Personal Stories

Has Love Won?: Food For Thought On The Non-Sexualization Of Queerness

Queer folks seeking inclusion do so in maligned environments that interrogate the right to love and exist. Our oppression centers around traditionally “private” matters (i.e. whom to love romantically, engage in sex with). However, to combat such forces within nation-states–advocating for legal, healthcare, and human rights–often necessitates collaborating with institutional actors in the public sphere, namely private funders and government actors.

Every Pride Month, we see businesses and governments pander to the queer community through excessive rainbow-washing. Thankfully, current discourse is plentiful on how this  practice creates a veneer of inclusivity without calling for social transformation. Since Pride is a time to reflect as well as celebrate, I want to delve into how we can conceptualize and practice love differently. The fight for recognition and freedom occurs on both institutional and personal levels. While there is an ongoing battle for trans* and intersex folks’ legal rights in India, it occurs simultaneously with our individual journeys (e.g. seeking a partner). In a cisgendered heteronormative world, these pursuits are bifurcated: activism and community work often decenters love in praxis, and meanwhile our personal quests for love are limited to romance, sex, and familial acceptance. This begets a few questions–What is this bifurcation? Do our public-facing personae contain love as a component of solidarity? What can love look like when not applied selectively across the compartments of our lives and can it help advance the LGBTQIA+ community’s progress and our own well-being?

In exploring these questions, I draw upon some academia, my lived experiences, and ultimately my privileges when writing (being a cisgender, gay, upper caste member of the South Asian diaspora). I do not claim to fully understand or speak for others’ lived experiences in the community, as I am part of a contingent of the LGBTQIA+ community that has dominated spaces and faces less discrimination in legal and livelihood contexts.

Queer folks seeking inclusion do so in maligned environments that interrogate the right to love and exist. Our oppression centers around traditionally “private” matters (i.e. whom to love romantically, engage in sex with). However, to combat such forces within nation-states–advocating for legal, healthcare, and human rights–often necessitates collaborating with institutional actors in the public sphere, namely private funders and government actors. These “allies,” though, are enmeshed within a dominant system emphasizing emotion-devoid rational thinking, policy-oriented solutions (and concessions), and downplaying explicit queerness (i.e. passing). Such public activity contrasts with the private sphere (e.g. our homes), to where intimacy, love, and true self-expression is consequently sequestered. Even grassroots movements and production of art, where elements of pathos are infused, cannot remain immune to the patience needed to work within a system that arbitrates the terms of existence. (Questions like “When will we get funding?” or “When is the right time to act?” remind us of this.)

This callousness of procedure enforced on queer movements and art by this bifurcation is not our fault. After all, this is a cisgendered heteronormative world. However, we must acknowledge this gap and commit to love both in the public and the private. Other movements have grappled with this, and we can borrow from their work. Feminist scholarship, for instance, provides useful critiques of the public-private divide for us to consider. While some scholars advocate maintaining some semblance of a divide (perhaps to maintain the sanctity of individual privacy and a space for reflection) others argue that the maintenance of a private sphere gatekeeps where identity can be valid, by whom, and what constitutes palatability. [1] Furthermore, we can recognize that the political “wins” gained through the public sphere, while necessary with the current governance structure, are often inflexible, in direct contrast with the malleability of queerness, and an unsustainable place to where we place our energy. For instance, in India, while one must celebrate the 2014 NALSA judgment’s recognition of legal trans* identity – we overlook the harm done by the 2019 Trans Act and 2020 Rules for its half-hearted attempt at engendering systemic change. Why is there no clarity on whether intersex folks are protected, whether trans* women are women when faced with acts of domestic violence? The law and governance system are insufficient to cater to the needs of queer folks and fundamentally do not match with the queer movement’s understanding of gender and sexuality.        I

Finally, we can reckon with and potentially reject currently “accepted” forms of queerness in media and the public ether that predominantly highlight sex and romantic love as our primary focus and goal of liberation. Take dating apps and television and film depicting cisgender gay men, for example. We (who have taken up considerably, and dare I say too much, space), have been fed and participated in narratives (e.g. Modern Love Mumbai, Cobalt Blue) that perpetuate narratives of a single partner, the ideal romance, and the institution of marriage–i.e. largely individualistic pursuit of loves and a further entrenching of each person’s public-private divide. While other programs like Pose (notably featuring folks other than cis-gay men) offer a refreshing take on community and love outside of sex and single partner; profit-oriented, algorithm-laden platforms fuel our needs to be validated, rank folks on biases and preferences, and can implicitly “tell” us we should prioritize comfort and community from partners as opposed to sharing equally fulfilling, loving relationships with the wider queer community. Said differently, if “love wins,” then no love should be lesser than the other, and public-private divides inherently categorize whom we love into a hierarchy. I would be remiss, then, not to mention how this contributes to the transphobia, erasure of aspec folks, and other problems within the queer community.

I do not discourage finding romantic love, familial acceptance, etc. that can be someone’s support system. However, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri among others discuss the incorporation of love in politics towards sustaining four movements. [2] To contextualize this within queer liberation, at present I think we could do more if we are healthy, willing, and healed, such as listening to our asexual and aromantic peers and exploring structures of polyamory–that can expand our own definitions of love and its modalities.  Possibly, then, this can lead to healing intra-community divisions and actually gaining a sense of community that is not tied to historically individualistic pursuits of love and sex by virtue of cultivating an acceptance that is not based on body type, preferences, and other heteronormative ways of thinking about sexuality. Considering with non-sexual, non-romantic love could then help reconfigure depictions of solidarity and empathy–especially from those of us who are upper class, upper caste, and able-bodied–with our fellow queer person. Then, perhaps our activism can transcend beyond the public and truly embrace the intersectionality that we talk about but rarely realize.


[1] Squires, Judith. “Public and private.” In Political concepts, pp. 131-144. Manchester University Press, 2018.

[2] Schwartz, Leonard. “A conversation with Michael Hardt on the politics of love.” Interval (le) s 3, no. 1 (2009): 810-821.

One thought on “Has Love Won?: Food For Thought On The Non-Sexualization Of Queerness

  1. Thats a great article. I appreciate Siddarth for addressing the importance of aspec voices and conversations about Polyamory. They are definitely very important topics to be considered within the context of the queer movement and its true intersectionality. But I want to even go further regarding the public private divide…..to include not just polyamory and getting more aspec voices in light, but I also think more inclusion of non-binary gender expressions, the inclusion of diversity of sexual kinks and fetishes and other sex positive topics may make help that community building and the social cohesion because other movements in India wont creating a space for these topics which are not just queer but truly intersectional yet so uncomfortable to talk about. This also challenges the preconcieved notions of sexually gendered roles within heteronormativity and also within the queer identity.

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Siddharth is based in Chennai, India and whose work currently focuses on exploring ideas of community solidarity and mutual aid, equitable mental health and human rights for the global queer community.
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