Refracted subject: sexualness in the realms of law and epidemiology
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Embargo end date00//2/31/1
There are many ways in which gender diversity and sexualness are experienced, spoken of and transacted in India. Recent activism against marginalisation related to sexual and gender nonconformity has led to transformation of some of these idioms into objects that circulate in particular registers of governmentality. In the process, something quite else is created, and this something else portends to speak the truth of 'sexuality in India'. Based on fieldwork carried out between 2005 and 2007 in cities, towns and villages around India, this thesis tells a story of this emergence of 'sexuality' as an aspect of personhood, a political object, a basis for social mobility, a mode of connectedness between people and as a legitimate cause for a movement. The term 'Queer', used variously in India, is a shorthand in some contexts for people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and with South Asian identities such as Hijra, Kothi and Aravani. In others, it refers to a political project challenging norms of heterosexual monogamy, marking a conscious move away from identity-based politics premised on a bio-medical presumption that desire defines personhood. Evoking both these meanings, I examine queer activism as the negotiation of terms of entry of Queer bodies into epidemiological and juridical registers. In relation to the first, I examine interventions of the transnational HIV/AIDS industry that target 'men who have sex with men' – or 'MSM' – the category through which the industry apprehends sexualness between male subjects. I focus on the political-economic conditions of epidemiological knowledge, and on the transformation of idioms of gender and sexualness that its production draws upon. The industry, I argue, is involved in establishing availability of socio-economically marginalised bodies for intervention and research. These relationships of availability are possible because of their promise of social mobility and respectability for queer folk, hitherto despised in masculinist political economies. This mobility is contingent upon the creation and adoption of epidemiologically overdetermined identities which ironically find political significance in being seen as timeless and 'traditional'. The dichotomous being of the 'MSM' - simultaneously the producer and the object of this epidemiological knowledge, implies that the production of this knowledge is predicated upon the ability of queer folk to perform their place in the 'community'. The relationships in the 'field' are already written into the data, and thus the knowledge. Epidemiological knowledge, and the subjects it speaks of, I thus argue, are best understood as articulations of the conditions of their production. The second theme, of Law and the juridical register, opens with an examination of the tensions involved in the production of 'homophobia' as a political object. The disavowal of erotic dimensions in the naming of experiences as 'homophobic violence' is situated in the context of a popular imagination of a worthy juridical subject, and in broader imaginings of power. I then turn to the conditions under which the law, and in particular, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a Victorian anti-sodomy law under which homosexuality is seen to be criminalised, comes to be central to the Queer movement in India. Activism has given Section 377 a 'social life', an awareness of the law in public spheres, amongst law enforcers and branches of the State. Simultaneously, the Law has been inaugurated as a space for the articulation of more diffuse tensions. It has given a tangibility and intelligibility to experiences of exclusion, marginalisation and violence. I then examine a litigation at the High Court of Delhi challenging this law on grounds that it violates Fundamental Rights, focussing on the constitution of a coherent Queer body, cast simultaneously as enumerable, drawing on epidemiological knowledge; and, as capable of instantiation through individual narratives of violation. This project, where a sexuality is ascribed to the citizen-subject, is then juxtaposed with instances where activists actively strip sexualness off of the Queer body in order to make claims to citizenship. This is a cleavage in the Queer movement, an effect of the diversity of bodies it claims to speak of, as, and for, and the conditions under which these diverse bodies seek articulation. Between these projects lies ambiguity, which, I argue, is a precious resource for Queer folk, and for the movement. I suggest a conceptual shift from 'sexuality', (as personhood), to 'sexualness' (where desire flows through subjects without constituting them), argue that the Subject found in registers of governmentality may best be understood in terms of its political economy and distinct from psychic formations, and finally, offer up thoughts for a politics of ambiguity.