Wednesday, March 7, 2012

thinking queerly

At a recent conference I attended, what eventually got me to shell out the registration fee—begrudgingly, nonetheless—was the broad range of panel presentations. A session entitled Zombies, Vampires, and Exorcisms / Religion and American Music had presentations on "The Value of Human Life When Dealing with Zombies”, “Bob Dylan: An American Tragedian”, “Stryper: Rock and Roll Evangelists”, and “The Problem of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”: A Process of Becoming within Queer Identities”. While most of these titles were seemingly superfluous or not-quite-relevant for my Mizo self-identification and –location, some afterthoughts do linger.

My wife, a regular visitor to Mizo sites on the web, flagged a Misual post for me. While I labored through the text, I was really surprised at the candidness with which the issue of “gayism” (ouch!) was broached.

On a recent visit to Aizawl, I had met with some probationary pastors and had the chance to catch up on stuff. As we updated each other on what had happened since we last met, we got down to some issues they faced or could face as ministers in the church. I suggested that alternate gender and sexual issues would be something they’d have to grapple with. While the usual doctrinal lines laced with biblical anchors were flung, I countered, rather ad hominem, how they’d react if it was their child expressing these alternate ways of being. They came back: my views were because I was exposed to a different culture. I did not deny that but tried to impress on them that irrespective of where one was located, the issue of alternate lifestyles would persist. Hence one would have to engage them on lines other than facile condemnation.

Back to the conference. The presentation on “The Problem of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’” was rather eye-opening for me. Lady Gaga had recently aligned herself with the LGTB community and her song “Born This Way” was touted as a popular endorsement of this alignment. However, the queer community took umbrage at the anthemic chorus which gave the idea that queerness was a biological fact.  
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way
Queer folk, I learned, were claiming their choice for legitimacy. It was an exercise of personal choice that they identified as queer. So was the queer community rescinding a popular endorsement? Apparently, Gaga’s line was responding to an earlier heteronormative argument that queerness was wrong because no one is born queer. Remember the whole quest for the “gay gene” and for proof that homosexuality occurred naturally. The current theme seems to have moved on from this earlier argument from nature to an exercise of individual will. Or to paraphrase, Gaga seemed a little dated.

My thinkacane comes from dabbling in American pop culture. I do not believe American culture is the global template that all else should fall in line with. However, I cannot help think back to the badminton games we played in some hall near Aizawl. A rather effeminate guy would strut his racquet effortlessly; often times making me crisscross the court till I was drained of my energy. In between games, he’d hold hands with another friend; an occasional laughter breaking their subdued chatter. I remember myself just uneasily trying to ignore them. It’s been over six years since I last saw him. And as I walked home from the conference, I wondered if he was around still playing badminton, eking some sense of affirmation from among companions he might have found, hummed Gaga's tune at some point in self-validation, and just making sense of life as I was doing mine.