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Section 377 Verdict: Once Again, We Have A Chance To Exist Without Being Felonious

The real revolution against homophobia is waiting in the wings - it is the legacy of queer love that refuses the premise that sex is about power or that power resides in the male.

Today, my baby sister, a non-binary bisexual person waited for me to text her the news, because she was at work and couldn’t sit and wait as I could. I will go back to her whooping and say, it’s done. You’re allowed. I’m allowed. And we will crow and laugh and dance in the streets, flinging rainbow glitter in the faces of the glaring uncles who would have us quiet and invisible, who have been vanquished today in a court of law. And tomorrow, when we go back to work, for the most part, queer people will live the same quiet lives they must lead, to keep themselves safe. 

But today, we’re allowed to be gay.  We’re here, we’re queer – get over it. The first step in that direction – decriminalising homosexuality, and getting rid (partially) of the archaic piece of Victorian prudery that is Section 377 – was made. As Menaka Guruswamy said, in words that will go down in desi queer history, “How strongly must you love to know you are unconvicted felons… This is not about a sexual act. This is love that must be constitutionally recognised.” 

While this is indubitably a considerable relief, it is not a celebration. After all, this is the bare minimum that we could ask of the nation – a chance to be valid and a chance to exist without being felonious. In watching the case unfold, there was an unrelenting sense of two realities trying to occupy the same space. In one reality, a group of powerful people at the top of the social, political, economic and caste power pyramid asserted that to love and exist is a human right. In the other reality, a marginally more representative sample of the nation’s populace – in terms of power but infinitely more so in terms of ideology – argued in the language of fear

The same old fears come out every time the shape of the world is threatened – how will our way survive this orgy of equal rights? Can marriage exist if it doesn’t have a woman involved to oppress and a man involved to do the oppressing? Can you have foreplay without saying “Woohoo, marital rape is still legal!” Can butt-sex happen without immediately transforming a previously wholesome sanskaari (traditional) man into an HIV positive cow-fucking pedophile?

Of women, of course, no mention needs to be made – as Hannah Gadsby put it, “Do lesbians exist if nobody’s watching, really? Nobody cares about a bit of a cuddle.” Clearly in the absence of a phallus, sex bows out altogether. There is a loss of power implicit in penetrative sex, in the form of the person being penetrated – it is why for so many of these arguments, the fear and loathing centres obsessively around  how ‘unnatural sex’ is a penetration of orifices not ‘meant’ to be penetrated.

What is meant to be penetrated is the female. The average desi peen is made to be a juggernaut, and no person in possession of it can imagine its loss, that castration of power. Their fear is based purely on their privilege – holding on to it, making sure nobody else climbs up to where you can fuck with impunity, because then who gets to do the fucking over, and who gets fucked?

It makes you wonder at the two languages of this rhetoric. One abhors the idea of sexuality being defined by its physical processes, and rightfully so. The other cannot bring itself to separate the physicality from catastrophic cultural consequence. The Centre, however, holds patiently – letting the courts take on the burden of changing an outdated law, while also saying – don’t actually try to do anything that might disrupt the status quo. It will not be criminal to have gay sex in this country – but will queer lovers be able to hold hands in the street? Will they be able to raise families, have legislation prohibiting discrimination against them, bring their partners home to family with the hope that they won’t be killed for it? Today is not yet the day we have our rights.

People have been gay in India for as long as people have been people – happily, we have the writing on the wall quite literally backing it up, though that should be utterly irrelevant. They have been killed for it with equal historic verve, whether the weapon was legislation or bare hands.

The real revolution is waiting in the wings – it is the legacy of queer love that refuses the premise that sex is about power or that power resides in the male. Queer love refuses the idea that pleasure resides in an implicit biological and cultural expression of violence, that sex and love needs to be in any way an act bounded by the strictures of a patriarchal society. An audacious notion perhaps, but this is the heart of the fight –queerness upends power.  

At the heart of queerness is the possibility of making the world anew, the idea of saying, no, we don’t have to use heteronormative tropes to organize our sense of love. Insofar as this is ostensibly about sex, it is also about how we connect with each other and the world. A new dawn, unafraid. This judgement has made the face of our world shift slightly in the direction of looking toward that day, though it will be a long time coming. May we have the courage to look upon it with clear and direct eyes, and be unafraid to hold our gaze. 

Naomi Barton is a big flaming pile of queer who has too many opinions. She also works as a Digital Merchandiser at Penguin Random House and tweets about feminism and cake at @la_d0nna_mobile

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