To Use Or Not To Use The Word “Straight”?

If straight means uniformity, mainstream, non-deviant, symmetry even, then what adjectives will you use for someone who identifies as queer, for example?

“Arrey, no, no I am toh straight!”

Retorts my friend immediately when I, tired of them linking the reasons for my lambi judaai with hetero commitment to my sexual ‘deviance’, playfully hint at the ambiguous nature of their sexual orientation. Main toh “straight” hu, tera pata nahi! they resign from our conversation, mockingly.

Straight? Par kaisa straight, kaunsa straight?

Let’s do this: Google the word ‘straight’. Look on the left of the screen. Tada! Appears a definition of heterosexuality. See where my concern lies? Straight as being synonymous to being heterosexual which is considered as synonymous to being “normal”. To hear and see people go lengths over proving their normatively aligned orientation isn’t new so isn’t the cover of “straightness” used casually, publicly as an identity marker but our reckless usage has consequences.

One, the chant of “I am straight” and the apparent reinforcement of one’s heterosexuality is also one’s reinforcement of what is and will continue to (if we don’t stop and reflect) be considered as the norm. Straight straight chillaana is also norm norm establish karna. How does heterosexuality have being straight as a Google acclaimed synonym otherwise? Why else does it have this synonym if not to say that the way to be accepted into the constructed normative is to make everything align to support it? The language that we communicate in is the tool we have to express ourselves and also to make sense of the world around us. What we choose to say, what we don’t, and what words does our expression assume impact our way of not only seeing the world but also us.

Which brings me to my next point. If straight means uniformity, mainstream, non-deviant, symmetry even, then what adjectives will you use for someone who identifies as queer, for example? Non-uniform, deviant, asymmetrical? Chalo maan liya tum straight ho. Phir main? Not straight? Is my identity then placed on a ‘not’? How can we, in our reiteration of identities, in our choice of words, marginalise someone’s identity such that it rests on a negation? When I see people who are active participants in changing the way we understand gender clarifying their sexual orientation through the ‘straight’ path, I flicker with sadness and anger. In the progressive ladder of learning and consciousness raising, I wonder, where does the step of acknowledging and duly referring to other selves in full recognition of their existence lies?

You might dismiss my concerns as futile. What does one word, a mere slang, has to do with the larger discourse around gender identities and sexualities when we now see some light on the legal front in the form of partial scrapping off of Section 377 in India? Likewise can be the case with the use of neutral pronouns. But like with the case of using gender-neutral pronouns, that are identity-affirming and at the same time binary (he/she) shattering, renunciation of words like ‘straight’ that have a norm buttressing them, can contribute in the process of bringing a change in the way we think about sexual identities. Because then you are not just thinking about the vocabulary to claim your sense of self but also an understanding of the lack of vocabulary that someone who isn’t part of the normative has to think about theirs. We are so consumed by the norm that our language necessarily reflects it. How can we not then question the obsession with the established norm in the little resistive ways we can, that is, by being critically aware of the words we use? The language as a world of its own is evolving. Why shouldn’t we take steer this evolution to build a more gender equal society?

So to use or not to use ‘straight’ might as well be really asking to use or not to measure the world against a constructed normative. The answer, I think, you now know.

Chalo Maan Liya tum straight ho. Toh phir main?

About the author


Angry, feminist, forever curious.
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