda is an urban individual’s idea of gay lifestyle.
The theme and content of each poem I have discussed is diverse and varied. While R. Raj Rao’s “Underground” is a poem with a political undertone, his vision is essentially satirical. Each poem in Hoshang Merchant’s Hotel Golkonda is different, linked only by the poet narrator and his lover. There are some poems like “Remembering Madhubala”, which perhaps cannot be termed as gay. While Dinyar Godrej’s “Desire Brings Sorrow” is about his unfulfilled desire, his poem “Road to Jatashankar” (collected in Yaraana, but not discussed in the present study) is the child narrator’s way of seeing his parents, especially his mother, in a particular situation.
To conclude, I would like to add that these poems should be read as poems first and gay poems later. Their being gay poems does not essentially mar their poetic achievement, and these poems can stand in their own right, without the tag of ‘gay poetry’ being attached to them.
After studying these varied poems from a predefined point of view, that is, discussing them as gay poems within the parameters of Western Queer Theory, it is almost impossible to find a common structure that can be applied. All these poems are written from the point of view of a man who identifies himself as gay, and speaks about his being gay within Indian context. Here ends the apparent similarity that binds all the poems together.
All the poems I have discussed here have two very distinct features. Firstly, the poetic persona of each poem I have discussed (except for Marius in Sultan Padamsee’s “Epithalamium”) is a man who is certain about his sexual instinct and his sexual preference. He is gay and he knows it too well. There is no inner struggle in the poetic persona about his sexual orientation (as in the case of Ash in Mahesh Dattani’s play “Night Queen”). This brings me to the second distinctive feature of this study. After identifying oneself as gay and coming to terms with it, the next step is to come to terms with society. This conflict between private desire and public duty is the crux on which all the poems are based. The different here is in degree not in kind. At the extreme pole stands R. Raj Rao’s “Underground”. It portrays the mainstream idea of homosexuality, as well as the homosexual world of the underground. It begins with dreams of a gay utopia and ends with the very personal defeat of an individual who fails to fulfil his desire even underground. On the opposite side, stands Sultan Padamsee’s “O Pomponia Mine!” which deals with an individual’s way of handling both society’s attitude and his own desire in a more placid manner than R. Raj Rao’s violent “Underground”.
Beyond these observations, what I have found most remarkable are Hoshang Merchant’s poems in Hotel Golkonda. I call it a remarkable achievement, because for the first time in Indian English poetry, the poet-narrator has managed to break away from the clutches of sexual perversion and homophobia. Both the concepts of sexual perversion and homophobia are absent in Merchant’s poetry. There are tensions and conflicts, no doubt, but how the poet narrator of Merchant’s poems sees them makes all the difference. His is an altogether different world, where the notions of heteropatriarchy do not exist.
This may be the first step, the stepping-stone. We can sincerely hope that a time will come when every gay poet would be able to break from the clutches of sexual perversion and homophobia, and start living in the world with the same pride that a heterosexual does. I also hope that there would be studies of same sex love undertaken with same opulence that one finds in case of heterosexual love.
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Hoshang Merchant, Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999)
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In Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 206
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Hoshang Merchant, Hotel Golkonda (Calcutta: Writers’ Workshop, 1992)
R. Raj Rao, One Day I Locked My Flat in Soul City (1992, New Delhi: Harper Collins India, 2000)
Leslie de Noronha, Dew Drop Inn (Calcutta: Writers’ Workshop, 1994)
P. Parivaraj, Shiva and Arun (Norfolk: Gay Men’s Press, 1998)
Firdaus Kanga, Trying to Grow (London: Bloomsbury, 1990)
Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh (London: Vintage, 1996)
Hoshang Merchant (ed.), Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999) P. 204
Hoshang Merchant (ed.), Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999) P. XXV
Hoshang Merchant (ed.), Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999) P. XIII
. Mahesh Dattani, Night Queen, in Hoshang Merchant (ed.), Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999) P. 68
Hoshang Merchant (ed.), Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1999) P. 205-6
. Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. xiii
. Ganguly’s trans. Drona Parva lxxxix, in Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 5
. Ganguly’s trans, Santi Parva II: ccvii, in Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 9.
Unless otherwise indicated all the following references are from Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai.
Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 108
. Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 110
. Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 110
. Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai (eds.), Same-sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 111
Hoshang Merchant, (ed.) Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999)
Hoshang Merchant, Hotel Golkonda (Calcutta: Writers’ Workshop, 1992)
Della Thomson (ed.) The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993)
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) P. 103
Michel Foucault, The History of sexuality, i: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1980)
John Milton, Paradise Lost (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1930)
Augustine, St., City of God, XIII, trans. Henry Bettenson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972) P.p. 13 –14.
Augustine, St., City of God, XIII, trans. Henry Bettenson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972) P.16
Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic of Woman: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex’, in Rayna R. Reiter’s (ed.) Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975)
Luce Irigaray, “Commodities Among Woman”, in Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan, Literary criticism: A Reader, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998)
Leviticus, Verse 18:23, Good News Bible (Bangalore: The Bible Society of India, 1976) P. 119
Freud, Sigmund, ‘Chap. viii: Case Histories I’, in The Pelican Freud Library Vol .15, general ed. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974-86) P. 83
Sigmund Freud, ‘Chap. i: ‘Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis’, in The Pelican Freud Library, Vol. 15, general ed. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974-86) P.349
Kaja Silverman, ‘Masochism and Male Subjectivity’, Camera Obscura, 17 (May 1998) 31-66, P.33
Sigmund Freud, Chap. vii: ‘On Sexuality’, in The Pelican Freud Library, Vol. 15, general ed. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974-86), P.354
Jean Laplanche and J.B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. D. Nicholson Smith (London: Hogarth, 1983) P.p.282 – 3
Lewes, K., The Psychoanalytical Theory of Male Homosexuality (London: Quartet, 1989) P.p.78 – 80
Fletcher, Psychoanalysis and Gay Theory P.114
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) P. 204
Robert A. Scott, ‘A Proposed Framework for Analyzing deviance as a Property of Social Order’, in R.A. Scott and Jack D Douglas (eds.), Theoretical Perspective on Deviance (New York: Basic Books, 1972), 9 – 35, P.p.28 - 9
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) P. 222
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) P. 223
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) P. 223
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, i: an introduction (1978, New York: Vintage Books, 1980) P.7
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, i: an introduction (1978, New York: Vintage Books, 1980) P. 43
Arnold I. Davidson, ‘Sex and the Emergence of Sexuality’, Critical Inquiry, 14(1987), 16 – 48, P 45
Michael Edwards, Every Life in Early India (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1969) P.p. 31-32
Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, Same Sex Love in India: Reading from Literature and History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) P. 198
. Rakesh Ratti, “Beta”, in Hoshang Merchant (ed.) Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999) P.101.
Dr. Vinay Kulkarni et. al., Networks, Language and Sexual Behaviours of Men who have Sex with Men in an Urban Setting, paper presented at the workshop on – Reproductive Health in India: New Evidence and Issues, Pune, India, 28 February to 01 March, 2000
Dr. Vinay Kulkarni et. al., Networks, Language and Sexual Behaviours of Men who have Sex with Men in an Urban Setting, paper presented at the workshop on – Reproductive Health in India: New Evidence and Issues, Pune, India, 28 February to 01 March, 2000
Rao Raj R, “Underground”, in Hoshang Merchant (ed.) Yaraana: Gay Writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999) P.97
Michael Edwards, Every Life in Early India (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1969) P.5
Urvashi Vaid, Virtual Equality, The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation (Doubleday: Andron Books)
Kulkarni, Dr. Vinay et. al., Networks, Language and Sexual Behaviours of Men who have Sex with Men in an Urban Setting, paper presented at the workshop on – Reproductive Health in India: New Evidence and Issues, Pune, India, 28 February to 01 March, 2000)
Rashid, Ian Iqbal, Black Market White Boyfriend and Other Acts of Elision (Toronto: Tsar, 1991)
Padamsee, Sultan, “O Pomponia Mine!”, in Hoshang Merchant (Ed.), Yaraana: Gay writings from India (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999) P. 39
Dinyar Godrej, “Desire Brings Sorrow”, in Hoshang Merchant (Ed.), Yaraana: Gay writing from India (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999) P. 39
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Perversion: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (1991,Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) P. 107
Ibid. P. 107
Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, i: an introduction (1978, New York: Vintage Books, 1980)
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990)
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) P.p. 71-2.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), P. 68
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) P. p. 73-4
Lord Alfred Douglas, ‘Two Loves’, The Chameleon 1, 1894, P.28
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), P. 75
. George Weinberg, Society and the Healthy Homosexual (New York. St. Martin’s Press: 1972)
. Elizabeth Wright (ed.), Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A critical dictionary (Oxford, Blackwell: 1992) P. 155.
. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), P.219.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), P.219, P. 3
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Gayle Rubin, ‘The Traffic of woman: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex’, in Rayna R. Reiter’s (ed.) Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975) P.p. 157-210.
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